Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to take part in the current debate on Bill C-63, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Income Tax Act.
In fact, this is a very technical bill that contains only one page, but an important one. Any bill to amend our electoral system, which is the foundation of our democracy, must be taken seriously. Such is the case here, even though this is a sunset amendment that, by definition, provides for a time limit before considering a bill that will constitute a more thorough and overall reform of the Elections Act itself.
The background of this bill, we may recall, replicates another two-year sunset bill, which followed the Supreme Court decision in the Figueroa case. The Supreme Court ruled that it was discriminatory to impose a minimum number of candidates that a political party had to nominate to be registered as such. Previously, the act had put this number at 50. However, the Supreme Court ruled that this measure was discriminatory. While awaiting a thorough reform that would result in a more integrated and thoughtful piece of legislation, the House passed a bill that received royal assent in May 2004, if I am not mistaken, just in time for the June 2004 election. That bill filled the legal void created by the Supreme Court decision.
The bill allows a political party to nominate only one candidate in order to be registered. Of course, there are other conditions, such as a minimum number of members, which has been set at 250, I believe, and also a minimum number of leaders. This measure is aimed at preventing a person from suddenly proclaiming himself or herself a political party. There has to be a minimum number of rules.
It must be recognized that these rules are an absolute minimum. Of course, we must think about a better way to monitor the registration of political parties in Canada. However, that is not the purpose of this bill. Rather, it seeks to prevent a situation from occurring. The previous legislation was going to expire two years after being passed, that is in May 2006, which is a time when an election may be called again. Therefore, it was important to extend the provision, since the government has not yet completed its homework and the report of the Chief Electoral Officer has not yet been tabled—it will be in the fall. So, some elements were missing to conduct this in-depth reform.
We prefer to extend the original legislation in extenso and still provide for a two-year period. However, the government would be well advised not to do this again, otherwise the House will become a laughing stock if the same bill comes up again in two years. So, it will be important to present a more general bill, as opposed to sunset legislation.
The Bloc Québécois will not oppose this change. It was never our strategy to resort to democratic obstruction. It is important that elections take place under a legal framework. Therefore, it would be irresponsible to oppose this bill, which allows for the next election to be held in a calm, clear and transparent legal context. Since it is important that this be the case, we will not oppose this legislation.
However, we cannot help but comment on the Canada Elections Act as a whole, which is targeted by the bill before us. The act provides that the registration of political parties is subject to a minimum number of candidates. Should we set such a minimum or not? What would be discriminatory and what would not be discriminatory? Of course, since this is about the registration and recognition of political parties, the issue of political party financing quickly comes to surface. Since these issues are related, it is important to discuss them.
My comments will deal with the democratic history of the party in office, as it relates to the Canada Elections Act.
We hope it will not be the case when this reform comes to pass—one that has been long-awaited, hence the need to pass Bill C-63 now—seeing that the House is not prepared. The government was not prepared, nothing new about that.
It is really important now to ensure that, when this reform is being studied, two problems will already have been solved. Indeed there is a problem. My colleague, the whip for the Bloc Québécois and member for Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, has introduced Bill C-312, which is now in committee.
The intention of that bill is to remedy a democratic aberration in Canada's electoral process: the appointment by the government—that is the party in power—of 308 returning officers on a purely partisan basis. Huge problems arise as a result. The Chief Electoral Officer has spoken out about this on numerous occasions. These returning officers are appointed for 10-year periods, and often have no qualifications other than having been either active in the Liberal Party or former Liberal candidates. This creates problems as far as qualifications and partisanship are concerned, and casts a shadow over any electoral system worthy of the name.
A spade must still be called a spade. An electoral system with such a clause is a tainted system. It causes problems. I am not the one who says this. The Chief Electoral Officer's report after the last election was quite clear in this regard.
Allow me to quote him. On page 1 of his report, the Chief Electoral Officer said:
I know that about 10 cases of insubordination, three problems involving conflict of interest, about 14 problems of incompetence, some 10 cases involving a lack of computer skills, which is a different area. The document—I imagine he is referring to a document that he submitted—includes the names of the returning officers and the ridings.
I will let other speak about their political perception when they are candidates for a party other than the government party, which appointed the returning officers