Debates of April 26th, 2001
House of Commons Hansard #49 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was elections.
- Board Of Internal Economy
- Government Response To Petitions
- Proceeds Of Crime (Money Laundering) Act
- Questions On The Order Paper
- Canada Elections Act
- Criminal Code
- Eldorado Nuclear Limited Reorganization And Divestiture Act
- International Boundary Waters Treaty Act
- International Co-Operation
- Organ Donor Awareness Week
- National Volunteer Week
- International Co-Operation
- Unknown Soldier
- Organ Donation
- Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
- Unknown Soldier
- Organ Donor Awareness Week
- Cercle Des Fermières
- Official Languages
- St. John's Harbour
- The Economy
- Gasoline Pricing
- The Environment
- Business Development Bank Of Canada
- The Environment
- Business Development Bank Of Canada
- Wine Industry
- Steel Industry
- National Defence
- Veterans Affairs
- The Environment
- Free Trade Area Of The Americas
- Francophonie Games
- Official Languages
- Income Tax Returns
- Presence In Gallery
- Business Of The House
- International Boundary Waters Treaty Act
- Farm Credit Corporation Act
- Gold Mines
Board Of Internal Economy
I have the honour to inform the House that Mr. Dick Harris of the electoral district of Prince George—Bulkley Valley has been appointed as a member of the Board of Internal Economy in place of Mr. Chuck Strahl, member for the electoral district of Fraser Valley.
Government Response To Petitions
Derek Lee Parliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons
Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36 I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the government's response to three petitions.
Proceeds Of Crime (Money Laundering) Act
Don Boudria for the Minister of Finance
moved that Bill S-16, an act to amend the Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) Act be read a first time.
(Motion agreed to and bill read the first time)
Questions On The Order Paper
Derek Lee Parliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons
Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.
Questions On The Order Paper
Questions On The Order Paper
Some hon. members
Canada Elections Act
Don Boudria Leader of the Government in the House of Commons
moved that Bill C-9, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act, be read the third time and passed.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak briefly today on the bill which proposes a few amendments to the Canada Elections Act and the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act.
As members of parliament will know, from time to time we need to revisit our laws to make sure they keep up with the changing needs of Canadians.
Sometimes this entails introducing totally new legislation as happened with Bill C-2, the Canada Elections Act, in the last parliament.
While the impetus for change usually comes from the public or this House, it can also be the result of rulings by the courts. An example is the Figueroa case heard recently by the Ontario Court of Appeal.
In this case the plaintiff challenged the constitutionality of the provisions in the Canada Elections Act relating to the registration of political parties. He argued that requiring a party to nominate 50 candidates before it could be declared a registered party, and thus before having tis name appear on the ballot, violated section 3 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms since smaller parties could not achieve this threshold and were therefore denied some of the financial benefits accorded to registered parties.
In its ruling, the court ruled that it was in fact reasonable to require parties to have 50 candidates before they qualify for financial benefits. I repeat that the court said it was okay. The reason it did so and I quote the court. It said that the requirement “is a reasonable method of distinguishing between parties whose involvement reaches the appropriate level of participation and parties whose involvement does not”. That was a quote from paragraph 88 of the court's decision.
The provision of the Canada Elections Act pertaining to the eligibility for financial benefit remains unchanged.
The plaintiff also challenged those provisions requiring parties to have 50 nominated candidates before their names could appear on the ballot.
The argument was that having a candidate's political affiliation on the ballot was desirable since it provided voters with important information they needed before making an informed choice. In other words, if there were two John Does on the ballot and one of them was John Doe from such and such party, as opposed to John Doe, independent, voters would have the right to know that it was John Doe from such and such party.
In this case the court ruled that this use of the 50 candidate threshold was not valid and represented an unjustifiable limitation on the right of voters to make an informed choice since it denied them important information about candidates, as I have just shown.
As such, it violates section 3 of the charter. Consequently the court referred the offending portions of the act back to parliament and gave it a specific time frame to take remedial action. This is why it is important to respond to its ruling.
The bill before us responds to this part of the ruling by proposing to lower the threshold for including party affiliation on the ballot, in other words the informative part, to just 12 candidates, which is less than a quarter of what it would have required before.
I spoke in committee to why the number 12 was used. It was used because it is a threshold with which we are familiar. It is one that exists elsewhere for political parties, namely 12 is the minimum number of members of parliament to be recognized by the Speaker as a party for the purposes of the House. That would suppose that a party with 12 candidates would elect all of them all of the time. Although that is unlikely it is at least possible, and that is the number we used.
We could have used a slightly higher threshold, namely 15, because it was the one recommended by the Lortie commission. The Lortie commission, appointed by the previous Conservative government, had made such a recommendation in the past. In any case, certainly if 15 works 12 is a number that is even less onerous and therefore would work not only as well but some would argue even better.
All these issues were studied by the parliamentary committee. I thank the committee for the excellent issues that were raised. I did not always agree with everything that was raised by some hon. colleagues in committee, but largely they were very constructive, as they usually are. I hope my responses to them in committee were as equally informative as their questions were interesting.
During these hearings the question of how many candidates should be required was discussed at length. There were members who called for a far greater number than 12, while others wanted to lower the number. As a matter of fact, there is a private member's bill before the House by a member of the Canadian Alliance arguing for a stronger threshold.
There must be a threshold some place. The court spoke to this eloquently. It said the designation on the ballot had to be what it called a party in the real sense of the word. That was the expression used by the court. One person is not a party. I, running under my own party, would not have the status of a party. A party that would bear only the individual's name would not satisfy that criterion. Again the court referred to that in its decision.
The balanced approach was required. To use a threshold that had foundation in law, the number 12 certainly has that and the number 15 as well. Both were reasonable and we used one of them. It is the balanced approached. Mr. Speaker, you will be very familiar with the government's usually balanced approach to most things, if not everything.
Voters could be, as I said, misled if a ballot indicated a candidate was affiliated with a political party that was in fact not a political party. That would not serve to make the system more transparent but could arguably make it less so.
As a matter of fact, one colleague was very concerned about the fact that people could put their names on a ballot for the purpose of giving publicity to a commercial enterprise. In other words they could simply satisfy the criteria for the ballot and advertise. One hon. member gave the example of her real estate office or something like that. That is not what the ballot is designed to do. It is difficult to reconcile all these things, but we tried to use the number that would make it all work.
As I mentioned, the rationale for choosing 12 is already found in our parliamentary system. Once passed, this measure would allow political parties with at least 12 candidates to have their names appear alongside those of their candidates. In other words the ballot would say that John Doe is running under the XYZ party, if that happened to be the name of the particular group of people.
As to the other provisions, I will mention them briefly before concluding. These tend to be technical amendments designed to correct a few anomalies that have become apparent since the new Canada Elections Act came into force and terminological changes aimed at making the English and French versions more consistent. As such, they should make our existing electoral laws even better.
I wish to thank parliamentarians from all parties who took part in this exercise, and I mean this sincerely. I also wish to thank those who worked hard on drafting Bill C-9: the people at Elections Canada, the Department of Justice, Privy Council, my own team, and of course all those working on the bill right now.
I will conclude by repeating the promise I made to the parliamentary committee. What we have before us today is not an overhaul of the Canada Elections Act. It is simply a response to the court and the correction of certain technical details, certain anomalies.
Nevertheless, we remain committed to again overhaul the Canada Elections Act, as must be done, particularly on the heels of an election and following the report and recommendations of Canada's chief electoral officer, which will probably be released shortly.
Later there will have to be consultations with the political parties, not just in the House but within the parties themselves because sometimes political parties have important things to say and they are not just said by parliamentarians. There will have to be this kind of consultation with them and with the general public in due course.
That is not what is before us today. We are looking only at the corrections I have just mentioned, but the firm undertaking to improve the Canada Elections Act in general remains and I wanted to take this opportunity to reiterate this in the House, as I did in committee a few weeks ago.
On that note I will close because I know that parliamentarians will soon want to move on to Bill C-24. In order to speed things up a bit, I will conclude my remarks here.
I thank my colleagues in advance for the contribution they will make to this debate.
Canada Elections Act
Scott Reid Lanark—Carleton, ON
Mr. Speaker, I will be dividing my time with the hon. member for Surrey Central.
Canada Elections Act
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. member, but he needs unanimous consent to split his time. Is there unanimous consent for the hon. member for Lanark—Carleton to split his time?
Canada Elections Act
Some hon. members
Canada Elections Act
Scott Reid Lanark—Carleton, ON
Mr. Speaker, I am not sure if unanimous consent was gained because hon. members realize I will have 10 minutes less to speak, but at any rate I am grateful to the other members present for giving their consent.
I want to start today by making a few general observations, by dealing with some philosophical points, by creating a larger framework, and then perhaps by delving a little into the details of the bill.
Our parliamentary system in Canada is derived partially from that of the United Kingdom and partially from that of the United States. This surprises some people who think it is entirely derived from the United Kingdom, but we have a written constitution like the Americans, a Senate with set membership like the Americans, and a charter of rights similar to the American bill of rights.
We can learn about the motivating spirit of our democracy by dipping into the writings of the great constitutionalists of both of the world's streams of democratic thought. From the British, for example, we can read Bagehot, Dicey, Acton and Sir Henry Maine. We can go back in history and read Blackstone. When it comes to the Americans we can look and learn from the writings of Madison, Jefferson, John Taylor of Caroline and of Alexis de Tocqueville.
I draw the attention of the House to a particular well known statement made by Thomas Jefferson. He made the observation once that the natural course of things is for liberty to give ground over time to tyranny. He then tried, through his great student Madison who was present at the constitutional convention in Philadelphia in 1789, to build institutions which would prevent that natural course of events from taking place.
I should point out that Canada's constitution was designed with exactly this purpose in mind, but unlike the Americans we had a wealth of experience upon which to draw. We had the British example and we drew upon that extensively and wisely.
The Fathers of Confederation also drew extensively upon the American example, so much so that A. V. Dicey, the great British constitutionalist, made the observation that although the preamble to the Canadian constitution, the British North America Act, talks of a constitution similar in spirit to that of the United Kingdom, the word kingdom could have been withdrawn and the word states put in its place and it would be equally true, according to Dicey. We could learn from both these examples and from what has been said by the great scholars of both these traditions.
Some of the protections in the American system for individual liberty and freedom that we built into our own system are federalism, being the most obvious and powerful example, and a Senate with a fixed membership and regional representation. Of course the British house of lords does not have a fixed membership and it does not have any form of regional representation built into it.
The dates for elections could not be postponed beyond five years. That was written into our constitution without very substantial consent within parliament itself, whereas in Britain parliament has always had the unilateral right to change the period between elections without notice. This was done in the 18th century when the period between elections was changed from the traditional level of three years to seven years which remained throughout the 19th century. It was then changed again to five years. In Canada the five year level was set.
These are all indications that we looked at the British model and saw much that was wise there, looked at the American model and saw much that was wise there, and together tried to integrate them to build truly profound protections for liberty to ensure that Canada would be the freest country in the world. To a large degree the Fathers of Confederation were successful.
We also gained, in our initial constitutional arrangement, certain benefits for liberty that were taken from the British model. I would like to cite some of those. Initially judicial review of our laws was placed in a non-resident institution, the house of lords and typically the judicial committee of the privy council. That was done to ensure that we could not have any kind of political control ultimately over rights. There was an institution that would protect us from that.
We were subjected originally to the colonial laws validity act which was designed to ensure that no law repugnant to the laws of Britain could be passed in Canada, or indeed in any of the other countries that in those days were characterized as British colonies, which would take away rights from individuals. That law was subsequently removed in 1931 by the statute of Westminster. Again, it is an indication of the number of protections that we thought were important for liberties and democracy in the country.
The most important protection in the eyes of our founders for liberty in the country was that we were a monarchy. We had a monarch chosen by the lottery of birth who, as Bagehot said, would bear the dignified portions of the government, whereas the efficient portions of governance would be carried out by the House of Commons and our Senate. This was seen as a way of ensuring a tremendous respect for liberty and a protection that would go beyond that which was available either in Britain or in the United States.
I take a bit of time to make the point that our tradition is one which is very respectful of democracy, of liberty and of the full right of participation for all Canadians regardless of their political views in the process on a level playing field. It seems to me that in recent years we have seen an erosion of some of these rights. That concerns me a great deal.
We have seen, for example, a persistent effort on the part of the current government to ensure that third party advertising is restricted as much as possible. This has been pursued with a tremendous amount of tenacity by the government in order to ensure that private parties are unable to participate in the electoral process and that competition is largely shut down.
We saw a refusal to implement legislation that would permit citizen initiation or review of legislation on the Swiss model. We saw the erosion of rights of members of parliament. We saw the extreme use in this place of votes of confidence. Everything is a confidence motion. That has had the effect of enforcing rigid party discipline and taking away the ability of members to speak their own minds freely in a way that would reflect the will of their constituents and of the Canadian people.
We also saw an absolute refusal of the government to make non-partisan appointments to the Senate or to recognize Senate elections. There was a very reluctant willingness on the part of the prior prime minister, Mr. Mulroney, to allow one elected senator from Alberta, the hon. Stan Waters, to take his seat as the voters had decided. Similar respect for the voters of Alberta has not been shown in its choice of Professor Ted Morton and of Bert Brown, who were fairly elected.
When we looked to the United States, which at one point had an appointed senate, we saw that the process of developing elected senates started when the state of Oregon elected its senators and the senate itself allowed them to sit. This led to a rapid spread of senate elections and eventually an amendment to its constitution. These are all valuable changes that would make the country more democratic. Preventing them from occurring keeps the country less democratic.
In addition to the prevention of an expansion of democracy, we see an actual clamp being put on free democratic expression and the ability of parties to compete on an equal playing field. This is what we see when we turn to the present piece of legislation and the ancestral pieces of legislation passed over the prior eight years by this government and the prior government.
There has been a systematic attempt to cut off the privileges of minor parties. If we go back to 1993, legislation was passed at that time which was clearly designed to make it impossible for two new parties, which at that point did not have substantial representation in this place, the Reform Party as it then was and the Bloc Quebecois to compete on a level playing field.
The legislation said, among other things, that if there were less than 50 candidates on the ballot the name of the party could not be placed on the ballot. The party could not issue tax receipts. The party could not have assets. Its assets would be forfeited immediately to the Receiver General for Canada and money could be spent only on activities that related to that forfeiture.
This did not of course have the intended impact which was to ensure that the Reform Party and the Bloc Quebecois could not contest an election on a level playing field or indeed on any terms at all because both parties were able to produce more than 50 members in that election. Even though the two parties for which this was intended managed to overcome the hurdle, the law remained in place and was clearly a pernicious law.
Let us consider an example. There are 75 seats in Quebec. The Bloc Quebecois naturally had more candidates than the minimum amount permitted under this legislation. However let us say there was a smaller region that wanted to put forward candidates to represent its interests, for example, a maritime rights movement. I remind the House that in the 1920s there was a maritimes rights movement which was very active and represented some very legitimate interests.
Let us say for the sake of argument that advocates of the maritime rights movement wanted to put forward candidates. There are not 50 seats in the maritime provinces, therefore they would deprived of the right to issue tax receipts, put their name on the ballot, to have assets and function in any way as a party. Yet that would be a legitimate interest.
There could be other regions of the country where the same thing could occur. I will return to this a little later, but it is interesting to note that right now the 50 candidate rule still remains law for certain provisions of the original law and has not been struck down by the courts. It is still impossible to issue tax receipts. This law does not deal with that.
No longer does a party has to forfeit its assets if it has less than 50 candidates. That is not because of anything this government has done. The original court ruling that dealt with the Figueroa case struck down that provision of the law and the government realized it was constitutionally indefensible chose not to appeal it. However it attempted to appeal the ruling that the name could go on the ballot with less than 50 candidates but it was struck down again. This time the court said a lower number had to be put into the law within six months.
The government waited until three days before the six month period and let an election go by which ensured parties could not function during that election under the new rules mandated by the court. It then puts forward an absolute minimum rule, which is applied in the minimal manner possible with the court's ruling, and allows 12 candidates as the standard for getting a name on the ballot. However it has done nothing else which the court has not forced it to do. That is clearly highly objectionable.
The minister spoke very eloquently in favour of the merits of using 12 as our number. An equally eloquent argument can be made in favour of two. However there seems to have been a consensus among small parties before the court case that 12 would be okay.
If that is such a good rule for putting names on the ballot, then why on earth is it not also acceptable to issue tax receipts, or having access to advertising that is set aside by the Canada Elections Act, and for all the other privileges? The only reason I can think of is that there is still an attempt to freeze out small parties. We have the parties which exist now but perhaps there are future problems that could arise for the government. I think the government wants to keep on ensuring that no one else can enter into this place. It wants to make it is impossible for other parties to get in.
I should point out that this is a pattern we see occurring elsewhere. It is a regrettable pattern. We are not unique in the world in having this.
I want to point out some of the dangers that can occur if we go too far down the road of trying to restrict the free right of small parties to contest elections on the same terms as the major parties.
Let us look at the United States for example. The tangle of election laws in the United States has ensured that incumbents in the house of representatives enjoy a 98% re-election rate. They are nominally the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. On some issues they differ but in many respects there are critics who say it is really one party, the incumbent party. When it comes to dealing with electoral law that is a fair statement to make.
The whole focus of American electoral law reform for the past 30 years has been to ensure that independent candidates cannot make it in. That is if a Republican is the incumbent in the seat it is hard for a Democrat to make it in and if a Democrat is the incumbent in the seat it is hard for a Republican to make it in. Therefore congress becomes a cozy little club in which there is a great deal of collegiality. It is a club in which democracy is not operating as it should, as Madison and Jefferson would have wanted it to operate. Both of men would have been absolutely appalled by this spectacle.
We can see how this works. From the point of view of a ruling party, the ideal is to have a permanent division of seats in which the smaller parties are ensured some representation and some privileges. However they never actually contest the ability of the dominant party to control at least half the house and therefore 100% of the legislation in the house. This is absolutely contrary to the beliefs of our founders, the Fathers of Confederation. This is a terrible shame.
While I do not think it is intention of the government to take us down the same road as the Americans, the danger is there. The government ought to reconsider very carefully what it is doing. We are well on our way down that road.
I do not think Canada wants to head in this direction. I would never impugn that kind of motive to anybody. The danger is a country could wind up with the kind of situation that existed in Poland in the mid part of this century, from the late 1940s to 1989, with the de facto one party rule.
There were three parties represented in the Polish Sejm, that is the Polish Diet or legislature. The three parties were the Polish United Workers Party or the Communist Party, then the United Peasant Party and the Democratic Party which were smaller parties that had a limited number of seats, no influence on legislation and served essentially to provide the illusion that there was a functioning multiparty democracy.
That is the extreme. I do not believe Canada is heading that far but that is the model we have to avoid. The government should be proactively saying what it can do to ensure that smaller parties have the right to contest elections on exactly equal and fair terms with the larger parties like the Canadian Alliance, the Liberal Party and the other parties represented here.
When we heard the testimony that was given at committee by the leaders of the Christian Heritage Party, the Communist Party and the Green Party, we heard tremendously eloquent and thoughtful people. They were presenting points of view that were not the same point of view that the minister nor I share. However they were profoundly intelligent points of view that deserved to be heard by the Canadian people on exact and equal terms.
If Canadians decide that they should put their trust in one of those parties, the parties should have the right to receive that trust. Those parties must have the right to present their case on exactly the same terms that those of us who are here today enjoy. Anything less is undemocratic, unfair and unacceptable to the spirit in which our constitution was crafted and to the spirit that is the heart of every Canadian, which is that this is a truly free, truly democratic, truly pluralist country in which every point of view is valid unless it is intolerant or hate filled. None of the people who represent those parties have that kind of sentiment or intolerance.
We need to set an example that shows that we are, as our founders intended us to be, the freest and most generous country in the world. Anything less is unacceptable and that makes this bill unacceptable. I urge every member of the House to consider those facts and to vote against the bill.
Canada Elections Act
Gurmant Grewal Surrey Central, BC
Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the constituents of Surrey Central, I am very pleased to participate in the third reading debate on Bill C-9, the Liberal government's proposed changes to the elections act.
Before I begin my remarks I want to commend the hon. member for Lanark—Carleton for his significant contribution to this debate. His comments are highly appreciated.
The bill has two main focuses. First, Bill C-9 would amend the Canada Elections Act so that candidates, other than those of registered parties, may have the option of indicating their political affiliation on the ballot. Second, it provides for various technical amendments that would correct certain details of the new Canada Elections Act. The bill is supposed to amend the Canada Elections Act that became law on September 1, 2000 in the last parliament.
The Liberals passed the bill only a few months ago. The bill we are debating today is the Liberal government's attempt to correct the mistakes they made in the previous bill in the 36th parliament.
The official opposition is continuing to try to force the government to do its work, as we asked it to do in the 36th parliament. I spoke to that bill in the last parliament and I warned the government about the pitfalls which it did not prevent.
As I said at second reading of the bill, I do not mind helping the Liberals to do their homework. I will present some ideas which the government can listen to and adopt amendments to the bill so that it does not have to amend it again after a little while.
The chief electoral officer appeared before the procedure and House affairs standing committee that conducted hearings on the bill last month. He said that these technical amendments did not raise any administrative concerns, apart from the fact that they were not exhaustive. The chief electoral officer also said that he had discovered other provisions that would warrant revision since some of these technical amendments created undesirable effects. The light is flashing, but I do not know if the Liberals are listening.
For example, Bill C-9 does not resolve the incongruity of the situation in which eligible and suspended parties are considered exactly like third parties. There should be some difference between a small political party and one that has been suspended. These two types of party status are seen as the same. However they are different and our laws should reflect that. At this late stage of the bill's progress, that is third and final reading, I ask the government what will it do about the fact that suspended parties are treated the same way as a small party. It is unfair.
There is also a concern that parties, which are not represented in the House regularly, raise questions about their participation in the electoral process. The chief electoral officer is concerned about the frequency and wide range of complaints about how smaller parties are treated and the obstacles they face trying to compete with large, more established political parties like the governing Liberals. Our electoral system should be fixed so that everyone is treated fairly and equally. The weak Liberal government that lacks vision is not addressing these problems in the bill.
The chief electoral officer will be tabling a report in the fall of 2001 wherein he will suggest ways to improve the current system. We look forward to his report, but I am sure that members on the government side do not.
The bill's provisions regarding the identification of political affiliation on ballots raises another question. It creates a two tier political party system, with different kinds of benefits accruing to political parties, depending on whether they are large parties with 12 or more candidates or small parties. The Liberals are only passing the bill because they want to limit their competition. That is undemocratic.
During the debate at second reading we heard many speakers indicating the problems they had experienced with Elections Canada during the last election and in the previous election. The government could make improvements to the way we conduct our elections. The Liberals have refused to pass Canadian Alliance amendments proposed at committee stage. Those amendments would have made the bill more acceptable to smaller parties.
For example, leaders of Canada's smaller political parties testified before the procedure and house affairs standing committee on the invitation of the Canadian Alliance critic for intergovernmental affairs. Ron Gray, leader of the Christian Heritage Party; Chris Bradshaw, leader of the Green Party; and Miguel Figueroa, leader of the Communist Party testified to the discriminatory spirit of the bill.
Under the bill proposed by the Liberals, large parties with 12 or more candidates or registered parties would have the right to receive final electors lists, issue tax receipts, reimbursement of partial election expenses, broadcasting time on national TV and preferential rates during prime time. Smaller parties and independent candidates are barred access to those resources.
At committee stage of Bill C-9, the Canadian Alliance tried to have several amendments passed but the Liberal dominated committee refused them. We tried to have the Liberals adopt the following amendment:
The Chief Electoral Officer shall deliver a printed copy and a copy in electronic form of the final lists of electors for each electoral district to each candidate.
We wanted to change the word party to candidate. This would make the act more democratic. There is no reason to prevent any candidate from receiving that list. It would be undemocratic if candidates were not treated fairly and equally and were not given the electors list so that they could do their campaigning. How could we prevent them from having access to the final electors list while candidates from established larger political parties have access to that list? That is very unfair. The Liberals refused to accept that amendment.
Another amendment submitted by the Canadian Alliance would strike the phrase, in the preceding election, from subclause 12(2)(d). In the case of a general election a party has candidates whose nominations have been confirmed in at least 12 electoral districts.
The way the clause reads now and would continue to read prevents a candidate in a byelection from having the party name with which he or she is affiliated appear on the ballot unless the party was qualified to have its name appear on the ballot in the previous general election. This again is an unfair situation that new political parties would face in a byelection.
The Liberals should not be afraid of new political parties. The government should be careful not to put any barriers in the way of new parties. This would encourage democracy to flourish, but the Liberals do not want that.
In clause 17 of Bill C-9 we tried to have subsection 335(1) of the act replaced with the following:
In the period beginning with the issue of the writs for a general election and ending at midnight on the day before polling day, every broadcaster shall, subject to the regulations made under the Broadcasting Act and the conditions of its licence, make available, for purchase by all political parties for the transmission of political announcements and other programming produced by or on behalf of the political parties, six and one half hours of broadcasting time during prime time on its facilities.
Once again, the official opposition was pleading the case of smaller or newer political parties. We wanted to remove the word registered from appearing before the word party so that any party could have access to broadcasting time, thus giving all parties an equal opportunity.
We tried to make it possible for a party to become a registered party if it could obtain the names of 5,000 electors who were members of that party or who supported the right of the party to be a registered party. It would be fair and make our democracy more open and transparent. However the Liberals refused it.
Most Canadians feel that under our electoral system every candidate in Canada must have equal access to the electoral list and the ability to issue tax receipts regardless of political affiliation, but the Liberals do not want that. They are so arrogant and heavy-handed and into power and control that they want to crush even the smallest voices in our electoral system. The bill is all about incumbency protection.
It is apparent that the Liberals would go to any length to protect their seats and even deny the democratic rights of other Canadians. We must not forget that the bill is the government's response to the Ontario Court of Appeal ruling on Communist Party leader, Mr. Miguel Figueroa's challenge to the limitations imposed on smaller parties as a result of Bill C-2 that came into effect in November 2000.
Bill C-2 was flawed. The Liberals did not listen to the opposition, other Canadians and witnesses who appeared before the committee. I spoke in the debate on that bill in the previous parliament and I warned the Liberals that their phony bill would be challenged in the courts. I warned them that they would lose the case. It was challenged and they did lose the case.
The Communist Party has pledged to sue the government as soon as Bill C-9 is passed. I warn them again. I may have to speak again when the bill comes back before the House. I remind them that it is the opinion of the four political party leaders who testified before the committee that the Liberal government is only grudgingly complying with the Ontario court's decision. It is doing so in the narrowest possible sense. Anyone supporting Bill C-9 is pulling up the drawbridge to the House of Commons.
If these measures had been in place 10 years ago, new parties like the Reform Party of Canada would have been barred access to the vital resources that facilitated its rise to the office of the official opposition and now the Canadian Alliance Party.
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 both the House and the Senate committees. Under the current legislation only approval of the House of Commons committee is required to give the chief electoral officer the freedom to examine alternatives that are innovative and could help modernize our electoral process, which is a good thing.
However on this side of the House our ears perk up when we hear the word Senate. Are the Liberals preparing to have the Senate kill any innovative ideas the chief electoral officer wants to propose? We know for sure that we cannot trust the government.
At committee hearings the Canadian Alliance proposed to amend this part of the bill but our amendment was again struck down. We know that the Senate is not elected. How could it interfere with the election process when senators are not elected? It is very unfair and undemocratic. The Canadian Alliance policy declares:
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 will submit such options to voters in a nationwide referendum.
Bill C-9 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 or 12 or more candidates.
It is unfortunate that when the House was debating Bill C-2 in the last session the Liberals ignored the Reform Party's recommendation to drop the 50 candidate rule. As usual, the Liberals were forced into action not by the wishes of Canadians but by a court ruling.
When Bill C-2 was before the procedure and House affairs committee, constitutional lawyer Gerald Chipeur made it clear to the Liberals that the 50 candidate rule would be struck down. The Canadian Alliance always rejected the Liberal's claim that the 50 candidate rule was designed to protect voters from frivolous parties.
The Canadian Alliance believes that voters and not the government, this arrogant, weak Liberal government that lacks vision, should decide whether a party or candidate is worthy of their vote. If Canadians feel a candidate or political party is worthy of their vote then they should vote for them. It should not be up to the government to tell Canadians which candidate or party is worthy of their vote.
The Canadian Alliance is very unhappy that Bill C-9 creates two classes of political parties. There should be an equal and fair opportunity for each party and candidate in the electoral process. However the bill denies that. It creates two classes of parties.
The Canadian Alliance believes the Canada Elections Act should be neutral and treat everyone equally and fairly. Bill C-9 is not neutral because of the reasons I have mentioned. It creates two classes of political parties and does not give equal opportunity to all candidates. We are therefore left with no option but to oppose the bill.
The government still has time to give Bill C-9 a second thought. I know it is late, but the government should have given it a second thought and accepted the amendments, listened to the witnesses in committee and given every candidate and party an equal opportunity.
The bill is not only undemocratic; it is anti-democratic. We have an elected dictatorship in Canada and that will not change if the bill is not changed. Let us see how Canadians feel. We on this side of the House oppose the bill.
Canada Elections Act
Stéphane Bergeron Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased in turn to speak to Bill C-9 at this final stage.
I would like to indicate right away that our political formation will support this legislation, but without any great enthusiasm. I would even say that we do it out of pique, in a way, because we recognize that parliament must abide by the court decision in the Figueroa case.
We also recognize that there are in the current Canada Elections Act, resulting from the reform adopted in the last parliament, a number of mistakes, all in all minor, that could nevertheless have had some rather dramatic effects in certain respects.
There are problems of agreement between the two texts, of poor translation from English to French since this bill was obviously first drafted in English.
There are also a number of mistakes in the numbering of some subsections and paragraphs. Again, this may seem trivial at first sight, but on closer look this could have had in the last election effects that although not dramatic could certainly be described as prejudicial.
Basically we should correct these difficulties, these small problems, these technical mistakes as I call them, in the Canada Elections Act.
If some technical mistakes were introduced in the elections act, I think we have to recognize that it is simply because we have proceeded hastily—unwillingly, I may add—with the elections act reform in the last session of the last parliament.
We proceeded with too much haste and this haste was dictated to us by the government, whose motives were—we saw it later, but we had suspicions at the time—essentially political and partisan. The government wanted to campaign under the new act, and since the government party was planning an early election we had to pass the new elections act as quickly as possible.
We had to proceed hastily, which prevented us from doing the work as conscientiously as we wanted to or as we should have, and the main result was that we were unable to make substantive changes to the elections act.
There were certainly very interesting changes, which had the effect of improving the act or the Canadian electoral system. However the fact still remains that we should have certainly examined changes that were much more substantive, but with the limited time available we obviously were unable to do so.
I must tell the House that as representatives of the people of Quebec and Canada in this House we should be deeply troubled and concerned by the rate of participation in elections, which is constantly declining.
We were able to see, particularly during the last federal election, that the rate of participation was dramatically low. We were able to see, particularly during the last federal election, that the rate of participation was dramatically low in spite of all the efforts made by the chief electoral officer to inform Canadians and Quebecers of the procedure to be registered on the voters' list and to exercise their right to vote.
This drop in the rate of participation also occurred in spite of the many changes made to the act to make it easier to vote. In fact, it is possible to vote under almost all circumstances in Canada and abroad. Some would even say that the Canada Elections Act is written in such a way that makes it easy, and a few journalists demonstrated this in the last election, to vote fraudulently.
We facilitate as much as possible the exercise of people's right to vote. In spite of that the participation rate is getting lower at each election. As I said, as parliamentarians I think this worrisome trend in our democracy must be cause for great concern.
If people are losing interest in politics and in the election process, we must draw certain conclusions and make certain changes.
We must carry out a reform of parliament that takes the expectations of the people we represent into account. They must be absolutely convinced that what we are doing here is being done on their behalf, that we are representing them, that we are protecting their interests and that we have a real say.
There is cause for concern with regard to for what I would call the democratic drift that threatens the process of globalization we are going through and the negotiation of the FTAA in which parliamentarians are definitely not involved.
We do need to change our parliamentary system, and that includes an indepth reform of the Canadian electoral system.
When we examined Bill C-2, which was supposed to be one of the most major reviews of the Canada Elections Act, we could have made substantial changes. We agreed with those changes but for political and partisan reasons we did not make them. That resulted, as we know, in the participation rate during the last federal election being one of the lowest since 1867. We missed a unique opportunity to carry out an indepth reform.
We must recognize that since the beginning of this new parliament the government has been dragging its feet somewhat on parliamentary and electoral reform. With this bill we could have started afresh, but no, the government has chosen to make cosmetic changes, to correct some technical mistakes to which I alluded and to abide by the court's decision in the Figueroa case. I will come back to these two issues a little later.
I would like to talk briefly about what we could have done. I hope the government House leader is listening to what I am saying. I hope we will have the opportunity very soon, after the chief electoral officer tables his report or his recommendations following the last federal election, to review, amend and reform much more thoroughly the Canadian electoral system so that our fellow citizens will feel that this system is relevant to the decision making process.
We might examine the voting procedure and the representation system. We had a debate in the House some time ago and we discussed the possibility of striking an all party committee to look into all these issues. The government has unfortunately shown very little interest in the idea of even discussing a more thorough reform of the electoral system.
I was surprised to hear the government House leader say that we would have the opportunity to examine more thoroughly the issue of the electoral system once the chief electoral officer has stated his position on the subject. I must say that he missed an excellent opportunity of showing tangible interest in this when we debated a motion brought forward by the New Democratic Party.
We might examine the representation system. Would it be relevant or not to integrate into Canadian legislation an element of proportional representation in our electoral system? Should we adopt a purely proportional electoral system? Of course there are pros and cons. We have already had an opportunity to discuss this.
As for the advantages, there is the fact that it would eventually allow for a better representation of women and young people in parliament. As far as the electoral process is concerned, minority groups would be better represented, and election results would better reflect the various points of view and ideologies in society, including some of the more minority ones.
With a proportional representation component the system will avoid the distortions sometimes created by the first past the post system which makes it possible for a government to gather almost 100% of the power with only 40% of the votes. A proportional representation system would allow for better co-operation with the opposition and would encourage government to take into account the opinions of the opposition.
Of course, there are some disadvantages to such a system. We will have to take them into consideration when we consider the system so that the necessary corrective mechanisms can be put in place. Instability can result from pure proportional representation and sometimes from a system with a proportional representation component.
There is also the risk that a proportional representation component could also create two classes of members: those who have ridings and constituents to whom they are accountable and to whom they must provide services and those who are appointed from the party lists.
To whom are the members accountable? To the people who elect them or to the party who puts them on the ballot? Those are questions that still need to be asked if we at some later point come to question the appropriateness of integrating proportionality into the Canadian electoral system.
We could have examined the system of appointing returning officers, a system that gives Canada the image of a democracy that is somewhat behind the times, somewhat aging, somewhat archaic. I, an opposition MP, am not the only one who says so. Canada's chief electoral officer said the following when he appeared before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs on October 28:
—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 appointment of returning officers under the present system is an anachronism.
The Lortie commission, in volume I of its report at page 483, stated as follows:
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 the election officials be independent of the government of the day and not subject to partisan influence.
It must be acknowledged that in the present system returning officers are appointed by the governor in council, that is to say the government. They are not appointed as the result of a call for nominations. They are not appointed as the result of an independent examination where they will be selected on their intrinsic abilities, their own qualifications. They are appointed as the government sees fit. They are appointed according to their political stripe.
In my opinion this is basically undemocratic and archaic in a democracy that claims to be modern. Returning officers need to be appointed by the chief electoral officer. They need to be dismissable by that same officer. They need to be appointed after a public call for nominations and selected in an independent process of examination of their ability to carry out their duties. They need to be answerable to the chief electoral officer.
I trust that we will eventually have an opportunity to address such an amendment. It is high time we brought this change in the Canada Electoral Act. It will be noted that all opposition parties agree with this and that the only one against it is the government, because incidentally it has the privilege of appointing returning officers.
I hope we will also have the opportunity to examine the whole issue of political party financing, which is a basic issue in a democracy. In a democracy it is one person, one vote; not one dollar but one vote.
It is important that we consider the facts. This government has been elected on a platform of honesty and integrity and of condemnation of the previous Progressive Conservative government for its spending and mistakes, but experience has shown that, with the present government there is sometimes a very strong link between contributors to the Liberal Party of Canada and people who are awarded contracts by the Liberal government.
It is strange and surprising. This patronage system where contracts are awarded to contributors to political parties is a remnant of the past.
That system should be influenced only by those who are entitled to vote on polling day. If the influence must also express itself with a monetary contribution, those who are entitled to vote on polling day should be the only ones to be able to exercise that influence in between elections and during election campaigns by giving money to political parties. Only the voters should have the right to finance Canadian political parties.
That is what we have in Quebec: financing of the political parties by the public. Quebec's party financing system is held up around the world as one of the most modern systems, since we can be absolutely sure of its probity because only voters can contribute.
Members on the other side might tell me “Yes, but it is well known that this legislation encourages people to circumvent the law, since businesses may well contribute to a party through an individual”. The Quebec election act clearly prohibits this. Penalties are therefore imposed for contravening not only the letter but also the spirit of the law.
The Quebec election act also provides for a cap on election contributions. In Canada the people watching us and the people in the gallery will be perhaps surprised to know that there is absolutely no ceiling. A company can give any amount to a political party. There is no limit to contributions in Canada. There are limits to election expenses but not to contributions. In Quebec contributions are limited to $3,000 per voter. There are therefore two components to public funding: the contribution ceiling and a clear definition of who can contribute, that is voters only.
At the very least we might have expected that the federal government would agree to set a limit, a ceiling, for contributions if it did not want to set very strict limits on the source of the contributions, but even that is too much to ask it. Why would the government deny itself generous contributions when it can count on them year after year? The major banks give the party in power tens of thousands of dollars. It would certainly not deprive itself of this manna falling in its lap which it generously repays, as the facts indicate.
We would also have the opportunity perhaps to consider, or we might have had the opportunity if we had made the effort to really do so last time, incentives to increase the proportion of women involved in the electoral process and consequently taking part in public affairs and the political process.
France has just passed legislation requiring half the assembly to comprise women, which will mean that half the assembly will comprise women. Some of the Scandinavian countries have established legislation setting a minimum for the proportion of women in their legislatures.
There could be this sort of legislative incentive or financial incentives to encourage political parties to promote the entry of women into politics, which might encourage them to increase the number of women candidates in the running at elections. I want to point out in this regard that it was the government House leader himself who, during the review of Bill C-2 introduced in the last parliament, urged members of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to propose such an amendment to the Canada Elections Act. At the time the hon. member for Longueuil presented an amendment, but it was subsequently rejected by the government.
Where is the consistency when the government House leader asks members of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to propose measures to increase the number of women involved in the political process, only to then have the government defeat an amendment to this effect? There is a lack of consistency and there is a problem in terms of real political will to make substantial amendments to the Canada Elections Act.
We also raised a number of lesser issues such as the tax credits for contributions to political parties. The policy currently followed by the government is fundamentally discriminatory because the tax credit program is unfair to low income taxpayers making contributions to political parties.
If a low income taxpayer makes a contribution to a political party, chances are that the tax receipt which he gets will make absolutely no difference. If his income is not taxable, his tax receipt is absolutely worthless.
What is the value of a contribution by a low income taxpayer who takes the trouble to donate part of his savings to a political party and to make a financial contribution to the exercise of democracy? The state generously rewards those who make handsome contributions and have sufficient income to claim a tax credit but does not encourage in any way low income earners who wish to take part in the electoral process by making contributions to political parties.
We raised this inequity but the government refused to remedy it. The elections act contains another inequity. It was acknowledged by everyone in committee, even the Liberal members, yet they refused to make any changes to the elections act relating to the participation of self-employed workers in an election campaign.
If I am a self-employed carpenter with my own company the elections act does not allow me to work for one candidate or another, for example to make lawn signs, because that would be considered a contribution or a campaign expense.
There is something abnormal about treating the self-employed differently from any other citizens when they want to take part in the electoral process. If a carpenter working for a company does the work, this is allowed provided he does so as a volunteer. Yet if a self-employed carpenter wants to do the same in order to be part of the electoral process on behalf of one or another candidate, he is not allowed to do so because this would be considered a contribution or a campaign expense.
Clearly there are flaws in the Canada Elections Act. Certain features must be completely overhauled. The government has shown no interest in moving ahead with this until now. I hope that it will demonstrate a much more open attitude in the future, considering the fact that the public's interest in politics is now declining.
We must take note of this and have the courage to make the decisions required under the circumstances so that the electoral system the political system and the parliamentary system better respond to the expectations of the people we wish and claim to represent in the House.
Let us now get back to the central features of the bill under consideration. First, Figueroa forces the government to reduce the number of candidates that a party must nominate in order to have its name appear on the ballot.
Obviously this has no impact on the 50 candidates that a party must have nominated in a general election to qualify for tax benefits, financial benefits, from the government. Now, however, only 12 candidates will be required in order for the party's name to appear on the ballot.
Obviously there is a rationale behind this. The rules used were those that apply in the House, which require that in order to have party standing a party must have at least 12 members. Similarly a minimum of 12 candidates is required for a political party to have its name appear on the ballot. Fine. This is a formula whose value we can certainly recognize and accept.
This being said, it must also be recognized, as pointed out by Canadian Alliance members, that for all intents and purposes we are creating a new category of recognized political party. Of course this is not what the wording of the bill says, but this is what it means. Political parties that can have their names on ballots and those that run a number of additional candidates may be entitled to the benefits enjoyed by the government.
It must also be understood that this new provision, which seeks to comply with the court ruling in the Figueroa case, has one major flaw regarding byelections. A political party can be created between two general elections and be recognized by the public as such, but under the rule just proposed by the government that political party will not be allowed to put its name on the ballot. This is under the ruling of the court itself a violation of the rights of citizens to be informed of the party being represented by the candidate running for office.
We have a prime example of this in the case of a member now sitting in the House. In 1990, when the hon. member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie became the first Bloc Quebecois member to get himself elected, no one in Quebec would have challenged the fact that the Bloc Quebecois was a political force, a political party in the making but a political party nevertheless.
The rules that prevailed at the time did not allow the current leader of the Bloc Quebecois, the hon. member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie, to put the name of his political party on the ballots. However, under the government's proposed rules, he would still have been in the same position because his party would not previously have had 12 candidates running in a general election.
I proposed an amendment to the government House leader that could have corrected this discrepancy. It must be understood that this discrepancy leaves the government open to new legal challenges, which will again be very costly for taxpayers and which it again risks losing. According to the words of the judge in Figueroa, the voter's right to be fully informed of a candidate's political affiliation must be maintained. This applies in a byelection as well.
What I proposed point blank to the government House leader was that a party be officially recognized as a political party as soon as it agrees to present 50 candidates at the next general election. Naturally the reply was “Yes, but what if it does not present 50?” The elections act must provide a way for the government to recover the money it would have given this party. Provision must be made for this, of course.
However this would at least mean that this party's candidate could put the name of his or her party on the ballot in the meantime. The advantage of this proposal was that different categories of parties would not be created and the discrepancy that will remain in the elections act after Bill C-9 is passed would have been removed.
There is also another provision that is somewhat disturbing to us. Before dealing with it I would simply like to say concerning the proposal we made that members of parliament will have understood well what I said, that is that the government House leader rejected this proposal out of hand, saying “You know, this goes beyond the scope of this bill” and so on. The result was the same: the government refused to consider a substantive proposal from the opposition. This is probably because simply it had not come up with the idea itself, as seems to be its way of running things since 1993.
I was going to say there is another provision in clause 2 that seems unacceptable to me. It is the one aimed at ensuring that when the chief electoral officer wants to test new voting systems, and in this case we are thinking more particularly about electronic voting, he will not be able to proceed without the prior approval of the procedure and House affairs committee which has to examine all matters related to the Canada Elections Act.
The government, after a Liberal senator woke up and said “They forgot to include the Senate”, said “Yes, this is true. Oops, the Senate has not been included. We should also ask the approval of the Senate committee responsible for electoral issues”.
When an unelected institution demands to be given a voice we realize how outdated the Canadian political system is. Maybe we would have agreed, and we moved an amendment to that effect but it was defeated by the government, that the Senate could express its views. There is something of a paradox here when the approval of an unelected house is required for a proposal of the chief electoral officer on the exercise of the right to vote.
Once again the government's argument has been that as long as the Canadian constitution has not been amended in order to reform or abolish the Senate both houses have to be included in any legislative process.
This is not a legislative process but a consultation process. The chief electoral officer needs the approval of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. This is not a legislative process in any sense. We are talking about consultation.
We might have agreed to let the Senate express its views, but that is a far cry from giving it the right to approve a proposal by the chief electoral officer who is responsible for the implementation of the elections act and who is very knowledgeable about our electoral system and the exercise of the right to vote. He would have to present his proposal for approval by senators who are not elected but appointed by the government of the day.
The government's desire to include the Senate committee in this provision of the bill is certainly questionable because this is not about a legislative process. We are talking about consultation on whether the chief electoral officer should go ahead.
Bill C-9, which we are considering, also raises a number of questions relating to the possibility for an independent candidate to have access to the revised electoral list.
Questions were raised and some are still unanswered. There are still many reservations about the bill. I think the government, if it has clear answers, did not give them to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. Maybe there was once again too much haste because several members came out of the committee process with unanswered questions and concerns.
According to several of us, every candidate in an election, no matter whether he or she is associated with a political party or independent, must be on a level playing field and have the same tools as any other candidate. In this regard there are obviously unanswered questions in Bill C-9.
I can hear the government House leader saying “No, no”. As I said before, if the government had clear answers on the question, it neglected—I will put this politely—to give them to members of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, because some members still had some concerns after the minister appeared before the committee.
Obviously for the government, we disagree, because we have missed the point. For the government the failure to understand always lies with the other party. It is always the opposition which has failed to understand. This is perhaps an indication of one of the problems we have in the Canadian parliamentary system, one which makes us think about the changes that should be made. That is another matter entirely.
In conclusion, since we indicated our willingness to vote in favour of the proposed legislation from the start, we might at least have expected the government to demonstrate a certain degree of openness to our proposals, given that we showed openness by indicating from the start that we were going to vote in favour of this legislation.
In the case of Bill C-2 the government was completely unreceptive to any substantial amendment that might come from opposition members, particularly Bloc Quebecois members since, as I said, we indicated that we were going to support the legislation proposed by the government.
Outside the Liberal Party there is apparently no salvation. If a party other than the Liberal Party makes a substantial proposal, and we have seen this in the past, not in connection with this bill, that proposal can only be a bad one. Regardless of how positive and worth while it might be, it absolutely must be rejected.
I see this as evidence of this government's narrow mindedness and arrogance once again. It attaches little importance to members of the opposition, although they were elected just as democratically as the members of the government, and any differing views expressed in the House.
In closing, to give credit where credit is due, despite the reservations I have just been expressing, I must thank all those who made consideration of Bill C-9 possible.
I would like to particularly thank and congratulate the committee members and the MPs from our party and others who have expressed their views in the House on Bill C-9. I also want to thank those who appeared before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs and the committee staff who provided us with a great deal of support in our consideration of this bill.
I also want to thank all those who were involved in the drafting of this legislation, the Privy Council staff, Michael Pierce, Ms. Mondou and their team; the people at Department of justice; and of course those at Elections Canada.
Again I thank the staffs of our party and other parties who made a contribution. I would be remiss in not noting the contributions of my own staff, particularly Patric Frigon, for so much support in my consideration of this bill.
I will conclude on that note, with the comment that I hope the government will learn something from the speed with which we put electoral reform through in the last parliament, which now obliges us to make changes, cosmetic ones in some cases because of that excessive haste. I also hope we will be able if the opportunity arises, and I hope the House leader is open to this, to carry out an indepth reform of the Canada Elections Act to bring it in line with the expectations of our fellow citizens.
Canada Elections Act
April 26th, 2001 / 11:40 a.m.
Rick Borotsik Brandon—Souris, MB
Mr. Speaker, I doubt very much if I will take the full 20 minutes, therefore leaving time for members of the government side or opposition benches.
I am very pleased to be able to put forward our party's position on the third reading of Bill C-9, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act.
I would also like to commend and congratulate my colleague, the House leader of the Conservative Party and the member for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, who has the carriage of this piece of legislation. In my opinion he does yeoman's duty in making sure that positions are put forward. In fact maybe even the government could take notice of the quality of the suggestions put forward.
Perhaps it could even accept some of those suggestions for the future because, as was mentioned earlier by the previous speaker, the government has a part to play in this piece of legislation. The part that it has to play is to look at the process used to put forward Bill C-2 prior to the last surprise election called in October 2000. Bill C-2 came forward and there were many problems with that piece of legislation, as we have now identified. There were many difficulties with that legislation.
Had the government listened to opposition members and looked at the very valid amendments that were put forward, it would not have had to rush through a very bad piece of legislation that now has to come back with another amendment, Bill C-9, to be able to fix the myriad of problems that it faced.
I will deal specifically with Bill C-9 as it is before us. The bill reduces from 50 to 12 the number of candidates a party would have to field for purposes of having its candidates' party affiliation indicated on the ballot. It also clarifies and harmonizes certain provisions in the act and proposes one amendment to the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act.
I should also say that we in the Progressive Conservative Party will be supporting the legislation for any number of reasons, one of which is that the Senate still has the opportunity of reviewing it and perhaps making some clean up changes that are necessary.
Also, despite the work accomplished by parliamentarians in a very short period of time when Bill C-2 was under consideration, the government admits that certain translation and concordance errors between the English and French versions slipped through into the new elections act. It was sloppy workmanship and I am sure the government will accept its full responsibility for that.
When Bill C-9 was debated at second reading, the government House leader said that the application of the new legislation had revealed a number of irregularities that had to be rectified. That is in Hansard at page 1053. Some of these could have caused problems because, as we see further on, they went beyond a simple act of concordance between the English and French versions.
A member of the government said that the government did not have to worry about that because it was not its job. Well it is the government's job to make sure that legislation is in fact the right legislation for Canadians, particularly when it deals with the Canada Elections Act. This is what is at the heart of our democracy and at the heart of what we as parliamentarians in the House should be dealing with, where the electorate, the public of the country, have the right to put the people who they want in the House for a particular time.
The legislation is too important to simply say that it was not the government's fault. It was the government's fault and we are trying to fix it now.
The integrity of the electoral system is important to Canadians. There is no doubt that errors could have been avoided if the Liberal government had given parliament more time to consider the provisions of the new Canada Elections Act with greater care.
I would like to spend a few minutes outlining some of the specific amendments that are dealt with in Bill C-9. As has been mentioned before, and I am sure I will repeat some of the comments that were made, I will touch briefly on some of the areas that are of particular concern to me and certainly to my colleague for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough.
The first part that we heard about earlier was party affiliation on the ballot. When Canadians go into a polling booth and look at the ballot they know that my name is associated with a particular political party, as are other names of people sitting in the House. The amendments proposed in Bill C-9 are due in large part to the court ruling in the Figueroa case.
In response to the Ontario Court of Appeal ruling, clause 12 of Bill C-9 would amend subsections 117(2) of the act reducing from 50 to 12 the number of candidates required for their party affiliation to be indicated on the ballot. This new provision would apply only if the nomination of the 12 candidates had been confirmed for the general election or, as in the case of a byelection, in the immediately preceding general election.
While the Lortie commission report recommended 15 candidates as the minimum, the Liberals have chosen 12 because that is the number of members of parliament that a political party requires to be officially recognized in the House of Commons.
The fact that this legislation deals with 12 as being the number for party affiliation is accepted by our party. Certainly most of the parties in the House have been represented by substantially more candidates than have run in previous elections. The fact is that we do have party affiliations. I am very proud of my party affiliation with the Progressive Conservative Party.
Therefore, I believe, and my party accepts the fact, that the affiliation should be identified on a ballot so that when Canadians go to the polling booth they will know exactly who and what party they are voting for to sit in the House of Commons.
Currently section 18(1) of the act currently provides that the CEO may carry out studies on voting, in particular with respect to alternative voting means, and devising and testing an electronic voting process for use in a future general election or byelection.
The use of such a process must be approved in advance by a committee of the House of Commons that normally considers electoral matters. This is an accepted part of the legislation but I do put a caveat on that. We must be very careful when dealing with any type of alternate way of counting ballots. As we have seen just recently in the United States election, there are a number of different processes used and some of them are not quite as competent as perhaps others. We should be very careful when suggesting that an improvement to the system will make it better because in some cases it does not necessarily do that.
During the consideration of Bill C-2 by the Senate, a number of senators, both Progressive Conservative and Liberal, said that they were disturbed to see that the Senate was excluded from this process.
Pursuant to the commitment made by the government to members of the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs during the consideration of Bill C-2 in May 2000, Bill C-9 would amend section 18(1) to include in the approval process the Senate committee that considers electoral matters. Normally such matters are referred to the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs. The input from our colleagues in the other place is an important aspect of this process and one which I am pleased to see included in Bill C-9.
We heard comments from my colleague from the Bloc who suggested that his party will put forward an amendment or subamendment to change this particular clause. Our party agrees with what has been put forward in Bill C-9 which was not put forward in Bill C-2. We can sit in the House and debate the legitimacy and the necessity of the other House but I am not prepared to do that right now. What I would like to say is that there must be a backstop when a majority government puts forward legislation in this House. There must be a second opinion of the legislation.
A perfect example of that particular situation was when Bill C-2 came forward. It was pushed through with very little discussion, if any, and no changes were made to a very bad piece of legislation. It has now come forward again because of that. This is a prime example of why the Senate must have an influence on this legislation. Bill C-9 speaks to that and we are very pleased that the government has corrected this very glaring error.
Another part of the bill deals with the registration of the electors themselves. Subsection 44(1) of the Canada Elections Act requires the CEO to keep a register of electors, in other words, a permanent voting list containing the names of all Canadians qualified to vote.
Under subsection (2) of the act, the list shall contain each elector's family and given names, sex, date of birth and civic and mailing addresses, as well as any other information that the CEO may require under section 55 of the act. Section 55 allows the CEO to communicate information in the register to a province when it decides to establish a list similar to the federal one.
Information compiled by the CEO under section 195 of the act, statement of ordinary residence by an elector belonging to the Canadian forces, may not be communicated to the provinces because the wrong provision is cited in subsection 44(2).
Clause 4 of Bill C-9 would amend subsection 44(2) to correct that error, an error that should not have gone forward but did. It is subsection 195(7) and not subsection 195(3) that allows the CEO to communicate to a province information about the ordinary residence and members of the military.
A substantial amount of Bill C-9 deals with third party spending reports. Subsection 353(1) of the act requires third parties to register with Elections Canada once they have incurred election expenses of more than $500.
Subsection 359(1) requires third parties to file a report documenting the value of expenses and advertising, as well as their funding sources during the campaign and for the six month period prior to the issuing of the writ.
Clause 20 of Bill C-9 would amend subsection 359(1) to specify that only third parties required to be registered with the CEO must file such a report.
When Bill C-9 was tabled, several observers thought that the government would propose amendments dealing with the ceiling on expenses imposed on third parties during election campaigns.
Under section 349 of the act, a third party is defined as “a person or a group other than a candidate, registered party or riding association of a registered party. It could mean an unincorporated trade union, trade association or any other group of persons acting together by mutual consent for a common purpose.
The Canada Elections Act passed in May 2000 provides that, during a general election, the ceiling on third party election spending is $150,000 at the national level and $3,000 for each electoral district. In a byelection a third party may spend $3,000.
On October 23, 2000, Mr. Justice Cairns of the Alberta Court of Queen's Bench granted an injunction prohibiting Elections Canada from enforcing the third party election advertising spending limits in the Canada Elections Act.
Originally the injunction was to be in effect until Judge Cairns handed down his ruling on the main matter before him, that is, the constitutionality of provisions relating to third parties in the new elections act. The injunction was upheld shortly afterward by the Alberta Court of Appeal.
The injunction was granted in response to legal action undertaken by the National Citizens' Coalition led by a former Reform Party member, Stephen Harper. The coalition is currently contesting the new provisions.
However, on November 10, 2000, the Supreme Court of Canada lifted the injunction in its ruling in Canada vs. Stephen Joseph Harper. Eight of the nine justices were in favour of staying the injunction until the constitutionality of the contested provisions could be ruled on or by the courts. Only Mr. Justice John Major opposed this decision.
In paragraph 11 of the judgment, the majority opinion of the court held that:
—the public interest in maintaining in place the duly enacted legislation on spending limits pending complete constitutional review outweighs the detriment to freedom of expression caused by those limits.
In response, Elections Canada announced that the provisions regarding third party spending would not be enforced for the period from October 22, 2000, the date that the writs were issued for the general election, to November 10, 2000. They would however be enforced after that up to November 27, 2000 which was polling day.
The Alberta Court of Queen's Bench has still not ruled on the constitutionality of the Canada Elections Act provisions with regard to third parties.
While we welcome legislation, perhaps this should have been avoided if the government had not done such sloppy work on Bill C-2.
We will be supporting the legislation going forward for a number of reasons, as I have tried to indicate in this dissertation. We would also suggest very strongly that one of the reasons we support it is that it will have an opportunity to be heard on the Senate side. We will have an opportunity to discuss, debate and perhaps put forward amendments to legislation that could be better enforced and put forward better in the Senate.
I hope we have learned some lessons from the inconsistencies and problems that came forward with Bill C-2 and do not repeat them with Bill C-9. Hopefully, when we bring in legislation, put them to a committee, and listen to legitimate concerns, complaints and suggestions as to how they could be made better, that maybe the government will listen to those concerns and suggestions openly and honestly, and make those changes at that point in time, as opposed to taking forward legislation that is inaccurate.
Canada Elections Act
John Bryden Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Aldershot, ON
Mr. Speaker, this is an occasion for which I as a parliamentarian am deeply grateful that this institution exists and I have an opportunity to express myself when I have serious misgivings about legislation that is passed through the House.
By coincidence, the member who spoke before me, the member for Brandon—Souris, touched precisely on the area of concern that I wish to devote my remarks to, and that is the question of third party advertising and how it was dealt with in Bill C-2, the previous legislation, and how it should be dealt with in the future.
I have to give some background just so people will understand what happened. The member for Brandon—Souris in fact gave some of the background and I am grateful that he has done so because it saves me going over that ground.
I think the general public should understand that the Canada Elections Act sets limits on campaign spending by candidates. In each riding it varies a little according to geography, size and population, but most candidates for a federal election are restricted in their spending during the campaign to usually around $60,000. I think my campaign ceiling for election expenses is around $65,000.
Going back a little, during the 1993 election campaign, which was my first experience in running as a candidate, the law was such that there was a limit under the law on third party advertising expenditures. There was also a blackout period.
What is being referred to there is the idea that people or groups who are not related to the political party or the candidate might wish to buy advertising during an election period to support one candidate or another, or one party or another, or to advance a controversial issue during an election campaign, hopefully to get a debate going among the candidates.
In its wisdom, parliament, prior to the 1993 election, put restrictions on third party advertising. The idea was that the limit of expenditure on groups who wanted to take out advertising during election campaigns supporting one candidate or another was restricted to $1,000. Indeed there was a very long blackout period.
The theory behind that limitation was that if candidates were restricted in their spending, they were restricted in their spending so that there would be an even playing field. Whether one is a candidate from the government in power, an incumbent, a candidate from a party in opposition or a candidate from a small fringe party, everyone faces the same amount of potential election spending. It is relatively modest at $60,000. Most groups and organizations can raise the amount of private donations necessary to reach that objective in spending, so it is quite reasonable.
However, when we add third party advertising into the equation, as it exists in the United States where there is a great deal of soft money around during an election campaign, then there is a danger of distorting the process. There might be a situation where a special interest group, a corporation or whatever else—and this does happen in the United States—spends enormous amounts of money, maybe hundreds of thousands of dollars even in a single riding, to run advertising election material with the specific intent of seeing that one particular candidate, whether it is an incumbent or otherwise, does not succeed in the election. The restriction in my view in 1993 was very appropriate.
As was described by the member for Brandon—Souris, that provision was challenged prior to the 1997 election by the National Citizens' Coalition on the charter grounds that it limited the right to free expression during an election campaign. This provision prior to the 1997 election campaign was suspended.
This was my second election campaign, Mr. Speaker, and I should tell you that in my first mandate as a member of parliament I undertook quite an initiative to bring special interest groups that were receiving public funds to account. I put out several reports calling for transparencies of such groups and I named some of these groups.
Needless to say, during the 1997 election, when the limit on third party advertising disappeared, what happened was that I was enormously attacked by television ads, by print ads and by radio ads. The spending to attack me as the candidate by these special interest groups, some of them charities but most of them not for profit organizations linked to various charities, was easily far more than I spent. In fact in the 1997 campaign, even though my election spending ceiling was about $65,000, I only spent $32,000.
The reason is that I am very much a grassroots candidate. I have no corporations behind me. I have no big interests behind me. My campaign donations are exclusively from the ordinary people in my riding who have confidence in me as an individual. It is more their confidence in me as an individual than my party affiliation that has enabled me to raise the money in my riding that permitted me to run the campaign. I have received no money even from the party during my election campaigns, not only in 1997 but in the year 2000.
After the 1997 election campaign the government undertook, through Bill C-2, to address the challenge that the National Citizen's Coalition had succeeded in. When the Alberta court ruled that the limits on third party advertising expenditures were unconstitutional, the government undertook to redraft the law in Bill C-2 in which it defined limits on third party advertising expenditures.
What it said basically in Bill C-2 was that third parties that wanted to engage in buying advertising during an election campaign should be required to identify themselves and they would be limited to only spending $3,000 in each riding, to a maximum of $150,000 across the country.
There is the problem, and that is why I am here speaking today and why I am so very concerned. When Bill C-9 came forward it was an attempt to correct the problems that exist in Bill C-2, but there was no opportunity to address the problem of third party advertising because Elections Canada had still not reported on the effect of third party advertising under the new rules, who indeed had registered and what they had done.
I have here a printout from Elections Canada that describes the registered third parties that participated in campaign 2000. I got this only when Bill C-9 was in committee, so there was no opportunity to discuss it before committee and I have to bring it before the House. What we have here is the name of the registered third party and the name of the applicant who submitted an address, and that is the complete information.
Not surprisingly, what we have here is a number of special interest groups and organizations. We have unions. We have the Canadian Medical Association. We have an animal rights organization. None of that is surprising. We also have third party organizations that identify themselves only by name. We have Rick Smith of Red Lake, Rod Gillis of St. John's and Liz White of Toronto. That is all we know about them.
Bill C-2, the law that exists, requires no more information. It is sufficient to register a personal name. The people who are making the application are the people who take the name of the third party that is actually buying the advertising, presumably to take one stand or another for or against a candidate or for or against an issue that may be before the electors.
There is one set of third party registrants that I would like to draw to the attention of the House. The first one is the coalition for the Liberal member for Edmonton West. The next one is the Edmonton supporters for the Liberal member for Edmonton West. The third one is Edmontonians for the Liberal member for Edmonton West. The official titles of these third party organizations contesting this election name the member for Edmonton West. That member is the sitting justice minister.
Here is the problem. I am pleased to be able to say that there was no attempt to hide anything. These three organizations made it very clear that they were taking out ads under the law to support the Liberal member for Edmonton West. The problem is that under the current legislation, given that each third party organization that wishes to take part in the election campaign in a riding can spend $3,000, these three organizations were enabled to spend $9,000 in advertising to support the member for Edmonton West, the justice minister.
Indeed, had there been 10 such individuals who wished to be third party organizations buying advertising during an election campaign, they would have been able to spend $30,000 supporting the hon. member for Edmonton West. Twenty individuals would have been able to spend $60,000 supporting the hon. member for Edmonton West.
We can see the problem is that there is no control whatsoever on individuals, separately indeed, deciding to support an individual candidate in a riding and investing more money than that candidate himself or herself would spend in the riding. We have a problem there. The whole spirit of a ceiling on candidates' expenses could be circumvented by all the members of a riding association, for instance, deciding to take out third party advertising.
This is a dramatic example. I am actually very grateful that these people who were supporting the justice minister were upfront so that I can actually present this very dramatic example of what is wrong with the act.
Mr. Speaker, if you do not think that is meaningful you should be aware that the hon. member for Edmonton West won her seat by a single vote in 1993, and that in the year 2000, when these three third party organizations were buying ads in support of her, she won her riding by only 730 votes. If anyone should think that third party advertising does not have a bearing on an election campaign and cannot influence an election campaign, I assure them they are wrong, particularly if the campaign is closely contested.
When campaigns are closely contested, the real problem is that Bill C-2, as it exists now, makes it possible for organizations that we cannot clearly identify as to intent to spend enormous amounts of money to support one particular party or candidate in an election. In other words, Bill C-2, because it is loosely written, opens up the same opportunity for abuse in election spending as now exists in the United States.
I should say that it is not just a case where, as in the case I cited, an incumbent is getting support. There is also another organization which very amusingly calls itself the Zap-a-Rock organization, and it was obviously raising money in Etobicoke and we presume that it was aimed at the health minister.
What we do not know is the intentions of organizations like the International Fund for Animal Welfare, which is a very aggressive international for profit animal rights organization that makes a great deal of money by promoting animal rights causes. We have even here the Christian Heritage Party of Canada which has taken out third party advertising spending status and it, in the previous election, was a registered political party.
The point always comes down to this. As the legislation is written now, we have no guarantees as individual candidates that there cannot be spending on advertising in our riding by a dozen, 60, 50 or 100 special interest groups whose combined spending can more than overpower the campaign ceiling on expenditures that we are required to meet ourselves as candidates and that is defined by the Canada Elections Act.
It something so fundamental to our democracy that anyone in this country should be able to run for high office, for federal office, and not have to curry favour among outside organizations to enable them to spend money on advertising either across the country or in their ridings.
In my particular case, as someone who had alienated an entire sector, the not for profit sector, by criticizing numerous charities and by criticizing numerous non-profit organizations, in the election of 1997 they banded together, they grouped together and brought out advertising against me. The current legislation prevents that from happening, but there was nothing stopping every organization that I criticized from separately taking out $3,000 worth of advertising and going after me.
That is a chill on a member of parliament doing his duty, whether it is not for profit organizations or for profit organizations or any other special interest group out there. If members have to worry about organizations being able to buy more advertising against them during an election campaign than members are entitled to spend on the entire campaign, then I am afraid sitting members of parliament will think twice before they speak their minds in the House, will think twice before they aggressively go after those organizations they feel are not doing a proper job in this society or, indeed, are even questionable in the most literal sense.
We as members of parliament need to have a situation whereby the spending limits during an election campaign are known, are precise, and if organizations are dissatisfied with individual candidates, then the way they should go after those individual candidates is by investing in the parties in opposition to those candidates or in the candidates themselves of those parties, but, Mr. Speaker, it is very, very wrong, very, very wrong and dangerous if we have a situation where individuals, be they individuals as groups or individuals as persons, can separately, buy advertising during an election campaign, separately, that cumulatively might be an expenditure in the hundreds of thousands of dollars against an individual candidate. This is a very serious threat to our democratic process.
I would suggest to you, Mr. Speaker, that when it comes to the charter and freedom of speech, it is understood that there have to be reasonable limits on freedom of speech. If freedom of speech is interpreted as allowing an open field of election spending against candidates when the candidates themselves are restricted in that spending, then I think we are all in serious trouble.