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House of Commons Hansard #135 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was human.

Topics

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

Bloc

Christian Simard Bloc Beauport, QC

I would appreciate it if certain people could speak less loudly in this House so that I can concentrate.

In regard to partisanship, what was found was quite serious. In his fine speech on Bill C-312, the Bloc Québécois whip also mentioned cases in which Liberals were actually hired to work together with the returning officer, who was himself appointed by the Liberals. There are systemic problems of incompetence and sheer partisanship. That is unacceptable. The member I mentioned has made quite an impressive list of them.

One of the matters that the Chief Electoral Officer has mentioned is the fact that it is virtually impossible for him to fire incompetent returning officers who can defy him and be insubordinate. He noted some cases of this. I see the interest that the hon. member for Gatineau shows in this subject. I am convinced that her returning officer was appointed by her party: this should therefore be very interesting to her.

These basic problems must be corrected. In regard to the party of the hon. member for Gatineau and others—there are not many other representatives of her party in the House at the moment—it is important to note that there are still aberrations, including the resolution of the Liberal Party youth trying to discriminate in political financing in order to try to hurt a recognized political party and make it so that a Quebec voter is not worth as much as a voter elsewhere.

I am referring to what youth in the Liberal Party wanted. Unfortunately, that resolution was passed. I think it is extremely disturbing, from a democratic point of view, that a governing party would try to harm its opponents by disregarding the principles of natural justice.

We could hardly imagine that the Supreme Court would not consider as discriminatory a clause saying that a political party with a certain number of voters would have less funding than another political party with the same number of voters, because it was in one province or another, or had not fielded candidates in all the ridings.

If the Supreme Court has ruled that 50 candidates constitutes a discriminatory minimum number, we can imagine that such an approach would constitute huge discrimination. This clearly shows that a political party is capable of putting into legislation a requirement for the appointment of 308 returning officers who are partisan because they are appointed by the governor in council, when things are done differently, not only in Quebec, but also in four other provinces, if I am not mistaken, where the position of returning officer is advertised in the newspaper and selection is based on competence and on a guarantee of independent opinion and voting.

We are willing to cooperate with the government by passing Bill C-63 to provide for a two-year extension, but we hope that some very fundamental issues will be given serious consideration. Bill C-312 is at the committee stage. It was well received and was approved in principle by the House. Now we must go beyond the principle and pass, without delay, a bill that would correct a democratic abomination, that of appointing partisan returning officers. Many people do not know that those who are appointed returning officers have ties to the party. Most of them are former candidates or supporters. There are cases of incompetence, and the Chief Electoral Officer himself cannot do anything about it. He cannot fire a returning officer who is incompetent. That decision has to be made by the governor in council, which is not very practical during an election campaign, when things are not going too well. In fact, it is impossible.

So that situation needs to be addressed. We need to resist the partisan and almost fanatical temptation to consider that, in terms of election financing, a voter from one party is worth less that a voter from another party and hope to get away with it. I think that the extremely partisan resolution that was adopted at the last convention of the youth wing of the Liberal Party of Canada will have to be set aside for moral and ethical reasons.

In this case, we will cooperate because it is in everyone's best interests. However, to avoid subjecting the House to ridicule, we would not accept another two-year extension after the first one. We are expecting the government to propose a solid reform based on principles. I know this government has a problem with principles, but we will be glad to help if need be.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

Liberal

Françoise Boivin Liberal Gatineau, QC

Madam Speaker, the member for Beauport—Limoilou enjoyed targeting me in his speech, which I found interesting in the beginning. I appreciate the fact that the Bloc Québécois will not oppose the bill introduced in this House. Naturally, since all good things have an end, the member's speech quickly went awry. As a member, at least until very recently, of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, I would like to set the record straight on a number of things he said, including in connection with Bill C-312. Fortunately, he qualified his remarks along the way. Regardless of what he thinks, the hon. members here support the bill now before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. I have myself had the opportunity to state my views on this matter.

The debate is not necessarily on Bill C-312, but the member was very happy to focus on this bill and on the process for appointing returning officers. When addressing the appointment process, one has to consider the current incumbent. When I became the new member of Parliament for Gatineau, there was already a returning officer in place long before I came around. However officers are appointed, I can say that what matters to me is how competent they are. I think that everyone here feels the same way.

In an election campaign, election day is the most important aspect of our electoral process. On the day when voting takes place, efforts have to be made to ensure that the people can come and vote, and that they can do so freely. Efforts are also made to ensure that the whole procedure involved is carried out properly.

In my opinion, what matters is not the process for appointment, but rather to ensure that the individual in the position is competent. The member may laugh, but what matters is transparency. That is why I support Bill C-312 introduced by the whip of the Bloc Québécois. We have no lessons to learn in that respect.

However, the reputation of returning officers is at stake. This is the concept on which I fought in this file, to ensure that people do not make generalizations such as those that we heard from my colleague from Beauport—Limoilou. Some facts must be corrected.

The chief electoral officer, Mr. Kingsley, appeared before the committee. When he answered specific questions, among others, how many cases of incompetence he was aware of, he told us about three individuals. This is three individuals out of 308. Our returning officers across Canada take all the flack. Given my experience in labour law, in labour relations, I do not particularly like the competence of people to be questioned for any principle.

That being said, I will ask my colleague a question. First, I would be curious to know if he has doubts about the competence of the returning officer in the riding of Beauport—Limoilou. Second, concerning the youth resolution, the Prime Minister has been very clear in this regard. In the Liberal Party, we do not muzzle people. On the Conservative side, they do not like to have a youth wing. On the Liberal side, we are not afraid of the ideas of our youth. They help us move forward. We do not always agree with what they propose, but they certainly have the right to express their opinions. This will be the subject of a debate and we will see, at the convention, what we will do in this regard. I find it undemocratic to say that we must muzzle our youth.

Just out of curiosity, does my colleague think that the returning officer in the riding of Beauport—Limoilou is incompetent? If he knows about specific cases of incompetence, he could mention them. This might help the chief electoral officer.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

Bloc

Christian Simard Bloc Beauport, QC

Madam Speaker, I will not get personal and say whether or not I like this returning officer or that one. We are talking about a system, not one or two individual cases. I was quoting what the chief electoral officer himself wrote in his report, and those are the facts.

It is not in 90% of the cases that there are problems, but in 5% to 10% of the cases. However, 10% means 30 or so cases out of 308. It is an area where perfection is desirable. The chief electoral officer did not talk about widespread incompetence. However, there could be no incompetence at all. When such a problem surfaced, we could deal with it because we need to have a system that is 100% reliable.

The issue has nothing to do with whether or not I think that this person or that person is competent. Under the current system, some returning officers themselves are uncomfortable with these appointments. The system needs to be changed.

I am pleased to see that the Liberals are finally supporting this idea, after having gone through many elections with a system that gave them an unfair advantage. That has to be avoided.

I mentioned some cases. She can refer to Hansard . Mr. Guimond was very specific about aberrations, incompetence and democratic dysfunction in relation to this system.

Is it 100%? No, we did not say that. In my opinion, this system deserves better. The key person in any riding—i.e., the returning officer—must be beyond reproach and able to fulfill his duties competently and with professionalism, and that person should be appointed according to proper process. If that individual makes a mistake and does not do a good job, the Chief Electoral Officer must be able to act, correct, train and take the necessary disciplinary measures. This is basic, in my opinion. It is extremely important.

Young people can debate this all they want. However—and I hope the member for Gatineau will do so—we must distance ourselves from positions—no matter whether they are taken by young people or seniors—that are essentially anti-democratic. This must be condemned.

When a mistake is made, even within our own party, if we have principles and integrity, we speak out against it and we do not do that; we allow room for debate. However, this debate is unfortunately being distorted by what these young people are proposing. Ms. Boivin should distance herself from this if she is as democratic as she claims to be.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

NDP

Ed Broadbent NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, I rise to support the measure before us. The only point I will make and extend to other concerns in my brief comments is that in the view of the NDP, there is an urgent need to get on with a review by the proposed committee.

To understate it considerably, the government has not demonstrated any real capacity to move with speed when it comes to democratic reform. I want to use my time to deal with that issue and to put it in the context of the government's earlier commitments to deal expeditiously with parliamentary reform, and specifically electoral reform.

Earlier this year, at a cost to the taxpayers of thousands of dollars a committee of the House sent members from all parties to New Zealand, Australia, Germany, England and Scotland. The committee produced a report in June. After consultation with the deputy House leader, who was then the minister in charge of democratic reform, a series of concrete measures were proposed. There was broad consensus from all parties on most of the items. Then there was a question of implementation dates. There was consultation with the minister responsible. It was agreed and the committee acted with the dates in the report after consultation with the minister. It proposed a set of dates for action and then the committee adopted the report. What has happened since?

I first want to say very precisely what the committee report was intended to do. It was to get the federal government to catch up with five of the provinces that have already embarked on serious reform of the electoral process in Canada. Those five provinces represent well in excess of 50% of the population of Canada and they have already done this. It was hoped that the process would be started in this Parliament and at least partially completed in the event that an election took place early in the new year. That is why the dates were discussed with such care with the minister involved and by members of all parties on the committee.

We wanted to have a process that would ultimately lead to where the other provinces are going. That is a representation system that more or less corresponds to what 90% of the democracies across the world have, either a mixed form of representation with individual constituencies and a major element of proportional representation like there is in Germany, New Zealand, Scotland and many other countries, or a pure form.

We are among the few countries in the world left with an electoral system that originated in a pre-democratic era that had nothing whatsoever to do with democracy. We have carried over into the age of universal suffrage, a system in Canada that under-represents women and ethnic minorities and produces caucuses on both sides of the House of Commons that do not resemble the kinds of votes in different parts of the country. This negatively affects national unity.

We have serious problems, as the Pépin-Robarts commission pointed out about a quarter of a century ago. I do not need to remind many members of the House that Mr. Pépin was a distinguished former Liberal cabinet minister, and John Robarts, of course, was a distinguished former Conservative premier in the province of Ontario. We are playing catch up. That commission's recommendations came a quarter of a century ago.

The minister promised to get on with a process that would start by October 1 this year. It was doable. If it had gone to tender early in July, a company that was competent to undertake the citizen engagement process that the committee wanted could have been picked. It could have started, I repeat, on October 1 if that had been done.

The work could have proceeded with a parallel committee of members of the House looking at proposals that many provinces have already looked at by doing consultations across the country. It could have had a joint session partway through the process and then a citizens engagement. This is a crucial point. All members of the House had agreed on a citizens engagement process to find out what Canadian citizens, regardless of their political preferences on a partisan basis, wanted in a political system.

It was concluded that this engagement with citizens to find out what values they wanted in their electoral system could have been finished by January 30. That date was not a coincidence. It was well known to all members of the committee and the minister responsible that it could be before an election, or it could be right in the middle of a general election. The point was it would be a citizens engagement process. It would become a public document. In either case, in the middle of an election campaign or if it came up before one, we could have had a debate on those principles in the election. My party fully wants to have and intends to have that debate. It would put all parties on the spot to indicate whether or not they were going to go along with what the people of Canada want.

That was deep-sixed, to put it directly. I do not know what the minister's personal final position was on this, but there is no doubt what it was last June. He was in support of the committee process. We have now got a report from the Government of Canada which vitiates and totally kills the possibility of having electoral reform in this Parliament. This is a disgrace. It is a betrayal of a promise that was made in the throne speech. It is a betrayal of the committee's work last June. It totally undermines the credibility of the government when it comes to talking about making democratic reform a priority.

We are going to keep talking about this issue. I repeat that over half of the population of Canada lives in provinces that are already embarked on serious electoral reform to get a more representative system and to get one that corresponds to most of the world's democracies. We are going to keep talking about this issue. One day we will finally get it through the House of Commons.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Madam Speaker, the hon. member's comments were not mostly about the bill at hand. They were mostly about electoral reform.

He is quite right to be frustrated and a good deal more over the way the government is not dealing with electoral reform. He is quite right in his assessment that we can kiss any prospect of electoral reform or any serious discussion of it in this Parliament goodbye as a result of the way the government has gone about frittering away the available time.

He is right also about the general lack of interest. I do not know whether it is insincerity or just a lack of interest in democracy on the part of the Liberals. Whatever it is, we can certainly see nothing happening.

Given these facts, I have to admit that I am a bit surprised that the member indicated that his party will be supporting the bill. I ask why it would be doing this for this reason.

There is a required legislative review of Bill C-3 that is currently in place. There is enough time over the next eight months to engage in this review and to hear the witnesses necessary to learn how other jurisdictions have dealt with this problem. We could have the chief electoral officers of other jurisdictions come before us. This is actually longer than the six month grace period that the Supreme Court originally gave for legislation to be drafted when it passed its Figueroa decision in November 2003. There is plenty of time to deal with this.

Moreover, if an election occurs, the sunset clause says that a further 90 days will be added. There is no prospect of an election occurring during which there would be an absence of law. We would either have Bill C-3 in place, the current provisions, or the new improved provisions that could be put forward if the proper review and sunset clause and therefore new legislation were to come forward as opposed to merely saying, as the Liberals are saying in Bill C-63, “Let us just not have the sunset clause and leave the review in place. We will get around to having a review whenever. Trust us, we will take care of this. Just remove anything that would make us comply with our word”.

Given the Liberals' history with that committee, the member and myself, why on earth would we trust them again? I am wondering if I misunderstood the hon. member when he indicated that his party would be supporting this bill, given the abominable record of the government in so many parallel cases.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Ed Broadbent NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, we do not differ. As he pointed out, we both work on the committee that produced the report on electoral reform. I indicated that given the performance of the government in response to that committee's report, and on other matters, we are quite skeptical about its commitment to now act promptly.

However, I must separate the question of whether or not the government will act promptly with the question of the substance of the bill. We agree with the idea and are saying we are very dubious that the government will act on it. The idea is fine, but I share the hon. member's skepticism completely about the speed with which we can expect the government to act.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Ottawa Centre for addressing the House on this issue, especially at a time when the front page of the local paper, the Ottawa Citizen , has a headline, “Integrity rivals health care as voters' issue”.

It seems to me that this is as much about integrity as it is about electoral reform and I just want to know if I have it straight. The impression I am getting, both from the speech by the member for Ottawa Centre and other discussions I have had with him, is that the government made commitments. A minister of the Crown had off the record, or off-line discussions with the hon. member for Ottawa Centre, and made very clear commitments. The member for Ottawa Centre brought those back to our caucus. He went out on a limb and then was stabbed in the back.

I would like to know whether or not it is that cut and dried, that the government said yes to starting the work, to getting the caucus on side, that it was prepared to do it, and then at the last minute pulled away and was not prepared to move on it. It sounds to me like it is a clear case of back stabbing. I would like the hon. member for Ottawa Centre to perhaps correct me if I am wrong or again make the point that this is as much about betrayal and about integrity as it is about democratic renewal.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Ed Broadbent NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, it is indeed a question of integrity. Two points were clear. First, the minister was not only involved in private discussions with myself but of course with members in his own caucus and with our colleagues in the Conservative Party who were on the committee. All of us understood that the minister had seen these proposed timelines for acting, along the lines I just described. It could have been done within this Parliament, even before an election came down and that is why we put the dates in there that we did.

We wanted to prepare a report that could be acted upon. We did not want it to go off somewhere in the dim distant future and so the commitment was made. There was an understanding.

The second point I made was that I did not know if the minister himself, frankly, went to cabinet and said that he promised members of the committee, including members of his own caucus, that the schedule of events over the summer, if they were started in July, could be done. Did he make the case and was then defeated by his own cabinet? Did the cabinet say, too bad, Mr. deputy House leader, that he may have made the commitment on behalf of the government back in June but that cabinet would turn it upside down? At the very least, that is what has happened.

I do not know if the minister was responsible himself, whether he changed his mind over the summer and reneged on the commitment, or if it was the cabinet that changed his mind for him. One way or another, as my colleague pointed out, there is an integrity issue here.

When ministers of the Crown make commitments to members of the House about a certain course of action, we have every reason to believe those commitments will be lived up to if there is a sort of honour and integrity in politics. I for one am deeply disappointed that we have seen in this case, as we have seen in others, that there seems to be a complete disregard of the normal consideration of ethics and probity in politics in this chamber. It is not acceptable.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

Saint Boniface Manitoba

Liberal

Raymond Simard LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Internal Trade

Madam Speaker, it is important for us to get back to the bill at hand which is Bill C-63. The minister spoke earlier about the fact that it was very important to link Bill C-3 and Bill C-24. Would my hon. colleague agree with that? It seems to me that it would be reasonable for the process to be done at the same time. When we are talking about the government not allowing the review to take place, the opposition has a majority on the committee and in fact control the outcome of the review. Maybe the member could respond to that.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

NDP

Ed Broadbent NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, I have no comment at this time.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Madam Speaker, the bill before the House today, Bill C-63, would make permanent an earlier law, Bill C-3, which came into force in May 2004 on the understanding that it would be a temporary law. Because it was meant only to be temporary, Bill C-3 contained a sunset provision that would cause it to lapse on May 16, 2006, two years after the day on which it had received royal assent. Bill C-63, which is the bill we are debating today, would remove that sunset clause.

The earlier law, Bill C-3, was enacted in response to the 2003 Supreme Court decision in the Figueroa case, which struck down certain provisions of the Canada Elections Act as being in contravention of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Specifically, the provisions were seen by the Supreme Court, quite correctly, as an unconstitutional attempt to limit free speech by placing unreasonable restrictions on the ability of new political parties to compete on an equal footing with the existing major parties.

The Supreme Court stated in its ruling that the offending provisions of the Elections Act would be allowed to remain in place for six months, until June 2004, in order to allow Parliament the necessary time to design amendments that would ensure the smooth functioning of a new charter compliant election law.

Bill C-3 was hurriedly drafted in the spring of 2004 when it became clear that the Prime Minister's rush to call an early election would not leave the House with sufficient time to hold the hearings necessary to meet the looming June deadline set by the Supreme Court and still, within that deadline, properly design a new law.

Thus, when he introduced the bill to the House of Commons, the then minister for democratic renewal, the predecessor of the current minister, made it clear that Bill C-3 was an imperfect stopgap intended solely for the purpose of getting us through the impending election. After the election, a more considered and thoughtful law would be enacted.

I would like to read what the minister, the predecessor of the current minister, said in the House in 2004:

Bill C-3 represents the government's proposed response to the immediate consequences of the Figueroa ruling. This bill does not, however, necessarily constitute a permanent solution. The Figueroa ruling is highly complex, and a more thorough study of its impact is required.

This is why I have written to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to encourage a broader examination of the Canada Elections Act. I have asked the committee, moreover, to present all of its recommendations in the form of a draft bill, within a year's time

Then he added as an editorial:

This is a concrete example of application of our democratic reform.

In order to buy itself a year's grace in which to design a proper law, the government added a sunset clause to Bill C-3, which causes the law to lapse after two years from the date at which it was enacted, which will be May 16, 2006, eight months minus one day from today.

After the election a new minister for democratic reform was appointed. Then he was supplemented by a second minister for democratic renewal, whatever that might be, and they in turn were supplemented by not one, not two, but three parliamentary secretaries for democratic reform and democratic renewal, the hon. members for Beauséjour, Peterborough and Bramalea—Gore—Malton.

I am not sure what the Prime Minister's point was in inventing so many new posts for so many new ministers and secretaries. A surplus of ministers will not solve the democratic deficit. It will create organizational chaos, the same chaos that has caused the government to so completely lose its grip over the electoral reform file, arguably the most important aspect of democratic renewal or democratic reform to face the House of Commons in the 38th Parliament, and that both ministers claim that it is me, not the other minister, who is responsible for this key aspect of the democracy agenda.

In fact, when it comes to electoral reform, the two ministers are so confused as to who is in charge that they have proved incapable of acting on the recommendations of the procedure and House affairs committee, which last June unanimously recommended that the minister, or one of them anyway, set up a consultation process by October 1. That was 17 days ago. Then, having missed the deadlines, the ministers told us they would be ready to have a response for the House by October 20, according to the minister for democratic reform, or else by October 14, according to the minister for democratic renewal.

In the end they wound up proposing a response and bringing it to the House on the Friday before the break. I think they were so embarrassed by it that they did not bring it to the Table. I was in the House that day. I only learned that they had submitted a response when I got a call from a reporter about it. They had submitted the response through what is called the back door. They had taken it directly to the Clerk's office. This is a highly irregular process and one which I think was designed to ensure that there would be no attention to their report, or their non-report, in which they made a serious of outrageous claims about being unable to meet the deadlines set by the committee. This is a committee that negotiated its terms with the full cooperation of the Liberal members of the committee, including one of the three parliamentary secretaries responsible for this.

The confusion was so bad that in late September I had to propose a motion at the procedure and House affairs committee to require the two ministers to appear side by side before the committee to explain who was actually in charge. As to the three parliamentary secretaries, let us look at the grandiose mandate that they were given according to the Prime Minister's action plan for democratic reform in February 2004. It stated:

Parliamentary Secretaries will now play a more active role in ensuring meaningful relations between Ministers and Parliamentarians. In Committees, they will support productive dialogue by sharing departmental information and acting as the Minister's representative to address political issues--

The procedure and House affairs committee held its first meeting of the 38th Parliament over a year ago. One might think that with three parliamentary secretaries charged with responsibility for ensuring meaningful relations and sharing departmental information, the government would have been able to find the time to initiate permanent legislation and make its proposal to the committee, as the former minister for democratic reform had promised before the election. He was, after all, the minister for the same Prime Minister who is in office today.

But as the months that had been purchased with the passage of Bill C-3 last May dribbled away, not a word was breathed on the issue, at least not until early October, when Bill C-63 was introduced by the minister for democratic reform in the House of Commons.

This bill does not propose the necessary improvements or changes anticipated by Bill C-3. Instead, it eliminates the sunset clause, thereby making this inadequate and temporary stopgap law permanent. It proposes and I quote from the text of the projected law:

Within two years after the coming into force of this section, the committee of the House of Commons that normally considers electoral matters--

In other words, the procedure and House affairs committee:

--shall undertake a comprehensive review of the amendments made by this Act and submit a report to Parliament containing its recommendations concerning those amendments.

This means that the six month grace period granted by the Supreme Court in 2003, which had already been extended by two years in 2004 because the Liberal government had frittered away the allocated time, preparing for an early election, when it thought it could capture the polls, without launching a review process to produce adequate legislation, will now be extended for a further two years to provide room for further dithering. This time there is no sunset clause.

If the government does not initiate the review within the next two years, that it has failed to initiate in the past two years, no consequences will ensue. Bill C-3, which was enacted as a legislative band-aid, will become the permanent law of the land.

The small army of ministers and parliamentary secretaries responsible for this portfolio will no doubt protest that this law contains a legal binding requirement for committee review of the provisions contained in the old law. I would have to take off my shoes and socks to count on my fingers and toes all the legally mandated legislative reviews that this government has failed to meet.

On some occasions, mandatory legislative reviews have been dealt with by means of pro forma discussions that are so brief as to be an insult to the legislative process. I will take one example, the Referendum Act contained a provision requiring a mandatory review by the procedure and House affairs committee to take place within three years. The review that took place took less than one minute.

Even if the Liberals permit a review to take place, what guarantee do we have that these two ministers and three parliamentary secretaries or their successors will not treat the recommendation of the procedure and House affairs committee with the same disregard they have just treated the most recent recommendations of this very same committee regarding electoral reform?

Today the government is caught in a bind of its own making. It really will have to conduct the legislative review made necessary two years ago by the Supreme Court's Figueroa decision or else the provisions of Bill C-3 will expire next May, not replaced by any new statute.

This means that if parliamentarians defeat Bill C-63, the government will have no choice but to allow the committee on procedure and House affairs to proceed with the review that the government promised in early 2004, but was too disorganized in 2005 to initiate. If we parliamentarians let the government off the hook by enacting Bill C-63, unless we put a sunset review clause into that bill, this much needed review will never take place.

There are still eight months left prior to the expiry of Bill C-3. That is two months more than the original six month grace period granted in 2003 by the Supreme Court for remedial legislation to be debated. That is plenty of time to bring witnesses, to suggest amendments to the Canada Elections Act and to complete the job that the government with its surfeit of quarrelling ministers seems incapable of initiating on its own. It should be possible for the procedure and House affairs committee to produce a bill and for both Houses of Parliament to pass a new and better act prior to that date. Even if an election intervenes and the House does not resume sitting until after May 16, the sunset provision of Bill C-3 allows an additional 90 days prior to the expiry of that law. If the 38th Parliament cannot complete all stages of the new law, there would still be time to reintroduce what is likely to be a non-confrontational bill.

Nobody disagrees with the basic premise of the bill which is to ensure that a party cannot masquerade as a political party, collect donations, get tax receipts for it and proceed to use them for other purposes. A non-confrontational bill could be dealt with quickly and move through all readings in the 39th Parliament and become the law of the land, assuming of course that we engage in that review process in this Parliament.

With these considerations in mind, I ask that all members of Parliament oppose this bill.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1:45 p.m.

Saint Boniface Manitoba

Liberal

Raymond Simard LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Internal Trade

Madam Speaker, my colleague's last comments made reference to the minority situation in Parliament. Earlier we discussed how imprudent it would be for us not to pass Bill C-63 given the tenuous nature of this Parliament. We do not know if an election will happen in the fall or the spring, and to count on a short term solution to this and a friendly amendment or a bill may not take place. Given the tenuous situation of Parliament, I believe it is prudent for us to act in this fashion.

Could my colleague comment on that?

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1:45 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Madam Speaker, my response to the question about the uncertainty of when an election would occur is to go through the various scenarios. Let me start with the one that the Prime Minister has said will take place.

The Prime Minister said that 30 days after the final report of the Gomery commission he would call an election. That would take about a month. Therefore, sixty days after the final Gomery report we would have an election. That means an election would be held some time around May of next year, just when this bill will expire.

If an election were to occur then, one of two things would happen. First, we would either have dealt with the review of Bill C-3, a review which I do not think would be that difficult or complicated, and we would have passed whatever changes or amendments needed to be made. It could go through the House very easily and be in place before that election. That is one alternative.

Alternatively, the hearings would have taken place and the evidence would have been collected. If we go into an election after May 16 but before the bill has been passed, Bill C-3 would remain in place because of the provision within its sunset clause stating that it is possible for the bill to be extended a further 90 days in the event the House is not sitting. The dangers of an election occurring without a new bill having been passed or with no legislation in place at the time of the next election are very slight if we follow the Prime Minister's guidelines.

If the election happens anytime earlier than that, then presumably it is very straightforward. Bill C-3 would remain in place. There is no danger if an election is called as a result of a non-confidence vote prior to the date proposed to us by the Prime Minister.

The only other possibility would be if the Prime Minister were to break his promise to call an election 30 days after the final Gomery report, which is likely to happen if the polls are not in favour of his winning an election. That is a real danger. Surely we can have the replacement for Bill C-3 put forward before he invents his excuse for delaying the election yet further.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1:45 p.m.

Saint Boniface Manitoba

Liberal

Raymond Simard LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Internal Trade

Madam Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to speak at second reading of Bill C-63, an act to amend an act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Income Tax Act.

The purpose of this bill is to preserve the federal system for registering political parties, which might otherwise be rendered inoperative by a sunset provision. This provision was added to the bill through which new rules were adopted in 2004 on party registration in response to certain fears expressed when the rules were adopted.

I would like to say first that I share the concern expressed by the Deputy Leader of the Government in his speech at second reading of this bill: we are in danger of disabling a crucial part of our democratic system if we fail to act now to revoke the sunset clause.

This is the background against which I will speak today about the importance of political parties in Canada and the need to preserve a good system for registering them.

On the occasion of this debate, I would like to recall what the Royal Commission on Electoral Reform and Party Financing said in its 1991 report about the role that parties play in our system of governance. The royal commission stated, and I quote:

Comparative and historical experience demonstrates that parties, as primary political organizations, are best suited to performing a host of activities essential to representative democracy. Among the fundamental activities performed by parties are the selection and recruitment of candidates for elected office, the selection of political leaders and the organization of electoral competition.

The electoral and institutional successes of parties depend, in part, on their ability to establish meaningful linkages with citizens by articulating policy alternatives and ideas, and by establishing themselves as vehicles for political participation and education. Together, these many activities aim to provide parties with a capacity to represent different...interests in society and to structure and order choices for the purpose of governing.

In this paragraph of four sentences, the royal commission recognized the central role that political parties play in different aspects of our democratic life.

In addition to the obvious role played by parties during elections, the royal commission noted that they also played a role in matters of governance, public education and the public's level of civic awareness and commitment to public affairs and policy making. This is a broad range of roles affecting a number of aspects of democratic renewal.

Some may counter that modern political parties do not fulfil one or more of those roles properly. Too often we hear comments about their apparent neglect of certain aspects of their role in favour of preparing for elections. They are often criticized for being “vote-producing machines”.

I wanted to refer to those criticisms today because it is important to work toward achieving the full potential of the political parties, thereby enhancing our democracy. Despite those criticisms, in fact, there is no denying that political parties represent a vital foundation for our democratic system.

Moreover, given their central role in numerous aspects of our democratic life, political parties constitute a major item to be examined in any study with a view to improving our democracy.

Among other things, we need to encourage political parties to pay more attention to those important functions. Allowing the rules for political party registration to disappear would negate that statement, since they play an essential role in our democracy.

I would like to point out in closing that it is precisely because those rules for registration constitute an important component of our democratic infrastructure that we added a sunset clause back in 2004. The purpose of that was to try to keep the system in place until such time as the concerns raised about the new rules could be examined.

That process will begin shortly, as soon as the Chief Electoral Officer has tabled his recommendations report on political financing. Meanwhile, as the first step in that process, we are being called upon to take the necessary steps to ensure the continuation of a valid registration system.

Given the important role the rules for registration of political parties play in our democratic system, this is a vital first step, and that is why I will be supporting this bill.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1:50 p.m.

Beauséjour New Brunswick

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, we have listened to the discussion with respect to this legislation. Many members have spoken on other items which may be before the House or in the public domain. We have heard some comments, for example, about the appointment of returning officers. We have heard comments about the government's ambitious and constructive agenda with respect to democratic reform.

Could the Parliamentary secretary share with us some of his views with respect to the important aspects of democratic reform that the government has undertaken? In the responsibilities he has, shared among other members, we have looked at the whole aspect of private members' business. Members of the opposition referred to this earlier. We have looked at improvements that could be made to the Standing Orders so committees could be very active.

I know this might appear to be somewhat outside the scope of the debate, but since we have been listening to other members discuss this issue, I thought the parliamentary secretary could share with us some of his views not only on the importance of the legislation being passed and passed quickly, but also on the broader agenda the government has undertaken with respect to democratic reform and improving the functioning of the House of Commons, not only specific electoral financing provisions.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1:55 p.m.

Liberal

Raymond Simard Liberal Saint Boniface, MB

Madam Speaker, my hon. colleague makes a very good point. Most of the discussion this afternoon and morning did not focus on the bill at hand. What the minister indicated earlier on today was the importance of us following through on a commitment and not allowing the period to elapse, ending up with a very untenable situation. I believe everybody here is very much on board in terms of whether we should discuss Bill C-3 and Bill C-24. We should review them at the same time. I think everybody agrees with that. I do not think there is a dispute there at all. It only makes a lot of sense.

My feeling is that if we had kept to the discussion at hand, we would be talking about a government that is prudent, that ensures that we do the right thing in a minority situation.

When it comes to electoral reform or democratic reform, my colleague makes a very good point. One thing I would like to talk about, which I have not heard here, is free votes in the House of Commons. On this side of the House, we have had the most free votes in a long period of time. I am very proud to talk positively about that. I am not sure I can say the same thing about the other side of the House, but my colleagues will confirm that.

Again, with respect to private members' business, we have been very aggressive in ensuring that private members get their say and get to discuss their bills in the House.

In terms of democratic reform, we have absolutely nothing of which to be ashamed.

SudanStatements By Members

1:55 p.m.

Liberal

Borys Wrzesnewskyj Liberal Etobicoke Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I recently returned from a fact-finding mission to Sudan, including the devastated Darfur region, where millions of displaced persons live in refugee camps.

Despite warnings, I travelled to this region to see for myself the conditions in the camps to examine the response of Canada and the international community.

I am pleased to report that we should be proud of our Canadian Forces personnel. Our solders, acting as trainers with the African Union mission, are exceptionally professional while working under extremely difficult circumstances. Canada's involvement in Darfur is saving thousands of lives every month.

It was encouraging to see aid was reaching the camps where schools and hospitals were operating. While international NGOs had done a tremendous job in the camps, Darfuris still cannot return to their homes.

Days before my arrival there were a series of attacks where villages were burned to the ground by Janjaweed militia and Sudanese army forces. In the last few days, insurgents have kidnapped and killed African Union peacekeeping troops.

Canada and the international community must continue to help the refugees of Sudan and remain engaged in this country.

Chief of Police for Durham RegionStatements By Members

October 17th, 2005 / 2 p.m.

Conservative

Colin Carrie Conservative Oshawa, ON

Mr. Speaker, after serving as the head of Durham region's police force for seven years, I stand in the House today to thank Chief Kevin McAlpine for his years of exceptional service to Oshawa and Durham region. He will be remembered for his many contributions to the force, most notably increasing the number of officers on the front lines.

Earlier this month, Oshawa welcomed Durham region's new chief, Mr. Vernon White, to our community. I had the immense honour of introducing Chief White to the citizens of Oshawa last week at my town hall meeting on crime and justice. Chief White and I listened to constituents concerned about the failure of the Liberal government to protect society's most vulnerable by refusing to enact mandatory prison sentences for violent and repeat offenders and opposing Conservative efforts to raise the age of consent from 14 to 16.

I look forward to working with Chief White in the future. It is great to see another Cape Bretoner making a difference in Oshawa.

AgricultureStatements By Members

2 p.m.

Liberal

Peter Adams Liberal Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, after two years, the U.S.-Canada border is open again to Canadian meat and animals. There is still some uncertainty in the U.S. courts but trade has resumed. We must learn from this tragic experience.

We now know that neither the ruminant industries nor governments were prepared for a prolonged border closing. The opening of the border to meat after 100 days gave us a false optimism which slowed down industry reforms in Canada.

We now know that we should never again become dependent on U.S. processors. We need to have the capacity to slaughter and process all our own animals. I am pleased that we are making progress on this.

Also, we should never again become so dependent on a single market no matter how lucrative that market. Canadian product has access to almost 70 markets around the world. The government and the industry should continue to nurture and expand these.

I thank all the farmers in the Peterborough area for their fortitude, courage and initiative during the BSE crisis.

Myra CreeStatements By Members

2 p.m.

Bloc

Bernard Cleary Bloc Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to pay tribute today to a great lady who passed away on October 13. Myra Cree was born in Kanesatake in 1937. She was the daughter and granddaughter of Mohawk chiefs.

This well-known journalist and radio personality lost her battle with cancer and died at home surrounded by loved ones at the age of 68. Her passing is also a loss to Quebec of an ambassador for aboriginal values, culture and language.

I had the pleasure of working with her on many occasions. Each time I saw how proud Quebeckers, all of us, were of Myra Cree.

The Bloc Québécois offers its most sincere condolences to her loved ones.

Fall FairsStatements By Members

2 p.m.

Liberal

Russ Powers Liberal Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, as autumn fades about us, I wish to recognize the important contribution that local fall fairs make to our communities each year. The fair board members and volunteers contribute long hours to highlight our regions' rich agricultural bounty and provide a showcase for local talent while bringing urban and rural folk together for an experience that is both educational and entertaining.

I want to congratulate the Ancaster Agricultural Society on celebrating the 155th anniversary of the Ancaster Fair and the Rockton Agricultural Society on celebrating the 153rd anniversary of the Rockton World's Fair.

I want to thank all those who contribute to the success of this important tradition that enriches our lives and celebrates our agricultural community each and every fall.

ImmigrationStatements By Members

2 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Mr. Speaker, on October 24, 2002, the House voted unanimously in favour of a motion calling on the government to urge Chinese authorities to allow 13 imprisoned Falun Gong practitioners with close family ties to Canada, including Mingli Lin, to reunite with their families in this country.

Since that time, many of the practitioners, including Mingli Lin, have been released from Chinese custody and have attempted to rejoin their families in Canada and in all cases, except Mingli Lin, they have been issued visas. However, due to a mess-up in the local consulate in Shanghai, Mr. Lin was denied an immigration visa, in contradiction, in violation, indeed, in contempt of a unanimous decision of Parliament.

I have continually questioned and written to the Minister of Immigration and his predecessor on this subject requesting that Mingli Lin be allowed to rejoin his family in this country at once. As a result of the passage of time and the minister's inaction, Mingli Lin was again arrested for practising his conscience by Chinese authorities on the night of October 9. He remains detained and it is expected he will receive a prison sentence, thanks to the inaction of the minister.

Breast CancerStatements By Members

2:05 p.m.

Liberal

Marc Godbout Liberal Ottawa—Orléans, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is estimated that over 21,000 women in Canada will be diagnosed with breast cancer and that over 5,000 this year alone will die of it.

Recently I participated in one of the local community's Run for the Cure event. This is an annual event and is in its 14th year. A local resident, Lynn Sewell from Blackburn Hamlet, started a local run for two reasons: to support a friend who at the time was undergoing treatment; and, for members of the community who were unable to go downtown for the larger event.

Each year the number of participants increases and this year the Blackburn Hamlet Run for the Cure raised more than $10,000 with the help of individuals, local businesses and schools.

Therefore I would like to take this opportunity to encourage other communities to get involved and help in the fight to eliminate breast cancer. Together I am optimistic that we can and will find a cure.

I want to thank Lynn Sewell.

World Food DayStatements By Members

2:05 p.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, yesterday was World Food Day. This year's theme was “Agriculture and Intercultural Dialogue”.

This theme recalls the contribution of different cultures to world agriculture and argues that sincere intercultural dialogue is a precondition for progress against hunger and environmental degradation.

Agriculture still powers the economies of most developing and industrialized countries. Historically, very few countries have experienced rapid economic growth and poverty reduction that has not been either preceded or accompanied by agricultural growth.

Agriculture has to be seen as a way of life, as our heritage, as our cultural identity; it has no price tag.

The Bloc Québécois commends farmers in Quebec and throughout the world. Their contribution to the development of our communities is a worthy one.

Citizenship WeekStatements By Members

2:05 p.m.

Liberal

Susan Kadis Liberal Thornhill, ON

Mr. Speaker, beginning today, Canadians across our country will be celebrating Citizenship Week. This year's theme, “Cultivate Your Commitment to Canada”, is dedicated to encouraging the spread of peace, the promotion of respect and to being a global citizen.

It is Canada's diverse population that helps form our identity as a nation. Irrespective of age, gender, race or creed, it is a week for all of us to appreciate what it means to be a Canadian citizen. Having participated in many citizenship ceremonies, I personally have seen the pride in the eyes of our newest Canadians.

Across Canada, every year over 150,000 people become Canadian citizens. In my riding of Thornhill we welcomed this year 1,268 new and valued Canadian citizens. They help make Canada the most successful diverse nation in the world.

During this week it is critical that we reflect on the positive impact that Canadian citizenship has on not only our newest citizens but on all of us as Canadians.