Mr. Speaker, I rise on behalf of the people of Surrey Central to speak to Bill C-9, the Liberal government's proposed changes to the Canada Elections Act.
The purpose of Bill C-9 is to amend the Canada Elections Act which became law on September 1, 2000. The Liberals passed the bill only a few months ago, but we are correcting their mistakes.
We are doing the work today that we asked them to do in the 36th parliament. We do not mind helping them again to do their homework, but we are disappointed that Canadians did not choose to send us to Ottawa to do our work, because we would have done our work right the first time.
Bill C-9 will overturn the current law that requires a party to have at least 50 candidates before it can be identified as a political party on the election ballot. The Liberals will now require parties to possess 12 candidates in order to be recognized as political parties and be entitled to certain benefits and privileges.
Only registered parties are eligible to obtain the final list of electors, to obtain free broadcast time for political announcements and to issue tax receipts to donors on behalf of the party. Only registered parties are entitled to such benefits and privileges.
Canada's chief electoral officer confirms the number of candidates. The 12 candidate minimum conforms to the requirement that a party have at least 12 members of parliament to receive official status in the House of Commons, as the fifth party has.
Let me explain how the Liberals arrived at the magic number of 12. The Liberals are trying to make it as hard as possible for any political group to challenge them at the ballot box. In their twisted logic they have figured out that they would be too ashamed and embarrassed to make the required number of seats any higher than the number of seats required by the House for a party to qualify to be recognized as a political party.
I am sure that members will remember that in the last parliament the Liberals originally set the bar high at 50. It is a lot more difficult to field 50 candidates in an election than 12 or so. The Liberals like the number 50. They were crushing a number of parties and preventing them from qualifying for certain privileges and benefits. They have been forced to lower the bar and to allow smaller parties to have a greater level of participation in our democracy.
In the last parliament the Liberals kept the bar high at 50 candidates for what they knew would be the last time. In the most recent election the Liberals could put in a fix by denying parties with less than 50 candidates from being major political parties in Canada.
Before the Liberals passed the previous Canada Elections Act during the last parliament, the official opposition warned the Liberal government that the 50 candidate rule should be dropped. We told them upfront, but who listens on the other side? I spoke to that bill in various debates in the last parliament.
We had the approval of most of Canada's smaller political parties for the proposal, but the Liberals did not listen at that time. It appears perhaps that they are listening now.
Even so, parties with 12 candidates will be allowed to have their party's name on ballots but will still not be able, as will parties with 50 candidates, to provide donors with tax receipts, to access the list of electors or to obtain free broadcasting time on TV.
Those three things are crucial for a political party to be able campaign and to have its message communicated across the country. Those three things are very important, and parties with 12 members will not be entitled to such privileges.
With Bill C-9, the bill we are debating today, the government would create two tiers of political parties with different sets of privileges. On one hand, registered political parties with 50 or more candidates would possess all possible benefits. On the other hand, political parties with less than 50 candidates would possess few benefits other than having their name on the ballot if they have at least 12 candidates.
Bill C-9 continues to discriminate against smaller parties. It is not only undemocratic, it is anti-democratic as well. The Canada Elections Act should be neutral and should treat everyone equally and fairly. Canadian voters, not the government, should decide whether a political party or candidate is worthy of their vote. It should not be up to the government to decide, it should be up to Canadians.
The Liberals are trying to pass the legislation because a court case has necessitated changes to the Canada Elections Act. As the House will recall, in my speech in the last parliament I warned the House of possible legal action. I told the Liberals that they were exposing the Canada Elections Act to a legal tussle, and now here it is. If they had listened at the time this probably would not have happened.
The Ontario Court of Appeal decided the case in August 2000. The court decided that the Canada Elections Act provisions concerning the identification of political parties on election ballots was invalid. The court said that the provisions were invalid and suspended its decision for six months, until February 16, 2001, so that parliament could address the court's decision.
If this had been done right the first time we would not be doing it again. We could be spending the valuable time of the House, as well as of the court, on something more important.
Bill C-9 also clarifies the calculations of the electoral expenses limit. If the revised list of electors differs from the original list, the candidate's expenses will be adjusted accordingly.
The reimbursement of election expenses is also covered in the bill. Under section 435 of Bill C-2, which was a bill in the previous parliament, only registered parties, and not the small parties we must define today, will be reimbursed for election expenses providing they obtain either 2% of the national vote or 5% of the votes in the ridings in which they endorse candidates. Those are two conditions parties must satisfy before they get any reimbursement for election expenses.
Again I am standing in the House and warning the government. It should get its act together and correct these mistakes so that the Canada Elections Act is neutral, fair and treats everyone equally.
The Canadian Alliance, and my colleagues on this side, proposed election rebates. We do not believe it is fair that only registered parties, and not the smaller political parties, are eligible for these benefits.
Another important point in the bill is the fundraising activities. If Bill C-9 is not amended, as we are asking, it will be difficult for the smaller parties to engage in fundraising activities.
Bill C-9 does not make amendments to the income tax provisions of Bill C-2 which was debated in the House and passed in the last parliament. The provisions are discriminatory. Receipts can be issued on behalf of registered parties during and in between elections. Whereas, candidates of non-registered political parties, the ones we talked about earlier, can only issue receipts during the writ period. How can they prepare themselves to have their messages conveyed to Canadians when they do not have enough resources? They are not permitted have fundraisers between elections.
During those 36 or 37 days they can receive funds and issue tax receipts to donors. Other than the writ period, they are not entitled to raise any funds or issue tax receipts. When tax receipts are not issued, it is very difficult to get money donated from someone to a political party or a political cause. That is very unfair.
I will move on to another point about asset liquidation. Under clause 394 of the former bill, Bill C-2, with respect to registered parties which failed to run 50 candidates, they become suspended and the assets of a suspended party need not be liquidated if the party applies for re-registration within six months. However, if they do not apply within those six months then they are suspended. Bill C-9 does not amend this very important provision. The Canadian Alliance does not believe that a party should have to liquidate its assets under any circumstances, which is exactly what the Ontario Court of Appeal decided.
The Liberal government may be facing another court challenge over this if this clause is not amended. We are telling the Liberal government what to do about this bill to avoid any potential lawsuits. Whether or not it listens to us is another story.
The voting process is another issue. Among other technical matters, Bill C-9 also stipulates that if the chief electoral officer wishes to examine alternative voting processes, such as electronic voting, the alternative cannot be used without the approval of the House of Commons and Senate committees. Why does the chief electoral officer, who is supposed to monitor elections in Canada, have to get permission for electoral alternative electronic voting, for example, or other alternative methods to make the process efficient and effective?
There are some other changes in the bill but most of them are housekeeping changes. Under the current legislation, only the approval of the House of Commons committee is required. This sounds to me like a way to prevent change, but I will reserve my comments and allow the committee that will hear this bill, and many witnesses over time, to decide what this section really means.
I look forward in seeing how the committee proceeds. I look forward to seeing whether it will give a fair chance to witnesses to come forward and whether or not its recommendations will be taken into consideration. The amendments to the former Bill C-2, which were discussed in the committee, were ignored.
Let me talk about the relationship of Bill C-9 to Canadian Alliance policy. Canadian Alliance policy states:
To improve the representative nature of our electoral system, we will consider electoral reforms, including proportional representation, the single transferable ballot, electronic voting, and fixed election dates, and we will submit such options to voters in a nationwide referendum.
The government House leader is in charge of the bill. He was in charge of the last bill during the last session and did a very bad job. I apologize for making this comment, but all the good amendments which we proposed and those which were discussed in committee were not taken into consideration. Even when the red light was flashing signalling a warning that there might be some court actions, the House leader ignored it. Now, the House leader is heckling me on this.
While the bill does abandon the 50 candidate rule, it does not go far enough to democratize our electoral process. We believe all parties should be treated equally and fairly, not merely those with 50 or more candidates. All political parties should be treated fairly and equally. That is called real democracy.
The Canada Elections Act is a mess. Not only are the Liberals not learning fast enough, I do not know if they are learning at all. They do not have the political will to make a fair and level playing field for all political parties to contest an election.
The level playing field is very important. Equal opportunity for all political parties is very important but it is not there. The Liberals not only have it in the back of their minds but they also have it in the front of their minds to have an elections act that will benefit the governing party, which in this case is the Liberal Party. That is why they did not listen to the Alliance amendments in the last parliament and will try to ignore our amendments once again.
The bill maintains the most objectionable provisions of the Canada Elections Act. Our elections should be democratic, free and fair, offering equal opportunity to all candidates and all political parties. This would be a great way to start a new session of parliament.
The weak, arrogant and corrupt Liberal government that lacks vision is wasting an opportunity to modernize and democratize the patronage ridden Canada Elections Act. It has this opportunity again. Our election act is even worse than the election acts in developing countries and where this government's representatives go to monitor elections. If our own elections act is a mess, is not democratic, how can we send our representatives to developing countries to monitor their elections? I do not know if we are practising what we are preaching at home.
The members of the official opposition have proposed a number of worthwhile amendments to the bill. We will continue to do that. It is our job, not only to criticize the government, but also to propose amendments, suggest new ways and worthwhile change to open Liberals' eyes. As usual we are holding a flashlight for them but they are closing their eyes. They refuse to look when we shine the light into their intellectual darkness.
The Liberals resist change. That is why they do not want parliamentary reform. That is why they do not want to democratize our electoral system. The more I think about it, I am quite convinced that the Liberals' actions are not just undemocratic, they are anti-democratic. The government is the dictatorship of the 21st century. It is nothing short of a dictatorship when it will not accept amendments that would improve the system.