moved that BillC-63, An Act to amend An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Income Tax Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to begin the debate at second reading of Bill C-63, which is entitled an act to amend An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Income Tax Act.
We are referring here to a change to the act providing new rules for the registration of political parties, passed by this House in 2004 under the name Bill C-3. I will provide an overview today of the context in which the new rules were adopted in 2004 and will speak to the need to act quickly in order to preserve the system for registering political parties.
Bill C-63 proposes to do this by abrogating the sunset clause included in Bill C-3. It would be replaced by a provision requiring mandatory review of the new registration rules by a committee of this House.
The party registration rules adopted in 1970 required a party to endorse 50 candidates at a general election. It was believed that this would ensure that opportunistic groups masquerading as political parties did not gain access to the public funding that flowed from being a registered party.
The adoption of new rules was made necessary after the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the 50 candidate threshold in the Figueroa decision. The threshold was found to be contrary to the right to vote and to be a candidate as guaranteed by section 3 of the charter. The Supreme Court suspended its decision for one year to provide an opportunity for Parliament to amend the Canada Elections Act and it was in this context that Parliament considered Bill C-3.
Bill C-3 was introduced on February 10, 2004 to lower the threshold to just one candidate and make other changes to prevent abuse of the public funding of political parties.
In particular, there is a new definition of “political party”. It states that one of the fundamental purposes of a party must be to participate in public affairs by endorsing one or more candidates in an election. To determine the eligibility of a party that applies, the Chief Electoral Officer will require a valid declaration from the party leader that his or her party meets this definition and he or she must be satisfied that it does.
During the various steps in the study of this bill, many people raised concerns about the new rules under consideration. Some wondered whether setting the threshold at a single candidate would not allow opportunistic groups to get public funding. Others were concerned that as a result of the one-year suspension of the Supreme Court decision, no complete examination had been made of the Canada Elections Act to identify other provisions that might be challenged like Figueroa. Finally, the Chief Electoral Officer was opposed to this new job of evaluating whether applicants meet the definition of a political party.
In view of all these concerns, all parties agreed to add a two-year sunset provision to Bill C-3.
Since the former Bill C-3 came into force on May 15, 2004, the two year sunset will operate on May 15 of next year, if it is not repealed beforehand. The sunset of the former Bill C-3 would mean that there would no longer be rules for the registration and deregistration of federal political parties. Such a closed system would be contrary to the charter and would be contrary to the democratic standards of Canada.
Some may question why a review of the new rules was not carried out previously within the period of time of two years provided in the sunset clause.
In response, it is important to remember that the adoption of Bill C-3 was closely followed by the dissolution of Parliament nine days later. The minority Parliament that resulted from this election was opened on October 5, 2004.
Soon after, and at the request of the chair of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, I wrote to the committee to suggest that the government's preference would be to review the new registration rules at the same time as the statutorily mandated review of the political financing regime adopted in 2003 with Bill C-24. Indeed, since these issues are intricately linked, such a joint process still makes sense.
The review of the new political financing rules will be carried out by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs once the Chief Electoral Officer issues his recommendations on political financing.
When I wrote to the chair of the standing committee in November 2004, the Chief Electoral Officer's report was expected in the spring of 2005. However, due to the need for his office to focus resources on election preparedness, because of the minority Parliament, the Chief Electoral Officer has since indicated that his report would only be submitted this fall, in two volumes.
In the first volume submitted in September, a few days after the opening of this session of Parliament, dealing with non-financial matters, the Chief Electoral Officer recommended that the sunset clause in Bill C-3 be removed. His second volume of recommendations, dealing with political financing, will be submitted later this session and a joint review of Bill C-3 and Bill C-24 would then be possible.
Given the need for a comprehensive review, and the government's commitment to hold an election 30 days after the issue of the final Gomery report, the government's proposal in the bill is prudent and responsible. Bill C-63 would provide a two year period during which this review is to take place to account for all contingencies, including election scenarios.
I want to close by saying that the registration and financing rules for political parties are closely linked. Registration gives parties access to public funds, which allows them to take part in the elections and maintain their registration. Bill C-63 will lead to a full examination of these fundamental aspects of the Canada Elections Act.
For all these reasons, I am calling on the hon. members to support Bill C-63 and to refer it to a committee for consideration so that we can pass it as quickly as possible.