House of Commons Hansard #48 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was elections.


Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

11 a.m.


Michel Guimond Bloc Beauport—Montmorency—Orléans, QC

moved that Bill C-205, an act to amend the Income Tax Act (deduction of expenses incurred by a mechanic for tools required in employment) be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to raise a problem which has been been going on for far too long in Quebec and in Canada, and which in my opinion is prejudicial to the development of an essential sector of Canadian and Quebec industry, namely automobile mechanics.

I will start off by asking my colleagues of all parties in the House for their co-operation and support, because I believe that this problem is vital to a category of workers who are literally discriminated against when it comes to tax deductions.

I believe that this bill goes beyond party lines. I do not think it has anything to do with the differences of opinion there might be between the left and right in Canada, between sovereignists and federalists. I believe this bill should be an opportunity to rise above party lines. This bill will be a votable item, as I remind hon. members. Each and every one of my colleagues in this House will therefore be able to vote according to his or her conscience. Based on the number of letters I have received in my office since introducing Bill C-205, I have great hopes of its being passed by the House.

The people affected by it are the men and women who work under the hoods of our cars and other vehicles, covered with grease and grime, day after day, in order to keep them in running order.

Each and every one of the 301 members of this House, myself included, have to submit every four years to the test of democracy, and when I say submit, I should probably be saying pass the test of democracy to convince people to support us. From time to time, we all visit car dealers for various meetings or during election campaigns. I am convinced that all my colleagues have had the same experience as I have. The owners of the garage open their doors to us, they allow us to meet the employees, either during the morning or the afternoon break, or at lunch time, and we then have the opportunity to talk with those men and women who tell us about the problems they are facing.

Some of you might be wondering why the Bloc Quebecois transport critic is introducing a bill. It is a private member's bill. I was, and still am, of the opinion that it is a problem that should be fixed by parliament.

We have to understand that it is actually very difficult for these men and women to work in a ideal context because of the high cost of the tools they need to do their job. We have to understand that mechanics usually have to provide every tool, or at least many of the tools that they need to do their work. These tools, as members can imagine, are much more that the simple screwdriver that people can buy for a dollar or two. They are very expensive tools.

According to my information, a young mechanic or apprentice very often has to lay out a sizeable amount of money. This bill raises another problem with regard to the opportunity these young people have to work and earn a decent living.

It often happens that a young mechanic who has just finished school has to spend between $5,000 and as much as $30,000 or $40,000 to buy the tools he needs for his job. Moreover, some of these expenses are recurrent. Technological change makes some tools obsolete quite rapidly, and new parts have to be bought. Some tools are sometimes forgotten inside vehicles, or some of them break and have to be replaced. To sum up, a mechanic has to spend thousands of dollars on the tools of his trade, but since he is a worker and not a business, he cannot benefit from tax deductions. I hope the national revenue and finance ministers will be sensitive to this problem.

However, a business that has to buy equipment can claim a deduction for these costs and get depreciation. This is not possible for an individual, except in certain cases.

Here are a few of these exceptions. We have the chain saw operators, and forestry workers, for example. To a certain extent, musicians and artists can also claim deductions for their instruments and tools. But mechanics cannot.

I therefore believe that mechanics are being treated unfairly and it is high time parliament did something about it. Today, February 14, on Valentine's Day, we are exactly two weeks to the day from the Minister of Finance's budget. We know the budget will be brought down on February 28 because the Prime Minister let it slip out about two weeks ago already. I wonder if the Minister of Finance was pleased when his Prime Minister accidentally revealed the date of the budget speech. So, the budget will be brought down on February 28.

I call on the Minister of Finance, on his community spirit and on his sense of justice and equity. I would appreciate it if, in his budget—and I convinced that the minister will be receptive and our speeches today are aimed at making him aware of this issue—he took into account the government's anticipated surplus of some $95 billion over the next five years. The minister should take the opportunity provided by his budget to grant tax deductions to mechanics.

I mentioned earlier that I received numerous letters of support from members on both sides of the House. I also received letters from some of my constituents who work as mechanics in a garage and who are asking me to act. I would like to quote one such letter written by Mario Labrecque and Gérald Corriveau. Both work as mechanics in Beauport and they sent me this letter:

As constituents in your riding, we wish to inform you of the discriminatory nature of a tax policy that has an impact on our livelihood as automotive technicians.

A young apprentice who begins his career as a automotive technician must, on average, invest over $15,000 in tools and equipment. He must also invest an average of $5,000 each year to keep up to date.

These two persons go on to say:

The problem is that we are not entitled to deduct the cost of our tools, even though buying these tools is a condition of employment for us.

The unfairness of this treatment is aggravated by the fact that members of other professions, including chain saw operators and musicians, are allowed to deduct the cost of their saw or of their musical instrument. Moreover, the decision of the federal Minister of Finance not to grant any tax relief to mechanics regarding the purchasing of tools and equipment is a deterrent for anyone who might interested in that trade. The result is that the industry has a serious problem recruiting candidates and there is currently a shortage of skilled manpower.

In the light of these remarks, I decided to introduce this bill, which is intended to provide a deduction relating specifically to, and I will explain the content of Bill C-205, the cost of tool rentals, tool maintenance, related insurance and the full price of tools costing less than $250.

This measure, I am sure, will ensure tax equity for people who are well deserving of it. This parliament is aware of this injustice and has been for a long time. On many occasions since 1992, members have drawn the fact to the government's attention. There was the member for Lakeland, I recall, and even a Liberal member, who introduced a similar bill when the party was in opposition in the early 1990s.

How have things changed since? Why has the Liberal Party not remained true to itself? Nearly every party, each in turn, has made the government aware of this inequity and nearly all have reached the same conclusion: the solution is a tax deduction for mechanics.

In its December 1997 prebudget report, the House Standing Committee on Finance said:

The Committee believes that all Canadian employees should be allowed to deduct from their income the cost of large mandatory employment expenses. Special provisions in the Income Tax Act already apply to artists, chainsaw operators and musicians.

To deny this tax treatment to apprentices and technicians in the automotive industry is not only unfair, it also imposes an impediment to employment, especially for the young who might choose to work as apprentices. Revising the tax treatment of such expenses would remove the impediment that exists under the present tax rules.

I would point out that the majority of the members of the House Standing Committee on Finance are government members. I would hope the Liberal members of this House will indicate the route the government should follow in the vote at second reading of my bill.

Through the Parliamentary Secretary to the then Minister of Finance, the government implied that it had great sympathy for mechanics and the difficult situation they faced, but that it could not take a piecemeal approach because other categories of workers might be facing a similar problem and it was necessary to bring in a legislative reform that would apply to all trades.

Despite its sympathy, in the budgets tabled since the 1997 report of the Standing Committee on Finance, the government has still not introduced the tax deduction needed to resolve this problem. Once again, I appeal to members, regardless of their party, and particularly to the Liberal majority, to offer automobile mechanics more than their sympathy.

Sympathy is certainly helpful. It is a comfort. It is encouraging and supportive. But I am asking for more. I am asking for a concrete policy, for this parliament to take a democratic decision that will bring around the Minister of Finance and influence the government. I am therefore calling for more than sympathy.

I would like to tell the House what I think of the supposed importance of not opening Pandora's box by creating a deduction for mechanics and not for other trades that might also be similarly penalized.

An injustice exists. We know what needs to be done to fix it. Under no circumstances can we allow it to drag on because there might be other similar cases. On the contrary, let us resolve to take corrective action in the case of these other injustices at a later time.

We will hear from other members. Perhaps they will honestly decide to introduce other private members' bills to correct other injustices, but the bill I have introduced concerns a tax deduction for automobile mechanics.

I implore the members opposite not to play the game of doing nothing until a comprehensive solution is found to the problems of federal Canadian tax law.

The federal government coffers are full. We expect a $95 billion surplus over the next five years. The Minister of Finance has money coming out his ears.

We have seen some of the decisions that have been taken, including the one about giving some thought to providing tax benefits to hockey teams owners when the average salary in the National Hockey League is $1.2 million. Thanks to public opinion and because ordinary citizens sent faxes, phoned the riding offices and condemned this idea I would describe as stupid, that of giving tax deductions to hockey millionaires, the government thought about it for three days, then changed its mind.

As far as this bill is concerned, mechanics are not hockey millionaires, they do not earn $1.2 million a year working in a garage. These people are middle-class workers, who are struggling and who have children in school. These young people need clothing and they sometimes have to rent an apartment away from home to pursue specialised studies in college or at university. We are talking here about middle-class people.

If, as we often say in our speeches, we as parliamentarians are sympathetic to the concerns of the ordinary people and the middle class, this bill is a very good opportunity to show it instead of simply expressing pious hopes, saying kind words, and crowing over how nice and fine our actions are. When we vote on this bill at second reading, we will see if the 301 members of the House are showing solidarity with those who are unfairly treated.

It is obvious that, when they finish school, many young people do not have $15,000 to spend on a tool kit. What does that mean? It means that, when they enter the work market, young people who have already run into debt to get an education have to get further into debt to equip themselves with a tool kit that may cost between a minimum of $5,000 and $15,000.

Usually, these young people do not own any property or house, which they could use as collateral for a bank loan. Often they will need their parents to guarantee their loan. Not all parents are able to stand surety for their children. Let us not forget that parents who have spent a lot of money to support and help their children sometimes are not able to stand security for a bank loan. I hope that you are aware of the fact that, after graduation, young people do not automatically have $5,000 or $10,000 or $15,000 in their pockets to buy a tool kit.

Let us not forget that a tool kit is required to perform their job. It is a job requirement. The garage owner will tell them “I am willing to give you a job, but you must bring your own tools”.

I conclude by saying that my bill, contrary to similar bills debated in this House since 1992, is a votable bill. I hope that that is evidence of a sincere commitment to this issue on the part of my colleagues. I thank the members of the committee for having given me the opportunity to plead in front of them and for having agreed to make the bill a votable item. This is good news.

The Prime Minister regularly states that the members of his party are free to vote according to their conscience on private members' bills. There is no party line imposed by the government. Each member is free to vote for or against the bill, as he or she sees fit.

During election campaigns, all the members of this House probably had the opportunity to visit garages and dealerships employing automotive technicians. Thus, several of my colleagues are aware of the problem.

Those who vote against the bill will have explanations to give to thousands of voters come the next election.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Etobicoke North Ontario


Roy Cullen LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Finance

Madam Speaker, first of all, I would like to congratulate the member for Beauport—Montmorency—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île-d'Orléans for this initiative and for his work on this very important subject.

This private member's bill proposes that the Income Tax Act be amended to permit automobile mechanics to deduct the cost of tools they are required to provide as a condition of employment.

The deduction encompasses maintenance, rental and insurance costs, the full cost of tools under $250 and the capital cost of tools over $250. This is a complex issue with many aspects that need to be examined carefully.

In framing the issue, however, a number of tax policy principles must be kept in mind. First, any tax policy change should be fair. Second, changes should also be relatively simple to administer and enforce for the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency and easy to comply with for taxpayers. Third, any change should be consistent with the government's overall fiscal situation.

Mechanics are not the only workers who have to incur considerable expenses as a condition of employment. It would be difficult to justify giving tax relief to mechanics and not to other taxpayers, as proposed in the bill.

In fact, other groups are also seeking tax relief for work related expenses. Other expenditures for which tax recognition has been sought include personal computers purchased by employees, reading material, professional journals and other general costs associated with skills upgrading, business clothing and construction safety clothing, home office expenses, photographic equipment for staff photographers and tools for employee trade persons.

Extending relief in all of these situations would be a major shift in policy and would be fiscally very expensive. This is all the more difficult in view of the many other priority areas for tax reductions, given the overall level of personal income taxation that Canadians face.

Moreover, one would need to ensure that any tax relief is targeted only for items required as a condition of employment and not for those purchased for personal use. This would be difficult for the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency to administer and enforce and for taxpayers to comply with as many items, such as personal computers, provide a personal benefit even when they are required for work.

The provisions that would have to be made to solve these problems would necessarily be complex since they would have to cover a wide variety of items which could be subject to tax relief as well as the various situations where these articles are used at work. To have an idea of the monumental task that would represent, one just has to think of the numerous provisions dealing with car expenses.

The provisions governing the deduction for equipment acquisition expenses by employees would apply to hundreds of different items and to a good number of occupations.

The private member's bill that is before the House today would also provide tax relief to all mechanics, irrespective of the size of their expenditures, instead of targeting relief to those incurring extraordinary expenses relative to their income. For mechanics with employment expenses comparable to those incurred by other employees this would be unwarranted as tax relief for normal employment expenses is provided through the basic personal amount.

Given the complexities associated with providing tax recognition for specific employment expenses and the need to reduce the overall level of personal taxation that Canadians face, the government provided broad based tax relief in the last two budgets and will continue to do so in future budgets.

I hope the hon. members present will agree with this approach and not support the private member's bill before us today.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.


Grant Hill Reform Macleod, AB

Madam Speaker, Bill C-205, in my view, is simply a matter of fairness.

As a physician and an amateur mechanic, I have two interests in this. I would like to compare what happened in my office when I became a young doctor setting up a practice. I also have a profound interest in old cars so I have my own tools, for which I have spent a lot of money. Because of my medical practice and my love of cars, I would like to rebut some of the things the member opposite has said.

When I set up my practice as a young doctor I had significant expenses. I bought electrocardiograph equipment. I bought surgical equipment. I set them up in my office. Every single penny that I spent on those things was deductible as a practice expense. It meant that the thousands of dollars that I had spent setting up my medical practice as a country surgeon was not an onerous burden for me personally.

I also said that I am a keen car enthusiast. I purchased a significant number of mechanic tools, hobby tools and personal interest tools. Those should in no way become deductible. How about the young mechanic who just finishes school and sets himself up in his mechanic practice? He generates a huge expense. I have personal knowledge of some of the new equipment because it is equipment I could not afford. There is a significant expense in diagnostic equipment.

I bought those tools for my physician employment and I lost some of them and some wore out. Sometimes new technology came along and I had to replace them. Every single time that happened I got a personal deduction in my practice expenses. What happens to the young mechanic? If he loses a tool or has to upgrade his tools, or new technology comes along and his tools become obsolete, should he have credit for that? In my view, it is a straight matter of fairness.

I listened to someone say that it would be difficult for the department to figure out what was personal and what was bought for employment. Obviously if I used a scalpel for hobby work that would not be for the practice of medicine. If the department had trouble with this, it would be very simple for it to come to the mechanic's home or place of work and say “These tools are personal”, if all that is needed is to establish that they are in use for gainful employment and for making funds.

I also listened to the incredible comment that there are other people calling for tax fairness in other areas. Those things should be looked at on their merits. Should construction safety equipment be brought under this regime? Should computer use be brought under this regime? Only if they are used for a specific generation of income.

This is one of those issues where I reflect back on the Liberals when they were in opposition. One of their members put forward a private member's bill just like this one. Who voted for it? The Liberals did. Not so long ago my colleague from Lakeland brought forward just such a bill in private members' business which was supported by, guess who, Reformers.

Now we have a member of the Bloc. What is going on here in terms of the partisan debate? If this had merit when Liberals were sitting on this side of the House it has merit, plain and simple. In my view, this is so meritorious that I cannot imagine that the member would stand up here and argue against it with a straight face. If mechanics have significant expense for their tools, and they do, why not give them a deduction? It is a straightforward deduction.

I will leave this issue for a second and talk about two other big problems with our tax system, one of which actually brought me to parliament. The GST as it relates to medical practitioners is handled very poorly. All other professionals who pay GST on their rent, supplies and equipment can use it as a deduction, but physicians and nurse practitioners cannot. That is wrong. The GST should be zero rated for those individuals, which is something I hope the government will also pay attention to.

They talk about fairness, and once again this is an issue of fairness. If an accountant pays rent and pays GST on that rent, he gets a deduction. If a physician pays rent, which every physician in private practice in Canada does, he or she pays the GST and does not get a deduction. I want the member across to remember that.

I have another issue that relates to the GST. The GST is a big issue with Canadian auctioneers who auction off goods, such as art and antique vehicles. An individual who purchases such an article has to pay GST on it but there is no way to get a deduction. If the person resells that piece of property, then GST is paid on it again. That is called a cascading of tax. For used goods that are sold over and over at auctions there is a cascading of GST, which is wrong. These are matters of straight fairness.

I support the Bloc member on his initiative. I congratulate him for bringing it forth again. It is votable. It will give us an opportunity to see if the Liberal members will vote the same way in government as they did in opposition.

For the mechanics, I admit that this is a little lighthearted. For all those individuals who vote against the mechanics getting a deduction for their tools, which is not that big of an amount, maybe they should leave the spark plugs out of their vehicles so they cannot come here to the House.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.


Louise Hardy NDP Yukon, YT

Madam Speaker, I also support Bill C-205 which would amend the Income Tax Act so that mechanics can deduct the cost of their tools.

It seems that bills similar to this have been brought forward by different parties over the past years and, at different times, supported by all the parties. We now have an opportunity to vote on this. If we all vote at the same time to support it, it would obviously pass. Historically we have seen support for this bill and for the mechanics in question.

It is hardly fair to mechanics, who are self-employed or employed by someone else, to have to provide their own tools. That is the equalizing effect. Whether they are running their own business or working for someone else, it is up to the mechanics to buy their own tools, and those tools are expensive.

If there is one thing I know, having many family members in the trades, they never dream of showing up to a job site without their own tool kit. They also have to upgrade their tools and update their knowledge. As machines become more sophisticated, the tools become more sophisticated and more expensive.

On top of that, those living in the north may need industrial, high quality tools which are not easily available and are more expensive. This adds more expense to the cost of people getting trades and going through their apprenticeships. Apprentices do not make a lot of money because they must work for somebody else. They should be able to deduct the cost of their tools.

Fairness, as it is being distributed right now, is certainly in question. The Liberal member who stood up made outright excuses for not supporting the bill. He said that it should be fair, that it is complex, that it should be easy to comply with and that it should be consistent with the fiscal situation. That is just putting up roadblocks.

As it stands, mechanics are facing a situation that is blatantly unfair. What is wrong with treating someone fairly? Is it that it would encourage other people to expect to be treated fairly? I do not think that is an adequate excuse for not supporting this bill.

It is also not an excuse to say that it would make a lot of work for the new Canada tax agency to treat Canadians fairly. Every Canadian deserves the right to be treated fairly. When it comes to the cost of doing business and carrying out one's trade or profession, it should be treated equally. The question should not be based on whether a person is in a trade or in a profession, or that somehow trades do not rank equally with other professions. We should never entertain that sort of thought. Whether people are doctors, mechanics or carpenters, they should be eligible to deduct the cost of their tools to do their business in the country.

Any move forward to a fairer tax system is a good position to take. As a private member in the House, I will certainly support the bill. I hope other Liberal members will see it as a cause to support as well.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.


Gilles-A. Perron Bloc Saint-Eustache—Sainte-Thérèse, QC

Madam Speaker, it is with bitterness that I rise this morning on Bill C-205.

However, it is not because of Bill C-205 that I am so bitter, so sad and so disappointed, it is because of the clarity bill, which we will be considering clause by clause in a few hours.

Bill C-205 leads me to talk about Bill C-20. Bill C-20 shows Quebecers, Canadians, the democratic world how low and arrogant the Liberal government has become and shows that it does not have the slightest respect for democracy. Its behaviour is shameful for all of us, members of the House, including you, Madam Speaker, who preside over the House.

I ask myself many questions: Where have they gone, the democratic values of the leader of the Liberal Party, the very little guy from Shawinigan? Where have they gone, the democratic principles of the brilliant university professor, the lackey of the very little guy from Shawinigan, the machiavellian member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville?

How should we interpret the silence of the President of the Treasury Board, of the Minister of Finance, of the Minister of Public Works, of all the Liberal backbenchers on this assault on democracy? Are the advancement of the Liberal Party and the lust for power more important than democracy?

I have not forgotten the Minister for International Trade, the hon. member for Papineau—Saint-Denis; every member knows that he makes himself scarce these days, since he is responsible for the HRDC scandal. What a courageous man.

History will teach our children that the leaders of the Reform Party and of the New Democratic Party and the deputy House leader of the Progressive Conservative Party and all the members voting for C-20 have dealt democracy a dirty blow.

I hope that members of this House will weigh the benefits of Bill C-205, an act to amend the Income Tax Act (deduction of expenses incurred by a mechanic for tools required in employment), in terms of democracy and fairness.

I want to remind the House that mechanics generally have to provide most of the tools of their trade. You surely know how expensive these tools are.

Usually, a mechanic who is starting his career must invest at least $5,000 in various tools and, depending on his further training, this can reach over $40,000. The existing law is discriminatory for automotive mechanics. Indeed, a business can claim a capital cost allowance for the purchase of equipment, but auto mechanics cannot.

The act is unfair because it permits chainsaw operators, musicians, artists and farmers to deduct the cost of their instruments and tools, but it does not let auto mechanics do so.

The current act is dealing a serious blow to the profession of auto mechanic. Due to very high costs of buying tools, practically no young people are choosing this profession any more, which causes a shortage of auto mechanics.

Bill-205, sponsored by my colleague, the hon. member for Beauport—Montmorency—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île-d'Orléans, will permit mechanics to deduct the cost of providing tools for their employment if they are required to do so by the terms of the employment.

This deduction will encompass the following: rental, maintenance and insurance costs, the full cost of tools under $250, and such inflation-adjusted limit as is set by regulation, and the capital cost allowance of tools over $250, set by regulation.

I would like to draw the members' attention to the fact that the Commons finance committee had recommended, in its December 1997 prebudget report:

The Committee believes that all Canadian employees should be allowed to deduct from their income the cost of large mandatory employment expenses. Special provisions in the Income Tax Actalready apply to artists, musicians, chainsaw operators and farmers.

I ask all members to support this excellent amendment to the Income Tax Act.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Scott Brison Progressive Conservative Kings—Hants, NS

Madam Speaker, at the beginning of my discourse I would like to seek unanimous consent to split my 10 minutes with the hon. member for Cumberland—Colchester.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

Does the hon. member have permission to split his time?

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

Some hon. members


Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Scott Brison Progressive Conservative Kings—Hants, NS

Madam Speaker, it is with pleasure today that I rise to speak to Bill C-205. This legislation addresses the very important issue of tax deductibility for the tools of mechanics.

I have met and spoken with a number of people representing mechanics across the country. As members of the House of Commons finance committee we have heard some very sound representations on behalf of these individuals. The fact is that many of them have to invest between $15,000 and $40,000 initially as they enter this industry. Every year their equipment needs replacement and updating, which is an ongoing expense.

It is important to realize that the average income of mechanics across Canada is about $29,000 per year. It is very difficult for that industry to attract new people and to attract people with the skills and desire to succeed as mechanics with this kind of barrier to entry. It is having a deleterious impact on the ability of the automobile industry to attract people to this important area.

Initially I had some concerns that this would further complicate an already too complicated tax code, but in many ways it simplifies the tax system because it equalizes the treatment of equipment necessary for one to do his or her job. We heard other speakers this morning refer to the fact that other industries can claim tax deductibility on the equipment necessary to complete the job. This would equalize it to ensure that our mechanics have the same treatment.

It has a broad base of support from several national organizations. As well, in 1996 and 1997 the House of Commons finance committee recommended that we move toward ensuring tax deductibility of the equipment or tools necessary for mechanics to do their jobs. This is just part of the tax reform we should be seeing. It is a very small but important part for the mechanics and the people they serve. It is a step in the right direction.

I hope in the upcoming budget to see a significant level of tax reform and tax reduction, no just tofu tax tinkering but some real red meat tax reform that will help benefit Canadians and provide them with a fairer, more progressive and innovative tax system to create more of a culture of opportunity in Canada. This would be a good place to start.

With that, I ask the member for Cumberland—Colchester to provide us with some of his erudite views as a former member of the Canadian automobile industry.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Bill Casey Progressive Conservative Cumberland—Colchester, NS

Madam Speaker, I am certainly pleased to participate in this debate. As the last member said, I was directly involved in the car business for 18 years and probably another 5 years indirectly before that. I worked with mechanics for years and years. I feel very close to this proposal and totally support it. It is long past due and I hope all members will support it in the end.

We have a lot of unemployment in my area. It has one of the highest rates of unemployment in Canada. We have a group of people that want to work and train but are unable to do so because of the high cost of training and the high cost of getting into the business.

We have two problems that we could resolve with the bill. It would be a tremendous incentive for people to go into the business. It would help people to get off unemployment. Any cost that the government would incur in lost revenue would be more than made up in unpaid employment insurance.

I have watched the car business completely change over the last 15 years. At one point people would come into the business if they could fix a carburettor or a distributor, adjust points or change them or the wires, and that sort of thing.

Carburettors are not in existence any more. It is all electronic fuel injection. Distributors are not distributors with points and rotors. They are electronic ignitions. Transmissions, which used to be so simple to work on, are now very complicated because they are electronic and interrelated with onboard computers and everything else. Brakes used to be the most simple thing. Almost anybody could change them. They are no longer simple because they have sensors involved with the ABS or anti-lock brake and traction lock systems.

Even the exhaust systems are different. Anybody used to be able to change a muffler and a tailpipe. They cannot do it any more. They need special tools and training because the exhaust is an integral part of the pollution system in a car. As cars change with new fuels, new standards and everything else, mechanics will have to change. All the tools they have will be obsolete even though they have spent $10,000 to $20,000 to purchase the tools and were unable to write them off.

In all kinds of industries and professions people from musicians to plumbers can write off the tools and equipment they use in their businesses. It makes absolutely no sense that mechanics cannot write off their tools. It is an absolute necessity. Mechanics need these tools. They need to upgrade them almost weekly. They cannot take them home. They are not a luxury. They are an absolute necessity to earn their money. I applaud the member for bringing forth the bill, and I totally support it.

In closing, I hope all members of parliament will support the bill and vote in favour of it. It is a wrong that needs to be righted. It has been wrong for a long time. I urge the minister to act quickly to implement the proposal when the bill passes.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.


Bill Graham Liberal Toronto Centre—Rosedale, ON

Madam Speaker, I listened with great interest to what my colleague, the member for Beauport—Montmorency—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île d'Orléans, had to say about his bill. He is to be congratulated for having taken this initiative.

In my opinion, and in the opinion of other members of the House, the idea behind this bill compels us to look for the best way to reduce the tax burden of our citizens. Everyone agrees that the tax burden is too heavy. The question is: What is the best way to reduce it?

As the parliamentary secretary said in his remarks, when one examines the question of what is the best way to reduce the tax burden on our citizens we always have to choose. I was a little surprised by the remarks of the hon. member for Kings—Hants. Usually one looks to him for some sort of knowledge in these matters. He is on the finance committee and speaks regularly on finance matters in the House. I would have thought that he and other members of the House would recognize the wisdom of the words of the parliamentary secretary when he pointed out, if I can put it in a colloquial way, “You can't have your cake and eat it too”.

We cannot reduce tax burdens sectorally in individual areas and at the same time say we want broad based tax relief as well. The consequence of a continued sectoral approach is one of tax expenditure. This will be followed by demands and important requests, as the parliamentary secretary pointed out reasonable requests for those who are artists, for those who are working on computers and for others to have reasonable deductions made for them in the name of tax equity.

Equity is what we seek to achieve in the House, but it seems to me that the real equity we are seeking to achieve at this time when we are discussing taxes is equity in terms of a broad based tax relief. That is what the government has been seeking to achieve with tremendous difficulty since our first mandate in 1993 in bringing huge budget deficits under control and having broad based tax relief.

We have managed to achieve a balanced budget. As a result in 1998 we were able to take 400,000 people off the tax rolls. That seems to me most important. From 1998-99 we perhaps got 600,000 Canadians off the tax rolls with a total of $16.5 billion in tax relief spoken to in the last budget, without thinking of what is ahead in the next budget.

I have heard about the issue of the mechanics. I sympathize a great deal with it and with other sectors that also have certain tools for which they should have relief. I talked with a single woman in my riding during the last election. She earned $21,000 a year. She had two children to raise in downtown Toronto. She did not have any professional tools for which she could seek relief. In my view she should not be on the tax rolls when we look at the type of problems of a person like that living in our downtown communities.

We have to look at broad based tax relief. We have to look at moving the middle class, lifting its general levels and making it available to all Canadians. This must be our first priority before we turn to specific issues in specific sectors.

That is what the government has been doing. We have managed to balance the budget. We have kept our obligations to increase our social policies. We have used the tax system to help those in need through the child tax benefit and we have been reducing the deficit.

In my view this is what we have to do. We must keep all priorities in view and not single out one group. In the future we will see this done. We have heard that the minister intends to have further measures designed to move more lower income people off the tax rolls; to increase the tax brackets so that the burden will not be so heavy on those who are in the middle class; to gradually approach the surtax issue; and to deal with the issue of capital gains, which addresses the question of productivity.

I agree with the member for Beauport—Montmorency—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île-d'Orléans, when he describes the problems faced by mechanics. However, we need to strike a balance. There must be some investments in garages if we want mechanics to be employed. The idea is that we have to look for the right balance in the system.

Speaking for my constituents in Toronto Centre—Rosedale, I think that they are looking for that balance. They want a system which alleviates the burden on those less able to pay, yet encourages entrepreneurship and creates a dynamic economy of benefit to all citizens. I dare say that we have proven the qualities of this approach by the government. We have gotten the economy back on track.

Unemployment is at its lowest rate ever. That was not achieved by looking at sectoral issues; it was achieved by having a broad based and balanced approach for all Canadian citizens.

What do the people of my riding want? They want to see a continuation of those policies, whether they be mechanics, artists, theatre employees, lawyers or doctors, all of whom have special needs in their professions, in their work, or in other ways in which they carry on, benefit and create economic benefits for the country. Ultimately what they want is a better system for everyone. They want to bring the general tax level down in a way that will benefit all of society. That is the present policy of the government.

While I congratulate the member for bringing forward the bill and while I recognize the merits of the comments of each of the members from the opposition who have spoken to the bill and the needs of mechanics, I believe in my heart that the mechanics and all other citizens who might make an equal claim for this form of personal tax relief directed to themselves would say that it is better that the general tax burden come down, that we address it in a way which guarantees a balanced economy such that all participate, that we create a sense of entrepreneurship and fairness in the system so that all sectors benefit and that we do not concentrate on one specific area in a way which would, as the parliamentary secretary wisely pointed out to us, create tax inequities, because it would create a need for certain types of supervision. It would create a sense where one person would say, “Why are they able to deduct that? Why cannot I deduct my dress which I bought for my work on television? Why cannot I deduct this because I am an artist? Why cannot I deduct that?”

Let us concentrate on the main issue which is before us. Let us concentrate on bringing down the general tax rolls, on bringing down the burden for all Canadians. I am confident that is what we will hear from the Minister of Finance when he speaks to the budget in the House at the end of this month. We will hear that balanced approach.

The business of the governing of the country requires focusing on the debt, the general tax burden and the needs of the economy, which must be dynamic, which must grow and benefit all for the benefit of all Canadians.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business


The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

The time provided for the consideration of Private Members' Business has now expired. The order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

The House resumed from December 7, 1999, consideration of 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, as reported (with amendment) from the committee, and of Group No. 2.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders



Ted White Reform North Vancouver, BC

Madam Speaker, we are debating the amendments in Group No. 2 to Bill C-2, which will revise the Canada Elections Act.

The Group No. 2 amendments include one from Reform which would alter the completely illogical 50 candidate rule for parties to have their name on the ballot down to 12 candidates. In other words, a party that would have 12 candidates running in a general election would be entitled to have its party name on the ballot.

That whole issue is the subject of a court challenge. The communist party of Canada won its challenge to the previous elections act. The court ruled that two members constitute a party, but during the committee proceedings, in my discussions with individuals from the small parties who appeared as witnesses, they all agreed that 12 was a logical number that represents what is recognized as a party in the House. They agreed that 12 would be logical. Unfortunately the minister refuses to accept that as a satisfactory compromise. He is pursuing this ridiculous 50 candidate rule, which will be struck down again by the courts. I just do not understand why he is doing it.

There is a bigger issue in the bill which also has the potential to be struck down by the courts because of a ruling in B.C. during the last few days. Last Thursday the Pacific Press announced the decision against the Attorney General of British Columbia in the Supreme Court of British Columbia concerning the British Columbia elections act. The British Columbia elections act had a gag law in it, the same way that this elections act has a gag law, to prevent third parties from spending money over a certain limit during election campaigns.

I want to read some of the details of the ruling from the B.C. court because that ruling really relates to this bill. I think what is happening is that the minister's bill is imploding at the moment, based on this court ruling, and he really should hoist it right out of here and send it back to committee to have it consider what came out of the B.C. supreme court.

Specifically the court criticizes the Libman decision upon which the minister based his entire case for having the gag law built into the elections act. The minister said that Libman had ruled that it was reasonable to have spending limits on third parties. However, let me read into the record what the British Columbia court decided. It was pointed out in evidence to the court that Professor Richard Johnston, who is a professor of political science at the University of British Columbia, gave evidence that there have only been three studies done in Canada on the effects of third party advertising, two by himself and one by Tanguay and Kay.

I am not going to go into the details of each of the studies, but suffice it to say that Mr. Johnston's initial report of his findings indicated:

In December 1990 Professor Johnston published a paper entitled “The Volume and Impact of Third Party Advertising in the 1998 Election”. In that paper he posited that third party advertising might have helped the Conservative recovery during the 1988 federal election.

This was used as the basis for the Lortie commission report and that was used as evidence before the supreme court judges in the case of Libman.

Unfortunately for the Libman case, in 1992 Professor Johnston and his colleagues published a book called Letting the People Decide . As a result of additional study of the data from his original study, his conclusion was that it is now his opinion that third party advertising had no net effect on voter intentions over the course of the 1988 federal election.

What that means is that the evidence presented to the Supreme Court of Canada in the Libman case was badly flawed, and that was confirmed by the judge in the Supreme Court of British Columbia, the hon. Mr. Justice Brenner, when he said:

Earlier in these reasons I have traced the factual chronology surrounding Professor Johnston's 1990 paper on the 1988 federal election and his subsequent book, Letting the People Decide . I have outlined how he reached different conclusions with respect to the effect of third party advertising. I also set out the manner in which Professor Johnston's initial paper was relied upon by the Lortie Commission which was, in turn, relied upon by the courts in Libman...

Accordingly, the conclusions of the Lortie Commission on this issue can no longer be said to be based on empirical findings. And of course Professor Johnston's later study in Letting the People Decide was not available to the court in Libman.

The judge went on to say:

In addition, in Libman the pressing and substantial objective relied on by the government was not challenged by the plaintiff. Finally, the conclusions in Libman on the issue of pressing and substantial objective are a product of the evidence or its lack thereof in that case and cannot be dispositive of any evidentiary issue in the case at bar. Accordingly, I conclude that Libman is not dispositive of the issues in the case before me.

What that really means, to sort out the legalise, is that if Bill C-2 passes in its present form it will be challenged in court by the National Citizens' Coalition and by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. Both groups have said that they have more than enough funding to take it all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada. The minister must know that he will lose based on the evidence. There are now three high courts which have ruled that these gag laws are unconstitutional and there is no basis for them.

One of the other things which was struck down in the B.C. case was any restriction on the publication of the results of polls. During the committee hearings on Bill C-2 newspaper people appeared before the committee and I asked them whether the government had ever approached them to discuss or to try to reach some sort of compromise on the publication of poll results during an election campaign. They indicated that the government had never approached them.

During that committee hearing—and the records of that committee hearing show this is the case—I had a discussion and reached a compromise where the polls could be printed right up until the time of the election, but the methodology would have to be printed along with them. That was agreed to. But the minister refused to accept that compromise. As a result, I have to tell him the bad news.

Because the Pacific Press continued with its case, the B.C. supreme court concluded that there is no place whatsoever for any restriction on polling. There are no restrictions on the publication of the results and no restrictions or requirements with respect to the publication of methodology.

This means that the whole thing has been thrown wide open and there is no compromise. There is no methodology to be printed and the newspapers are free to print polls right up until the time of the election without indicating how they conducted those polls or from where they got the results.

This is the mess to which the minister has brought us. There are three separate court challenges of this bill. The 50 candidate rule is illogical and ridiculous. We could have had a compromise reached with all of the parties concerned that would have been 12; not the same as the court concluded at 2, but it would have been logical and accepted by everybody.

The gag law provisions in the British Columbia Elections Act, which are basically the same as the gag law provisions in this bill, have been struck down. It is obvious that this bill has no chance of remaining in place if it is challenged by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and the National Citizens' Coalition. All of the polling restrictions have been struck down. If the minister had sat down with the parties concerned and reached some sort of compromise we would not be facing this situation today.

This is typical of the government. We see it time after time after time in bills it brings before the House. It has no consultation with the affected parties. It rams things down the throats of the people of this country and it ends up in court, having its restrictions cut down.

I would like to speak a little further on what the B.C. supreme court said. It made the point that in order to override charter rights—we are talking about freedom of expression, freedom of speech in the sense of an election campaign—it is necessary that there be more than a general hypothetical concern about a problem when there is no evidence to demonstrate that it has existed in the past or is likely to exist in the future.

The judge found, based on all of the expert evidence provided at that court case, that there was no evidence whatsoever that third party advertising was the least bit harmful to an election campaign. In fact, the judge concluded that from the lesson of the Charlottetown referendum it is exactly to the contrary, that there is a strong argument in favour of third party advertising.

Quoting from the judgment of the hon. Judge Brenner concerning the Charlottetown referendum, there are certain circumstances in which the goal of fairness in elections would support an argument for third party advertising. The Charlottetown referendum provides an example. If in a future election campaign in British Columbia all of the political parties were to agree on a significant policy point, the lack of an effective third party advertising campaign would be a detriment to the voters.

The ruling is 88 pages long. I wish I could read more of it into the record. The minister must have seen it. He knows he is going to lose this case. Why will he not withdraw the bill, send it back to committee and let us have another look at it?

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Progressive Conservative Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise in this House and take part in the debate on Bill C-2, the Canada Elections Act.

Much of the content of this bill has been outlined by the previous speaker who has followed this bill very closely at the committee stage and here in the Chamber.

This bill was sent to the committee for review and my colleague, the member for Chicoutimi, our whip, has worked very hard for the Progressive-Conservative Party, the riding of Chicoutimi and all of the country. This bill is very important, and our party wants to improve it as much as possible.

Although I spoke to the bill at second reading, the member for Chicoutimi is the individual who has followed it throughout the committee stage. He has spoken to the bill in the House on numerous occasions.

We were looking forward to working co-operatively in the committee with the government. All opposition parties took an active part in proposing changes to this piece of legislation. Early on it was painfully obvious that the Liberal members of the committee had been advised to bulldoze this through. This exercise was meant to eliminate any real attempts to improve the bill. From witnesses to clause by clause it was a race to the finish line. It was expediency at the cost of efficiency and at the cost of actually improving the bill.

The Conservative Party had three substantial and substantive problems with the legislation from the very beginning. For the record, none of them was even mildly addressed by the Liberal dominated committee. There were problems stemming from elections finance, publication of opinion polls and third party spending. I will speak to those in some detail.

With respect to election and party finance, the Conservative Party has definite reservations concerning the extent of the changes to the reporting requirements for candidates and political parties. At the very least there appears to be no compelling reason why the changes could not simply come into effect on a going forward basis only. Most parties obviously will not have the resources of the governing party to spend on new administrative tasks.

Our opinion is very similar with respect to the proposed controls on the publication of opinion polls contained in the bill. In the 1993 amendments there was no attempt to regulate the publication of opinion polls beyond the brief blackout period at the end of the election. Trying to achieve the right balance in terms of the blackout of opinion polls was probably next to impossible in light of the supreme court's decision in the Southam case. Therefore we thought this matter should have been dropped altogether. Instead, the bill goes much further and attempts to regulate the reporting of opinion polls and their results even outside the blackout period. It goes far too far and cannot be supported for that reason alone.

On the issue of third party spending, we are opposed to part 17 of the bill almost in its entirety with respect to the regulation of third party groups and the limitation on third party advertising. We believe that the provisions are too broad, unworkable, unnecessary and very possibly unconstitutional. I am surprised that the government with its record of constitutional constipation would even go down this road. We have seen constantly from the government and particularly the justice department, efforts to tie itself in knots in order to avoid any sort of constitutional challenge.

Our key concern was the issue of advocacy. By no means is this an issue of the rich maintaining access to the system. It is quite possible that these new controls may affect smaller groups in a much more detrimental fashion. There were no attempts to regulate the general issue of advocacy in the 1993 amendments and there still should not be. Such detailed regulation of interest groups by Elections Canada is unwarranted.

Notably, it appears that the government itself would be able to spend unlimited amounts of money on issue advertising during an election giving a very much competitive and unfair advantage to the governing party. As a result of this legislation there would be no provision to address government or crown corporations during an election. This is a definite loophole, one which I fear the governing party would exploit to its own unfair advantage.

Let it be known that the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada continues to have other reservations about Bill C-2. The bill's restriction, regulation and limitation on participation in the democratic process by those other than political parties and candidates is unwarranted, cumbersome and far too broad.

The same is true of the restrictions controlling the reporting of opinion polls. Similar restrictions have been tried and they do not seem to work. For that reason they cannot be justified or proven and they should be scrapped.

As previously stated, without significant amendments, the bill is not an improvement over the current Canada Elections Act. Even the government's modest stated goal of making election law easier to read and understand is not met. Again far too often the government comes back with legislation that is more cumbersome, more lengthy, full of loopholes and more bureaucratic red tape than the legislation it was seeking to replace.

The obvious example which comes to mind is the new youth criminal justice act. Although the intent is very much the right one and the direction is very much one which I think most Canadians would embrace, the legislation is thick, cumbersome and wordy. We should be attempting to streamline legislation.

An example which an old farmer gave to me back home is that when we reshingle a house, we take the old shingles off. We do not just put more shingles on top. We should be trying to strip down some of the existing legislation, or at least have something in place that says if we put a new bill in, we take another bill out. This is not accomplished by the bill that is before us now.

Very fundamentally and importantly, the Conservative Party believes that the entire process that was undertaken to revise the elections act was flawed at the very premise. The government should have tried to proceed by all party agreement. At the very least it should have attempted and allowed for adequate time for proper consultation on the provisions of the bill.

Instead, as we have seen time and time again, provisions were rammed through at the convenience and the wishes of the governing party to run roughshod over the opposition. Perhaps it was the Prime Minister himself who was behind this legislation, or the government House leader. The process to amend electoral legislation should not have to be adhered to on a very strict timetable based on the leadership rumblings of the governing party.

It is hard to find the relevancy in having Bill C-2 dubbed as priority legislation. There are so many other issues on the agenda. So many dominant issues need attention and the Liberal government persists in ramming this piece of legislation through the House, further weakening democracy I would suggest by demonstrating its ability to do so. It is not an attempt to strengthen legislation as it would have us believe.

At a time when so many other issues are screaming for attention the government once against puts its own personal political agenda ahead of the needs of Canadians. Nobody will dispute that Canada has one of the strongest democracies in the world, so it begs the question, why are we doing this in such an undemocratic fashion?

The crisis in health care, the HRDC boondoggle, high taxes; these are all issues that need the attention not only of the House but of Canadians generally. However, the government continues to fall short in addressing the issues that matter most to Canadians. Its priorities are obviously skewed and quite different from those of the people on the street.

In fact, this legislation was rammed through committee at such record speed that opposition parties had insufficient time to study the bill, propose reasoned and specific amendments or consult with individuals such as volunteers, poll captains and those who are most involved at election time and those who will be most affected by this new legislation. Nevertheless the Conservative Party did submit amendments and we were successful in having five of them pass. On balance, without significant amendments, this bill is not an improvement over the existing act.

In conclusion, the Conservative Party truly believes that any changes to the elections act should have been done in a reflective and thoughtful way. Input from all parties represented in the House would have resulted in a much more reasoned and much more effective final product.

In the end I suggest that the bill could have had the support of all members of parliament. It could have unanimously passed and we would have seen significant improvements perhaps in our electoral process.

Changes to the election law should not reflect simply the interests of the governing party. Obviously that was not the case in the beginning and it should not be the case when this bill is passed. For those reasons and others I have referred to in my remarks, the Conservative Party will be opposing the legislation.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.


Suzanne Tremblay Bloc Rimouski—Mitis, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to 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.

This bill was read for the first time on October 14, 1999. After second reading, it was referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. The bill is back in the House today at report stage.

At this point in the parliamentary process, one concludes from reading the report that the review by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs was not very fruitful, since what the government talked about initially was an in-depth reform. Let us take a closer look at what has been accomplished and at some of the reasons the Bloc Quebecois will not be voting in favour of this bill.

The Leader of the Government in the House wants this bill passed at third reading as quickly as possible, even if it means imposing another gag order, something that has become the trademark of this government.

The logic of the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons must be clearly understood. Once the bill has received royal assent, the chief electoral officer will need at least six months to implement it. And, since the Liberals think this bill favours them more than the current legislation does, they would very much like to use it for the next general elections. Accordingly, it must come into force as soon as possible, thus allowing the Prime Minister to call if need be early elections, which some might consider premature.

The committee met about 15 times and heard over 30 witnesses, in studying the proposed amendments to improve the bill and to bring about an in-depth reform.

Despite all that, one has to conclude that the government may have made a few cosmetic changes but has completely failed to make the in-depth reform it had indicated it wanted.

The government missed a wonderful opportunity to give more transparency to campaign funds by reviewing the rules governing the financing of political parties by corporations, in order to limit their contributions.

In 1998, the bank lobby contributed $815,000 to the federal political parties and, out of this amount, $400,000 was given to the Liberals. How can one think that, by adopting a $5,000 limit on corporate contributions, the Bloc Quebecois has given up its principles?

It would also have been essential to amend paragraph 428(2) concerning trust funds belonging to registered parties. The transparency here leaves much to be desired. I will remind members of what Allan Taylor, the former president of the Royal Bank of Canada, said during a speech on February 26, 1991, and I quote:

—financing of political parties by businesses did not encourage democratization and public participation in politics.

The government also missed a wonderful opportunity to review the process of appointing election officers. When what is involved is implementation of the legislation on which the democratic system of the country is based, the process must be above all suspicion and there must be the greatest possible transparency.

Last October 28, when Chief Electoral Officer Jean-Pierre Kingsley appeared before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, he said the following:

When I go out on the international scene I do not recommend that the Canadian system be emulated where it comes to the appointment of returning officers. I clearly indicate, as I do in Canada, that the present system is an anachronism.

Mr. Kingsley feels it is imperative for the method of appointing returning officers to be changed, so that they are appointed in a competitive process in order to ensure their total independence from the government and to give the appearance of fairness and neutrality toward all party candidates involved.

As for Former Chief Electoral Officer for Quebec Pierre F. Côté, when he appeared before that same committee on November 16, 1999, he said:

In a democratic system, not only must democracy be served, it must also appear that democracy has been served.

Finally, volume I of the report by the Royal Commission on Electoral Reform and Party Financing, better known as the Lortie Commission, in addressing the need for independence of election officers reaches the same conclusion on page 483:

A cornerstone of public confidence in any democratic system of representative government is an electoral process that is administered efficiently and an electoral law that is enforced impartially. Securing public trust requires that election officials responsible for administration and enforcement be independent of the government of the day and not subject to partisan influence.

So, it would have been better for these persons to be chosen following a competition establishing that they have the necessary expertise to assume these functions instead of being chosen because of their affiliation to the political party in power.

The Bloc Quebecois proposed amendments to put an end to the control that the governor in council has over the appointment of these people, but the government rejected them. I am forced therefore to acknowledge that Bill C-2 does not contribute to promoting the democratization of the electoral process. On the contrary, the governor in council retains unacceptable power over the selection of election officers.

At report stage, we moved two amendments to clauses 13 and 14 so that at least the appointment of the Chief Electoral Officer, the person responsible the application of the Elections Act, would be done differently to reduce government control of over this appointment.

The object is to ensure that the Chief Electoral Officer is appointed with the support of at least the majority of the opposition members. So, we propose that the Chief Electoral Officer be appointed by a resolution of the House of Commons approved by the opposition parties and not simply by the party in power.

The Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, who was one of the biggest organizers of the love-in in Montreal a few days before the 1995 referendum, should know that love is a two-way street and that actions speak louder than words.

Once again, the federal government had the opportunity to follow the lead of Quebec, which has put in place a system of public competitions for the appointment of the main electoral officers. But no. For the French Power, what matters is to badmouth Quebecers to gain popularity across Canada. Quebec French Power in Ottawa will never acknowledge what the Quebec government does right. It would mean lose its legitimacy and becoming suspect in the rest of Canada.

The Bloc Quebecois wants a democratic and transparent federal elections act. It wants an act without any appearance of conflict of interest. Once again I am very disappointed in the government. What has become of the Liberals? Where are their integrity, their honesty, their keen sense of democracy? Why should we stay in a country whose government has only one goal: to stay in power no matter what and at any cost?

Why should we not have our own country, a country promoting at least four values that no longer prevail on Parliament Hill, namely honour, transparency, democracy and, above all, respect for the citizens?

Also the government missed a great opportunity to deal with the issue of voters identification. When the bill was before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, the Bloc Quebecois asked for a voters identification process to be included in the legislation. The main reason for such a process being to prevent individuals from usurping someone else's voting right. Once again, the government denied our request.

Give the devil his due. The government made some changes to the transitional provisions to give political parties more time before the new rules apply in case the bill would come into force after June 30.

Clearly, when an amendment favours the Liberal Party, the government House leader does not hesitate to act quickly. But when we are talking about an amendment to foster transparency, democracy and the respect of citizens, the government House leader remains adamantly opposed to it. He finds all kinds of excuses to turn down the changes we would like to see, putting them off till hell freezes over or until the 12th of never.

Those are many more reasons why we should work hard to promote Quebec's sovereignty.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.


Nelson Riis NDP Kamloops, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to have an opportunity to participate in the debate on the report stage of Bill C-2. Some very major changes have been made to the Canada Elections Act, but this is the first major overhaul of the act since 1970. There have been changes over the years based on various court decisions and so on, but this is the first opportunity we have had to modernize the Canada Elections Act.

Some very notable improvements have been made to the act, but I do not have to list them because they are essentially well known now by most members of the House. However there have been a number of real missed opportunities.

At the top of the list of missed opportunities is one that perplexes me as we hear the rhetoric from all political parties about the value of today's young people, the need to involve more young people in the election campaigns of the various political parties, the need for young people to be more involved in the electoral process, and the need for young people to be paying more attention to the process of government and the process of politics in Canada. Yet when the proposal comes forward to involve young people, particularly at an age when there is significant interest in becoming involved, the answer is no, a blatant and clear no.

Let us think about this point. Other countries, and I will use Brazil as an example, lowered the voting age from 18 to 16 a number of years ago. The question was whether people of 16 and 17 years of age would be interested in politics and the electoral process and whether they would join political parties and campaigns.

The evidence in Brazil was very clear. Given the opportunity, 16 and 17 year olds participated in the electoral process in greater numbers on a percentage basis than did their parents or anyone else. When the offer went out to young people asking if they were interested in politics and in joining in the electoral process, the overwhelming response was a resounding yes. They wanted to get involved. They were anxious and interested.

If young people in Brazil want to get involved and young people in Nicaragua want to get involved, and I could list all sorts of other countries, why not send out an opportunity for young people in Canada to get involved?

The reality is that a proposal went out to lower the voting age from 18 to 16 as part of this legislation. There was some debate but overall people questioned whether 16 year olds had the intelligence, the knowledge and the understanding of politics to cast a serious ballot.

What a terrible comment to make against young people of the country. I suspect it is the same argument that was made against women years back in terms of whether they had the understanding and the intelligence to participate in the electoral process. We know now how embarrassing it is to even raise this as an issue. It seems as absolutely stupid and silly as of course it is.

A few years ago the issue was with first nations people. Up until 1960 we said that first nations people were not allowed to vote. They could volunteer and die in World War I. They could volunteer and die in World War II. They could volunteer and die in Korea but they could not vote in this country. They fought for democracy. They died for democracy. However, the minute first nations people came home from those wars we said that they could not vote, that they could not participate in democracy in their own country. Let us imagine the signal that sent to first nations peoples across the country.

I suspect we are sending a similar signal today. Young people who want to participate are not allowed to when it comes to voting. Yes, they can choose leaders of our political parties. Yes, they can participate in campaigns. They can do anything else they want in the political process but the one thing they cannot do if they are aged 16 and 17 is vote. This is disgraceful.

At the age of 16 a whole number of things occur in people's lives. They can get a driver's licence and drive a truck or a high powered vehicle on our highways. They can join the armed forces and serve in Bosnia and other areas of combat. They can get married and raise children. They can qualify for employment insurance. They can be tried in adult court. However they cannot vote in our country.

If they are 16 or 17 and want to vote to choose the people who will represent them and future generations they cannot participate. The people who have the most to win or lose in an election cannot participate. This is one of those ideal opportunities for the House of Commons to acknowledge it, to send out a welcoming hand to young people who want to participate and to give them a chance.

I am not saying everyone has to do so. Perhaps the people who are listening to this speech could reflect back on the election campaigns of members of parliament and candidates that they worked on. They went to local high schools to participate in debates and discussions. In my experience the level of discussion, participation, knowledge and understanding of those young people was significantly greater than that of their parents.

At the evening meetings—and God knows if they are a road show or some sort of political theatre—very seldom is there intelligent, sensible, meaningful debate like there is in high schools. Young people are keen and knowledgeable. They are far more knowledgeable than we were as young people. They have access to information and knowledge. Their teachers are much more open than ours were to discuss in classrooms the role of government and politics.

Why not extend a welcoming and open hand to young people across the country? However the government decided that this was not appropriate. I have a heavy heart when I have to say that. I thought the government would say yes.

We are entering the new millennium, the 21st century, a century that represents changes of all sorts in terms of demographics, the economy, society and the way we debate budgets in the House. Everything is changing except this aspect of keeping young people pushed down and not permitted to participate in federal elections.

I am very disappointed that we were not able to accomplish it, but I will not give up. One day we will look back and think how stupid we were as a country for not allowing young people of 16 and 17 years of age to vote. One day we will do that but we are not quite there yet. We will not give up the effort.

I have to mention another missed opportunity, the whole issue of voting through proportional representation. Our voting system is rather goofy. When a small number of Canadians choose the government that acts in a sense as an elected dictator for five years, is that the way the system should operate? No. I am not saying this is the fault of the Liberals. Of course it is not. It takes place in provincial jurisdictions and so on. It is our collective way of the first past the post approach to electing government. It is absolutely bizarre.

Let us look at intelligent countries around the world. We would be hard pressed to find a country that has a system like ours. Their systems are much more reflective of the population's wish as to who should represent them. This place does not represent what people said in the last election.

With all due respect, in the last election the majority of Canadians did not say they wanted half the House plus a few more filled with Liberals. That is the way it turned out but that is not what the people said. We have should looked at some other form of choosing members of parliament that actually reflected what Canadians say when they cast a ballot. That was a missed opportunity.

We made a number of amendments to the whole issue of campaign reform which basically said that more access should be allowed to smaller political parties to more accurately reflect what people in our country are thinking about. We should ask for disclosure on spending limits on party leadership elections. Let us face it. If somebody buys the leadership of a political party, should people not know about it as opposed to being elected in a fair and open democratic process?

What about numbered companies? We have to do something about numbered companies. When number company 12754 makes a huge contribution to a political party, should we not know who is behind the particular firm? Of course we should. Let us get these numbered companies back on the transparency pathway so we know that when somebody makes a political contribution to a political party or an individual in our country, we know who is actually making that contribution.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.


Chuck Cadman Reform Surrey North, BC

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to have this opportunity to speak to Bill C-2, the Canada Elections Act.

This is very important legislation. In fact, there are probably few pieces of legislation more important in a democracy than that which establishes the rules for election of the people's representatives to government.

With such an important piece of legislation it is significant that the government decided to direct its passage through parliament by way of the more unorthodox method of proceeding directly to committee before second reading. The government indicated that it wished the committee to thoroughly study this legislation, to call witnesses, to hear concerns, propose significant amendments and return it to the House in a more complete and acceptable form. I suppose that sounded good, but once again the government merely went through the motions.

The committee heard major concerns. Significant changes were proposed. The committee did not listen. It returned the bill in essentially the same format in which it was received. Once again we are faced with legislation which leads us to believe it will be subject to a charter challenge.

The committee heard from various individuals about the unconstitutionality of third party spending limits in the bill. Powerful groups have threatened court challenges. There has been little, if any, attempt to work out the differences. Once again the taxpayer will pay for these court challenges because the government is not ready to do the necessary work to bring about resolution and agreement.

Spending limits definitely favour the party in power. All other parties are operating on unequal footing. We all know that the amount of money spent on campaigns is not always a deciding factor but we also know that it can play a significant role.

The committee heard a number of concerns over the publication blackout period provisions in this legislation. The courts have struck down previous similar legislation, but the government is proceeding down the same path once again without even attempting to come to a compromise with media representatives.

The Chief Elections Officer of Ontario has challenged the need for blackout provisions. He has pointed out the difficulties in enforcing them. Constitutional law experts have indicated that our courts will again strike down these provisions. Once again the taxpayers will pay for these court cases and really, for what?

The committee heard a number of concerns over the 50 candidate rule for registered party status. The courts have struck down this 50 candidate rule as being too oppressive. The courts have suggested that as little as two candidates should be sufficient to be recognized as a party.

There was discussion of coming to a consensus and agreeing on a more practical limit of 12 candidates to be recognized as a registered political party. Instead of even considering compromise and agreement, the minister seems intent on maintaining the 50 candidate rule. Once again this is another provision of this legislation that is subject to a court challenge. Once again the taxpayer will be expected to pay for the government's refusal to consult, to consider change and to compromise.

The government seems intent on limiting the opportunity for new parties to grow from small beginnings. The government is perfectly content to maintain the status quo. The citizens of Canada are being deprived of new political initiatives and new choices. Just as with recent moves with the airline industry, it seems to be all in favour of limiting competition.

Then there is the issue of political patronage appointments. In something so crucial to a democracy of a country, one would expect that the presiding government should have little involvement in the selection of the personnel who run the electoral organizations. In fact, Canada has often been asked to assist third world countries to supervise and report on elections to ensure that the presiding government operates in a free, fair and open manner. Surely the presence of political appointees within the very organization tasked with counting the votes and reporting on the results should be independent of the presiding power in office.

Even our Chief Electoral Officer testified that it is critical that he be given the power to hire returning officers based on merit. If he is given the responsibility to properly operate our election process, he must be provided with personnel chosen by him, supervised by him and paid by him. Political appointments are not beholden to him. They owe their allegiance to the governor in council, the Prime Minister and the party in power who put them into their positions and who decide on their remuneration. That is not right. One of the interested parties to an election cannot have control over the employees who control the counting of votes and the reporting of results.

Elections Canada has repeatedly asked the government to change this process of political patronage. Elections Canada wants and needs to hire its own personnel to properly oversee an election. The government is intent on maintaining its system of political patronage. This is certainly a sorry indictment against democratic principles and the status of Canada on the world stage.

The timing of elections is also a major advantage to the party in power. At present there is only a maximum number of years legislative bodies may operate without an election. Section 4 of the charter of rights and freedoms states, “No House of Commons and no legislative assembly shall continue for longer than five years from the date fixed for the return of the writs of a general election of its members”.

Bill C-2 does not include an automatic date for Canadian elections. The charter does not stop us from legislating an election every five years or some other lesser time period. To do so would place all political parties on an equal footing as everyone would know the exact timing of an upcoming election. Every party would have the same opportunity to plan for the election, to generate war chests for election expenses and to expend funds to advertise the benefits of party policy or the detriments of government policy or opposition policy.

The committee that studied this bill heard about the advantage of present government members being able to distribute a householder just prior to the call of an election because of inside information. We can probably all remember a government which called a needless election at great expense to the taxpayer just because the governing party had the power to do so.

Legislating the timing of an election to a specific period of time would not solve all of our problems but it would level the playing field and it would place greater controls on the expenditure of public funds. It would also provide greater definition to all parties in the House of Commons. Our employees would know when an election is to be called and they would be able to prepare their careers and their lives accordingly. Members of parliament would know when their commitment to their constituents would end or when it would need to be renewed through a campaign. I imagine a number of companies and individual citizens would also be better equipped to react to parliamentary influences.

Bill C-2 was an opportunity to vastly improve our electoral process. Once again the government has taken the easy way out. It makes minor changes. It ignores or refuses to introduce long overdue initiatives. The government protects itself by maintaining the status quo or increasing the inequity of its position compared to the competition. It ignores the pronouncements of the courts and continues to place the public purse at risk of considerable future legal proceedings.

Instead of providing leadership and progressive thinking, the government has decided to stay the course and will only change when it is forced to. This is unacceptable and it is unfortunate. All that lies ahead is more litigation at great expense to the Canadian taxpayer.

I hope my words cause some members to reconsider their position on this important piece of legislation.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.


Francine Lalonde Bloc Mercier, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise this morning in support of the Bloc Quebecois amendment, which is also supported by at least one other party in the House, to the effect that only voters can make contributions to political parties. This is in keeping with the Quebec law on the public funding of political parties.

Let me point out that in Quebec, until that act was adopted in 1977, many ordinary citizens felt that politics was rotten. When René Lévesque, along with others, created the Parti Quebecois, after the Mouvement souveraineté-association, he said “We will fund our party strictly and exclusively with people's contributions; we must avoid falling into the business contributions trap, as it spells corruption”.

René Lévesque knew what kind of pressure major corporations could exert when the time came to implement government projects. He had experienced such pressure at the time of taking political stands and developing projects. In his mind, democracy was incompatible with the misappropriation of funds generated by the funding of political parties by corporations, because corporations never give money with no strings attached.

Just like in The Godfather , it may be free at first, but an order or a request invariably follows. It is these orders and requests that result in policies not being designed for the general public, but often for the rich and the most affluent.

The people of Canada and Quebec, especially with this crisis in the administration of the Department of Human Resources Development—in Quebec, funding for parties in Quebec has been cleaned up—feel that politics is rotten and serves politicians and that politicians and big business are as thick as thieves in looking after their best interests.

Bill C-2 provided an opportunity for the government to say, even though it can never be said definitively, that the political process must be the prerogative of the public who become members of a party or decide to fund a party, but that the important decisions are made for purely interest considerations.

Interest may be seen in different ways, according to whether the party is the NDP, the Bloc Quebecois or the Liberal Party, but the public could at least have been assured that politics and not interests are at issue.

This is a fundamental issue, especially these days. The public will not support politics with their minds, their hearts or their membership unless politicians are above all suspicion. It may be said that that is far from the case and that the public's cynicism simply encourages individuals to stick their hand in the pot and take advantage of the situation.

I know that very many members are honest, but I also know that the temptation can be great—the opportunity, tantalizing—elections are expensive, and there are always good reasons for supporting so-and-so's project over another's, a private project over some other one, because that too can come into play.

Canada likes to say what it is and what it wants. The Economist , which is not a social democrat periodical, contained a review for Europe of what constituted democratic control of party funding. According to The Economist , whether or not citizens exercised democratic control depended on whether or not corporate funding was permitted.

As members will recall, there were scandals in France because there was no legislation requiring grassroots funding. Since 1995, the legislation has allowed only voters as contributors.

We know that Germany was rocked by a scandal that damaged the reputation of someone thought to be a great statesman, Helmut Kohl, who worked to bring about the unification of Germany and who was one of the key European architects of the Treaty of Maastricht.

Despite his brilliant career, Helmut Kohl now finds himself caught up in a political and financial scandal which is destroying his reputation in a way that no one would have wished on him or themselves, for that matter. Once again, at issue is secret corporate party funding, and many Germans—and I discussed this with members at the Council of Europe—are wondering whether they should not be considering having parties funded by voters alone.

When we look at the issue of corruption, because that is what it is, we are automatically forced to the conclusion that there is only one way: have all voters on the same footing, have all citizens on the same footing when it comes to making decisions, and have parties funded by citizens, by voters. That is democracy. Otherwise, democracy takes a back seat to interests over which there is no control. In such cases, the policies introduced generally, if not always, do not reflect the wishes of the majority of citizens.

If we want to liberate politics from what some like to call vested interests, we must ensure that parliamentary democracy is based on grassroots funding.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

Scarborough—Rouge River Ontario


Derek Lee LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, the debate today is continuing on the report stage motions of several members and the government on the Canada Elections Act, Bill C-2.

I think I counted five interventions from the opposition benches just prior to my rising. One might get the impression that the act, which is currently before the House, is seriously flawed. It will not be a surprise to anyone here if I take a different view.

The statute and the amendments in it are a substantial improvement to the old statute. I just want to take a moment to outline, technically but very lightly, the amendments we are dealing with now in Group No. 2, at least for the record. I realize opposition members often use the debate at report stage to deal with broader issues in the statute.

Quite simply, there are two categories of amendments in Group No. 2 that have been proposed by government members. The first amendment deals with adding into approximately four sections of the bill the term “generally accepted accounting principles”. That term in the statute was originally proposed, I believe, by members of the Bloc Quebecois as a standard that would be useful in the statute. Members at the committee agreed and the term was incorporated into the bill.

Having had some time to read the bill following the committee study, there are approximately four other sections that, for the sake of consistency, would benefit by inclusion by reference to that term, and so that covers off four small areas.

The second area involves amendments that would make the English and French versions consistent. I do not have to go into detail, but having adopted amendments at committee, one having to do with inclusion of amounts in candidates' personal expenses, amounts directed to child care or care for persons who are dependent normally on the candidate, there were some arguable inconsistencies between the French and English versions as they were put together at the committee. Those amendments are offered as well. I assume they were offered without objection. I have not heard objection to them. They appear quite appropriate.

I have heard opposite references to the appointment process for returning officers and a description of the fact that Canada is often asked to act internationally to provide observers or advice on how to run elections. That is true. Canada is well respected, being one of the world's oldest democracies, in how to run elections.

I have to point out that our system of appointing returning officers has worked well. We are well respected with our system now of appointing returning officers. People do not say “We don't want you to help us out here because you appoint your returning officers the way you do”.

It is our view that the appointment system works well and it is very cost effective. No one, in proposing changes to the system, has actually addressed the matter of the costs of implementing a whole personnel and recruiting selection process. Perhaps we should think about costs sometimes. We are supposed to around here when we propose changes. If the system works I suggest that we do not try to fix it.

I notice a certain inconsistency sometimes. In debate that will happen. I may fall victim to it myself from time to time, but I hope not. It seems that some opposition members are only too quick to adopt the reasoning of the British Columbia courts in dealing with third party spending limits and other elements of the elections act in that province.

There is a certain sense that the B.C. courts are right on the money here. They are quoted extensively, but I could not help note that a few months ago the same parties were not so quick to quote the B.C. courts in dealing with the criminal code child pornography provisions. Sometimes the courts serve the opposition parties' interest and sometimes they do not. I will not get into a debate on the merits, but just because a lower court ruling is made does not mean the House must respond in a knee-jerk fashion.

At the end of the day, all members of the House will make their decision and cast their vote on these amendments in the way they feel will be in the best interest of the public.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.


Stéphane Bergeron Bloc Verchères, QC

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I need some clarification from you. I have been listening very carefully, as always, to my colleague, the parliamentary secretary to the government House leader, who discussed the amendments in Group No. 3. But if I am not mistaken, we are still on Group No. 2. Correct me if I am wrong, Madam Speaker.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

Indeed, we are still on Group No. 2.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.


Gary Lunn Reform Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Madam Speaker, I rise in the House today to speak on the new Canada elections act, Bill C-2.

I am greatly troubled by many of the provisions in the act. The most telling one is the gag law. How can gag laws and polling restrictions find a way into the laws of a democratic country like our own?

One cannot help but notice that the recent Supreme Court of British Columbia decision, which only came down on February 8, struck down this very provision in the province of British Columbia. If there is one reason to strike this whole bill down this would the reason.

This issue hits very close to home with me. I was involved in it in British Columbia where I witnessed, firsthand, third party organizations that believed in educating voters by sending out very balanced information. These organizations had literally hundreds of thousands of supporters from across the province who would send in money.

Troy Lanigan was the British Columbia director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. The B.C. government, with its very heavy-handed approach, threatened to take him to court and charge him. It told him that he could be facing a long jail sentence. This was a young man, working very hard on behalf of hundreds of thousands of Canadians citizens who sent in money, who was trying to educate the public on what he felt were the best options for the province. I was with him when this was happening. It was troubling for both him and his family. He felt passionately that he was doing the right thing.

If there is one issue for striking this bill down, that would be it.

Under this new elections act, third party spending would be limited to $5,000. I believe that parliament, not the courts, should write the laws for the country. Right now it seems that the courts, not parliament, are the ones defending Canadian citizens. Two decisions in Alberta have struck down gag laws. Just last week the British Columbia court struck down the gag laws. I would argue that it is wrong for governments to stop small parties from running candidates and greatly limiting their party spending during election campaigns.

It is no surprise that the government is trying to ram this bill through parliament. We have witnessed this many times before. The government is very content to just push this through parliament.

The second issue, aside from the gag law, is the number of candidates required to become a recognized party. The government suggests the number should be 50 candidates even though the standing committee recommended 12 candidates. A number of the witness groups that came before the standing committee recommended that it should be 12 candidates. My colleague, the Reform member for Vancouver North put forward a private members' bill recognizing that it should be 12 candidates. This came from all parties across the House. Yet the government said that to be a recognized party it requires 50 candidates. This is insulting to the Canadian voter. We should be providing them with the information just like in the gag law. To put a $5,000 limit, or, for a national campaign, $150,000 limit for a third party, is wrong.

Many organizations, such as the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and the National Citizens' Coalition, have members from across the country who raise money in order to inform and educate the public so that they can make very educated decisions when they go to the ballot box.

I do not always agree with what these third party groups say, but it is insulting to the Canadian taxpayer that the government wants to keep this stranglehold, this noose on what information gets out there. It wants to control what is out there in the public domain and what is in the media. I would argue that is why the government is putting gag law limits forward. It is completely unacceptable that this is the direction in which it is going.

The government has virtually ignored all the work of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. It has refused to consult with the public by holding meetings across the country. It does not want to listen. It does not want input from various organizations, only the select few it invites to committee hearings in Ottawa to present their briefs. Surveys across the country have shown that the Canadian people do not want spending limits on third parties so that they can get their message out there.

I notice my NDP colleague from Kamloops also supports this position. He just rose in the House and said “Let them educate the people”. There may be a group out there that does not agree with my viewpoint, but we cannot insult Canadian voters by not letting them make their informed choice. They will sort out what they believe, who is putting credible arguments forward and who is putting a balanced position forward.

I clearly remember the Canadian Taxpayers Federation listed all the arguments. It firmly believes that we are overtaxed and if we are to move forward we should be reducing the size of government and reducing taxes. Not everybody would share that view. I obviously share that belief. If it wants to spend the money from its supporters who donate to these campaigns then it should be able to. I might add that the people who donate to the organizations that want to get this message out do not get the same political tax credit as when they donate to a party. That is another debate for another day. They do not get the same benefits as those who donate to the Liberal Party. That is wrong.

It is most disturbing to me that government had an opportunity to fix up the elections bill, to do something positive with the Canada Elections Act, and did not seize that opportunity. It is a lost opportunity.

What we see is old line partisan party politics: control, control, control. The Liberals want to keep their noose on a dictatorship. They want to control the amounts of money and the message that get out there. That is patently wrong. That is what we need to change.

The chief electoral officer and the Canada Elections Act should be removed from partisan politics, as well as the whole appointment process and who the returning officers are. It should not be appointments by the government. It should be an all-party committee. The political nature of this needs to be removed.

Is anybody on the government side paying serious attention? They got a message from the Supreme Court of British Columbia on February 8 in Pacific Press v the Attorney General of British Columbia wherein the court completely struck down the gag law as unconstitutional. I do not know how many times the government needs to hear it. It has been struck down twice in Alberta and again last week in British Columbia.

I hope the government takes notice of this and wants to bring true accountability to the Canada Elections Act. Unfortunately it has not this time. Again it is back to the old style, the patronage stranglehold, controlling the message and the dictatorship. That is wrong.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.


Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North Centre, MB

Madam Speaker, I am also pleased to participate in the debate on Bill C-2 and in particular the amendments in Group No. 2 specifically referring to some of the major provisions of the bill.

At the outset let me pick up where the Liberal member left off. As the hon. member for Scarborough—Rouge River introduced his comments he asked why we on the opposition benches were debating the bill, was it not in effect a fairly perfect bill before the House, and what was all the fuss about. In fact he said: “If it isn't broke, don't fix it”, implying that the bill was a pretty good collection of ideas which would make a difference in terms of elections law in the country today.

My question to that member and to all other members of the Liberal government involves a couple of things. How do they know it is not broken? Does the bill represent an indepth systemic look at the situation in Canada today when it comes to elections law and elections provisions? Why would they wait until it was broken before they fixed it? Why would they not start looking into the future to see whether there are obstacles, problems or concerns that need to be addressed now?

I share a bit of Reform's concern with the fact that we had an opportunity to address some very serious problems in our Canadian political system. We had an opportunity to take a hard look at elections law and to make some pretty fundamental and significant changes. I share the concern of Reform and others when it is said that we have missed that opportunity.

I certainly believe we have missed an opportunity in reassessing how effective our elections act has been and where we need to go in the future to achieve what I think is the raison d'être, the underpinning, the root purpose of all of this work to create the rules and regulations that would allow everyone to participate. Our job and the role of government is to ensure a level playing field. Our elections act and other complementary pieces of legislation must work to ensure that everybody has the opportunity, regardless of economic status, regardless of region and regardless of sex, to participate in Canadian politics today.

We had an opportunity to do something meaningful and to look at a piece of legislation that has not been changed substantially since 1970. Over that period of time a lot has changed. We have learned a lot more. We are faced with many new problems as Canadians. We had a golden opportunity to make some important changes to our political system, beginning with ensuring that the laws determining elections financing and participation were up to date, relevant and meaningful.

That is where I have any kind of similarity to the Reform Party. We part company right after the notion that we had a great opportunity which has been missed. We all agree that leadership has again been lacking from the federal government. The government has again been fixated on tinkering with the system, on making small changes, on maintaining the status quo, and then on getting it through the House as fast as possible.

There is no question that we all share concerns about the way the government at every turn, with every bill, has tried to push through legislation as quickly as possible, just at the time when we need to be getting into indepth debate involving more Canadians and having really important dialogue across the country.

I part company with Reform, a party that wants to take us in the direction of American style politics. Its position on the bill and on the amendments is very much the same as its position on health care: American style health care, American style politics. Reformers are focusing on the gag law or the gag order, as they would put it, as opposed to seeing it from the point of view of the positive impact of restrictions on third party advertising for all Canadians and as a mechanism for ensuring participation by everyone in our political system today.

We in this party believe that the bill does not go far enough because it does not clearly set out a definite framework in terms of ensuring equal participation by Canadians right across Canada. We think this was an opportunity for the government to ask what are the barriers and obstacles to Canadians participating. Are the limits on election expenses significant enough? Are the reporting mechanisms in terms of donations meaningful enough? Do we have a fair enough system? Is it a level playing field? Are we able to ensure that every group and individual feels they can participate if they are so inclined?

Reformers, on the other hand, would like to take us further in the other direction. From what I have heard in this debate and being at committee at one occasion, they would like to lift the rules and have a total free-for-all, an open door, a come as you go kind of approach to politics in Canada today. Our position is that we need rules, regulations, limits and a way to ensure that every Canadian has a right to participate.

We can take a look around us at the makeup of the House. Is that not enough to tell us we have a long way to go with our Elections Act to ensure that kind of participation? Where is the 50% participation by women we thought we would see by the year 2000?

The House may remember the history accounts of when Agnes MacPhail was first elected to the House in 1921. She had fought long and hard for women to be involved in political life and said “I can almost hear them coming”. She thought at that point in 1921 that a breakthrough had been made, that barriers had at least in large measure been eliminated and that women would enter politics in as equal numbers as men.

As we can see there was no stampede. What are we at today? Is it overall 20% participation by women in the House today? In my party we have at least raised that number up to 40%, but that took hard work and deliberate affirmative action measures. That is the kind of provision, the kind of effort and the kind of action we need to see by the government as a whole when it comes to the Elections Act.

Where is the emphasis in the bill to address the kind of responsibilities that women face in society today and the barriers that prevent them from participating equally in our political arenas? Have we looked at reasonable limits on expenses in a serious way in terms of the participation of women? Have we looked at the extra cost it takes for women to get into politics because they are juggling their work, their family, their household and community responsibilities? Have we addressed all the financial, attitudinal and structural barriers?

Here was an opportunity. We could have done it. We could have made a difference. Goodness knows we need to. We are a long way from the goal of equal representation in the House. We are a long way in the Chamber from representing the whole diversity of society today. If anything, this should be a lesson and a signal to all of us that the bill is incomplete. It takes some important steps. It addresses the need for restrictions on third party advertising. We are happy with that. It looks at a 48 hour blackout of polling. It looks at some restrictions in terms of financing, but it could have done a lot more.

My colleague from Kamloops mentioned in particular one issue which we are dealing with right now, the disclosure of all donors who register as numbered companies. Why do we not know who these donors are? Why do we not try to find out? Why do we not make sure we have a level playing field? I think that would be in the best interest of Canadian society today.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.


Gurmant Grewal Reform Surrey Central, BC

Madam Speaker, I rise on behalf of the people of Surrey Central to speak to third reading and report stage of Bill C-2, the government's proposed changes to the Canada Elections Act.

I spoke in debate at second reading of the bill before the Christmas break. At that time I said that my constituents and I were not supporting the bill.

Bill C-2 is a very important bill for our democracy. The foundation of a strong democracy calls for our elections to be democratic, free and fair, offering an equal opportunity to all Canadians and all parties. This bill continues to maintain the most objectionable provisions of the elections act which benefit the ruling party, in this case the Liberal Party.

Canadians have asked 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 new millennium, along with the billion dollar HRDC boondoggle.

The government has wasted an opportunity to modernize and democratize the elections act. The amendments we are debating today will not be adopted by the government. Specifically, they have 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 identification and the timing of elections and byelections.

Let us talk about third party spending limits. Even though the hon. member for North Vancouver has done a marvellous job in analyzing the elections bill, which is so important for Canadians, let me go over it very quickly.

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

In B.C. we call this kind of manipulation a gag law. It is an effort by government to prevent other, smaller political voices from engaging heavily in an election campaign. The government is ignoring recommendations made to modernize our elections act. In B.C. the government tried to do this recently. It tried to restrict third party advertising to $5,000. It knows it will not form the next B.C. government so it is trying everything it can to prepare to win the next election. It is toying with our B.C. election rules, and that is what the Liberals are going to do in Ottawa.

But the Liberals in Ottawa are even more cruel than the bankrupt, some would say corrupt, NDP government of B.C. The Liberals only want to allow $3,000 to be spent in any riding in Canada by a fledgling third party. That amount of money would not pay for a single advertisement on television. What a sham.

What all of this shows is that the Liberals are desperately afraid of losing the next election. Can we imagine being so afraid of our opponents that we try to tie their hands?

The B.C. supreme court ruled the limits to third party spending invalid. The Liberals are challenging the hallmarks of our democracy. For example, the ruling party, the Liberal Party, has free broadcasting time based on its number of members of parliament far and beyond what any other party is allowed. Have the Liberals changed that situation with this bill? No.

Far from levelling the playing field, they are forcing a spending limit to be put in place of $3,000 per riding. 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. Have the Liberals changed that situation with this bill? No.

MPs from B.C. know what desperate governments do to legislation affecting elections. We wanted to see the Liberals adopt amendments to this bill. They refused to do so during the committee stage. Now we give them the opportunity. This is the opportunity to adopt amendments at this stage. We are holding the flashlight for them, but they are closing their eyes. They are not looking when we show them the light through the darkness. That does not mean they will do the right thing.

The Liberals are passing legislation that will immediately be struck down by the courts. This is a waste of taxpayer money.

The Liberals have witnessed the B.C. NDP government's third party election limits legislation struck down by the court, but they will go ahead and pass the same legislation. The B.C. supreme court found that there is no evidence to suggest that big money alone wins elections. It said there was no evidence that third party spending affects the election process.

Everyone knows during the referendum on the Charlottetown accord that the yes side lost, even though it spent at least 10 times as much as was spent by the no side.

During the 1993 election the PC Party spent significantly more than any other party, yet had only two members elected to the House.

Why will the government not adopt the amendments?

For example, with respect to the requirements for registered party status, the elections act requires a political party to run 50 candidates in an election to remain 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 and a candidate are worthy of their vote.

This is an attempt by the government to hinder the formation and growth of new parties like the Reform Party or the Canadian alliance. The government is actually trying to limit competition on the ballot. This is so undemocratic that it is anti-democratic. It is almost a dictatorship. The government should be ashamed.

There are many other things which we could talk about. For example, we put forward an amendment concerning voter identification. A voter can now be asked to swear an oath to confirm identity. That is ridiculous. We need to use photo ID. 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 and lying to God or himself.

Another amendment concerns electronic voting. Electronic voting could significantly cut the cost of running elections. In Ontario electronic council elections can be run for one-sixth of the normal cost.

Let us talk about reimbursement of a party's election expenses. Taxpayers should not be expected to fund activities designed to persuade the taxpayers themselves how to vote. There should not be any reimbursement at all.

The candidate deposit of $1,000 should be much lower in the interests of encouraging Canadians to participate, regardless of their personal financial position.

There are many other areas where the bill can be criticized as being undemocratic, including fixed dates for federal elections, timing of byelections, government advertising or propaganda before an election, and many others. Time prevents me from commenting on these matters. My constituents know all about the bill. We were fighting to have changes made to our elections act when dealing with this bill, which was Bill C-83 in the first session of this parliament, but the changes have not been made. The bill is a manipulation by the power hungry government in power.

It is shameful. When we send our representatives abroad to monitor elections we preach democracy. We go to other countries to monitor their elections to ensure that they are democratic, fair and free. But what is happening right here in our own country? This gag law, this elections act which the government is forcing through the House, will create a situation where we will have undemocratic elections. There will not be free and fair elections in this country.

It is really pathetic. It is so undemocratic that it is almost undemocratic enough to be a dictatorship. Canadians will not support a political party that will force these types of changes on our democratic process.