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.