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House of Commons Hansard #30 of the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was elections.

Topics

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

Charles Hubbard Liberal Miramichi, NB

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36, I have a petition on marriage.

The petitioners, in dealing with this after a long preamble, pray that Parliament pass legislation to recognize the institution of marriage in federal law as being a lifelong union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Darrel Stinson Canadian Alliance Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to present two petitions today.

The first petition is from my constituents of Okanagan--Shuswap stating that marriage is the best foundation for families and the raising of children.

The petitioners want to remind the House that a motion was passed in June 1999 that called for marriage to continue to be defined as the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others.

Therefore my constituents call upon Parliament to pass legislation to recognize the institution of marriage in federal law as being the lifelong union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Darrel Stinson Canadian Alliance Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

Mr. Speaker, the second petition I am pleased to present has over 450 signatures calling upon Parliament to instruct the National Parole Board to not release any offenders into society until the recommendations of the 2002 report become policy.

The petitioners state that parole should be the exception and not the rule. Parole should be limited, earned and tightly monitored when balancing the interests of an offender and public safety. Public safety must be the first priority and family violence assessments must be completed on all offenders before granting parole.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

John M. Cummins Canadian Alliance Delta—South Richmond, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is my privilege today to present a petition with several hundred signatures in which the petitioners are recognizing that marriage is the lasting union between a man and a woman to the exclusion of others.

They call upon Parliament to take whatever action is required to maintain the current definition of marriage in law and to prevent any court from overturning or amending that definition.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Gary Schellenberger Progressive Conservative Perth—Middlesex, ON

Mr. Speaker, today I rise to present a petition on marriage.

Whereas marriage is the exclusive jurisdiction of Parliament, the petitioners pray that Parliament pass legislation to recognize the institution of marriage in federal law as being the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Chicoutimi—Le Fjord Québec

Liberal

André Harvey LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-3, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Income Tax Act, be read the third time and passed.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Before I give the floor to the hon. member for Verchères—Les-Patriotes, the hon. member for Elk Island on a point of order.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Canadian Alliance Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, is it not true that there was some time left for questions and comments on the previous speaker?

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I did take notice, and no reflection on any one member, that when I did ask to resume the debate I took account of who was in the House. I can assure the members that there was very limited time left. I do not think it would have given anyone a real opportunity to ask a question and also expect a response within that same timeframe, within that very limited time that was left.

The hon. member for Verchères—Les-Patriotes.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

Bloc

Stéphane Bergeron Bloc Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

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.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ted White Canadian Alliance North Vancouver, BC

Mr. Speaker, as the hon. member finished his speech, he mentioned how reluctantly the Bloc will be supporting this motion. Unfortunately, we are in the same position here. The Conservatives will also be reluctantly supporting the bill. We have all of the same concerns that have been expressed by the member.

I thank him for confirming the point I made during my speech, that the government is speaking out of both sides of its mouth. The bill is a good example of how the Liberals told us they were interested in serious input, that they were taking the bill to committee before second reading so they could hear our input and make changes, but as soon as it got there they just reverted to the old ways. They tricked us into thinking we would have some input and in fact we had none. When it got to committee, they tried to ram it right through.

The member and I were together during the revision of the Elections Act in 1999 and 2000. I would like him to tell me whether he could see any difference between the way we were treated at that stage to the way we are treated today, with supposedly the new minister getting rid of the democratic deficit. It looked like exactly the same treatment to me. I would be interested to hear if the member feels the same way.

Also, could he tell me whether he believes, as I do, that if the minister had given us the opportunity to give meaningful input, the bill would now be moving much more quickly through the House because we could have made it much better?

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Bloc

Stéphane Bergeron Bloc Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from North Vancouver for his questions. We indeed had the pleasure, he and I, to sit on the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs for a period of time, including during the revision of the Elections Act in 1999-2000, which I referred to in my speech.

At that time—as I also indicated in my speech—we pointed out to the government that its insistence on maintaining the current provisions of the Elections Act, requiring a political party to run at least 50 candidates during an election in order to be recognized and registered as a party, was utterly irresponsible.

We knew full well that we would lose this case, even if we had to go as high as the Supreme Court. Indeed, we would needlessly spend public money trying to defend this case. I am sure that a number of lawyers were quite pleased, but I am not so sure that this was such a good idea in terms of careful management of public funds.

Moreover, we must also recognize that we are back to square one. If we had done this work at the time, as we had suggested to the government, we would not be in this position today of adopting this deficient legislation.

In that respect, I would also like to reiterate the fact that the government's attitude has not changed one iota. Despite the solemn affirmations by the Prime Minister and his ministers, the attitude has not changed. Very frequently, the ministers come in and put on a show for the House. They give their little speeches and leave right afterward, not listening to the proposals or suggestions—the input as the hon. member of North Vancouver put it—that might come from the other political parties in the House. They are no more interested in the viewpoints expressed here in this House than the previous government was.

Earlier, I said “it is same old, same old”. I hope that the print and electronic media will get the information out, because I would like to speak to the people, to those listening to us today, whether here in the galleries or at home.

I would like to tell them that if the thought should ever have crossed their minds that the government headed by the current Prime Minister is a government of change, I hope that this week's budget, the bill before us, and this government's attitude since the beginning will have succeeded in convincing them of the fact that this is not a government of change; it is a government of continuity. It is a government that does things exactly the same way the previous government did.

It is not advisable to believe the solemn statements of the Prime Minister and his ministers that they want to change things. That is not the case at all. This is still the land of cronyism. We do not understand how it is that for all their solemn statements that they want to shed light on this business, there is no one on the government side who appears to have the slightest memory of what might have happened. It is very clear that this government is doing things the old way, with old methods that only exist for the purpose of being good to the friends of the party in power.

Basically, in Canada's modern, contemporary history, these people have been in power most of the time. They have come to consider the Canadian government as their property. I think that a little holiday in opposition would be very good for them. It would enable them to see things from another, completely different perspective. They might then have the humility needed to eventually come back before the people of Canada, later, and have the decency to try to represent the public properly and not to try to profit from their situation or to favour the government's cronies.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

John M. Cummins Canadian Alliance Delta—South Richmond, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comments and concerns of my colleague from the Bloc. I must say that in a sense, my colleague comes from a similar tradition to ours, although our objectives are different. His party sort of sprang from nowhere as did my former party, the Reform Party of Canada.

One of the concerns I have with the proposed legislation was addressed by the Chief Electoral Officer when he talked about being the guy who has to make the decision on whether or not someone who is applying for party status actually fits the bill. Among the issues that he has to determine is the party's political program and its advertising material and policy statements. As well, he has to evaluate information about the nature and extent of the party's activities and information about the interaction of the party with other entities.

Is this not really putting the Chief Electoral Officer in the position where he is going to be excluding Canadians from coast to coast in the political process if he does the job that is asked of him in this bill?

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

Bloc

Stéphane Bergeron Bloc Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question. He has just touched on another aspect of my speech, the reservations expressed by the Chief Electoral Officer concerning this legislation which will have the effect of placing him in the very awkward position of having to intervene, as an impartial, independent and objective referee, in the internal affairs of political parties and of having to apply criteria that are not objective or set out in regulations and legislation, but rather strictly subjective in nature.

The Chief Electoral Officer will have to make subjective judgments on the fundamental objectives of the parties. He will have to ask himself whether this or that political party is really pursuing its fundamental objective, to determine if its registered status should be maintained.

Hon. members will understand that this presents a problem to someone who is meant to be an impartial and independent judge. Such an independent and objective judge wants to have clear and precise rules on which to base his judgments, but now he will have to depend on total subjectivity.

There are no parameters. There are no guidelines. I can understand the Chief Electoral Officer's misgivings. We proposed to the government that these subjective provisions be removed.

However, as I said earlier, in its haste to call an election, its haste to get this legislation passed, and its concern that we not drag the committee stage out any further, the government chose not to accept our proposed amendments.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

NDP

Dick Proctor NDP Palliser, SK

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.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ted White Canadian Alliance North Vancouver, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his intervention and for his interesting points expanding on much of what has already been said.

I would like to ask the member a couple of questions as I make comments about what he just said. One of those questions would be on the point of whether or not the member found it surprising when this bill went to committee that the minister revealed no effort had been made either by him or by his department to make those affected by the bill aware that it even existed.

That came as an absolute surprise to me. I just could not believe it. When we actually contacted Mr. Figueroa, he expressed such surprise. He did not even have the faintest idea that the bill had been produced.

With respect to the number of persons required to constitute a party, the number two, as suggested, was of course suggested in a ruling of the courts in Ontario. The courts there used much of the same logic that the member who just stood has used in justifying two as the number. Had he been able to get his amendment onto the floor today, we could have had a good discussion about that and determined whether that was a much better solution than the single person.

Unlike the minister, I am not afraid to try amending this number upward, because most laws are to a great degree based on good faith. If the people who wanted to challenge the legislation previously are no longer interested in challenging it because there is a number that suits everybody, then the courts will not strike it down because they will not get the opportunity to do so. So that is a shame.

In closing, I do just want to mention that unfortunately, as the member indicated earlier today, we lost an opportunity during the committee hearings to amend the bill to the number 12. I feel quite bad about that. I usually sit on that committee. Unfortunately there was a critical situation away from Ottawa which I did have to attend and the government refused to postpone the meeting for me. There was some confusion with the substitute and unfortunately a situation arose that we feel bad about. Anyway, that is water under the bridge, but I did want to get that on the record just so that the member did not feel there was some ill will toward what was being proposed at the time.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

NDP

Dick Proctor NDP Palliser, SK

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for North Vancouver for that clarification.

On the matter of two people to constitute a party as opposed to one person, I think it would have been a good discussion. I am not sure how it would have gone, but I wish we could have had that debate. I am repeating myself here now, but I believe it would have been much more acceptable to a majority of Canadians if we had had that figure. The discussion on the Ontario legislation is instructive in that regard because it had the same number, as the member for North Vancouver pointed out.

It is quite unbelievable with regard to Mr. Figueroa, the leader of the Communist Party, that he was not even made aware that this bill had been resurrected and had gone to committee. He indeed had very short notice to come before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to discuss that legislation. I guess it is a comment not only on that particular department of the government but perhaps overall. The government looks to be, since February 2 when we came back, a little helter-skelter in many areas as plans and priorities seem to change abruptly on the government side.

With regard to the committee, of which I was not a member when this suggestion of going from one to two was defeated recently, I think democracy would have been better served, I think this would be a better piece of legislation, and I think the opposition members would be happier to support this particular bill had we had that figure of two rather than one.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Deepak Obhrai Canadian Alliance Calgary East, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise and speak to Bill C-3 for the second time. I would like at this time to acknowledge my colleague, the member for North Vancouver, who has put a tremendous amount of effort and time into this complicated bill and has been one of those big sources of information to us in the caucus as well as being here in the House debating and laying out what exactly is wrong with the bill and how it should be addressed.

This morning when he spoke again on the bill, he again outlined our party's position. We are supporting the bill, but we know there are flaws in the bill and we are trying to highlight those flaws to make sure the message goes out about those flaws. However, because of the urgency of time, the election coming up, and the Supreme Court of Canada's decision hanging over our heads, we need to have this legislation go through.

We are supporting the bill, but as he pointed out, supporting it despite the fact that work done by him and through the committee was ignored, as was that of the other parties, which all agreed to the initial proposal of a 12 man rule. As was pointed out, the former minister who was looking after this bill was absolutely adamant about any changes to his bill. He stuck to his guns despite the fact that all information indicated that the Supreme Court of Canada would throw out this bill and ask Parliament to fix it. The minister refused all kinds of compromises on anything. As the member for North Vancouver pointed out, it was a total waste of money. The bill went to the Supreme Court and we are now back here debating the bill, with the one man rule as well as what a party should consist of.

Last time the government House leader spoke to the bill, he talked about the points. He said it strengthened democracy but he wanted to make sure there were more views and henceforth they brought in several administrative issues. But the essence of the bill still remains that it is to register political parties.

Registering political parties is a very important aspect. In a democracy, people express their points of view through a party system. That is the way they do it. Where there is no party system, then it is a different system, but nevertheless, parties are essential to democracy. Therefore, it is very important that we recognize how parties are registered and how they play an important part in one of the pillars of democracy, which is direct elections.

I agree that we do not want abuse of the political system. Otherwise we will lose the trust of Canadians. They will become detached. As it is, with the current state and the way things are going, Canadians are becoming pretty cynical about politicians anyway. I hear this all the time. People write to us and talk to us and tell us that politicians are not held in that high a degree of respect, not as they should be.

How did we politicians come to lose that high degree of respect we had in the 1950s compared to the level now in the 21st century, where we have lost so much common ground? It is because of facts like these: there are a lot of flaws in democracy, many politicians have not handled themselves well, promises were made but not kept, all these things. There is a democratic deficit, as the Prime Minister likes to say.

Over a period of time the PMO became the driving force in the Parliament of Canada. It was making the decisions and the decisions started away from the other parties in the House of Commons.

Two things have happened in our democracy for the erosion of confidence with the public. One was the prime minister getting the power and then making his members of Parliament irrelevant by asking them to vote based on party lines. We saw the last prime minister many times declare votes of confidence for the government when really they were not. It was his own political agenda that he wanted to push through, bypassing his own backbenchers who were elected by the people. His members did not want this, but they could not vote their conscience for the simple reason that the prime minister determined votes of confidence in the government.

These kinds of things have a tendency of eroding confidence and that erosion carries on. When I am campaigning in my riding, people ask questions about what I can say or do. They put high hopes in their elected officials, that we can stand in the Parliament of Canada and speak what they feel is important because they elected us.

Is that really what has happened? No. The current Prime Minister talks about the democratic deficit and how he will improve upon it. We will wait and see. Honestly, he is not connecting well with Canadians on democratic deficit. We know that. The government and the Prime Minister have miserably failed to send out the message to the people in my riding that they are dealing with the many issues of which they talk, such as the democratic deficit, bringing confidence to the government and transparency.

My other point is the bureaucracy. The bureaucracy has become so bad that there is a real erosion of power of elected members. As a matter of fact I have noticed that, based on the government's track record and the prime minister's track record. They tell their deputy ministers not to listen to members of Parliament or not to listen to the members of the opposition.

I have met so many bureaucrats from the Department of Citizenship and Immigration, the Department of Foreign Affairs, most important from Revenue Canada and others. Their senior bureaucrats have the least amount of respect for members of Parliament, forgetting the fact that in a democracy it is the members of Parliament who are the ones who represent the people. The bureaucrat's job is to listen and implement policies that the members of Parliament make.

What do we get? I have numerous examples of bureaucracy such as Revenue Canada in Calgary. I have not had good experiences with the bureaucrats there. The immigration office in Calgary does not talk to us. When we talk to the bureaucrats there, they have a habit of saying that they will not answer our questions.

I wrote a letter to the immigration officers in Damascus. They have not bothered replying, yet their office said that they should reply to members of Parliament so members could represent their constituents. The constituents depend on us. They want answers and they look to us for answers on issues. Sure, there are laws. We are intelligent enough to figure out that the laws are there. If the laws are not complied with, we are here to change them.

What happens to members with the bureaucracy is a simple fact. I have had people walk into my offices and say that bureaucrats have told them to go talk to their member of Parliament on small issues, not them. After seven years of this experience, I am have become exceedingly sure that another problem that needs to be addressed is the huge bureaucracy and the way it ignores the wishes of the people.

If government ministers tell their deputy ministers to listen to them only, then that message goes to the other bureaucrats, and they in turn think of a local member of Parliament as a nobody. The bureaucrats we have receive instructions from ministers.

Lo and behold there has been a change of prime minister and many ex-ministers now find themselves on backbenches. They now will get the chance to experience what they have instituted.

In order for democracy to work well, a balance needs to be met. I am not saying there are no good bureaucrats. There are excellent bureaucrats as well. However, like anyone else in any profession there are bad apples who give them a bad name. We need to find a balance among Parliament which makes the laws, the judiciary and the bureaucracy to have an effective way of governing.

Let me get back to the point of political parties.

I am the senior critic for international cooperation. CIDA gives a lot of money to promote democracies around the world. On many occasions I have had the opportunity to go to these countries. I even had the opportunity to be an election observer in Chiapas. However, that was before a former minister for international cooperation sent her own buddies to be election observers, what is called blatant patronage.

Canada has tremendous experience in elections. Elections Canada is a highly respected institution which has helped upcoming democracies. Elections Canada helped in the elections in South Africa. It has a high degree of respect in that country. Other countries ask us how democracies should work and how political parties should work. We need to set examples.

It is important that we highlight the fact that in our own Parliament we can debate issues with each other. However, it is also important to admit the fact that there are flaws in our own Parliament. The House of Commons is the institution of democracy.

It is a privilege for me to stand here today, having come from Africa 25 years ago and having adopted Canada as my country. I am very proud of that fact. I am thankful to the people of Calgary East for giving me the opportunity to represent them in this great institution, the Parliament of Canada. When I go back to my constituency, people tell me they have confidence in me, and they want me to talk about issues that are of importance to them. That comes out of the great institution of democracy.

Canada has had over 100 years of democratic experience. We can go around the world and be proud of our democracy. However, we should always strive to improve our democracy. We need to improve. We do not need to erode the freedom of speech and the freedom we have in democracy. We must be absolutely vigilant to ensure that we never lose that.

The government wanted to include the 50 member rule in the legislation. It puzzles me why we would want to restrict that. I do not know why we would want to restrict freedom of speech by having the 50 member rule. Thank God for the Supreme Court's decision that numbers are not acceptable.

My party proposed the 12 member rule, and other parties agreed with that. It would have fulfilled many of the objectives in the bill. The bill indicates that there now has to be 250 members and three people sitting in office. These are administrative issues. The 12 member rule would have met all kinds of issues.

It is with great pride that I stand in the House of Commons and debate the issue of political parties, which are in essence one of the vehicles by which to express in the House the views of the people.

In conclusion, as members know, my party has just merged, and we had a great convention. There is a new party called the Conservative Party of Canada, to which people now can express their views in the forthcoming election. I agree with the Prime Minister when he said in Alberta that there were clear views and Canadians had a clear choice. Canadians will make the choice in the next general election as to who will lead because now they have a clear choice, and I am a very proud member of the Conservative Party of Canada.

Once more, I want to just mention the great job my colleague from North Vancouver has done on this bill.

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March 26th, 2004 / 1:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ted White Canadian Alliance North Vancouver, BC

Mr. Speaker, one thing that jumped out at me in the speech that my colleague just gave was a bit of a discussion about bureaucrats and their influence on what happens with bills and in this place, and probably happened in this case with the bill.

Although the minister appeared to be unwilling to do anything to change the bill, after having told us it would go to committee for serious consideration, I suspect he was really being persuaded by bureaucrats that it was not necessary to change the bill and he was being fed the line that he then passed on to us.

Although my colleague went to great lengths not to criticize bureaucrats, I would like to ask him to expand just a bit. Does he not find that in the committees, when we are dealing with these bills, there is this overwhelming feeling that the bureaucrats are driving the ministers' presentations, that the bureaucrats are really deciding behind the scenes what will be approved and what will not, that it is not the minister at all who is deciding these things and that in some respects these bureaucrats seem to think that they are in charge? I guess they are, by default.

I have noticed that in a committee that I am on, the Joint Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Regulations. Sometimes we find dreadful problems with some of the regulations that have been conjured up by these bureaucrats. They just ignore our requests for clarification or to fix these things until it gets to the point where we have to subpoena them to appear before our committee because they treat us with such disrespect. They truly think they are the gods in charge of everything and that Parliament is just this annoying thing on the sidelines that occasionally pricks them with a little pin.

Could the member perhaps expand a little on his experience with the bureaucracy and how it tends to interfere with our job as parliamentarians?

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1:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Deepak Obhrai Canadian Alliance Calgary East, AB

Mr. Speaker, we have not discussed the role of the bureaucracy in what is happening in Parliament. We tend to look at bills and we tend to see that the backbenchers do not have power and so on.

My colleague is absolutely right. As I mentioned, I am getting so frustrated with the bureaucracy and with the disrespect the bureaucracy has for members of Parliament that I am becoming an ineffective representative of the people who I was sent here to represent. The bureaucrats think they run the show.

Yes, all of us who have been on committees know that parliamentary secretaries who come to committee have been briefed by the bureaucrats and are told what to say. We all know that after parliamentarians from all sides of the House have reached an agreement on how something should go because of what we have heard, the bureaucrats suddenly interfere.

I want to explain to everyone how the bureaucrats interfere. There is a system in the committee. The government always says that it listens to the committee. What we have now are parliamentary secretaries who are running the agenda after they have come from the bureaucrats. The bureaucrats will indirectly go through them in the committee and suddenly the whip will crack the whip, and boom, whatever is on the agenda is gone.

I do not wish to give the name, but sometime back in the House we moved a motion concerning Taiwan. However the views of the members of Parliament, on both sides of the House, on the motion were contrary to what the bureaucrats, the mandarins, in foreign affairs wanted. What did the mandarins in foreign affairs do? Parliament passed this resolution and boom, they put it off. They had the nerve and the gall to call the representative of Taiwan into their office and try to give him a hard time by asking him why he had lobbied for this when the views of Parliament were contrary to the views of the officials in the Department of Foreign Affairs. This is how deep the interference of the bureaucracy is in trying to pass its own agenda by bypassing Parliament.

The essence of democracy is that this is Parliament and this is where we talk and make our points of view. This is where we agree and the bureaucrats are supposed to do what? They are supposed to implement what we say, not just from their side but from our side as well. That is the way it is supposed to be in a democracy.

However that has all changed. Now it is from the other side coming down to this side. As we sit here I have been frustrated on many occasions, as have all the members of Parliament on this side and, surprisingly, on the government side. Many of the members of the government used to be on this side too. They know how the bureaucracy works but what do they do? They pander to the bureaucracy. Why do we have to pander to the bureaucracy?

To whom is the bureaucracy accountable? The way it is supposed to work is through a narrow window, which would be the deputy minister to a minister, and that is it. There is no other kind of distinction. When bureaucrats come in front of committees, I agree with my friend, we are nuisances and not many members of Parliament to do their job.

I am a critic for the Canadian International Development Agency, CIDA, and I do not even know the name of the new president or where he is. When I meet with the bureaucrats of CIDA they do not even know who I am. They do not even bother watching what we are doing or listening to what we are saying. It is as though I am irrelevant. The opposition is irrelevant. We do not have points of view. They know what is good. They know how to spend the money.

I am proposing that CIDA be accountable to the Parliament of Canada and be legislated. It is not legislated now but it keeps on running, and it will keep running with $3 million more.

Canadians and NGOs are frustrated. They cannot make CIDA listen because the bureaucrats do not have to listen to anyone now. Yes, somewhere, some time we will have to address the issue of the bureaucracy.

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1:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Canadian Alliance Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I hope you enjoy saying Elk Island because after the next election that riding is gone. I hope not to be because I am running in the new riding of Edmonton--Sherwood Park and hope to win the election there.

Today we are dealing with Bill C-3. There are so many lessons that can be learned from the process in Bill C-3 that I think it is worthy of us to pay close attention to what is happening.

I have the difficult chore today of trying to persuade the members opposite, that huge crowd of Liberals sitting in their seats and listening to my every word and argument, to change their minds. However it appears to me that the best I can say is that they are dozing in their seats.

Let us look at the different aspects of the bill, the first being the process. The bill was to go to committee before second reading. The theory behind that was that the members of the committee could have some real input into the shaping of the bill.

I would venture to say that of all of the members in the House, including the hon. member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, I would place the member for North Vancouver even above him in terms of knowledge of electoral processes, general principles of democracy and how they can best be worked out.

It is incredible to me that when the committee came together, only ideas that came from the Liberal side were considered worthy of support and every idea that came from the opposition side was considered worthy of defeat.

We recognize that in a democracy the majority rules, and right now the Liberals have a majority in the House, that is at least on the roster if not presently in the House, but they do have the majority, which means that if a vote is held the majority carries the day. What I object to, though, strenuously, is the fact that in committee there is such an imposition of party discipline.

I have been here now for over 10 years. I was told by my predecessor, Mr. Brian O'Kurley, that the best work I would do would be in committee. When I was appointed to my first committee I looked forward to it. I felt that it was good because it was the place where we could have a democratic process. We could all give our points of view and try to persuade the people on the other side. I felt that being rationale people they would listen to my arguments and if my arguments were sufficiently persuasive that they would surely vote in favour of whatever I proposed.

In many committees over the last 10 years I have had to hang my head in democratic shame over what happens in this place because of the fact that the people with whom we are debating are not permitted to vote according to the persuasion of their mind or their conscience.

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1:15 p.m.

An hon. member

That is a shame.