Mr. Speaker, retuning to the speech by my colleague for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, you know you can always count on me even if, despite your great care, you did not give me the floor to ask a final question during question period. Obviously I do not hold that against you. I know you follow the Standing Orders to the letter, and more power to you for that.
That said, I am very pleased to speak to Bill C-3, the purpose of which is to reflect the provisions of the Figueroa ruling in the Canada Elections Act.
The Bloc Quebecois will be supporting this legislation, though I will point out immediately that we are motivated not so much by enthusiasm or support of all the provisions and implications of the bill, but rather by lack of choice. If we opposed it, and if an election were called this spring, it would mean we would end up with a legal vacuum at the end of June as far as the registration of political parties is concerned.
So this is an interim measure, as has already been clearly explained earlier today, and one that will likely be followed with another piece of legislation to definitively amend the Canada Elections Act.
My colleague from North Vancouver has made it clear that, whatever the government may say, this bill has been rushed through. Nevertheless, in committee, it was still possible to write a sunset clause into the legislation, and I think it is a fine idea.
Before getting into the heart of the matter, I would like to say a few words about the process. This process has shown that, despite repeated affirmations by the new Prime Minister and his government, whatever happens, with a Liberal government, it is same old, same old.
They promised us, with their hands on their hearts, that they would take the suggestions and proposals of members of parliament into consideration, listen to the opposition parties and to give MPs a greater role. But what really happened? As soon as the government House leader had an opportunity to introduce legislation, he sent it to committee before second reading, apparently so that we could really improve it.
But he rushed the committee's consideration of the bill, so much so that, at the first meeting, government members were ready to proceed with clause by clause study without even having heard a single witness. Does this really exemplify a political party that wants—or so it claims—to consult parliamentarians by taking pains to send this bill to committee before second reading, supposedly to be able to make amendments? The answer is no.
In fact, no substantial amendments were made to this bill. It came back in nearly identical form, despite the fact that the Chief Electoral Officer himself, who is giving a speech at the National Press Club as we speak, expressed a number of reservations with respect to the bills provisions.
We could have made the amendments necessary to satisfy the reservations of the Chief Electoral Officer, reservations we share, as it happens. Nevertheless, the government refused to consider our recommendations and our suggestions, and the bill came back as is.
The problem the Chief Electoral Officer has with this is that the bill contains provisions providing him with discretionary authority over determining whether each political party's purpose is to participate inpublic affairs and whether it is indeed pursuing the fundamental mission it has publicly assumed.
This officer of Parliament, who must be an independent and objective judge of the application of the Elections Act, would thus find himself with the right to interfere in the conduct of the internal affairs of political parties. Obviously, this raises a number of concerns on our part, as well as on the part of other parties in this House, and even government members.
We would have liked to have seen these provisions removed, as suggested by the Chief Electoral Officer. That, however, did not happen. The government wanted to proceed rapidly, for partisan and electoral purposes. The government is hoping for a spring election and it needed absolute assurance that Bill C-3 was going to be passed before the election call, in order to avoid the legal vacuum that would have resulted as soon as we got to the end of June.
This double talk from the government, and its specious attitude, as it claims, on the one hand, that it will consult Parliament more, while, on the other, it is tenaciously sticking to the old ways we had gotten used to under the previous Prime Minister, are regrettable.
This was obvious—and this is an aside prompted by the presence in this House of my colleague from Madawaska—Restigouche—in the matter of the deportation of the Acadians, which I have been shepherding through this House since 1999.
That was to be expected from the previous government, with the atmosphere of confrontation that seemed to be the order of the day, although I was not in the least expecting it at first. I was, moreover, greatly surprised at the first speech given in this House on that subject by a colleague from the Liberal Party, that self-same member for Madawaska—Restigouche. The very negative attitude from the government party toward my motion was a great surprise to me.
However, although Motion No. 382 was, I admit, a bit out of date given the royal proclamation of last December, I was even more surprised to see that the government did not even bother to agree to speak to me, listen to me and discuss this with me, if only to reach an agreement so that, with the unanimous consent of the House, I could withdraw or amend the motion, and thereby favourably acknowledge the government's very honourable gesture of last December, which was the royal proclamation.
But no. They are saying, “There is no way we will agree to talk with that evil separatist!” So, the House is resigned to voting against a motion on the Acadian people in a year we should be celebrating the 400th anniversary of the founding of Acadia.
They would rather vote against the motion by the hon. member for Verchères—Les-Patriotes than take the time to speak, even briefly, with him to reach a solution that is fair to everyone and prevent this motion on the Acadian people from being defeated in this House in the year of the 400th anniversary of the founding of Acadia.
And they would have me believe that this government wants to enhance the role of parliamentarians, to really listen to parliamentarians and make a real effort to consider the opinion of the opposition parties. This is nonsense. There was more proof of this today with Bill C-3.
To avoid a legislative vacuum, we have to vote in favour of deficient and poorly crafted legislation. I feel like this is a case of déjà vu. It is Back to the Future .
I rose in this House during a previous review of the Canada Elections Act. I told the government House leader at the time that if the government did not change the 50-candidate requirement for political party registration in the Elections Act, that we would, in any event—in addition to having spent taxpayers' money to defend our case in court—eventually end up here in this House adopting new legislation to reflect the court rulings.
But no, defeat after defeat in the courts, the government went all the way to the Supreme Court only to be told what we already knew: that the current 50-candidate provisions in the Elections Act were unconstitutional.
Taxpayer dollars were spent when we already knew that we would eventually wind up back in this House changing these provisions of the Elections Act, but no one wanted to listen to the opposition. No one wanted to listen to us then, any more than they want to listen to us now.
This is deficient legislation, as I was saying, that we will have to support in order to avoid a legislative vacuum. Moreover, it is unfortunate that, for procedural reasons, at report stage, we were unable to address the motion by my colleague from Palliser, which seemed most desirable and legitimate.
Despite the arguments presented this morning by the government House leader, I still find that a political party, to be registered as such, must field at least two candidates. Otherwise you end up with an individual who runs for an election and agrees with himself.
A political party implies an association, a group. There cannot be a group with one individual. The provisions of the current bill state that there must be at least 250 members, and at least 3 party officers in addition to the party leader. However, this principle, the notion of association or group, also has to be reflected in the number of candidates the party fields during a general election.
I think that this point could easily have been defended before the courts. Indeed, it would have been preferable to be able to debate the amendment of the hon. member for Palliser and possibly adopt it. Unfortunately, because of technicalities and procedural details, we will not have had an opportunity to deal with this proposed amendment. The result is that the act remains unchanged, with the possibility for a party to present only one candidate.
This seems totally ridiculous, considering the very principle whereby a political party is an association of people, and that this association or group should have a number of candidates run for it in an election. In my mind, in the minds of Bloc Quebecois members—and, I would assume, in the minds of members from other parties in this House, including the New Democratic Party—it takes at least two candidates for a political formation to be recognized and registered as such.
This is another flaw in the proposed legislation. Despite the very legitimate points that I just mentioned, we will have no other option, as I said earlier, than to support this bill.
We will do so responsibly, while keeping in mind that if we did not support it, we would find ourselves in a very undesirable legal vacuum.
Again, we will support this motion, but we will not do so with great enthusiasm.