House of Commons Hansard #6 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was quebec.


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10:35 a.m.


Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, I do not object to that, but we are only limited to three hours and I would be taking away other members' time. I am appearing before the committee in a few days. I can do it either way, it is the same for me. I just do not want to take up other members' time.

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The Deputy Speaker

Perhaps we can clarify it. Is there unanimous consent to proceed with questions to the minister at this time for five minutes?

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Some hon. members


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The Deputy Speaker

I did not hear any nos. Is someone saying no to the proposal? No one is saying no.

We will therefore have a five minute question period.

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Stéphane Bergeron Bloc Verchères, QC

Mr. Speaker, I understand the concerns of my hon. colleague, the government House leader, and I must say that, up to a certain point, I share them.

If question and comment period is limited to only five minutes, it is obvious that all political parties will lose out. If we were to agree on, say, five minutes for each party, then I could agree but otherwise not.

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10:35 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Five minutes each. Is that agreed?

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Some hon. members


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An hon. member


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Ted White Reform North Vancouver, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a shame that we would not get the chance right at the beginning of this debate to ask the minister a few questions. It would help clarify the issues. Even if we all had to give up a half minute of our time, it would have helped to focus the debate.

The practice of referring bills to committee prior to second reading frankly is nothing more than a way for the government to fast track legislation that it really does not want the public and the media to get a good handle on.

I know that I am not allowed to use props, but we are looking at a bill that is 253 pages thick. This bill was introduced last Thursday in the House by the minister and just a few days later he wants to ram it into committee behind closed doors where the public and the media cannot see it. It is so full of objectionable stuff that he does not want anyone in the real world to catch on to what is happening.

The government House leader is denying the public and the media the opportunity to hear a meaningful debate of the extensive provisions in the bill before it goes to committee. How are the public and interested parties going to get enough information about this bill to come to committee and make meaningful comments, answer questions and suggest amendments when they are not going to know the bill is here?

The reality of the situation is that when this bill disappears later today after the vote into committee, nobody except a few special interest groups—and if they can get a few talk show hosts or media commentators to talk about it—will know it even exists. That is an absolutely appalling situation for such a comprehensive piece of legislation.

In the six years I have been in the House I have seen very few pieces of legislation that have been this thick. One of them would be the gun control bill, Bill C-68, some years ago. Look how long that bill took to move through the House. Here we have something that is going through in a flash.

If I had had the opportunity a few minutes ago, I would have asked the minister a couple of questions in connection with the Communist Party of Canada challenge to the elections act and the number of members that constitute a party. Why is it that the government House leader is so concerned that the Communist Party of Canada or the Green Party of Canada might actually have its party name on the ballot? What is the minister so afraid of that he wants to reinstate a rule that requires 50 candidates for a group to be labelled as a party? Why on earth is there anything wrong with two, three or 10 people getting together and saying they would like to be the such and such party and have their name printed on the ballot? Is the House leader so afraid of competition that he cannot stand the thought that some other credible group might actually be on the ballot?

If we look at Germany or New Zealand, both of which have mixed member proportional systems in their elections, or any other country that has a proportional element in its electoral system, there are up to 35 parties on the ballot. Yet the voters in those countries seem perfectly capable of making sensible decisions about which parties to elect and which to reject.

Why would the government House leader believe that Canadian voters are too stupid to make those same decisions? Surely when he stood there and argued that the final decision should be that of the Canadian voter, why does he not let them make that decision? Put anybody's name on the ballot, anybody who wants to apply under the rules and pay the candidate deposit. Let them put whatever name they want on the ballot and let the voters decide. I certainly believe that voters are sensible and smart enough to make that decision themselves.

Another question I would have asked the minister is in connection with patronage which riddles like a web the field operations of Elections Canada. Elections Canada has begged the government for years to remove the patronage provisions from the elections act. When Elections Canada advises third world governments and emerging democracies how to set up their electoral systems, it never recommends the system that is used here in Canada of political patronage in all of the field positions of Elections Canada.

The registered parties get to appoint returning officers, deputy returning officers and polling clerks. A whole host of people get paid positions as rewards for supporting the government or other parties. Elections Canada has begged for the right to hire and fire on merit. The government will not give it the right because it suits the government to reward political supporters.

The government House leader mentioned that he is going to give ROs the right to vote. We all know right now because of the patronage appointments that the ROs are all Liberals. I guess they must be afraid they do not have enough votes already so they have to claw in every single vote they can get.

In terms of third party spending, I heard the government House leader quote extensively from a decision of the court in Quebec because he really did not want to take any notice of the decisions in Alberta. It amuses and puzzles me that the government is prepared to ignore court decisions in B.C. that allow child pornography to run rampant. The government is quite prepared to ignore court decisions that endorse race based fisheries, but it rushes quickly to block any tiny little court decision that might diminish its advantage in elections, such as the 50 candidate rule and the third party expenses. It wants to retain the patronage. It pays lip service to democracy but its actions speak a lot louder than its words.

I mentioned the size of the bill. We have already started to contact a few parties, groups and individuals who have shown interest in the bill. We have not even been able to send them copies of the bill until yesterday by courier.

The minister wants to appear before committee as early as this Thursday. How can we expect it to be reasonable for interested people in the country, who may or may not have legal training, to go through 253 pages of a complicated bill, work out the implications for their group or part of society, prepare submissions, apply to come to Ottawa and transport themselves here by Thursday or maybe next week?

When the committee begins discussions on the timetable for the bill, I hope it will show some reasonable consideration for those outside this place who are interested and who would like to come here as witnesses and talk about the provisions in the bill. I hope the committee will have a realistic timetable that will perhaps extend into the spring of next year. I do not see why we should rush through on something as complicated as this bill.

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10:45 a.m.

An hon. member

Maybe there is a snap election coming.

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Ted White Reform North Vancouver, BC

One of my colleagues on this side says that there may be is a snap election election coming. It is interesting that he says that because I notice Bill C-2, which is pretty much a replacement for Bill C-83, which was introduced just before we broke for the summer and ended the first session, contains an extra couple of clauses that were not in Bill C-83. Those clauses deal with the registration of and reporting of parties prior to June 2000 if the bill is passed before then.

When I read those clauses, I just wondered if some sort of quick election was being planned and the government wants to make sure that certain things are in place by June of next year. It is interesting that my colleague mentioned that. I am not sure if he read those clauses but that was certainly there.

Even the debate we are having this morning is an affront to democracy. The House leader stood and talked about the democratic process and how he supports it. However the debate we are having now is an affront to democracy. We do not get to ask any questions of any speaker on the government side. We get the opportunity to put up four people, 10 minutes each, no questions and comments, have a vote that the government side will win and it is rammed into committee.

We have all been here long enough to know exactly what will happen behind closed doors. We are all adults. The bill will be rammed through clause by clause with no meaningful input. It will be back here in the House again in its final form. That is just not good enough.

I would urge the minister, if he truly believes in what he said this morning, to permit the bill to have a thorough investigation in committee and to permit meaningful amendments. The one which I will propose will surely not be too controversial. It is simply to build in the opportunity for the chief electoral officer to investigate and experiment with electronic voting. Since that has been in the Elections Act in Ontario for three years there is no reason it should not be in the federal act.

I look forward to being in committee. I also look forward to a meaningful debate once the bill is back in the House.

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10:45 a.m.


Stéphane Bergeron Bloc Verchères, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is with pleasure that I rise today to take part in the preliminary debate on Bill C-2, an act respecting the election of members to the House of Commons, repealing other acts relating to elections and making consequential amendments to other acts.

I would like to point out that, in preparation for this bill, no fewer than 14 sittings of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs were spent considering the present Canada Elections Act during this parliament.

Given our detailed and careful study, we were entitled to expect that the government would pay particular attention to the various recommendations formulated by the standing committee, but this did not seem to be entirely the case.

Certain unanimous recommendations of the committee are nowhere to be found in the bill. I will come back to this a little later in my speech.

To begin with, when we considered the Canada Elections Act, I was struck by two things in particular: funding of political parties, and the corollary issue of trust funds established to support candidates. No less important, I would say that the partisan process for appointing electoral officers also leaves me confused.

Under the Canada Elections Act, small and large corporations have always been able to contribute to the funding of federal political parties. This practice allows the various parties to amass huge sums, while making it less necessary to approach individual voters for money.

As they do not have to keep to a contribution limit, corporations may contribute huge sums to the federal political parties of their choice, and, need I point out, these contributions certainly do not go to political parties for purely philanthropic purposes.

The funding of political parties, as practised federally, necessarily implies preferential treatment for the most generous, and God knows just how generous they can be under the law.

I simply want to say that, with a simple contribution of a few dollars, the ordinary voter runs the risk of not having the ear of his political representatives to the same extent as a bank, which, for example, may make substantial contributions of up to several tens of thousands of dollars.

The situation creates different categories of contributors, and, unfortunately, different levels of attention to the many requests and expectations political leaders must address.

Today, we are considering a bill, which, according to the government, aims at, and I quote: “equity, transparency and accessibility”. I might question that. How can the government claim that this process is equitable, when the provisions of the bill do not establish any sort of limit for contributions?

Who could claim, without raising an eyebrow, that this system is truly equitable, transparent and accessible, a system that allows corporations, which do not have the right to vote, to meddle in the electoral process by making contributions far beyond the capability of the ordinary voter, and thus unduly influencing the political policy of the parties and the candidates seeking votes?

This bill runs counter to a narrow concept of the rules of democracy that should govern our society, since it still gives its wealthier members a more attentive ear and a greater voice with those representing the public.

As I mentioned in the introduction, having a trust fund to support candidates seems to be nebulous at the very least. Another financial matter, you will say. This point was unanimously recommended by the members of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs when the federal electoral legislation was studied.

The members of the committee wanted the government to clarify the rules governing this practice, which may make it possible to circumvent the already lax provisions of the election act on funding of political parties. Well, not a word; nothing we recommended on the subject appears in the bill we are now considering.

So what is the point of in depth examination in preparation for bills such as this one, if the government merely nods and takes from our deliberations only those elements that suit it and which it had already in all likelihood decided to legislate?

Does this mean that the work and recommendations of the committees are only recognized and implemented when they meet cabinet's expectations?

Large amounts of money may be deposited through trust funds in the election fund of a candidate, with no one being able to identify the source of that money. This directly contravenes the spirit and even the letter of the Canada Elections Act. Monitoring, through a legislative framework, the source of a candidate's trust funds would definitely have added greater transparency to the electoral system, to use a term so dear to this government. But the Liberals decided not to endorse that recommendation and one wonders why.

I will now address the appointment process of electoral officers, which is another example of transparency that is opaque, to say the least.

How can the government claim to have a transparent electoral process when returning officers are all appointed by the governor in council, that is by the party in office?

The Bloc Quebecois can only deplore the partisan nature of these appointments, something which is unacceptable in a process as democratic as an election.

The government preferred to keep this eminently partisan instrument, which it can use to its advantage, instead of leaving the electoral process in the hands of qualified, non-partisan and objective people. Can one truly believe that a returning officer appointed by the party in office will be unbiased? I have doubts about that in many cases. And what about the provisions dealing with third party interventions, which set a spending limit only for costs related to advertising?

When it considered issues such as the ones I mentioned earlier, my party came to the conclusion that the expressions “reform” and “in-depth review of the elections act” were somewhat exaggerated. It has been over 30 years since the Canada Elections Act last underwent any serious overhaul. The government claims to have put forth the so-called principles of equity, transparency and accessibility, when in fact it did nothing more than indulge in a primarily self-serving exercise at the expense of the voters that it should be serving.

Government members missed a good opportunity to demonstrate that they really had democratization of the electoral process at heart. It seemed to those of us in the Bloc Quebecois that, after thirty years of elections under this legislation, a serious reform could, and should, be undertaken. Having experienced, in this last year of the millennium, the Liberal regime and its twenty-five gags imposed in the first session of the 36th Parliament alone, it would be daydreaming o believe that the government truly intended to carry out any real modernization of the electoral system.

I will take this opportunity to express the wish that, despite the somewhat singular character of the legislative process in which we are currently engaged in order to pass bill C-2, the government will truly pay attention to the concerns expressed by the witnesses appearing before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, that it will be open to proposed amendments it might receive from the various parties in this House, and that it will be prepared to truly make this process, this operation to revise the federal election legislation, a process devoted to truly democratizing the electoral system in Canada.

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10:55 a.m.


John Solomon NDP Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on Bill C-2 which is the first major overhaul of the Canada Elections Act since 1970. MPs are very interested in the minute details of the bill because it is one of the key rule books for the sport of politics and the business of politics.

I will put the bill's importance into some kind of context. The biggest single difference between Canadian rules in elections and U.S. rules in elections is the fact that we have reasonable campaign spending limits in Canada. In the U.S. spending limits are stratospheric. One does not have to be a billionaire like Donald Trump, Ross Perot, Steven Forbes or Oprah Winfrey to run an election campaign in Canada as one would have to be in the U.S. We do not have to spend most of our time as elected members of parliament sucking up to the political action committees of various lobby groups that have the power to raise money for our campaigns or to spend millions of dollars to defeat us over some narrow issue.

It is true that we are seeing a few Americanisms entering our process on a small scale. If the National Citizens' Coalition and the Reform Party had their way we would have even more. They want American style health care and American style politics to help them get it.

Let us be proud of the following point. It cost Barbara Boxer $22 million U.S. to win her senate seat in California. That amount and more will be spent by both Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani as they run for the vacant New York senate seat.

In comparison, I just received a letter from the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada saying that the spending limit in my riding for the next election will be around $61,000. With a few more golf tournaments and potluck suppers by the hundreds of supporters we have in my district we can raise that money easily over a four year period.

We have these spending limits in part because David Lewis and the NDP were foresighted enough make them part of their price for supporting the minority Liberal government in 1974.

U.S. style campaign financing makes running for office an impossibility for ordinary citizens like most of us in the House. It turns election volunteers into full time, paid professionals, running round-the-clock, round-the-calendar election campaigns. It reduces interest groups and social movements to buying and selling votes instead of trying to influence public policy with the strength of their research and the moral weight of their arguments.

One benchmark to assess change in the elections act should be whether a certain provision helps more ordinary citizens get involved in the electoral system. Then it is worthy of support.

Another benchmark is if the provision encourages us to concentrate in the public interest and the public good, rather than endless fundraising from special interests. Then it is worthy of our support.

There are many changes in the act that the NDP supports. We support the national riding limits on third party advertising and the requirement to identify their sponsors. We believe uncontrolled advertising would distort elections in favour of those groups which can afford million dollar ad campaigns at the expense of democracy. Without this clause we would have the U.S. style financing to which I referred.

We also support polling blackouts during the last 48 hours of the campaign. Poll results are capable of being manipulated and the parties involved need to be given sufficient time to respond to published findings so the public can get the whole story.

We support changing the voting hours in Saskatchewan. I guess folks in central Canada who never heard of my province do not know that we observe only central standard time throughout the year, but at least now we will not be voting later than B.C. as we did in the last federal election campaign.

We support the changes which do not automatically deregister parties and thereby force the sale of assets if that political party for one election could not muster a slate of at least 50 candidates.

We strongly support the increases in the federal political contribution tax credit limits for individuals. This is an inclusionary policy. It involves more people and is the first change since the NDP obtained these credits as part of a package to democratize election financing in Canada back in 1974, fully 25 years ago.

Another positive change is the fact that all candidates are now eligible for the return of the $1,000 nomination deposit once the appropriate election expense returns are filed with Elections Canada. Previously candidates needed to get 15% of the vote or they would lose their deposit.

Official agents can be fired and replaced if necessary during a campaign and nomination papers can now be filed electronically or by fax. My colleagues from Yukon, Churchill River, Saskatchewan and Churchill, Manitoba will certainly appreciate this change as their ridings are bigger than most European countries. Of course they do not have the roads to match, at least not until we have a national highway program.

For our urban friends, the right of access for candidates and their volunteers to campaign in condos and apartments is strengthened.

We also support the changes which make it administratively easier for political parties to merge. Unfortunately, for the Leader of the Opposition, it cannot be made politically any easier for him, at least not in this piece of legislation.

However, there are two changes which we oppose, and there are some glaring omissions. We cannot support the elimination of so-called “rural vouching”. People who live in the city often do not know their neighbours. We know that. However, folks who live in the country all know one another. They grew up together, went to school together, farm together, do business together and are usually related to one another.

If Georgina says that Kaye got left off the list because she does not live on the farm any more, then everyone will take her word for it because that is the way things are. Some people can tell a lie to a stranger, some people cannot, but it is just about impossible to get away with telling a fib to a DRO, a poll clerk and three or four party scrutineers from your home town; any or all of whom could easily catch you out.

The Ontario election used the federal permanent voters list instead of their own enumeration and advertised for revisions. Almost every voter in certain polls in Toronto had moved during the intervening two year period. I know we will find the same thing next time in places like downtown Vancouver and, in particular, Vancouver East. If we do not reintroduce some mandatory enumeration of polls with a high proportion of renters or tenants we may wind up with the American situation where only rich people and homeowners get around to registering and voting. That would be a shame, unfair and undemocratic.

The other provision I cannot support and my party cannot support relates to returning officers. They are now able to vote, which is okay, but they are still appointed by the government. This is significant because they hold the job until they die or the riding boundaries change. These positions should be awarded after a competition on the basis of merit. A whole new merit system would be quite a refreshing change in the House of Commons. It is the only way to maintain the appearance of neutrality, as well as the practice.

What is missing? There were several issues omitted from this review of the elections act, a number of which are very important to the New Democratic Party.

At our recent policy convention we adopted a paper on democratic reform which made a number of recommendations, including promoting a form of proportional representation as appropriate for our country. A system of proportional representation would contribute to the Canadian sense that the House of Commons belonged to them and would reduce regional frictions, resulting in a more dynamic and equitable democracy in Canada, which is another refreshing suggestion.

The government and the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs decided not to examine proportional representation, or PR as we call it, in spite of a very thorough presentation by my colleague, the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle, and a lot of interest around the table. Given the level of cynicism about politics these days it is a pretty grave omission.

People feel their vote does not count when the allocation of seats in parliament does not fairly reflect the distribution of the popular vote. A modified system of PR, where most of the seats in the commons were still constituency based but a portion were allocated under a regional or percentage basis under a PR system, could go some way toward relieving this imbalance. PR would overcome some of the arguments about regional or provincial representation made by some defenders of the unelected, undemocratic Senate.

We would like to see the idea of fixed election dates reviewed as well. Our convention and our party supports this. This would remove one of the advantages that an incumbent political party has over every other political party in the country.

Finally, the voting age has not been lowered in this version of the act. The Liberals have been trumpeting their so-called children's agenda. In my view, let the young people vote on the children's agenda. In fact, it would be interesting to see how often all party leaders volunteered to campaign in high schools if these students could actually vote.

Young people are thought responsible enough to drive at age 16. They can be held responsible for committing violent criminal acts in adult court. More than that, they will have to live with the long term implications of decisions taken by the parliament of today.

Unfortunately, they are taken seriously enough by other parties in the House, some of which have been known to offer kids a free bus trip, pizza and a bit of booze to skip school and wave the flag. I believe that young people will live up to the expectations we have of them and will not disappoint us.

Many support lowering the voting age to 16, including my colleague, the member for Kamloops, Thompson and Highland Valleys, as well as the New Democratic Youth of Canada, the Nova Scotia NDP and many other organizations around the country.

Finally, one thing we would like to see addressed, which was raised by my colleague from Palliser, is the use of a private person's likeness without permission in an advertisement during a campaign. This should not be allowed. We will work to see that this happens.

I am glad to hear the government House leader say that he is prepared to co-operate on these issues. This week we are celebrating co-operatives week and I am pleased to see that the government House leader will co-operate with all parties to make some changes to this very important act.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Progressive Conservative Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to follow my hon. colleague. He has hit a very important tone; that is, on an issue such as this there should certainly be an element of co-operation

I also appreciate the opportunity to speak briefly to Bill C-2, formerly Bill C-83, an act to replace the Canada Elections Act. As has been pointed out by previous speakers, this is the first attempt in over 30 years to address this problem. The way in which this country elects its representatives is the cornerstone of democracy. It is important to examine closely all of the ways in which those changes would impact on our system.

To repeat what has been said earlier, this attempt, although perhaps the bill itself may appear at first blush as being rather cumbersome and lengthy, is a very important exercise as we engage in looking at some of these changes. Such legislation is required to update the language, add new provisions and recognize the content to reflect changes in the political landscape.

Roger Gibbons, a noted and highly respected political scientist and author, said that in most instances there is very little incentive to change a system that is on the government's side, a system that was responsible for electing it. I give the government some credit for having taken this bold initiative. Time will tell as to whether some of these suggested changes toward making the process more democratic will actually come to fruition.

Canada's electoral laws in their current form, while still very effective, do require updating. All Canadians, not just politicians, are affected very directly by our electoral laws, as voters, political party volunteers, as well as those who work as election officials on voting days have a very unique stake in what this legislation entails.

We know that just 38% of the Canada population elected the current government, which resulted in this very precarious majority government system that we now have.

I will not take the time of the House to review the bill in great depth that we are sending off to committee because it is at committee where this study will really get down to the nuts and bolts. However, I will point out a number of the positive elements as well as some of the areas of the bill that the Progressive Conservative Party takes issue with.

First, we are pleased to see that third party spending limits have been reintroduced to the $150,000 maximum, with no more than $3,000 against the individual candidate.

The PC Party is also pleased to see that measures have been taken to control Internet advertising. There is no ignoring the advances that are being made technologically in the country and while the Internet is a remarkable tool of communication for millions of Canadians we are still fine tuning its appropriate use. One needs only to mention the issue of child pornography and other particular broadcasts that are taking place on the Internet to highlight the fact that this is an area that has to be examined very carefully. The potential for abuse is very real.

Bill C-2 would eliminate the possibility of adding or deleting content from political parties' election websites after a blackout period, which is 72 to 48 hours. This is a positive step. Given the fact that someone could elevate confusion just prior to an election, this is something we have to take very seriously.

Just as with the Internet, the emergence of polls as an important communication tool is another element that cannot be ignored. The release of polls in relation to the proximity of election day has been an ongoing source of concern and frustration both for the elector and the electorate.

I am very pleased therefore to see that the provisions in the bill would require an individual or polling company who releases a poll during a writ period to provide an in-depth analysis of the poll itself, speaking to the voracity, I suggest, and the importance of the accuracy of the information being relayed. One can only hope that this measure would dramatically reduce the number of polls that are perhaps based on inaccurate or inadequate data. I also believe that it is important that the media take greater responsibility in clearly outlining the poll's methodology and how the findings were reported.

Another very positive change that has been alluded to is the changing of the voting hours, particularly in the province of Saskatchewan, but I suggest it is as important in Chicoutimi as it is in Antigonish or anywhere in the country.

An interesting addition to the legislation that is not contained in Bill C-2 would be to require the chief electoral officer to notify the leader of a political party of any outstanding filings from candidates. This, I believe, would be consistent with the efforts to be more transparent and open as to how all financial matters are being conducted.

The Conservative Party supports the initiative of the chief electoral officer to provide candidates with an estimation of the spending limits in their respective ridings. Greater clarity and understanding of the rules of engagement are extremely important to running efficient, effective and honest elections. This is certainly a tool that would assist candidates as they undertake their election preparedness.

An examination of the finances that takes place in Bill C-2 is an extremely important part of the legislation. Increased accountability, increased accessibility, transparency and all of those fine watch words that we hear have to be more than just words.

To quote the previous speaker, there is a high degree of cynicism that exists about the process that of course flows into a degree of cynicism about politics in general. If we can address this at the outset, early in the process, the process that is responsible for each and every member of the House arriving here in Ottawa as a representative, it will perhaps help to stem, to a degree, the cynicism that does exist.

Being able to identify how much money is given to parties will allow for scrutiny. There is some concern as to how this might act as a disincentive to some, but it is certainly an important area to look at and it is one of the specific areas that we in the Conservative Party very much look forward to examining in greater detail at the committee.

It is perhaps important as well to look at the raising of the thresholds for 75% of political tax credits from $100 to $200. We have some concerns with respect to the publishing of contributor's names and specific information about where they are doing business, their location and the ways in which they may be contacted. This may be a disincentive for some and if we want to encourage people to participate on a financial level in the process I think there has to be some respect for confidentiality. However, this will be dealt with in greater detail at the committee.

The return of the $1,000 candidate's deposit also encourages people to participate in the actual process because this is the basic threshold that a person has to cross to enter into the fray. The return of the $1,000 deposit is an important change.

The current legislation simply requires that a name be provided when a donation is made. Bill C-2, just to hearken back to my earlier point, now requires that an individual must provide addresses for publication. This may raise real concerns for individuals who do not wish to have this information made public. The committee will be delving into that in greater detail.

Another area of concern that the Conservative Party has, and it is a rather vague concept, deals with the issue of party mergers. I will not get into this particular debate today. There has been a lot of debate outside of the House in a different context, and it is not something that the Conservative Party has pursued.

My initial interpretation of the section in Bill C-2 dealing with mergers requires simply that two political parties wishing to merge obtain a signature of two leaders in respective parties. I can think of a personal example where that will not happen. A 30-day waiting period is then imposed.

However, there is some concern that when an election is called, that the merger itself would be nullified. So there is some nebulous content in the bill respecting mergers. I believe we may be heading down a slippery slope if we were to accept carte blanche what is currently in the legislation.

There is one other concern I would just like to put on the record. Our party has some difficulty with the role of the registered district agents or auditors. While the principle behind this is sound, it is imperative that the mandate and the position of this particular person be clarified in the legislation. The role of the registered district agent or auditor has far-reaching powers and it is something that must be clarified.

We are also aware of the seriousness of electoral fraud. We know it can be a problem. We must therefore empower those auditors and individuals entrusted with the role of overseeing elections with the ability to act and act with clarity and force. However, those powers must be carefully examined before they are laid down.

I think there was mention of the difference between rural and the vouching for individuals. We recognize that there is in some instances in rural communities the ability of a neighbour to come and vouch for a person but there should be some clarity and perhaps a method for doing so.

I am encouraged that the government has recognized this as an area for change to produce a more democratic, better functioning electoral system. I look forward to taking part in the debate at the committee and look forward to waiting to see how the government will react to the input that it will receive no doubt from all members of the opposition.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

11:15 a.m.


Peter Adams Liberal Peterborough, ON

Madam Speaker, I am particularly pleased to be able to speak in the debate on the new Canada elections bill. I was the chair of procedure and House affairs last year when we dealt with this matter on a preliminary basis.

It has already been mentioned by some members of the opposition that this is a large bill. The fact of the matter is that this is one of the underpinnings of our democracy. Our legislation and Elections Canada are a model to the world. People come to Ottawa regularly from other countries to examine how we do things.

It has been 30 years since there was a comprehensive review of this important piece of legislation. Over those years, of course, given the changes in technology and in communications across the country, all sorts of smaller changes have been made to it, trying to keep it up to date and so on.

I am particularly pleased at this time that the government has seen fit not just to fix parts of it but to take this very basic piece of legislation and develop what is essentially a new act. The time is right for that given the changes of the last three decades.

The process on how this was done has been mentioned. It was unusual, and I realize that it may be difficult for some opposition members to understand.

The Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, which is the committee responsible in the House for the Canada Elections Act, conducted an elaborate review of this last year. I recommend the report that resulted from that review to all members of the House and to anybody watching this on television. I recommend it not because it provides all the answers or that it provides a sort of complete blueprint from which this new legislation was taken, but because it presents all the views of registered parties, members of parliament, members of the House and others who appeared before the committee.

The report does not say one way or the other how it should be done. It says what particular issue is at stake, what the views are that were presented to us and whether or not the committee had a consensus view. The report, which involved very wide consultation in the House and beyond, provided the basis for the drafters of the legislation, which was very useful to them.

During the committee's consultations, we did not start with a blank space. We had before us the work of our predecessors over the last 30 years in the House of Commons, for example the Lortie commission which the minister mentioned. We considered the recommendations of the Lortie commission, many of which have not been acted upon, with great care and included them in the committee's report.

We also considered the recommendations of the special committee of the House which dealt with electoral matters only a few years ago. We considered those and they are also referenced in the report. The drafters had the Lortie commission, the recommendations of the special committee of the House and the general framework laid out based on the consultations of last year's Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

Now, continuing the process, the minister wants the bill to go directly to committee for further consultation not only with members of the House but, as usual, by holding public hearings with people across the country. There will be further input. I commend the minister for that. It is very courageous and appropriate to get the bill into committee now so it can be debated by all members of the House.

We have now heard from the minister and a number of members of the opposition parties. There was criticism of course from the opposition parties but it was constructive criticism.

Because it is a very thick document, I would like to point out the sorts of things the bill is trying to deal with. In doing that I underestimate the bill in some ways. It is not a bill that simply fixes bits and pieces of the legislation. It is a bill that rewrites the legislation to fit with the modern era. Nevertheless, I will mention some of the specific points.

Let me give some examples of the way people as voters will benefit from the legislation. Canadian voters temporarily abroad will be able to submit their ballots at embassies and consulates. The legislation has not been revised for 30 years. Thirty years ago it would have been very difficult to administer a system like this. One can well imagine people in remote embassies trying to get a valid vote back into Canada. It could have been quite difficult and could have delayed the process. We now need something easier so that is being done.

The minister made the point about signs in multiple dwelling units. We know we can canvass in buildings which are like small communities in some of our cities. People live in those communities. They walk the corridors, ride the elevators and so on. The legislation, with respect to signage from political parties, has been different inside these dwellings than it was outside. The modern reality is that many of us live in multiple dwellings. It is very appropriate that those of us who do live in those dwellings have the same chance to advertise and show our political affiliation as the people who live in single or small units.

If members think about the changes over the last 30 years, they think about the role of polls. Polls are now part of modern life like so many other things. Maybe in the backs of our minds we would like to turn the clock back to when polls did not exist but they do exist. It is now possible to sample thousands of people in a very short time and very quickly put the results of that sampling in front of people as they are watching TV at night. This is now recognized in the legislation today.

The legislation does not ban polls or anything of that sort. Among other things, it states that during an election campaign when a poll first appears, the first time it is mentioned in the campaign, the methodology, that is the exact way in which the poll was conducted, will have to be given to the public. We will know if is a straw poll and it is somebody selling hamburgers and counting the hamburgers that are red or blue or whatever the methodology may be, or if it truly is a statistically based sampling of people in all regions, people of all ages, people of different income groups and those types of thing. I think it is very appropriate nowadays because the general public is well informed about such things. Now, when a poll first appears in an election, the methodology will be described and it will allow us all to judge the reliability of the results of that polls.

Because we have so much information and it is so easy to get information out, it is very appropriate that the legislation provide us with more complete information on the registered parties, what they stand for and what their organizational basis is, more information on the candidates who run, whether they run for main line parties or some local issue of that sort, and more information on what we in the House now know as third parties.

Third parties are groups that are not registered and have no running candidates in an election, but want to be able to advertise on a particular issue in a certain constituency. Again, it is very appropriate when that occurs. If it is a legitimate activity, we need to know who those people are, where they are coming from and, in this legislation, that there be information about them and spending limits—in this case $3,000 per constituency—on them in the same way as all candidates and all parties have spending limits and have to provide information.

This is a fundamental piece of legislation. The process so far has been very positive and open. It is my sense that when this gets to committee it will create great interest and input from all members. I look forward to the discussions. I urge all members to move forward so that at the end of this process we will have a new, even stronger Canada Elections Act.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

11:25 a.m.


Rob Anders Reform Calgary West, AB

Madam Speaker, I have to admit that this is one of those days when I am actually sick to my stomach to be a member of parliament. It is obscene and unconscionable that the government brings through, to serve its own ends, some of the restrictions on the freedom of speech that it is doing today.

The idea that a ruling party seeks to restrict the ability of any other person or group to counter government propaganda during an election is frankly evil. The government currently uses its advertising to an unfair advantage. It uses unbridled partisan activities. I could come up with numerous examples but I do not think I need to. The population of the country knows them well.

I do not understand why a government is allowed to use taxpayer funding to get themselves re-elected. I think that is wrong.

Citizens should be able to enforce provisions by filing complaints with Elections Canada to prevent governments from doing those types of things with taxpayer funds.

Another aspect I would like to touch on is the whole idea of patronage. Elections Canada as an instrument of democracy is rife with people who are chosen by the government to do its bidding during elections. I cannot think of a better example in government of a totally patronage ridden system. Other countries would be wise never to copy such a thing.

With regard to spending limits, two separate court decisions in Alberta have struck down spending limits as unconstitutional. It is not the place of the government to limit the right of an individual Canadian or a group of Canadians to spend their own money in support of an idea. There is a saying that nothing is so important as an idea whose time has come, but you can bet that this government will toss as many roadblocks and obstacles at the success of an idea as it possibly can.

I cite just one example among many, the Charlottetown accord. Those people who call others enemies of Canada outspent the other side by a ratio of 13:1, yet the people's voice still came through.

Spending limits only really serve the interests of the governing party. I will elaborate on that later.

Regarding registered party status, in March an Ontario court struck down requirements that would force a party to run 50 candidates in order to have its candidates listed with party affiliation on the ballot. By what rationale are two candidates or more not sufficient to be recognized as a political party? This is why. It is because the governing party likes big parties.

The Liberals like the idea that you cannot start up small and expand and it does not like competition. That is the reason these rules have been put in. It goes so far as to require the liquidation of a party's assets and to send the money to the receiver general for failure to run 50 candidates in an election. How dare they. Why not let the voters rather than the government decide who they want to represent them?

It is nothing but a clear attempt to stifle the formation and growth of new parties and to limit competition on the ballot. In other countries that have proportionate representation they make selections between 35 parties or more on a given ballot, yet the Liberals, the ruling party across the way, tell Canadians by this legislation that they are too stupid to make the same types of distinctions on ballots. That is exactly what the Liberals are saying by this legislation.

A small issue which one of the other members touched on is the idea of party mergers. This legislation will disallow local decisions for parties to run a single candidate between them. Instead it centralizes power and requires the signature of party leaders in order to perform some sort of local merger. It disallows the idea of local decisions and local self-determination.

On the idea of voter identification, currently an electoral official may ask for proof of identification but a voter can take an oath instead. Imagine the strange and bizarre scenario where a homeless friend of the prime minister could arrive at a voting station and say “I do not have any proof of my eligibility to vote or proof of residence”. “What is your name, sir?” “John Crouton”. “Where do you live, sir?” “24 Sucks Us Drive, Ottawa, Ontario”. And that person may be eligible to vote. That is a travesty in our democracy.

That type of abuse could go on at our polling stations. Identification should be shown to prove eligibility and residence. That is only fair. It substantiates our right to vote and gives it some validity.

I will talk about taxpayer subsidies. We should oppose any assistance to political parties and political lobbies from public funds. Taxpayers should not be expected to fund activities designed to persuade them how to vote. There should be no reimbursement for those types of things.

On the issue of byelections, the legislation reads now that byelections must be called within six months but not held within six months. The distinction is it allows the ruling party to time byelections according to its own circumstances which it does all too well. With new computerized voters lists there is no problem with holding elections within six months and indeed that has been done.

I will quote a few different sources which I think eloquently back up some of the things I have been talking about today, some of the travesties which I think are being done to our elections act and to democracy.

Dave Rutherford writes a column in the province of Alberta and also runs a local talk radio show. He pointed out that one of our former prime ministers actually once said during an election campaign that it was not the time nor the place to discuss complex issues. A person who says that kind of thing is probably the type of person who wants to bring forward legislation that would restrict freedom of speech and restrict competition on the ballot. I do not doubt that for a second.

These people want to control the election agenda. They want to ensure that political parties themselves, particularly the government party, can establish the agenda of an election.

Unfortunately I note that I only have one minute left in my time. I would like to quickly read into the record the type of subsidies that go on and who they benefit.

The upshot of this is that the Liberals had a spending limit of over $30 million in 1997 but surprise, $22 million of that was in direct and indirect subsidies from the Canadian taxpayer in terms of spending rebates and political tax credits.

I think it is wrong. People should do what they can to fight this legislation. I urge those who challenge it in the courts to please do so. I hope that even though legislation like this was brought forward by Trudeau in 1983, again by the Conservative government when it was in office and by the NDP in British Columbia, that it once again will be thrown out as unconstitutional by the courts of this land.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

October 19th, 1999 / 11:35 a.m.


Carolyn Bennett Liberal St. Paul's, ON

Madam Speaker, it is always a privilege to take part in a debate as important as the one we are conducting today.

The vast majority of the measures in the bill are as a result of a long broad based, painstaking consultation process. Today we are referring this bill, the new Canada Elections Act, to committee before second reading. The results of the consultation were subjected to careful analysis by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. The proposed amendments to the current Canada Elections Act stem directly from that analysis which was performed by members of all parties represented in this Chamber.

Our first responsibility as parliamentarians is therefore to pass those improvements into law and give Canada an elections act which is suited to the society of today and more important still, to the society of tomorrow. We should bear in mind that the new elections act we pass will govern the election of the first government of the next millennium.

Our second responsibility and no less important, far from it, is to uphold Canada's role in the eyes of the whole world as a leader in democracy. The virtues of our democratic system are known and recognized the world over. In this area as others, Canada has served as a model, one which is acclaimed at home and indeed abroad.

Although we have a firmly established reputation for democracy, we must always work continually to maintain it. Our whole democratic system in its fullest and most noble expression rests first and foremost on our electoral process, the very process which is our task to perfect here today. We must work to perfect it. We must ever strive for perfection knowing however we will never fully achieve it.

No matter how strong our collective commitment as members of parliament to the shared cause of serving Canadians may be, there will always be new circumstances, special situations, unforeseen snags and impediments along the way. Simply the process of social change, the pace of which has increased exponentially as a right of technological explosion, makes a periodic review necessary.

The amendments before us today are in keeping with the existing act's three hallmarks: fairness, transparency and accessibility. They relate chiefly to the three distinctive areas of administrative adjustments, publication bans and spending by third parties during election campaigns.

On the last point, the courts have found some aspects of the act to be too restrictive and incompatible with the charter of rights and freedoms. However while that decision settled one problem, it has created another. The result is while the official parties and candidates must abide by stringent spending rules, the third parties remain exempt. We believe this is fundamentally unfair.

In view of the broad public support in the regulation of election expenses, especially as we look to our neighbours to the south and see that it seems that now only the rich may run, there has been demonstrated public support for extending this rule to third parties. To make these rules fair for everyone, Bill C-2 will raise the spending limit for third parties to $150,000 nationally and $3,000 per riding.

The second main issue of the bill deals with the matter of publication bans which have also been contested in the courts. The regulations concerning partisan advertising and the publication of public opinion polls have been the subject of various court challenges. On this point too the new measures are based on the principles of fairness but also accessibility. They would limit publication bans to the 48 hours before the vote and require that the methodology used in opinion polls be released at the same time as the poll results.

As I have mentioned, the first major component of the bill relates to various changes of a basically administrative nature. Here more than anywhere else the three great principles of fairness, transparency and accessibility apply and are in evidence.

We had previously settled the problems relating to the release of election results and closing of polling stations given the existence of different time zones in Canada. However, we had not dealt with the special case of Saskatchewan which, unlike the other western provinces, does not move its clocks forward in summer. The bill provides for this adjustment.

Another inequity had cropped up under the current act which was with returning officers not having the right to vote except in the event of a tie. This did not appear consistent with the provisions of the charter of rights and freedoms. This bill will give the returning officers the right to vote like all Canadians. If there is a tie, there will simply be another vote.

The third point relates to urban concentration. Multi-unit buildings, condominiums and homes for the aged are proliferating in some towns and are home to a growing number of voters. We are proposing in Bill C-2 to let candidates campaign in dwellings of that type and to let tenants or owners, as the case may be, put up posters and signs.

It has been my experience that certain boards of condominiums have instituted private bylaws prohibiting canvassing which then is enforced by security guards. I was involved in one situation where the security guard was fired for having let canvassers into the building.

Our existing Canada Elections Act is an exceptional, remarkably effective document which has served Canadians well for many years. Many other countries in the world would like to be able to say the same. It remains however, like many other laws, that it needs to be updated periodically. Some of its provisions are 30 years old.

As I have pointed out, the changes before us are based on a thorough analysis of the situation performed by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, an analysis which I think we can all agree is untainted by partisanship. That analysis yielded a number of suggestions and in some cases, conclusions which were included in the committee's nearly unanimous report. Based on that report the government framed the new measures that are being proposed to improve the Canada Elections Act.

Personally, I believe these new measure will achieve their purpose. I am convinced that in the medium term and the long term the new provisions will raise the quality of our democratic system to a still higher level.

The main purpose of a new elections act is to build democratic respect for the rights and freedoms of a country's citizens and let all citizens freely choose the people who will represent them, defend their rights and ultimately ensure their quality of life. I wholeheartedly recommend passage of the bill in its entirety.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

11:45 a.m.


Madeleine Dalphond-Guiral Bloc Laval Centre, QC

Madam Speaker, after the Constitution Act, the Canada Elections Act is, without a doubt, the cornerstone of our democracy.

The purpose of this act, which encompasses the entire electoral process, is to ensure that the rules of democracy are respected so that the House of Commons reflects, as faithfully as possible, the wishes expressed by voters.

This act has not been overhauled in over 30 years. It was time, and we might have expected Bill C-2 to opt clearly for transparency. On reading it, however, we are forced to admit that, for this government, there is many a slip twixt the cup and the lip. The transparency is still veiled; I would even go so far as to say that the veils number at least seven.

There are 577 clauses in the present bill. For the initial consideration of some 250 pages of text, before Bill C-2 is referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, 301 parliamentarians will have a total of 180 minutes: three hours of debate. This will allow a mere 6% of elected members to speak. Given that nine of 18 opportunities to speak go to the government party, that leaves nine for the four opposition parties.

Already, the decision to go with this entirely parliamentary rule might suggest that the government is not too inclined to hear what the opposition might have to say on this subject.

During the few minutes allotted to me, I would like to draw particular attention to two points that we feel are fundamental but which are striking by their very absence: democratic funding of political parties, and the method of appointing returning officers.

For over 20 years, Quebec has been able to take just pride in having had the courage to clean up party funding by allowing only individual voters to contribute to party coffers.

The contribution limit is set at $3,000 per voter. The Quebec legislation, which has been in effect for over 20 years, has been proven effective and we are sorry that Bill C-2 shows not even the hint of a desire to take a similar approach.

However, not a month goes by that events do not make us think that perhaps the influence of contributors to the government's electoral fund is directly proportional to the size of their cheque. Is it simply by chance that the Minister of Transport is on good terms with the president of Onex? The question is put; it is up to you to come up with hypotheses.

Clearly, the bill before us today will not increase the public's confidence in the political parties. The old adage “Them that has gets” has not lost its meaning entirely.

So long as corporations, both large and small, can contribute to the electoral coffers as they like, with no restriction, democracy will be at risk.

For a country that wants to be the best and prides itself on being so, the federal approach to funding in this bill is an obvious blight on democracy.

In 75 days or so, we will be in the next millennium. How can we not regret the fact that this government prefers the status quo to clearly opting for transparency? Not only is the ordinary individual's perception of elected officials not improved, but, more importantly, democracy would come out ahead with legislation that recognized the vital need to give back to voters and to them alone the responsibility for the vitality of the political parties.

The second matter I would like to draw your attention to is that of the selection of returning officers.

Far be it from me to cast any doubt whatsoever on the ability of the governor in council to make valid recommendations in this connection. Moreover, making the number of appointments of all kinds that fall under its jurisdiction must be a full time job. Yet the fact that appointments of returning officers are perceived as political appointments in itself casts some doubt on the impartiality of these appointments.

The role of returning officer is key to the entire electoral process. He is responsible for applying the legislation and for settling any conflicts. As everyone is aware, a decision can satisfy some and stir up controversy with others. Just how wise is it to maintain a controversial system of appointment rather than assigning this responsibility to a committee which would examine applications for the position submitted in a competition?

Could a candidate defeated in a previous federal election be appointed returning officer? There have already been appointments as surprising as this within the present selection process. It is not unreasonable to believe that a committee would select from among the candidates the person best fitting the requirements of ability plus impartiality. And if, by chance, a former Bloc Quebecois candidate were to become a returning officer, there is a good chance that he or she would make an excellent one.

Here again, the government had a choice of transparency, but once again it has chosen the status quo. That is a choice that we regret.

On the 18th century, Montesquieu wrote “The love of democracy is a love of equality”. Canada is a democratic country, but democracy is as fragile as fine china, and the lawmakers have a duty to protect it. Not only to protect it, but to improve it.

By maintaining the present rules for political party funding and the appointment of returning officers, Bill C-2 confirms our suspicions that the democratic discourse adopted by the government does not necessarily have as its corollary any love for equality.

We greatly regret this, and in the words of Châteaubriand, a parliamentarian himself, we are forced to acknowledge that this bill does not meet our legitimate expectations and that, “despite the efforts of democracy to raise its standards with its grand goals, its standards are lowered by its actions”.

What a pity that the democratic habits of the Liberal Party will, instead of raising the standards of Canadian democracy, remorselessly lower those standards.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.


Nelson Riis NDP Kamloops, BC

Madam Speaker, it is a delight to have an opportunity to speak today to Bill C-2 to amend the elections act. My presentation will be somewhat different from some of the others we have heard so far, which I must say have all been quite interesting.

I will be very specific in my comments. I want to make clear that I am not necessarily speaking in terms of advancing New Democratic Party policy. It is a policy in a number of our sections. I know it is a policy also in a number of other party sections, particularly the youth sections. I am referring in particular to section 3 of the elections act which states that every person who is a Canadian citizen and is 18 years of age or older on polling day is qualified as an elector.

As we begin the 21st century, we hear more and more from all political parties about the concern of young people. The way society and the economy are going there will be a future for them. The younger generation will be taking on major leadership roles very quickly and at very young ages.

We should listen to the words of the government House leader today when he said that we should work to make the act better for all Canadians. This is the first time we have had a chance for some major overhaul for the past almost 30 years and we should consider lowering the voting age from age 18 as it currently is to age 16.

Probably most MPs like myself spend a lot of time in high schools talking to young people. If there is one point that stands out clearly it is that young people today are very informed, very serious, and very hard working. We do not often hear about them. We often hear about the ones that are the small minority, but overwhelmingly young people today are incredibly bright, hard working and dedicated to their studies.

It becomes very clear that they are very well informed about political, economic and societal issues. When it comes to elections in some cases I am prepared to say that many of Canada's young people aged 16 or 17 are probably more informed than their parents on some issues.

I wonder if it is not time for us now to be as bold in our thinking as members of parliament as others in the past were bold and said against incredible opposition that it was time for women to have the vote. To think anything other than that now is absolute folly. Also it was suggested a few years ago that first nations people should have a chance to vote. To think back that we as a country only allowed first nations people to vote in the 1960 general elections is almost incredible.

Today I am suggesting that young people aged 16 and 17 should be given the opportunity to participate in Canada's electoral process.

Section 215 of the criminal code says that everyone is under a legal duty as a parent, foster parent, guardian, or head of a family to provide the necessities of life for a child under the age of 16 years.

At age 16 a whole number of things change for young people. At age 16, for example, they can drive any kind of vehicle on our highways. They can join and serve in the armed forces of Canada. They are eligible for adult court consideration in our justice system. They can use a firearm and go hunting. They can leave school if that is their wish. They are no longer under their parents' legal obligation to care for children. They have the legal right to get married and to raise children. They can be eligible to receive social assistance but they cannot participate in Canada's electoral process.

They are not permitted to vote. They can go hunting, drive cars, get married and join the armed forces, but we do not permit young people who wish to vote the opportunity to cast their ballots in terms of the party of their choice and of the policies of their choice. After all, people who are aged 16 and 17 probably have the most to lose or gain by policies that parties and governments put forward compared to others in society.

Let us look at what happens in other jurisdictions that have given the vote to young people aged 16 and 17. There are countries which for a number of years have said that they want our young people to participate in the electoral process, to get involved. We do it for a particular set. Young people of 16 and 17 years of age are welcome to join a political party and choose the leader of that party. They are welcome to participate in enumeration during election time. They are welcome to participate and develop party policy for the New Democrats, the Reform Party, the Conservatives or the Liberals. They can choose leaders, develop policy and participate in the electoral process, but they cannot vote. There seems to be some inconsistency here, some slight hypocrisy in our positioning when we say we want to involve young people in their country's electoral process, we want them to participate but we will not let them vote on voting day.

Now there is a window of opportunity which we have not had for a long time as members of parliament. We can say to young people that not only do we want them to participate in the electoral process to determine the future of their country but we certainly want them to be able to cast a vote on election day by lowering the voting age from 18 to 16. It would potentially add almost 700,000 young people to the voters list. They would not all want to vote, just as their parents do not all want to vote. A lot of adults do not vote today but the majority do.

There are jurisdictions that have permitted young people to vote. A number of years ago Brazil said it wanted 16 and 17 year olds to participate in the electoral process. There were a lot of naysayers who said that they do not care about politics and they will not participate, blah, blah, blah, but the reality is quite the contrary. The participation rate of 16 and 17 year old voters in Brazil is higher than the average. In other words, given the opportunity to involve themselves in a meaningful way in their country's future, these young people rallied to the cause, as do young people in Nicaragua. They also have the opportunity to participate and vote at ages 16 and 17. They are participating and showing interest in numbers beyond those of their parents.

Knowing the young people I know and I suspect it is the same for my colleagues in the House of Commons, when we go to high schools and technical schools and we talk to these young people about the future, they have ideas. They know the situation. They have concerns. They would love to participate in the electoral process if we gave them that opportunity. From the limited information we have of those countries that permit this, not only do young people participate but they participate enthusiastically.

My understanding is that the youth wings of all the political parties in the House have endorsed this concept, at least in principle or in detail. Many of the provincial sections of our parties have adopted the idea of considering lowering the voting age from 18 to 16.

As we look through the various clauses of the elections act before us, clause 3 says a person has to be 18. Let us go back 30, 40 or 50 years, or to where we changed the age from 21 to 18. It was stated at that time that 18 year olds were much more informed than they were previously.

We all know about the technological revolution that has taken place in the last few years. Now young people are plugged into the electronic world probably a whole lot more than we are. They understand the issues. They know how to get the information. Those who wish to be are tuned in to the web pages of political parties. They are on the Internet. As a matter of fact some of them spend half their life on the Internet becoming informed about all kinds of issues.

For those young men and women who are 16 and 17 years old, let us be bold as members of parliament as we approach the 21st century and extend to them a welcoming hand. Let us say we want them to participate in their country's electoral process. For goodness sake let us give those who wish to vote the opportunity to do so.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders



John Harvard Liberal Charleswood—Assiniboine, MB

Mr. Speaker, let me first say that I find it particularly satisfying and exciting to begin the new session of parliament with the prime objective of improving our nation's democratic process.

Bill C-2, the purpose of which is to replace the current Canada Elections Act, was born of a great consensus here in parliament. The measures that are being proposed are in fact the outcome of a long and comprehensive consultation exercise, a process in which all parties represented in the House took part through the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. That consultation, conducted with the highest regard for the principles of parliamentary democracy, generated many suggestions and even allowed us to draw certain conclusions. The bill we are examining today is therefore not exclusively the creation of the government; rather it reflects to a considerable extent the opinions of all parties present in the House.

Our electoral system has certainly made its mark throughout the world. New democracies are taking inspiration from it and using it as a model. True, this electoral system has evolved over the years and up to now has generally served the Canadian people well. But like anything else in the real world, an electoral system is never perfect. Because the society it serves is constantly changing, our electoral system must not only keep pace with this evolution, but it should anticipate it to the greatest extent possible.

When we come to think of it, an electoral system is never intended to respond to the limited needs of the day. On the contrary, an electoral system must anticipate tomorrow's democratic society and prepare for it. To achieve this objective, Canada has spared no effort. Over the past few years there have been countless studies and reports.

The Lortie commission on electoral reform, to name one, made numerous recommendations. Those recommendations brought about the striking of a special House committee which in turn produced five separate reports to the House of Commons.

More recently, Canada's chief electoral officer, Jean Pierre Kingsley, submitted his own report following the 1997 election. This towering mass of work bears witness to the interest parliamentarians take in electoral reform. This new bill marks its culmination.

In fact, our task is basically to improve a system that has made our democracy a source of pride and international recognition. We must correct a few imperfections, fill some gaps, update some components of the existing act to better reflect today's reality, but perhaps most important, adapt each measure to the requirements of the charter of rights and freedoms.

This latter aspect relates to some of the financial measures more specifically, the participation of third parties in election campaigns, for example. To what extent should we accept this participation and what restrictions are to be imposed on spending? Those issues have already raised much controversy, including legal action. In this regard, the new bill provides for higher limits to allowable spending, $150,000 nationally and $3,000 per riding.

In terms of administration, Bill C-2 includes a series of new measures intended to facilitate many matters and here again to better respect Canadians' rights and freedoms.

Among other measures, Bill C-2 provides that returning officers will have the right to vote, which has not been the case in the past.

The third important aspect of the bill concerns publication bans on both advertising and polls. This is another aspect of the act that has been contested before the courts. The elections act of 1974 banned all electoral advertising at the beginning of the campaign and before voting day. This was the situation until 1996 when the Alberta Court of Appeal rejected this principle in the Somerville case.

As far as publicizing the result of polls is concerned, the ban applied for 72 hours before polling. Last year however, the supreme court handed down a decision in the Thomson case declaring this to be inconsistent with the exercise of rights and freedoms. That decision of the supreme court also added an important proviso in that it stipulated voters should be given the opportunity to make up their own minds as to the credibility of polls by analysing the methodology. Thus the court was saying that parliament's restrictions might be more acceptable if they included a requirement to make the polling methodology public along with the results of each poll.

As a result, the government has opted for the best possible compromise in the new measures being put forward. First, all bans at the beginning of the electoral campaign are lifted. Second, the bans before voting day are shortened from 72 hours to 48 hours. Third, the bill requires that the publication of all public opinion polls during an election period include in the first 24 hours of publication, full details of the polling method applied. This decision first and foremost was intended to ensure fairness toward all voters.

Obviously some will cry censorship. They will argue that Canadian voters are perfectly capable of separating the wheat from the chaff and selecting the information that is meaningful to them. That may very well be. However the 48 hour period is a means of giving the voters a bit of a respite before they go to the polls, allowing time for personal and individual reflection without outside influence. I should note here that the supreme court in the Thomson decision did not take this reflection period into consideration. I believe this is a serious argument that brings the new measures entirely within the intent of the charter of rights and freedoms.

As to polling methodology, its publication will enable people to get a better idea of whether the results are based on professional polling or amateur surveys.

In closing, this electoral reform is yet another means of preserving what is most precious to all the people of Canada, our democracy. As we go about our day to day business we do not often have to think of it and when we do, we often see our democratic freedoms as an acquired right, perhaps even as our due. Yet it takes only passing attention to international events of late unfortunately to remind us of the richness of our democracy. It is this richness that Bill C-2 seeks to preserve.

With Canada being a world leader in this area, there is no standard to follow. We must learn as we go. We must learn from our mistakes, our imperfections and our evolution. This is exactly what electoral reform is aimed at, improving the elections act equitably and transparently. Surely it is possible in order to safeguard what we as Canadians most cherish, our democratic freedoms.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

André Harvey Progressive Conservative Chicoutimi, QC

Mr. Speaker, modernizing the Canada Elections Act is of the utmost importance to update a tool that is indispensable to the framing of our democracy.

I think it is not going too far to say that, after 30 years, we must carefully look at every detail of this issue. It is a start. Members of the House of Commons have done some preliminary work that is very important. But this bill is far from being perfect.

In this exercise, it is essential to keep in mind that the work that has started and will continue over the next few weeks and the next few months will serve Canadian democracy and also each Canadian who must assume his or her responsibility to vote at specific intervals.

It is important to consider certain elements which, to us, seem indispensable. This is a very laborious exercise. We are addressing issues on which it may be difficult to reach a consensus. The numerous clauses and hundreds of pages setting out the proposals to be submitted to the House at a later time force us to recognize that it is almost a monk's job that will be asked of parliamentarians.

It will be hard to agree on everything. Regarding the financing of political parties, for example, policy issues will arise that will need to be discussed. And these will be difficult issues.

There is, for example, the issue of popular financing, which was introduced in Quebec. In spite of the fact that the act marked a huge improvement in the exercise of democratic rights, it is not perfect either. Under the provincial act, a business or its members may still contribute to the financing of political parties.

For example, in a law firm, only personal contributions are allowed. However, the firm itself could very well ask its members to contribute to a political party with the promise of being reimburse by the firm. A direct link between financing and democracy is not as easy as it may seem to make. These are nuances that will be important to address in debate or in committee.

The selection of returning officers is also an issue that will have to be addressed. We need to put in place a system where returning officers at least appear to be beyond too direct political influence. In debate, it will be very interesting to hear suggestions from all political parties and all Canadians on how to improve this procedure.

It will also be important to consider issues such as the voting age. It is becoming almost unavoidable to change the legal voting age given that, as one of my colleagues noted, young people are increasingly well-informed, and from an earlier age, about the problems and challenges they will have to face during their life.

It will be important to consider changes in that respect. Letting younger people take part in a democratic process, in an election, would probably force the vast majority of Canadians to be more attuned to the priorities that are of particular concern to young people. Some of our debates, which have been going on for over 15, 25 or 30 years, will have to be set aside, so that we can deal with issues that concern young people.

In that context, we have to be open to the idea of lowering the voting age. To allow young people to vote at age sixteen might be appropriate. At that age, and even before, young people are increasingly aware of the issues confronting them. Such a change might bring some fresh air to the Canadian democracy.

Let us not forget that these amendments to the Canada Elections Act concern all Canadian voters. That is why we may have to try to go as far as we can in seeking a consensus, so as to achieve near-unanimity in the House of Commons regarding this legislation.

There will obviously be policy issues involved. Each party has been adhering to certain principles for many years, even decades. In undertaking a review of such an important act, we should perhaps set aside the principles that have guided our actions in the past and be more forward-looking instead. This is important in order to give all Canadians an act that will reflect a great deal of openness regarding several issues, including financing.

Financing has always been a very divisive issue in Canada, where we have the strict public financing process as we know it in Quebec and the traditional financing system used elsewhere in the country. I think it is possible to reconcile the two and come to agree on financing methods that are acceptable to all Canadians, without contravening the principles of democracy.

We raised the issues of polls, electronic information, Internet, etc., and we will raise them again.

It is important to limit such action rationally, because it is possible—democracy is important, we must protect it—to put it to demagogic use even. Therefore, activity involving election polls and electronic information that will be distributed increasingly, both publicly and within our families, must be given a framework.

I believe that the fact of having to publish the full rationality behind polls conducted will prevent, obviously, in the context of a regular election campaign, the publication of certain polls intended strictly to serve partisan purposes and to manipulate the very democratic action people are called on to take from time to time, namely vote in all good conscience. This is an important point that must be addressed.

The fact that the number of hours in which the publication of polls both rational and less rational will be controlled is surely good news and will enable all Canadians to cast their vote in an objective and rational way that will benefit the country as a whole. I believe that our role as politicians is to do everything necessary to promote transparent democracy.

Among the various parties, everything must be done, in the context of the revision of election legislation, so that the periodic act of voting by the public may be governed by objective and non partisan rules. I am sure that all the time spent revising the Canadian election legislation will be beneficial for decades to come.

I thank the House for having given me a few minutes to express my thoughts.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.


Charles Caccia Liberal Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by expressing my support for the bill introduced by the government leader and reminding members that the new measures in this bill are the result of consultation by various parties over a period of several years.

First, with respect to the time difference dilemma, we realized that the situation of Saskatchewan called for special attention. The minister has already covered this this morning. A special amendment in the bill also applies to the various aspects of publication during an electoral campaign. The problem of blackouts arises, not just with respect to advertising per se, but also with respect to the publication of opinion polls.

The minister has set out the government's reasoning very clearly: in any democratic election, the electorate must have the final word, without any interference or influence. Under the 1974 legislation, third parties claiming to have no political affiliation could intervene financially and however they wished in an election campaign.

Obviously, partisan independence was quickly challenged and, in 1993, new legislation had to be introduced to limit their spending to $1,000. And this was where the domino effect of the Charter came into play, because the courts ruled that such a limit was contrary to the exercise of rights and freedoms. The solution thus led to a new problem.

But there is public pressure on the government to do something about this.

Polls have shown that eight out of ten Canadians approve the imposition of third party spending limits. What is more, 79% of those polled think that these third parties should not be allowed to spend more than the candidates, as is now the case.

In this new bill, the government is therefore proposing that third party spending be capped at $150,000 nationally, and $3,000 per riding.

Still on the topic of funding, another factor called for immediate attention and that was inflation. By keeping its fiscal house in order, the present government has undoubtedly managed to minimize inflation's impact in recent years.

Nonetheless, since the 1974 legislation, the need for improvements at the electoral level has made itself felt. And this is another of the provisions in Bill C-2.

As I indicated, the bill is a good step in the right direction. I am certain there will be other desirable measures in the not too distant future.

I would like to put on record a suggestion that was made by a group of constituents in Davenport who some months ago suggested the establishment of a declined vote ballot paper. In other words, the option ought to be given to the elector to indicate that he or she declines to vote as a form of rejection, disapproval or malcontent with the candidates who are indicated on the ballot paper, none of whom meet the expectations of the elector. It is a novel idea. It is the subject of a private member's bill which I put forth. I look forward to the opportunity of explaining it in more detail at the appropriate moment.

Before concluding I will comment on the financing of election campaigns. Election campaigns need not be as expensive as they are now. They can be run on much smaller budgets, with much less publicity at the national and local levels, with perhaps more debate and with particular discussions at the community level.

There is no doubt we have a good system in place. It is the envy of many other electoral jurisdictions, but we have to make progress on the question of maintaining the electoral process as independent as possible from sectoral interests.

In that respect I urge the government to give serious consideration to the elimination of contributions by sectoral interests such as the corporate sector and organized labour and trade unions and to increase the incentives for individual contributions.

Under that kind of system which exists in some jurisdictions the head of a corporation or union would make a personal contribution. In other words, the contribution would be on a personal basis rather than on the basis of a company or a union. The person would make that contribution out of the funds available to him or her as a private citizen and not as a contribution in the name of a corporation that may pursue specific interests in the legislation in the following parliament with a specific bill under certain conditions, or may use the threat of the withdrawal of contributions in future elections as a means of obtaining the attention and bending, so to say, the will of the government of the day.

The ideal goal that we ought to be aiming for would be a system in which individual contributions would become more and more in number, thus enhancing the democratic quality of our system because it would involve more people recognizing their civic duty and their civic right to make contributions to the party of their choice, but on a private, personal and individual basis. At the same time this would be coupled with the goal of eliminating corporate sector and organized labour contributions and any contribution by a specific narrow interest in society.

One has to recognize that this is one of the issues that the government has already tackled in Bill C-2, by way of its amendments, which will deal with sectoral interests and specific interests with respect to publicity and intervention during an election period.

We are on the right path. We are moving in the right direction. We now need to build on this measure contained in Bill C-2 and move toward a system that will allow for the flourishing of individual contributions and a gradual, if not determined, elimination of contributions from the corporate and organized labour sectors.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.


Gurmant Grewal Reform Surrey Central, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on behalf of the people of Surrey Central to speak in opposition to the government's scheme to torpedo Bill C-2 through the House.

This bill proposes changes to the Canada Elections Act. It is a very important bill for our democracy.

As my colleagues, the hon. members for North Vancouver and Calgary West, have already pointed out, this bill was examined in committee during the first session of this parliament. Yet, the contents of the bill being introduced today prove that the Liberals have ignored the witnesses who appeared before the committee. It is as if there had been no committee hearings at all with respect to this bill.

Normally bills before the House are sent to committee for study after the debate at second reading has taken place. Because the government could not get this bill passed in the first session, is it reintroducing it and sending it to the committee immediately, where it can secretly amend it? Or, is it to prevent the bill from being amended as a result of having no debate at second reading?

This bill maintains the most objectionable provisions of the Canada Elections Act, especially those that benefit the ruling party, in this case the Liberal Party. Our elections should be democratic, free and fair, offering equal opportunity to all candidates and all parties.

Canadians have been asking for changes to the way we elect our federal government representatives. With this bill we see clearly that the Liberals have once again failed to respond to the wishes of Canadians. What a great way to start the second session of parliament.

This week the Liberal government that lacks vision is being particularly undemocratic with Bill C-2. The government has wasted an opportunity to modernize and democratize the Canada Elections Act. Specifically, it has failed to deliver changes to a number of things; for example, patronage appointments, party registration requirements, campaign financing, third party spending issues, the reimbursement of election expenses, voter ID and the timing of elections and byelections.

In the short time I have to speak on this bill I will say a few words about some of these areas.

Let us talk about patronage appointments. Under the current elections act the system of patronage allows parties to appoint people to positions. Returning officers are political appointees. The returning officers appoint their own assistants, poll clerks and others. This is a way of rewarding the party faithful, which has no place in our electoral system. It is outrageous in what is supposed to be a non-partisan, impartial and neutral electoral organization.

Elections Canada always recommends against a patronage ridden system when it helps developing nations set up their electoral system. Yet, the Liberals are maintaining the system because it benefits them. They go out to preach what they do not practise at home.

Elections Canada has repeatedly asked the government to release it from the patronage system and allow it to hire its own staff for elections by advertising and interviewing based on ability, merit and experience. Many Reform MPs have insisted in the past that these appointed positions be advertised in newspapers for staffing instead of filling these positions as patronage appointments.

The chief electoral officer's report on the 36th general election made the same recommendations as we have been proposing on this side of the House. Opposition MPs on the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs supported this position, but the Liberals opposed it, proving that the government's position is politically motivated in what should be a non-partisan situation.

The third party spending limit is proposed to be $150,000 during a federal general election, of which no more than $3,000 may be spent on any particular riding. We believe that it is not the place of government to limit the rights of individual Canadians, or group of Canadians, to spend their money in support of a cause or a candidate in federal elections.

Far from levelling the playing field the Liberals are challenging the hallmarks of our democracy. For example, the ruling Liberal party has free broadcasting time based on the number of members of parliament it has, far and beyond what any other party is allowed to have. Have the Liberals changed that situation with this bill? No, absolutely not. This would give a huge advantage to the Liberals by restricting the ability of any other person or group to counter government propaganda during an election.

Let us talk about the requirements for registered party status. The elections act requires a political party to run 50 candidates in an election to remain a party on the ballot. The courts in Ontario say that only two candidates are needed to form a party. It is the voters, not the government, who should decide whether a party or a candidate is worthy of their vote. It is up to the voters, not the government. This is an attempt by the government to hinder the formation and growth of new parties like the Reform Party. The government is actually trying to limit competition on the ballot. It is undemocratic. It is anti-democratic. The government should be ashamed.

Regarding voter identification, currently, when there is doubt about a voter's identity or right to vote, that person may be asked for proof of identification, or the voter can be asked to swear an oath. That is absolutely ridiculous. If someone is evil enough to try to commit fraud in an election, surely we can assume that the same person would have no problem swearing an oath, lying to God or to himself.

Regarding electronic voting, the Liberal government is ignoring the realities of the information age in denying us the use of electronic voting methods that are more efficient, less costly and more universally accessible voting systems. In Ontario electronic council elections can be run for one-sixth of the normal cost.

Let us talk about the reimbursement of a party's election expenses. The Liberals allow reimbursement of campaign expenses and then restrict eligibility for reimbursement to certain parties. What is going on here? There should be no reimbursement at all to any candidate or any party.

Bill C-2 retains the requirement for a candidate to deposit $1,000. The candidate's deposit should be much lower, in the interest of encouraging Canadians to participate regardless of their financial position.

In conclusion, there are many other areas where the bill could be criticized as undemocratic, including the lack of fixed dates for federal elections, the timing of byelections, government advertising or propaganda before an election, and others, but time prevents me from commenting on these matters.

I would like to read an e-mail from one of my constituents. Bill Lawton states: “All in all I feel this is just an affront to democracy. This bill is really draconian and not relevant to the democratic citizenry”. My constituents know all about the bill. It is manipulation by the power hungry government in power. It is nothing less than dictatorship, worse than even the military government in Pakistan. Let alone scandals, it is enough to call this government corrupt. It is a crime in broad daylight. The government must amend Bill C-2 and restore democracy in Canada. If this bill goes through in its present form Canadian voters should refuse to vote Liberal in the next election.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

Elgin—Middlesex—London Ontario


Gar Knutson LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Prime Minister

Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to rise in support of the government's introduction of a new elections act.

Let me begin my remarks today by congratulating Elections Canada for the work it has done in the past. I know that under the new bill it will continue to do fine work.

I have been involved directly in two elections. I do not know if Elections Canada is monitoring this speech, but if it is I want to say how well I thought it did from my own personal experience. Any Elections Canada official I had to deal with was extremely fair and I have had nothing but a good experience with the organization. I know that with the new bill it will continue to operate in a fair-handed, even manner and we look forward to the continuation of a tradition which I think Canadians hold dear, democratic elections.

Elections Canada really is like a referee. We have the best election when we do not notice that it is there. It is like a sports game where we do not notice the calls that are being made by the referee. There is much work that Elections Canada does in getting ready for an election, such as voters lists and setting up the polls. It is a tribute to the hard work that there are not more complaints, given the complexity of the task of having people vote in a country as large as this.

I will now turn to some substantive issues which have been addressed by members opposite. The opposition has raised the issue of the bill going to committee before second reading. I want to point out to members in the Chamber and to Canadians generally that by having the bill go to committee before second reading gives committee members greater latitude for a fuller, broader debate and to make different amendments than they would otherwise be able to make if the bill went to them after second reading.

The basic principles of parliamentary procedure are that once a bill goes through second reading it has been approved in principle. Amendments that can be made are somewhat more narrowly defined than would be allowed under parliamentary law, or more narrowly defined in that they cannot go against the bill which has already been approved in principle.

By going to committee before second reading committee members can have a broader debate. They can look at numerous amendments in a broader context. Being a member of that committee I look forward to having a very full and frank debate, which will impact on all of us elected to the House as well as Canadians everywhere.

There are a number of administrative changes that are being proposed in the bill and there are reasons we need to make those changes.

Canada's electoral laws are based on principles we value as a democratic society: fairness, transparency and accessibility. They provide the framework of our electoral system. A House of Commons committee has concluded that Canada's electoral law remains strong, although a number of provisions came into effect nearly 30 years ago and should be updated. The proposed administrative changes are based on the committee's report.

The first electoral administrative change I would like to talk about is the adjusting of voting hours. We will allow for the adjustment of voting hours for areas that do not switch to daylight savings time when other clocks move ahead one hour. This will ensure that polls in Saskatchewan will close either before or at the same time as polls in Alberta and British Columbia. This corrects the problem experienced in Saskatchewan in the last election.

I am sure we all remember a time when it used to be a grievance of western Canadians that as they turned on their televisions on election night there was a sense that the election had already been determined even before they had cast their votes because of the time zone switch. A government may have obtained a majority once the returns were made in Atlantic Canada, Quebec and Ontario. By the time the returns got to either the prairie provinces or British Columbia, the majority had already been set and there was a sense that their vote did not matter as much.

I understand that. The government was wise to try to correct it in the last parliament. Now we are fine-tuning it a bit so that we will get the results at the same time. In 1997 it made for an exciting return. All Canadians have a sense that their votes count just as much when the returns come in at roughly the same time.

The act will also provide for standardized hours of voting for a single byelection or more than one byelection in the same time zone, being from 8.30 a.m. to 8.30 p.m. It will enable returning officers to vote. At present they may vote only in the case of a tie. It will authorize the electronic submission of nomination papers for all candidates to take account of the advent of new technologies.

It will ensure the right of electors to post reasonable electoral signs and of candidates to canvas in multiple unit residential buildings, including condominiums, during campaigns. Having canvassed in apartment buildings, as have most of the members of the House. it is often a case of dispute between oneself and the caretaker of the premises. It will be good to have it spelled out more clearly in the Canada Elections Act that candidates actually have a right to go into apartment buildings during reasonable hours to canvas.

The act will abolish the process of vouching to reduce the risks of electoral fraud, a practice whereby rural voters could vouch for neighbours at the polling place so that they would be allowed to vote even when they had not been enumerated. It will consolidate, clarify and modernize the language and organization of the act to make it easier to understand and apply.

In regard to elections financing the bill makes a number of changes. Some of them are minor and some of them are more substantive. To offset the impact of inflation it will increase the threshold to $200 from the $100 level which was set in 1974, the 75% threshold for the political tax credit.

All of us as politicians who have to raise money understand what this means, but the general public may not. Right now, if one makes a donation to a political party one gets a tax credit for 75% of the first $100. That was set in 1974 and obviously it needs to be updated in light of inflation so we are proposing that it be raised to $200.

It will increase the threshold for disclosure to $200 from the current $100 limit. This provision ensures that all donors who contribute more than the threshold level to a registered party, candidate or third party are identified by name and address.

The issue of what level the threshold should be, whether $100 or $200, is somewhat academic. The main point is that it is an example of something that makes our system fair. If one wants to donate to a political party, whether one's name is Gerry Schwartz or some other name it becomes a matter of public record. This is one of the key elements of our electoral law that prevents corruption in our system.

Someone may want to try to influence me by making a donation to my party or to my campaign. However, if it has to be public there is a record. The opposition can obtain that record and raise the issue in the House. The local media can obtain it. This is one thing that limits the influence of big money.

In Canada we have a system of which we can be particularly proud, particularly in comparison with the system in the United States where the accusation is often made quite rightly that its politics are driven by big money. The amount of money that a congressman or senator has to raise to run for re-election in its federal system is somewhat scandalous.

My next campaign will spend in the neighbourhood of roughly $50,000. My equivalent in the United States would probably spend in the neighbourhood of millions of dollars. That is something of which all of us should be proud. It is something we should applaud. It says something very worthwhile.

Under the new act we will require a more detailed financial reporting by registered parties. It is the same issue of making sure that parties conduct their business in a transparent way. If a party is receiving money from individuals, they are registered and become public. It will also let us know what money is being spent on.

During a campaign there are limits on what someone can spend. It should be open and transparent reporting so that we can see whether someone is trying to sneak around the campaign limits by spending money ahead of the campaign. Proper reporting is one of the cornerstones or the guardians of making sure that people do not overspend their limits.

The new act will also prohibit the transfer of surplus funds from a party or local association to a candidate after polling day. All this does is prevent someone from trying to run to raise money for their own personal benefit.

I am happy the government is proceeding with the bill. As a member of the committee I look forward to debating with the opposition the merits of the bill and any amendments that will come forward from all members of the House.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.


Ken Epp Reform Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to be able to rise in this short debate today. As you know, Mr. Speaker, but perhaps not everyone within hearing distance of the debate knows, we are indirectly talking about Bill C-2. The motion before the House right now is whether or not we should send the bill to committee prior to second reading.

I have had some experience with this matter. I will use the first couple of minutes of my time to address what we are really supposed to be addressing today, whether or not the bill should go to committee at this time.

When the bill was first introduced I thought it was a very good idea. We could get bills out to committee and let the members of the committee work through the bill in its initial stages so that before there is an entrenched position we could exercise the give and take of debate and give due consideration to various aspects of the bill. Hopefully we would come forward with a bill with less controversial wording and less in need of amendment. The whole idea sounded like a really good one.

How do I put this gently and within the rules of parliamentary language? I think committee work in this parliament is a sham. That is really a strong statement but it really is so, unfortunately.