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House of Commons Hansard #153 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was parties.

Topics

10 a.m.

The Speaker

Order, please. I have the honour to inform the House that a communication has been received which is as follows:

Rideau Hall

Ottawa

November 7, 2003

Mr. Speaker:

I have the honour to inform you that the Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson, Governor General of Canada, will proceed to the Senate Chamber today, the 7th day of November, 2003, at 1:00 p.m., for the purpose of giving Royal Assent to certain bills of law.

Yours sincerely,

Barbara Uteck,

Secretary to the Governor General

Message from the SenateThe Royal Assent

November 7th, 2003 / 10:05 a.m.

The Speaker

I have the honour to inform the House that messages have been received from the Senate informing this House that the Senate has passed the following bills: Bill C-37, an act to amend the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts and Bill C-50, an act to amend the statute law in respect of benefits for veterans and the children of deceased veterans.

Message from the SenateThe Royal Assent

10:05 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gurmant Grewal Canadian Alliance Surrey Central, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I seek unanimous consent to move to presenting reports from committees so that I may present the fourth report of the Standing Joint Committee on the Scrutiny of Regulations.

Message from the SenateThe Royal Assent

10:05 a.m.

The Speaker

Is there unanimous consent of the House to proceed with presenting reports from committees at this time?

Message from the SenateThe Royal Assent

10:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gurmant Grewal Canadian Alliance Surrey Central, BC

Mr. Speaker, as chair of the Standing Joint Committee for the Scrutiny of Regulations, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the fourth report of the Standing Joint Committee for the Scrutiny of Regulations, concerning national parks regulations.

Pursuant to Standing Order 109 of the House of Commons, your committee requests the government to table a comprehensive response to this report within 90 days.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

10:05 a.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell Ontario

Liberal

Don Boudria LiberalMinister of State and Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

moved that Bill

C-51, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Income Tax Act

be read a second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to open the second reading debate on Bill C-51, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Income Tax Act.

As we all know, the Supreme Court of Canada handed down its ruling in the Figueroa case last June, throwing into question some of the key aspects of the Canada Elections Act relating to the registration of political parties. The issue is an important one, as it goes to the heart of our parliamentary system.

Today, I would like to briefly review the impact of the Figueroa decision and to outline the government's legislative response to the ruling, as set out in Bill C-51.

The rule requiring parties to field 50 candidates in order to be registered was enacted in 1970, when, for the first time, the Canada Elections Act recognized the existence of political parties and allowed party identification on the ballot.

Before that, just the candidate's name was given, never the party. If I remember rightly, this led to abuses. A party would try to find an independent candidate with a name similar to the one most likely to win, in order to try to confuse voters. The situation was clarified by adding the political party beside the name on the ballot.

This was the first step toward a more comprehensive regulation of electoral finances that would occur a few years later, in 1974, as a result of the Barbeau and Chappell committees.

In that context, the 1970 Elections Act provided for the registration of parties that endorsed at least 50 candidates in a general election. The 50-candidate rule reflected the particular role that larger parties had come to play in our system of parliamentary democracy, based on the principle of responsible government.

There were then very few benefits attached to registration, other than ballot identification. Things have evolved considerably since that time, and registered parties are now entitled to a number of benefits, including financial benefits. This is when the challenges started.

At the same time, I should add, parties are subject to a number of significant obligations, in particular the requirement to submit annual and post-electoral reports. Registration carries both benefits and burdens. There are of course financial benefits, along with identification on the ballot and so forth. But these are counterbalanced by the requirement to file reports and the like.

In the Figueroa case, it was argued that the 50 candidate rule was unconstitutional because it operated to exclude smaller parties from certain benefits under the Canada Elections Act and the Income Tax Act. Three benefits were at issue.

First, was the right to issue tax receipts for political contributions. That, obviously, has a financial advantage to the donor and similarly a financial advantage for the recipient party. If the donor has an advantage, it increases the chance that the donor is going to give. That is the whole object of having the rule in the first place.

Second, was the right of the party to receive a candidate's campaign surpluses. As members will know, when there is a surplus in a campaign, the candidate is not entitled to bring the amount home. It can be provided to the consolidated revenue fund or given to the constituency association of the political party or to the political party directly.

Third, was the right to have a candidate's party affiliation listed on the ballot, which is the original proposition that I raised a while ago.

The government took the position that the 50 candidate rule served as a reasonable and politically neutral benchmark level of electoral participation that parties had to meet in order to gain access to benefits under the act, in particular, the Income Tax Act. We thought this was a reasonable proposition. A party must run 50 candidates in order to have some of them elected, and of course, at least 12 must be elected to this place from that critical mass in order to be a recognized political party.

The Ontario Court of Appeal largely agreed with the government's position--at least it agreed with that part--except as a requirement for party identification on the ballot. In other words, to be entitled to the benefits, 50 candidates was okay and in the case of smaller parties, the name of the party would at least be on the ballot.

That is the way we acted at the time. We provided a bill in the House and corrected those measures. However, the Supreme Court disagreed and unanimously struck down the 50 candidate requirement. It is even more complicated than that and I will get to that in a minute.

The court concluded that the rule was inconsistent with the right to vote in section 3 of the charter. In the court's view, the rule's impact on small parties infringed the right to meaningful participation in the electoral process. The court also ruled that this restriction on section 3 rights could not be justified under section 1 of the charter.

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10:15 a.m.

An hon. member

Absolutely.

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10:15 a.m.

Liberal

Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

A colleague across the way says absolutely. Yet, it was his party that moved, after 1993, to further restrict those who could receive the contribution under what is commonly known as the McClelland amendment. It was produced by his then colleague from Alberta to tighten up some of those requirements because some fringe parties were receiving benefits from the surpluses of elections, namely the natural law party. It was his party that moved to tighten this. Today he is saying absolutely and agreeing that the requirements should be loosened; however, that is a different proposition than his party moved and that the House supported, by the way. I think the House unanimously supported that amendment.

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10:15 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

James Rajotte Canadian Alliance Edmonton Southwest, AB

He is now a Tory MLA.

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10:15 a.m.

Liberal

Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

I know he is a Tory MLA now, but notwithstanding that, we still liked him anyway.

While the court ruled the provisions in question unconstitutional, it suspended the judgment for a period of 12 months in order to allow Parliament time to amend the legislation. That is what we have before us today. Thus, if no legislative amendment is made by June 27, 2004, the 50 candidate rule will cease to have any effect, leaving a large void in the act.

It also means that it would be fairly easy for any group, if we do not do anything that is, to register as a political party and abuse the tax credits that are designed to assist true political parties. Of course, we do not want any group to fraudulently claim it is a political party only to get money from the taxpayers of Canada. That is why it is imperative that we act, and act quickly, to respond and ensure that the Canada Elections Act remains operational after June 27, 2004, to prevent any misuse of the system. The Supreme Court decision has left a gap and it is our duty to fill that gap while respecting the court's decision.

Before reviewing the key elements of the proposed legislation, let me take a moment to highlight the potential implications of the Figueroa decision, flowing from its impact on party registration.

Obviously, removing the candidate threshold in accordance with the ruling may well result in an increase in the number of registered parties. In theory, an increase in the number of parties could have an impact on the reimbursement of election expenses and other benefits.

However, parties must sustain a minimum level of voter support, that is to say 5% of the vote in the ridings in which they endorse a candidate, or 2% of the vote nationally, which is what we call the McCLelland amendment, in order to receive that allowance.

That particular provision is still valid because it provides us with some protection by not allowing a person to get money from taxpayers by simply creating a political party, running as a candidate and thereby drawing money from the tax system. Again, I give credit to the member who proposed that amendment at that time because it is very beneficial.

I would like to clarify that the Supreme Court did not rule on this issue, the McCLelland amendment or other issues like that, nor did it pronounce itself on any other requirements in the act. As a matter of fact, it specifically indicated that the decision did not mean that other thresholds in the act were unconstitutional. I believe that is quite clear.

The real risk is that there could be a number of groups calling themselves political parties and seeking registration simply for the sake of getting access to the tax credit system. They would only wish to get money from the taxpayers of Canada while not participating, save nominally if at all, in the democratic process.

The concern is that groups, including advocacy groups, could register as parties simply by fielding a paper candidate and complying with reporting requirements. These groups would then be able to issue tax receipts for contributions made to them, even though they have no intention of acting as a party nor even any intention of electing anyone. Not only is this objectionable as a matter of principle, it could well have considerable negative financial impacts. It is something we must address to ensure that the system is not misused.

Taking no action would leave our electoral system weaker and our fiscal regime vulnerable to abuse. Moreover, not legislating to comply with the court's decision could well mean that judicial intervention would be required after June 27, 2004, to either extend the suspension period--with no assurance of course that the court would grant it--or to provide guidance to the Chief Electoral Officer on the applicable rules from that day forward. We must be clear.

The absence of a timely legislative response would result in uncertainty as to the rules for party registration and may mean that at some point we would not have in place a fully operational electoral system, at least from the financial aspect.

Doing nothing is certainly not an option. It is incumbent on us as members of this House to do everything possible to avoid that.

The bill responds in a way that strikes an appropriate balance between fairness to parties on one hand and the need to preserve the integrity of the electoral system on the other, while of course, respecting the Supreme Court decision, which is what this does.

The bill consists of two key pillars: party registration and accountability provisions, and anti-abuse measures

We cannot have candidate requirements any more, except one. Anything beyond that, the court has ruled that we cannot do that. We cannot do 12 nor 11; we cannot do 9. We can do one because of course, if we do not run a candidate or put a name on the ballot, we are not a political party. We may be many things, but we are not that.

The second element concerns the series of anti-abuse measures. I want to touch on those two things before ending.

In its ruling, the Supreme Court indicated that candidate thresholds were problematic, leaving little for manoeuvre.

As I said, Bill C-51 would replace the 50 candidate threshold with a single candidate requirement. In other words, someone would have to run, but 12 candidates would not have to run because the Supreme Court has ruled that is not proper. We may regret it and we may think many things, but it is done and it was a unanimous Supreme Court decision, not that it changes much. However, we must respect it.

At the same time, the bill would add further registration requirements and other measures to ensure that parties seeking to register have a genuine interest in electoral competition.

First, The bill would, for the first time, add a definition of a political party in the act. Pursuant to that definition, a party would be required to have as one of its fundamental purposes the participation in public affairs through running and supporting one or more of its members as candidates. We cannot say a quantity of candidates because quantifying candidates has been ruled to be unconstitutional.

Second, the minimum number of party members would be increased from 100 to 250. A signed statement would be required from those members stating that they are members of the party and support its registration. If a political party is anything, it is a group of people. So, 250 was the number that we put in as identifying that critical mass of people. Some would argue that is still not a high threshold, but it is a bit higher than what we had before. We had 100 multiplied by several ridings, but we cannot multiply by several ridings any more so we have 250 overall.

Parties would be required to have three officers, other than the party leader, who would provide their signed consent to the act. In other words, to be a political party, there must be a total of four officers at least with hopefully many more.

With the removal of the 50 candidate rule, parties would be able to register at byelections. With a single candidate requirement, there is no logical need to allow registration only during a general election. If a party were only to have one candidate in a general election, and if there were one, two, or three byelections, why could a new party not be registered then? If we are going to respect the court's decision, we must allow registration at byelections. If a party were to fail to run a single candidate in a general election, it would automatically be de-registered.

The bill would also reduce from 12 candidates to 1 the threshold for party identification on the ballot. The court did not rule on that, but the fact is that if a party needs only one candidate to be a political party, why would it need 12 to have its name on the ballot? That provision has to go for reasons of logic if nothing else.

Overall, the party registration requirements would ensure that registered parties are genuine participants in the process.

In the few minutes I have left, I want to touch briefly on the anti-abuse measures. That is what we are left with now to identify political parties and to ensure that they do not do anything false, while at the same time, not creating anti-abuse measures that are so intrusive that the institutions cannot be created at all. So again we strike a balance.

First, the bill would include a new false statement offence for knowingly making false statements in relation to the registration of a party. The leader of a party is required to provide a declaration in this regard. In addition to the individual penalties attached to making a false statement, the provision would allow parties to be refused registration or even de-registered for making false statements.

Second, there would be a ban on the solicitation or receipt of contributions by a political party simply for the purpose of redirecting those contributions to a third party. In other words, if a political party is falsely created only as a front to feed money elsewhere, that would ban the solicitation of funds for that purpose.

A third measure would increase the powers of the Commissioner of Elections Canada who is responsible for enforcement of compliance under the act. Where the commissioner has reasonable suspicion that the party is not legitimate, for all the reasons I said, he could require the party to provide information to satisfy him.

Should the party fail to do so, the commissioner could apply for judicial deregistration of a party. It is of little good to identify that something fraudulent has gone on and then have to go through a six month court process to rectify it after one taxation year has gone by and after the taxpayers of Canada have been defrauded of a large amount of money. Therefore, we must give the commissioner the authority to do things rather quickly.

Further, when an application for deregistration is pending, the right of a party to issue tax receipts would be suspended. Judicial deregistration would also be available as part of the criminal sentencing process. In addition to deregistration, the judge could order the liquidation of the party's assets if it did all these things wrong. In other words, if that money was obtained fraudulently and used to buy goods for the party, then surely, the assets could be liquidated, because those funds belong to the taxpayers of Canada.

Finally, individuals, including party officers, could be held civilly responsible if convicted of offences related to or leading to financial abuse and they could be ordered to make restitution to the public purse. If someone creates a false entity to defraud the taxpayers of Canada, the officers could be held responsible personally for doing harm to the Canadian taxpayers.

Hon. members will see that this is what I consider a measured and balanced response. It is what we are proposing.

For these reasons I encourage all members to pass this bill. We could refer it to committee for an in-depth study, but it ought, of course, to be passed fairly promptly in order to meet the Supreme Court deadline.

I thank all my parliamentary colleagues in advance for their contribution to this debate today.

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10:30 a.m.

Bloc

Michel Guimond Bloc Beauport—Montmorency—Côte-De- Beaupré—Île-D'Orléans, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened closely to the government House leader's speech and I hope he will stay with us for a long time. Yesterday, when he answered the Thursday question, we weighed his every word when he said something to the effect of, “My colleagues, the House leaders, who have given me their support for all these years”. It sounded a lot like a farewell speech.

But we are not there yet. My question is mainly on the Supreme Court ruling in the Figueroa case. If I understand correctly, the government had no choice but to accept this Supreme Court decision because requiring a minimum number of candidates for an election was deemed unconstitutional.

Consequently, one candidate could be enough. With the 50-candidate rule no longer applying, the government has to adjust its legislation. That is what the government is doing with Bill C-51.

Later, I will have an opportunity to speak to this bill, but I would like the government House leader to reply to this question first. Would it not have been a good idea to take advantage of the Figueroa decision, which in a way amends the Canada Elections Act, to respond to a repeated demand from the Bloc Quebecois—from myself, as a member of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, and also my colleagues from Verchères—Les-Patriotes and Laval Centre, who are associate members of that committee—to review the procedure for appointing returning officers?

The government House leader, insofar as I can read his lips, says that there is no connection. However, I am asking him if it would not have been a golden opportunity to clean up and modernize the way elections are run, to have returning officers chosen through an open, honest, transparent and public process. That is how it is done in Quebec.

I can see the hon. member for Beauharnois—Salaberry, who was a minister in the Quebec National Assembly. He was a minister of some stature, if you consider his height. He had it over me, because I am only 5' 6" tall. Well, I am not going to flatter him too much.

I would simply like to suggest that the government House leader consult the people involved. I use the hon. member for Beauharnois—Salaberry as an example, because he is right in front of me, but I could also mention the hon. member for Bonaventure—Gaspé—Îles-de-la-Madeleine—Pabok, who also was a minister in the Quebec National Assembly, or the hon. member for Anjou—Rivière-des-Prairies who also sat in that legislature. We remember one evening in the National Assembly, when the hon. member for Anjou—Rivière-des-Prairies, after a few glasses of wine, decided to seize the mace and leave the chamber. The official record tells it all.

The government House leader could consult his colleague, the hon. member for Westmount—Ville-Marie, who also sat in the National Assembly, to find out—there are some on our side, too, for instance the hon. member for Champlain—that the process of holding a public competition to appoint returning officers in Quebec works well and is not a source of patronage as it is here, where we get the list of 308 nominations for federal returning officers for our hasty approval. They are known Liberals and it is a process known for patronage.

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10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, in fact, the hon. member has raised three issues. I will respond to them in the order raised.

The first concerns my statement yesterday, in which I told the other leaders how much I had enjoyed working with them in the past, and how I hoped to continue working with them in the future.

I had indicated during a public interview yesterday that, if the House is prorogued in a few months' time—naturally, a new government would be elected—I would like to remain in this position. And if luck, the leader and God are smiling on me, perhaps I shall.

That takes care of the first point. However, I thank the hon. member for his interest.

Second, with regard to the candidate threshold, the hon. member is correct. Whether we like it or not, that is the way it is. From now on, a party must run at least one candidate because, if there is no candidate, there is no party. However, any threshold establishing a minimum number of candidates, except one, would be unconstitutional.

Therefore, we can no longer control the threshold, and we have to respect that. As a result, other guidelines must be implemented to ensure the legitimacy of the process, but the number of candidates cannot be one of these guidelines.

With regard to the returning officers, this is completely outside the scope of this bill, and the hon. member made reference to this. I know that he is aware that this falls outside the answer provided in the Figueroa case.

That said, the commission on electoral reform tabled its report a number of years ago. The Royal Commission on Electoral Reform, or Lortie commission, make a specific recommendation to keep the system as it was and not implement the changes recommended by members.

Furthermore, this same system exists in at least seven other provinces. So it was not invented by the current leader of this government. This system exists, and it is working very well. In my opinion, it has ensured that we have returning officers who are extremely capable. In those instances where this is not the case, then corrective measures will be taken.

Finally, with respect to the alleged rushed appointment of returning officers, I disagree. I started the procedure to recruit candidates back in August; this is November 7, and we have appointed almost 290 of the 308 officers. The other appointments should be made within a week or two. The list will be complete.

I point out, however, that two-thirds of these were people who already held the job prior to the redistribution. They are the same people.

In my riding, the returning officer was appointed by the Progressive Conservative Party in 1988. My government has since reappointed her twice, last week and, previously, following the last redistribution. These appointments are not a source of patronage, contrary to what the hon. member said. That is clearly not the case.

In fact, I personally approached a number of members of this House to get the names of potential returning officers for their ridings. When I say a number of members, I am talking about members opposite. I approached at least a half dozen personally. Without naming them, I see some of them nodding. So, this is not a source of patronage. That is just not true. Respectfully, that is not the case.

I think I followed the procedure correctly. The Privy Council Office checks the candidates. Security clearances are required. All of this is done. Naturally, they then undergo training with Elections Canada. All this to say that the procedure is totally appropriate and legitimate. It works well and the Lortie Commission recommended keeping it.

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10:40 a.m.

The Speaker

This is really the end of the time allotted for questions and comments. There are only 30 seconds left.

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10:40 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Canadian Alliance Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I know you recognized the member yonder, and that is your prerogative, but I wonder whether I could ask unanimous consent, as a member of the official opposition, to pose a question to the minister and to get a response.

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10:40 a.m.

The Speaker

Is there unanimous consent?

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10:40 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

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10:40 a.m.

Some hon. members

No.

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10:40 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gurmant Grewal Canadian Alliance Surrey Central, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise on behalf of the constituents of Surrey Central to participate in the debate on Bill C-51, particularly on this Friday, possibly the last day of this session, to talk about enhancing and restoring democracy in Canada, which we must not take for granted.

Bill C-51 is an act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Income Tax Act. I believe members on this side of the House have many questions, and hopefully we will have further opportunity, but it would be nice if we could ask the government House leader questions.

We know why the bill is before us. The bill is designed to address the decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in what is known as the Miguel Figueroa case. Miguel Figueroa is the leader of the Communist Party of Canada that was founded in 1921, and had been registered as a party under the Canada's Elections Act since registration first began in 1974.

In the 1993 federal election, however, that party lost its status as a registered party and all the benefits because it failed to nominate at least 50 candidates. As a consequence of deregistration, the party was forced to liquidate its assets, pay all its debts and remit the outstanding balance to the Chief Electoral Officer.

Mr. Figueroa commenced an action against the attorney general seeking a declaration that several provisions of the Canada Elections Act infringed various provisions of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and were therefore of no force and effect.

The original decision in the case was rendered in March 1999 by the Ontario Court of Justice that described the requirement to field 50 candidates as draconian and held that it was in violation of section 3 of the charter, which guarantees the right to vote and to run as a candidate. However that decision was not what the Liberals wanted to hear so they appealed the judgment and won.

In August 2000 the Ontario Court of Appeal declared the 50 candidate requirement was within the bounds of reasonableness. Mr. Figueroa then took his case to the Supreme Court of Canada, which ruled in his favour and struck down the 50 candidate threshold. According to the court, this requirement treated small parties unfairly by denying the benefits granted to registered parties. This unequal treatment was found to infringe on the rights of citizens to participate in a meaningful way in the electoral process as protected by section 3 of the charter.

The court has, however, suspended the application of the judgment until June 27, 2004, in order to allow Parliament time to bring forward the necessary changes to the Canada Elections Act.

It is interesting how when it comes to the Canada Elections Act the government keeps appealing court decisions that suggest Canadians' democratic rights are being violated but when same sex marriage is the issue, these same Liberals are quick to say that the courts have spoken, and immediately alter legislation.

For the sake of restoring and enhancing democracy, they keep on appealing decision after decision to the courts. It seems that taking away the constitutional right of Canadians to voice their opinions in federal elections is worth appealing to a higher court but destroying eons worth of common law governing holy matrimony is not worth the bother. Give me a break.

According to departmental documents, the primary objective of Bill C-51 is to strike an appropriate balance between fairness to parties and the need to preserve the integrity of the electoral system. We therefore find that while the bill drops the 50 candidate rule, it also proposes new requirements applicable to all parties. These new requirements are meant to exclude from registration entities that do not intend to participate in the electoral process.

The new registration requirements include the following: that the party have at least 250 members who have signed statements declaring that they are members of the party and support its registration; that one of the party's fundamental purposes be to participate in public affairs by endorsing one or more of its members as candidates and supporting their election, and that the party leader make a declaration to that effect; that the party actually endorse a candidate in an election. Parties that do not endorse at least one candidate during a general election will be automatically deregistered. The last requirement is that the party have at least three officers in addition to the leader.

The legal recognition and registration of political parties is a relatively recent development. Registration was introduced in the early 1970s as part of various changes to Canada's electoral legislation.

Registration does convey significant benefits and opportunities to a party. Benefits include: entitlement to issue tax receipts, reimbursement of election expenses, access to broadcasting time, access to copies of the voters' lists on an annual basis, and continue to have their candidates identified on the ballots.

In 1993 the government of the day responded to the report of the royal commission on electoral reform and party financing, known as the Lortie commission, with amendments to the Canada Elections Act. It was Bill C-114 that made it mandatory rather than discretionary for parties to be deregistered for failing to nominate at least 50 candidates in a general election. The bill also made life more difficult for smaller parties by raising a candidate's deposit from $200 to $1,000. This effectively became a $50,000 obstacle for parties wishing to participate in the democratic process.

The bill, which also put in place the limits on third party advertising, which were recently found unconstitutional, became commonly known as the “gag law”. The bill had been debated for only 15 minutes in the House and was cunningly passed at the end of the day, on a Friday, before a two week recess.

The Globe and Mail referred to the bill as “the worst violation of Canadians' rights of free expression in years” and suggested it was an attempt by federal politicians, particularly on that side of the House, “to perpetuate themselves in office”.

If the 50 candidate rule was meant to eliminate small parties and their dissenting voices, it was a resounding success in stomping on democracy.

More and more Canadians were becoming disaffected by government and the old line political parties. One result was the emergence of fringe or protest parties. They served, and for that matter continue to serve, although to a lesser degree, an important function. They allow for the expression of ideas important to some voters. They allow Canadians to be heard, giving them a voice that might be lost in the larger parties.

The protest vote is more substantial than most would think, even in this House. In the 1988 federal election precisely 584,521 Canadians voted for fringe parties or independent candidates. To put that in perspective, only 540,941 Canadians voted in the Manitoba election.

Eleven fringe parties ran candidates in the 1988 election, including such old parties as the Social Credit and the CCF, and one new party that would soon become an important player in federal politics, the Reform Party of Canada, which had made a significant contribution to the political arena.

With the stricter enforcement of the 50 candidate rule, the 2000 election results showed considerable change. Only six fringe parties ran candidates but they collected about 300,000 votes.

Every time there are amendments to the Canada Elections Act the government seems to make it more difficult for Canadians to organize new political parties. The Liberals have shaped the act to perpetuate the monopoly on power of the major parties. The result is that it has a prejudicial effect on small parties and independent candidates.

For real debate and democracy, we need parties representing a broad range of interests. Many Canadians abstain from voting because they feel alienated by the mainstream parties. Voter turnout has been falling steadily since the 1980 federal election from 75% turnout to just 61%, a new low in the 2000 federal election. What about the other 39% of potential voters? This is a serious concern.

If we are truly interested in voter participation the system should be fair. We should make it easier for small parties to get on the ballot, participate in the debate, get media coverage and receive public funding.

The Liberals are dismissive of small parties. It is part of their arrogance. They fail to realize that there is more to democracy than winning power. Democracy is also about sharing ideas, respecting and protecting the rights of others, particularly minorities or minority opinions. Members of small parties are not under some false illusion that they will win the next election. However just because they will not be forming the next government, just because they are unlikely to even win a seat, does not lessen their enthusiasm for participating in the democratic process.

Participating in elections allows smaller parties to demonstrate the popularity of their platforms. In that way they might gain more adherents or their ideas might be accepted as a policy of a major political party. These parties also provide an opportunity for those dissatisfied with the major parties to register protest votes, which can tip the scale in a closely contested election.

Democratic reform has been a core principle of my political party, the Reform Party of Canada and now the Canadian Alliance for the last 16 years. Unlike the party opposite, we did not develop a temporary itch for democratic reform when we were seeking approval of backbenchers, or in a leadership struggle, or when we go to the voters every three and a half years. It has been a constant theme of this party since 1987.

Democracy is something in which everyone should participate, including the small parties. The 50 candidate rule of the Canada Elections Act not only attacks small parties but seriously infringes and endangers the public's right to free political expression and association, both rights guaranteed by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It seeks to perpetuate the dominance of big political parties by hampering the establishment of small or new political parties.

The government's attempt to wiggle around the 50 candidate rule decision suggests that the Liberals are downright hostile to democracy; in fact, it seems like an elected dictatorship in Canada. We all know how the incoming leader of the Liberal Party staged a slow coup within his party. He and his cronies took over the control of the riding associations. They bullied their caucus, including the Prime Minister. They scared away the competing leadership candidates. Eventually the Prime Minister will be forced out prior to the end of his mandate.

The Liberals have been trying to make it as hard as possible for any political group to challenge them at the ballot box. Despite all this, still the incoming leader of the Liberal Party is doubting democratic reform. I do not know how he can say he stands for democratic reform.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

The Speaker

I hesitate to interrupt the hon. member but he will have four and one-half minutes remaining when debate resumes after question period.

100th Anniversary of AviationStatements By Members

10:55 a.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Liberal Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, 60 seconds are what we are given to make statements before question period. Some people may think this is too short a time to say or do anything significant. I offer the following as proof to the contrary.

On December 17, 1903 Orville Wright got into the motorized plane he had built with his brother Wilbur and flew for 12 seconds over a distance of 36.5 metres, or about 120 feet. The Wright brothers manned another three flights that morning, the longest one lasting 59 seconds. I dare say that those initial 12 seconds changed the world.

On the offchance that we may not be sitting beyond today and the certainty that we will not be sitting on December 17, I want to take this occasion to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Wright brothers' amazing achievement.

On the100th anniversary of aviation, I hope that the world will underline it as an achievement that has changed the course of human history.

Liberal Government PoliciesStatements By Members

11 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Dave Chatters Canadian Alliance Athabasca, AB

Mr. Speaker, the Liberal government's attempts to deceive Canadians have no limits. At every opportunity the Liberals pay lip service to Canadians by saying one thing but doing something quite the opposite.

In 1999 the government voted to support the definition of marriage as the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others. Within the past few months we have seen it not only reverse this position but to actively campaign against it.

Last week the Liberal government supported our motion unanimously to protect children against child pornography. Bill C-20 is the government's answer to protect children. The bill takes out the outrageous defence of “artistic merit” and replaces it with “the public good” which, given recent court rulings, could mean anything.

The government promised Canadians a sex offender registry but continues to avoid giving us an effective registry.

Is it any wonder that Canadians are losing confidence in government. Canadians deserve better.

Niagara MunicipalityStatements By Members

11 a.m.

Liberal

Tony Tirabassi Liberal Niagara Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to pay tribute to Debbie Zimmerman, the outgoing chair of the Regional Municipality of Niagara.

Debbie began her political career in 1978 when she was elected to the Grimsby town council where she served until 1989. Debbie then served on regional council and was elected chair of the Regional Municipality of Niagara in 1997 and again in the year 2000.

Debbie has been an active member of a diverse number of corporate committees with the Regional Municipality of Niagara, as well as external committees and panels at the provincial level.

Debbie served as a member of the Team Canada 2001 trade mission to China and led the 2002 Niagara business trade mission to Ireland.

Debbie has been rewarded countless times for her outstanding contribution to the Niagara region.

I want to thank Debbie for her 25 years of exceptional public service and extend my best wishes to her in her future endeavours.

SeniorsStatements By Members

11 a.m.

Liberal

Beth Phinney Liberal Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, one of the Canadian government's greatest achievements has been its retirement income system for seniors. However, there are still areas of concern.

Seniors who live alone, particularly women, continue to experience higher rates of poverty than other older Canadians.

The current federal support for a senior with no dependants is a maximum of $13,176. However the current income level in Ontario that is used as a marker to measure poverty is $18,849. This is a shortfall of $5,673 annually.

I am asking the seniors in my riding of Hamilton Mountain to fill out a brief anonymous survey indicating the adequacy of their federal financial assistance.

I congratulate the Prime Minister for creating a caucus task force on seniors to assess the federal pensions and the provincial and municipal services to ensure that our seniors are not just getting by, but are living their lives with dignity.

SikhismStatements By Members

11 a.m.

Liberal

Gurbax Malhi Liberal Bramalea—Gore—Malton—Springdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Sikh community in my riding and around the world is celebrating the 534th birthday of Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the first guru of the Sikh religion.

The teachings of Guru Nanak are a model to all people. Sikhs believe in non-violence, peace, human equality, justice and democracy. Guru Nanak taught the importance of selfless service, tolerance, compassion, love, equality and well-being for all people.

The goal of a Sikh is not only the spiritual growth of the individual but is also the advancement of every human being regardless of creed, colour or race.