moved that the bill be read the third time and passed.
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to begin debate at third reading stage on Bill C-3, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Income Tax Act.
Bill C-3 responds to the Supreme Court decision in the Figueroa case, just in time for us to keep our electoral system fully operational. In the Figueroa case, the court determined that the 50-candidate requirement was in violation of the charter because it is detrimental to small parties. However, the court gave Parliament one year, that is until June 27, 2004, to change the legislation. Therefore, we must act now in order to meet that deadline.
Bill C-3 replaces the existing 50-candidate requirement for political party registration with a new purpose-based definition of “political party”. It also introduces new rules concerning registration and accountability, and additional measures to protect the integrity of the political financing system.
In developing these measures, we have taken into account the fact that parties must have a considerable degree of autonomy in order to perform their essential role in Canadian society. At the same time, of course, it is important to ensure transparency and accountability. This is a delicate balance that must be achieved to allow the parties to develop without excessive regulation, while making certain that they do not the system and that they remain accountable.
Bill C-3 makes it possible to achieve this. Bill C-3 may not be perfect and is not intended to be a definitive solution, but we think it is fair and balanced, while meeting the deadline imposed by the Supreme Court.
If I may, I would like to speak briefly about the issues raised during the debate on this bill. There were questions about the fairness of the proposed measures. For example, while recognizing that a requirement to have 50 candidates was too high, some people wondered whether the new rule requiring only one candidate to be presented was sufficient. These are legitimate questions.
I will reply that the Supreme Court was very clear: imposing candidate thresholds is not an appropriate way to evaluate party legitimacy, and thresholds should not be used to exclude any voices from the political debate. The court's reasoning is convincing.
Canada is a plural society in which diverse opinions are reflected. Our system for the registration of political parties ought to be open to this reality. Therefore it follows that we must seek other ways to define which entities deserve to be recognized as political parties. That is what the bill will allow.
In this respect, the need to respond to the Supreme Court's decision in the Figueroa case has given us an opportunity, a chance to rethink the party registration system so that it will be more accessible to legitimate parties, while preventing abuses by those who are not. This approach is in line with government objectives in the framework for action on democratic reform.
The growth in the number of political parties resulting from this new requirement that only one candidate need be presented will open a broader range of perspectives. More choice for the voters should result in a situation where Canadians are more interested in the political process. This system could thus make a contribution to efforts aimed at halting the decline in voter turnout.
That is particularly true of young Canadians and groups where participation is low. The existence of more parties, and thus a wider range of viewpoints, should incite the parties to review their traditional approaches and take more interest in the people overlooked by the system.
While I strongly believe that Bill C-3 strikes an appropriate balance and is the best solution to the Figueroa ruling at the present time, it is not the end of the discussion.
The issues raised are of great importance and legitimate concerns have been expressed. This is why the government amended the bill to add a two year sunset clause. This ensures that the issues addressed by the bill will be revisited in the near future. In fact when Bill C-3 was introduced, I wrote to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs inviting it to undertake, after passage of the bill, a review of the wider implications of the Figueroa ruling and other aspects of the electoral process. The bill provides us with a bridge to that broader review.
Electoral reform is critical to the continued strengthening of our democracy. Parliamentarians are at the heart of this debate and I look forward to the committee's views. I have asked it to bring forward recommendations in the form of draft legislation within one year. This will allow further study of the issues surrounding party registration and, combined with the sunset clause, will ensure that parliamentarians can continue to examine these matters and will have the opportunity to suggest refinements and reforms. At the same time, the Supreme Court's deadline will be met.
The bill that is before us today is critical. We need to ensure that the Canada Elections Act remains operational after June 27. We also need to ensure that parties are genuine and accountable, and that our electoral system is not open to abuse. Bill C-3 achieves these goals in a fair and balanced way. It respects the fact that political parties are on the front line of our democratic system and must be allowed to develop and compete openly and operate freely. At the same time, the bill ensures that our electoral system remains fair, accountable and transparent to all, and that it is not open to abuse.
While not the final word, Bill C-3 strikes this balance in a way that satisfies our twin imperatives. It meets the June 27 deadline while guaranteeing an ongoing role for parliamentarians in examining these matters in the future.
I would like to appeal to all my colleagues to support this bill, which is extremely important to all of us and to our democracy.