Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this bill. I am not sure if the debate is going to continue after I am finished my speech, but I am serving notice that I probably will not be using all of my time. Therefore, anyone else who is intending to speak should be prepared.
I had the opportunity to speak to this legislation on February 18 before it went to committee. I did not participate when the bill was at the committee stage. However, the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle was an important member of that committee.
Part of the reason for not needing all of my time today is that the member from the Bloc, as well as the member for North Vancouver have put the case very well as to what the problems are and what the reality is with this piece of legislation.
We are debating the Figueroa decision. The Supreme Court struck down some time ago the requirement for a political party to find at least 50 candidates and put the names of those 50 candidates forward in a general election as a condition of being registered as a bona fide party. The court in its wisdom ruled that the 50 candidate rule treated small parties unfairly by denying them three key benefits that are granted to larger parties. They are: first, the right to issue tax receipts for political contributions; second, the right to receive unspent election funds from candidates; and third, the right to have a candidate's party affiliation listed on the ballot. This treatment was found to be unequal by the court and to infringe upon the rights of citizens to participate in a meaningful way in the electoral process as protected by section 3 of the Charter of Rights.
The court suspended the impact of its judgment for one year, which expires on June 27. That was in order to give Parliament an opportunity to bring forward the necessary changes to the Canada Elections Act.
The bill has gone through the committee stage. The government has basically, as others have said, brought back the bill in the same form that it went to committee. The argument here is that the number 50 is too large, and we do not disagree. As a matter of fact, the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle introduced a motion at committee, which was narrowly defeated, that would have reduced the number from 50 to 12. That, as others have said in the debate prior to question period, would have made some logic and some sense, but it was voted down.
I attempted this morning to put forward another figure, simply because we agree that 50 is too large a number. It is under-inclusive, but the number one, in the opinion of the New Democratic Party, is certainly over-inclusive. It is too small a number.
I put forward today the suggestion for two, but it was ruled out of order. We would have thought that would have been at least twice as good as having just one member making it a bona fide party entitled to all the accoutrements that come with that, and having three other officers of the party.
I will not go over the concerns I have raised previously in debate on this as to my unhappiness with that particular number. We think it is a wrong number. We are concerned that the government thinks it is a wrong number and that is why it has included a sunset clause in the bill. We will come back here in the next Parliament and we will be debating this all over again.
I thought the member for North Vancouver made a very good point about the amount of money that has been wasted. If the government had agreed back in 2000 to set the limit at 12 as opposed to 50, we would not be in this position. That was apparently acceptable to the Communist Party of Canada, which is the party that has brought this concern forward, but it was ignored at that time. It is unfortunate that this was the case, because I think this could all be behind us and we would have a good piece of legislation that is supportable and happily supportable. I find myself and my party in the same position as the other opposition members who have spoken here today. We will support the bill, albeit very reluctantly.
Although I did not participate in the committee, I have read the arguments and positions that were put forward by the Chief Electoral Officer. I agree with him that as a result of this legislation we are putting him in a rather delicate position as the person who enforces the Canada Elections Act. In fact, in response to a question, Mr. Kingsley, the Chief Electoral Officer, said that he did feel uneasiness and he tried to convey that in his comments. He said, “I am trying to tell the committee that there is an authority underlying the bill to which I want to draw the committee's attention”.
I think it is really unfortunate that the government has allowed this to get to this stage instead of dealing with it in a more appropriate fashion and, indeed, in an earlier fashion. We had the prorogation of the House last November 8 or thereabouts. The bill was here and died on the order paper. It has been resurrected sometime since February 2 when we reconvened, but there has not been due care and attention paid to it. The amendments were not acceptable at the committee stage and, as I said a moment ago, we are back here dealing with a very unsatisfactory piece of legislation, but one that we need to get through in terms of the approaching election campaign.
On the business of just one person, the minority of one, so to speak, there is nothing that would prevent a leader of that party from continuing to raise money, to retain any unspent election funds and to continue in a way that may not be terribly productive. It could be more destructive than productive in the parliamentary process.
I take real exception to the government House leader saying this morning that somehow this will improve democracy. I do not see how it could possibly improve democracy by having the numbers so low; in fact, it is the lowest common denominator.
In conclusion, I think it is a temporary and totally inadequate solution. It is going to be rushed through the House in order to clear the decks for an election. The proof that it has many shortcomings is the fact that it has this two year sunset clause. We will be back here again to debate this. Like the other parties that have spoken in debate and in opposition on this, we will be supporting the bill, albeit most reluctantly.