House of Commons Hansard #116 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was inuit.


Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

6:15 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is there unanimous consent?

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

6:15 p.m.

Some hon. members


(Motion agreed to)

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

6:15 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, just for clarification if this happens again in the future, it is my understanding that the motion should have been to revert to routine proceedings and then to request the tabling of the report. I understand it is the will of the House, but I would seek that clarification.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

6:20 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I thank the hon. member for Mississauga South. I think we could have done it either way. One can either ask to revert to routine proceedings or to just ask for unanimous consent and it takes about the same amount of time.

It being 6:20 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The House resumed from May 9 consideration of the motion that Bill C-312, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (appointment of returning officers), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

Peterborough Ontario


Peter Adams LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join the debate on Bill C-312, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act, concerning the appointment of returning officers.

We have followed this debate since the first hour of second reading with great interest. Despite some differences, it is clear that there are fundamental points of agreement.

I would like to re-stress, though, the fact that in the context of hiring returning officers everyone must understand that an open competition within the meaning of this act is not interpreted in such a manner as to undermine the value of experience in election campaigns as well as local riding experience. As the royal commission noted, such experience is a legitimate indication of competence for the position.

Thus, it would be unfortunate if a returning officer were selected in a fashion that would give preference to hiring individuals without any political experience and with no prior participation in election campaigns. In my view, the consequences of this would be very serious.

However, we do know that initially the government had reservations regarding this bill and we now believe that it would be premature to make changes one at a time without a fuller understanding of the larger picture.

There would appear to be a firm consensus among the parties represented in this House that the appointment system can be improved by ensuring greater transparency and professionalism and by basing selection on competence.

Having heard the views expressed in the first hour of the second reading debate, we are now faced with the fact that disagreement primarily concerns the bill's specific provisions rather than its main principles.

For this reason, my fellow government members and I consider that the principle of the bill should be supported. This does not mean that there will be no objections to the bill's specific provisions. In the government's view, it would be preferable to amend the bill in committee in order to correct certain shortcomings.

In conclusion, in the short time that I have available I wish to repeat that the principles of transparency, professionalism and selection based on competence are crucial to ensuring an effective electoral administration process.

However, the adoption of a new system must undergo rigorous review to rule out any potential unwanted, unanticipated effects. For example, as I mentioned earlier, it should at least be necessary to ensure that an open competition under the Public Service Employment Act does not undermine the value, first and foremost, of prior participation in an election campaign, which is nevertheless relevant experience for a returning officer. This is but one example of the consideration that must be taken into account at the committee stage.

Moreover, the standing committee will work to amend the bill to give greater effect to its key underlying principles: transparency, professionalism and selection based on competence.

Ultimately, we want to ensure that the various aspects of our electoral process, whether it be political financing, registration of political parties or the appointment of returning officers, meet the needs of Canadians and reflect our vision of a modern democracy. That is consistent with the spirit of democratic renewal. That is why I support the bill at this second reading stage.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.


Rob Anders Conservative Calgary West, AB

Mr. Speaker, I must admit I am pleasantly surprised that the government is now in favour of this legislation. The Liberals spoke very vociferously against it in the past, but I am glad to see that they have read the writing on the wall and know that it will pass because all three other parties in the House are of that mindset. I am glad to see that they are smelling the coffee and coming to.

Nonetheless, I will put on the record what I think are the important aspects of this bill.

First, the returning officer for each electoral district would no longer be appointed by the governor in council. Why do I support this? Because the “governor in council” really means the Prime Minister's Office and what that really means is that these electoral positions are merely positions of patronage. We would like to see that changed.

One of the great problems with the previous incarnation, those people being appointed by the Prime Minister's Office, was that there was no right to fire those election officers for abuse of their positions. That was a great problem. Many examples have been cited in the House by the different parties on that matter. I will go into a few of them.

My party and I certainly support the decentralization of power from the Prime Minister's Office. I think that is a move in the right direction. I think it also helps to clean up our political practices. It is interesting to note that both in the past and currently a great number of the people who have had these patronage positions have been involved with the Liberal Party of Canada. They have been friends of the government, former organizers for the governing Liberal Party or former Liberal Party candidates. That is important to note.

I have read the previous debates on this issue. It was interesting to note that this change to the law has been in effect in the province of Quebec since 1980. I am sure that my Bloc colleague will touch on some of this. It was through his speech that I was actually informed of this.

This change on the returning officers is a general move to make the process more open and transparent . It would involve using newspaper advertisements to advertise these positions and then accept the applications and judge them on their merits, competence and qualifications.

I would like to point out that when it comes to questions about those of us in the House in regard to our own nominations, my constituency association is obligated to put a notice in a local newspaper at least two weeks in advance of the nomination deadlines so that everybody has the ability to run. I have been through four of these processes, so I know well of what I speak. It certainly makes for an open and accountable process.

The irony of the current situation is that it gives only the person who hires these people the right to fire them. If someone is hired by the Prime Minister's Office, with the Chief Electoral Officer having no ability to do anything, and we get a dud, we are all stuck with it. There have been cases of that in the past.

One of my colleagues is very involved in democratic reform. The member for Lanark--Frontenac--Lennox and Addington has talked about some additions he would like to make to this legislation or some things to be considered as friendly amendments. One that I would like to touch on is an idea of training and testing.

The Bloc member, who has spoken on this before, talked about people being trained appropriately and about making sure they have full knowledge of the Canada Elections Act. I would add to his speech by saying that I hope these people are also tested on their thorough knowledge of the Canada Elections Act to prevent any of the previous problems.

In the member's last presentation, he spoke about how even current presidents of Liberal riding associations have actually been appointed to be the returning officers in their ridings. He listed specifically the riding of Ahuntsic, where the returning officer was the president of the Liberal riding association. If that is not a spurious and strange conflict of interest, I do not know what is.

He also put forward a story that I thought was fascinating. A returning officer hired a poll clerk who was unable to read or write. One would think that with the very idea or concept of the term “clerk” the person should be able to read or write, but that clearly was not a factor for the Prime Minister's Office when it selected that returning officer, who then chose the poll clerk.

I would say that this bill is an improvement to our electoral law. I was offered the opportunity of serving in the 1993 election in one of these capacities. I declined because I was hoping to help my party, and I did so, but I am somewhat envious of the experience of being involved in the nuts and bolts of the adjudication of the election process.

I was so enamoured of this idea that I actually wanted to go over to the Ukraine when the citizens had their parliamentary elections recently. I wanted to be involved in that, but unfortunately I was too sick to go at Christmas. I would have loved to participate the riding of Calgary--Nose Hill, or Calgary North as it was in 1993, but did not get the opportunity, and in every subsequent election I have been on the ballot as a candidate, so obviously I could not be involved in the process other than to serve as the candidate.

I also would like to put on the record that there are various other electoral reforms that I think are timely and needed. These go back to my early involvement with my party in 1993 and even to supporting it in the 1988 election. I still support the idea of recall. I still support the idea of binding referendums, be they national, provincial or otherwise. I still support the idea of citizens' initiatives, the idea that citizens can band together, sign up thousands of their fellow citizens, make changes to the law and take the power away from politicians and from this place. I support that.

I realize that this bill also attempts to professionalize these positions. I think that is a good thing. I have been reading a lot of history recently in light of the marriage debate in this House. I have realized that the British civil service was well respected because of its professionalism. It thoroughly trained and disciplined its civil service to make sure that those people did as close to their best as possible when they were administering things on behalf of the British empire, and it was well respected. I think that professionalization of these types of things is a smart move.

In reading the previous speeches, I was intrigued with the story my fellow Conservative colleague told of how there had been a returning officer put into his riding who did not have proper local knowledge. This person set up a polling location that could be accessed through what was called the California trail. As it turns out, the California trail was actually a snowmobile trail that could only be accessed by snowmobile in the winter and had no viability in the summer when the polling location was in operation. It points very clearly to the fact that if someone without local knowledge uses a snowmobile trail as a valid way of getting to the polls, it just does not count.

He also gave examples of how this person without local knowledge did not have enough forms at the particular polling location. As a result, they ran out of printed forms to allow people to enter their names onto the ballot. It was a nasty experience. There was a blockade of irate voters and the police had to be called in.

My Conservative colleague in a previous incarnation also spoke of a review mechanism. Many of my colleagues in the House, when we have our election campaigns, probably conduct some sort of post-mortem on our elections to determine what went right and what went wrong. I think a similar review mechanism is probably good idea with regard to these individuals as well.

As I wrap up my speech, I would like to state Conservative Party policy number six:

A Conservative government will ensure that senior officers such as the Auditor General, Chief Electoral Officer, Comptroller General, Ethics Commissioner, Information Commissioner, and Privacy Commissioner will be appointed by Parliament and report to it.

That is something that very much fits the spirit of this bill. I hope that sometime within the next year a Conservative government would be able to introduce and follow through on a version of this legislation.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.


Paul Crête Bloc Rivière-Du-Loup—Montmagny, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very happy this evening to speak in this second hour of the debate to Bill C-312, introduced by the member for Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, whom we should congratulate on this initiative.

At the present time, the appointment of returning officers is rather archaic. It goes back virtually to the beginnings of Confederation. An advantage was built in, at the beginning of election campaigns, for the outgoing government. Ultimately, the fact that the Prime Minister decides the timing of elections is the same kind of advantage. In actual practice, this has been unhealthy for democracy. Even though most of the people who fill this office want to act very properly, in actual practice, there is a basic problem with justice or the appearance of justice.

I remember the first time that I was a candidate in 1993 and was told about the returning officer at the time. People say, obviously, that this person is appointed by the government in place and is necessarily partisan. This creates an initial inequality. The situation must definitely be corrected.

Not only the Bloc Québécois says this. We are very happy today to see that the government has been persuaded by the arguments of the Bloc Québécois and especially the member for Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord. A little while ago, a government representative told us that it would vote in favour of this bill in principle. We are very pleased. It seems that now all the members of this House will be in favour of the bill.

One of the main arguments is that the federal election process clearly lags behind what is done in most of Canada, and especially the process adopted in Quebec 15 years ago already. There is a very rigorous process for selecting returning officers. There are steps with evaluations and recommendations. Then there is a process for training these people. As a result, we have eliminated the problem encountered on the federal level that was clearly outlined in the first hours of the debate by the member who introduced this motion. There is a list of unacceptable situations and behaviours engaged in by returning officers, often unwittingly, but which indicate a lack of knowledge that must be remedied very quickly.

The purpose of the bill before us is to set up a system that will give more credibility to returning officers who will be able to act in full knowledge of their mandate, which will be given to them not by the government calling the election, but by the Chief Electoral Officer. The result will be a greater level of impartiality than we have today.

The Chief Electoral Officer has repeatedly stated that he was in a very difficult, almost unbearable, situation. He does not appoint the returning officers. When the person does not perform the task properly and decides simply to disregard the Chief Electoral Officer, the latter has no recourse. In such a situation, the Chief Electoral Officer has absolutely no power to conduct the electoral process in a satisfactory manner.

We saw this in a number of ridings. At the start of the election, there were some stumbles in the appointment process that required many adjustments and caused a great deal of frustration among the various political parties.The threat of partisanship always hung over the heads of those performing these tasks, like the sword of Damocles.

The purpose of today's bill is to resolve this problem. It would be a major improvement to Canada's current democratic system. I am sure that in the very short term, starting with the next election or the one following, if we manage to adopt this new method, there will be an improvement in the quality of work done and the quality of the relationship between the candidates and the returning officer, who will be mandated directly by the Chief Electoral Officer.

This way, the Chief Electoral Officer could be involved in all the usual stages of personnel management: overseeing the selection of returning officers; ensuring that they are competent; ensuring they get any training they lack; having their work regularly evaluated to ensure they are doing their work properly.

It would all be done in the context of a more standard and fair relationship between employer and employee. At the moment, once they are appointed, returning officers cannot be relieved of their duties, except by the governor in council. As I said earlier, the Chief Electoral Officer is thus put in an untenable situation that could lead to significant abuse.

In the opinion of the Chief Electoral Officer, “The current system of appointment creates several difficulties”. Here is what he thinks:

Appointees are often not given enough advance information about the nature of the work expected of them.

Failure to perform or poor performance by a returning officer cannot effectively be addressed under the current system.

I mentioned this a few minutes ago.

Returning officers are instrumental in delivering elections in their electoral district. In light of this important role, candidates have raised concerns in the past that the control of the governing party over the appointment process gives rise to perceptions of bias.

It is not a Bloc member saying this. These are submissions by the Chief Electoral Officer himself. He wants to see a change similar to what the Bloc member for Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord is proposing. We must follow up on this recommendation. We must ensure that this amendment will be in force before the next election. By doing so, Canada's electoral system will take an important step forward that will allow Canada to join a number of other provinces, namely Quebec, that have already done so.

We saw everything that came out of the sponsorship scandal, and how the 1997 and 2000 elections unfolded, particularly in Quebec. As a result, the system needs to be cleaned up even more. This bill is one of the best tools to do that.

We must ensure the impartiality and competence of returning officers, those who do the job, and of the candidates and political parties involved in the election. Our system must not only be fair, it must also appear to be sufficiently fair.

For all these reasons, we feel it is extremely important for the House to overwhelmingly support this bill. We have already been told that the government has accepted the substantive argument on the principle. We hope that all the other parties and members of the House will vote in favour of this motion.

The sponsor of the motion is open to suggestions and comments in committee in order to improve the bill. However, we must respect the principle of the bill.

Our electoral process must serve as an example instead of being an anachronism based on old biased rules that no longer have a place in our democratic system.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

6:40 p.m.


Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord for introducing Bill C-312 on the appointment of returning officers.

Today, in 2005, in the name of democracy, it is time to take a step forward in eliminating the partisanship that comes with the government choosing returning officers. Even though we live in a democratic country, it is the government that decides on the appointment of returning officers.

There is a need for transparency and the best way to achieve that would be to support our colleague's bill. This bill talks about the appointment of the returning officer by means of an open competition for which eligibility is limited to persons who are qualified as electors and who are domiciled in the electoral district for which the appointment is being made, or domiciled in an adjacent electoral district but able to perform the functions of a returning officer as satisfactorily as if they were domiciled in the electoral district for which the appointment is being made. It is a question of qualification. Nonetheless, there is an open competition, and there is also an election involving several political parties. The political party calling the election absolutely must not use partisanship in appointing its returning officers. To be frank, we discussed this in the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. This is not a pleasant topic to discuss. The returning officer might not like a certain candidate, which adds to the pressure on the candidates.

All the political parties are present in this House, and at last the Liberals say they are prepared to support the bill and will try to improve it. Any bill has the potential to be improved in committee and then sent back to the House, and I strongly support that.

However, in 2005 it is unacceptable for one political party to be able to decide who the returning officers will be. This is no longer acceptable in a democracy. What we want in Canada is transparency. We want this to be a place where people can participate and feel comfortable doing so, where candidates are nominated because they are qualified, and not just because they are friends of the Liberals, or another political party in power. Such things must stop.

Now we have Bill C-312 on the appointment of returning officers, who would thus be appointed by the Chief Eelectoral Officer. It is important that there be an open process as well as a mechanism for challenging it. At the moment that is not possible. No one has the right to say a word.

Let us look at the riding boundaries in New Brunswick for instance. The former minister of labour from Moncton suggested the names of two people as members of the electoral boundaries commission. They were accepted. This did not go over well with the people affected by boundary changes, as was the case for Acadie—Bathurst. What is more, the chair of the commission was the father-in-law of the member for Beauséjour—imagine that. That is totally unacceptable.

I had no qualms about contacting the media to tell them that the chair and all the commissioners should resign because of a conflict of interest.

The same thing could happen here and does. It is totally unacceptable. We are in a democratic country and the Prime Minister, through his party's organizations, appoints persons in Elections Canada to run elections, to represent all political parties so that we may run as candidates without restriction and be treated fairly.

I want to clarify this. At home, the returning officer is someone respectable. We are lucky. I have never felt he was playing politics. I can say this publicly.

However, imagine that a person who has been appointed decides to do just that. It has happened here in certain places, in certain provinces and in certain ridings. I cannot begin to imagine how I would feel as a candidate, if I knew that the returning officer was appointed by a political party and was partisan, as was the case with the New Brunswick electoral boundaries commission. This sort of thing must stop. The government has to put systems in place to prevent partisanship. People detest it. It is like blackmail. We do not need it in Canada.

At the outset of the debate, the Liberals said they were prepared to vote against Bill C-312. I could not understand why. It was as if I were taking something away from a child. You go for it, but the child does not want to give it up. It is as if we were trying to get something from the Liberals. Why do they feel so attached to the idea of appointing returning officers? Is it because the party wants to do favours for its friends?

During the first two hours of the debate, they saw that now, in 2005, they had no arguments left. It is time for them to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Canadians have lost respect for this type of argument and procedure. They have had enough partisanship.

We live in a democratic country and we want things to be done democratically. We want people with this much responsibility to be chosen for their qualifications and impartiality. We do not want them to be aligned with one side or the other.

The candidates have to feel comfortable with the process. They should be able to say they know this person well, that the person was chosen by several people during an open competition and that everyone is aware of what is happening. Everyone had the opportunity to apply to be a returning officer.

When the person is selected through an established system, people can then say they knew why it was set up. In addition, if that person does not accept their responsibilities and does not do a good job, they can be dismissed without having to ask the Prime Minister of Canada or a political party to do so, since that person does not represent a political party, but the democracy of our country. That is what is important.

That is why the New Democratic Party will be in favour of Bill C-312 from our Bloc Québécois colleague. Canada's Chief Electoral Officer, Jean-Pierre Kingsley, even came to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to say that it made no sense in a country like Canada for a political party to appoint these people. Elections Canada needs to have control over this, but with an open system. The Chief Electoral Officer should not have to choose the candidate himself. That is a closed system. We want a system open to all Canadians.

Such people should be chosen for their qualifications.

In short, we support the bill.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

6:50 p.m.


Pauline Picard Bloc Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in this debate at second reading of Bill C-312, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act (appointment of returning officers).

I would like to applaud the initiative of my friend, the hon. member for Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord and Bloc Québécois whip. I would like to congratulate him on this private member's bill, which aims to put an end to partisan appointments of returning officers.

It seems to me that there are three key elements in this bill. First, it would ensure that the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada supervises the appointment of returning officers. Second, the candidates would have to demonstrate their competence, their merits and their ability to carry out this job before being appointed. Third, it would strengthen the authority of the Chief Electoral Officer in his or her relations with the returning officers.

These three elements follow up on the last report of the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada, in which he lamented his inability to ensure quality, uniform service all across Canada because returning officers are appointed by the government.

That being said, I know that my colleague based his ideas on the foundation of the legislation in Quebec where the process is more open and transparent.

There are three steps in the selection process. The first step involves completing a registration form. Those candidates whose experience is deemed relevant are asked to take a written exam, which constitutes the second step. During the third step, the candidates who ranked first, second and third at the end of the second step are invited to take an oral exam. The oral exam unfolds in the presence of a committee made up of three members, one of whom is not a staff member of the Chief Electoral Officer. The candidate who ranks first after the three steps in the selection process is appointed returning officer.

In the weeks following his appointment, the returning officer must appoint an assistant returning officer according to the rules set by the Chief Electoral Officer. A training program intended for new returning officers is given to him so that he can acquire the knowledge and skills required to perform his duties.

Returning officers must have appropriate knowledge of the characteristics of their electoral divisions in order to provide customized management of electoral events. In particular, they must consider the following factors: the types of regions and population (rural, semi-rural, urban), the size of the electoral division, the number of municipalities, the number of candidates and political parties, the availability of premises in which to set up their main offices, revision offices and polling stations, as well as communication methods.

So, returning officers are selected according to an open and transparent process.

It is a completely different story on the federal level. When it comes to appointing federal returning officers, subsection 24(1) of the Canada Elections Act states that the governor in council shall appoint the returning officers. Elections Canada refers us to the office of the Prime Minister for more information.

So, the appointment process is unclear, which leads us to doubt the quality of the individuals appointed to fulfill this extremely important task in the democratic process. There is no open competition, no opportunity for interested candidates to demonstrate their qualifications, and the appointment is not based on criteria of qualifications or skills. It has little to do with a candidate's merit. In short, appointments are made on a purely partisan basis.

The present chief electoral officer, Jean-Pierre Kingsley, recommends modernization of the electoral process. During one of his appearances before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, he made the following criticisms: appointees do not have enough information in advance on what is expected of them; the current arrangements do not allow him to deal effectively with failure to perform or poor performance by returning officers. While he has the power to give executory instructions to the returning officers, he cannot impose disciplinary measures on returning officers or revoke their appointments for not following his instructions. Only the governor in council can revoke and replace returning officers.

Control over appointments by the party in power gives the impression of partiality. This is why the initiative by the Bloc Québécois whip is supported by the other opposition parties, which makes us very proud. To put it succinctly, these partisan appointments must stop.

I would also draw the attention of the House to the report of the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada on the 38th general election held on June 28, 2004. It says on the first page:

From this election we can already draw certain conclusions, which hold lessons important to our pursuit of improvement in the electoral process. In particular, it remains difficult to provide service of uniform quality across the country when the returning officers appointed for this purpose by the Governor in Council are not selected on the basis of merit and still less, it seems, on any test of their ability to carry out their duties. The work of the Chief Electoral Officer becomes all the more challenging when some returning officers do not feel obliged to respect his authority because they owe their appointment to another body.

This is an eloquent statement, and is sufficient in itself to encourage all members to support Bill C-312.

Since the present partisan appointment system makes federal returning officers more beholden to the political parties in power than to the chief returning officer; since in Quebec candidates for returning officer have to go through a public and open competition to obtain an appointment; since there has been legislation in place in Quebec since 1980; and since the transparency of the Quebec electoral system is recognized world wide, the Bloc Québécois renews its commitment to do away with the partisan appointment of returning officers by the Liberal federal government.

I therefore call upon all my honourable colleagues in this house to give Bill C-312 if not unanimous, at least majority support.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

7 p.m.


Michel Guimond Bloc Charlevoix—Montmorency, QC

Mr. Speaker, for starters I would like to thank all my colleagues who addressed the House, as well as the people watching on the parliamentary channel regarding Bill C-312, which aims to modernize, if not completely reform, the process for appointing local returning officers. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank all my colleagues on both sides of the House because, as we have seen, the members of the governing party have decided to support this bill.

I would like to say that this is a great source of pride for the Bloc Québécois. In proposing this bill, I was just acting as the spokesperson for what has been a traditional Bloc demand ever since 1993.

More recently, during the last election campaign in May-June 2004, our leader, the member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie, promised repeatedly that as soon as Parliament resumed, the Bloc Québécois would include this review of the appointment procedure in its parliamentary priorities, the same as the employment insurance fund or other traditional Bloc demands. I think that in the vote on this bill, which we are looking forward to, I cannot allow myself to feel overjoyed. I can only go by what has been said on both sides of the House.

Members from all parties have realized that the current procedure for appointing returning officers is no longer acceptable in 2005. This is an archaic procedure whereby the governor in council—that is, the cabinet, which means the government—makes patronage appointments. If hon. members need convincing, they need only spend some time this summer looking over the resumes of the 308 current holders of the office of returning officer to be convinced. The vast majority are political, patronage appointments.

What we are proposing through this bill is to have an open and transparent procedure allowing the best candidates for the position to apply in response to a public notice published in newspapers. Nothing will be done on the sly. The candidates will be able to present their credentials to a selection committee and, later on, be appointed as returning officers.

Members understand that this bill transcends political partisanship because, in previous general elections, it has become evident that the incompetence of returning officers often interferes with the free and democratic election process in a general election.

I will just give once more the example I used during the first hour of debate. When an advance poll was held in Baie-Saint-Paul, in my riding, the returning officer ran out of ballots. Between six and ten voters were denied their democratic right to vote. I cannot tell whether or not they planned to vote for me because of the secrecy of the ballot. At any rate, the candidates running for the other parties were also penalized because of a totally unacceptable situation where voters were unable to cast their ballots. If they wanted to vote in advance, it was simply because they were not going to be available to do so on June 28.

Again, I do hope that, when the time comes to vote on this bill, hopefully before Parliament recesses for the summer, members from all sides will vote for this bill, so that it can be referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to ensure that the procedure for appointing returning officers is truly reformed and changed, in the best interests of democracy.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

7:05 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

7:05 p.m.

Some hon. members


Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

7:05 p.m.

Some hon. members


Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

7:05 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

7:05 p.m.

Some hon. members


Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

7:05 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

All those opposed will please say nay.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

7:05 p.m.

Some hon. members


Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

7:05 p.m.

The Speaker

In my opinion the nays have it.

And more than five members having risen:

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

7:05 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Pursuant to Standing Order 93 the division stands deferred until Wednesday, June 22 immediately before the time provided for private members' business.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

7:05 p.m.


Michel Guimond Bloc Charlevoix—Montmorency, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I would like you to check something with the table officers. When you put the question and asked members if they were in favour of the motion or opposed to it and when five members rose, I believe Liberal Party colleagues were not in their place.

I would like the table officers to tell us whether, from their count, the five members were in their place.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

7:05 p.m.

An hon. member

It is true. They were not in their places.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

7:05 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I thank the member for Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord for his point of order.

I am unsure if members have to be in their seats. I think that they just have to be in the House. However, I will check on that. Normally I do not check on either side of the House if members are sitting in their seat or standing beside their seat or just in the House. I will check the Standing Orders on that and get back to the hon. member shortly.

The House resumed from June 14, 2005, consideration of the motion that Bill C-43, an act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on February 23, 2005, be read the third time and passed.

Budget Implementation Act, 2005Government Orders

7:10 p.m.


Guy Côté Bloc Portneuf, QC

Mr. Speaker, we have now reached third reading of Bill C-43, which implements the government's 2005 budget. I would like to point out, first—because it is hard to avoid it—that we cannot talk about Bill C-43, without talking about Bill C-48 at the same time.

I want to clarify something right from the start. The Bloc Québécois, unlike our NDP colleagues, did not wait until the last minute to make proposals to the government to present a budget bill that meets Quebeckers' expectations.

Right after budget day, we presented the government with a number of points along the lines of the prebudget consultations in the Standing Committee on Finance. Some points were also suggested to us when the Bloc Québécois toured through Quebec to confirm with Quebeckers what we would ask the government.

We offered these points immediately after the budget presentation. We did not wait until several weeks later, nor did we make a last minute deal in an attempt to rescue this government, a deal that totally left out the unemployed, providing no increase in EI benefits, nothing on setting up a truly independent EI fund, nothing to improve accessibility to this very important system, for the unemployed, those in need, those in crisis. Immediately following the budget presentation, we informed the government of our intentions. We told them we were prepared to work with them and even vote in favour of their budget. However, they had to listen to the priorities of Quebeckers, because that is very important. We did make these points clear during the prebudget consultations in the Standing Committee on Finance and during a tour of Quebec. There was unanimity.

I will start with the first point: the fiscal imbalance. Out of 200 elected representatives—that is, 125 at the National Assembly and 75 in the Parliament of Canada—only 21 fail to recognize the fiscal imbalance. It so happens that these are members of the Liberal Party of Canada. In Quebec, fiscal imbalance is almost unanimously recognized as a matter that has to be addressed; there is at least a very broad consensus to that effect. Tax fields have to be transferred to allow provinces like Quebec to provide the services the public has come to expect. Transfers for education and social programs have to be increased. A fundamental reform of equalization is also in order.

In recent months, we have seen the government, acting on promises, the magnitude of which it had not fully measured, make piecemeal agreements having a very substantial impact on equalization. These agreements might even alter the nature of the equalization system. There has to be a fundamental reform of equalization, including raising the ceilings and removing the floors. It is important that equalization recognize and adapt to the economic realities of Quebec and Canada. Instead of being based on five provinces, the average should be calculated for all the provinces and Quebec. Certain calculations in the equalization formula have to be reviewed, especially with respect to property tax. This has been and still is a priority for Quebeckers.

I will mention in passing that, at the Subcommittee on Fiscal Imbalance, we have arrived at a majority report which includes four very important recommendations.

The government can deny the fiscal imbalance all it wants, this does not change the fact that a House subcommittee has written a report on it.

The second essential element for Quebeckers, which I mentioned briefly earlier, is employment insurance.

We have a new minister. Not so long ago, she said she was in favour of expanding access to employment insurance. Currently, only 38% of all EI applicants manage to qualify for benefits. This is disgraceful and despicable. The feds are collecting surpluses at the expense of a segment of the population in crisis and with real, not imaginary, needs. These people are waiting for benefits to pay for their groceries, rent, mortgage or food for their kids. But only 38% of them qualify. This is really scandalous.

Not so long ago, the minister recognized this fact and also recognized that there should be an independent EI fund, so that the government can never again dip into these surpluses. This is scandalous, too. The government has taken $48 billion. Instead of using that money to meet the real needs of our constituents, it took it in order to continue to accumulate astronomical surpluses.

Last year, the surplus forecast was $1.9 billion; the actual surplus ended up being $9.1 billion. If this is not a disgrace, I would like to know what is.

As for improving access to EI, the House adopted a unanimous report recommending reducing the number of hours required for eligibility. What has the government done? Naturally, the Prime Minister repeats in the House that he wants to eliminate the democratic deficit. But, since June 2004, all the government has really done is ignore the majority, and even unanimous, decisions of House committees, and even ignore the majority decisions of the House itself. I need only remind members of the decision to split the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade in two.

The Kyoto protocol has been raised in the House on a regular basis. Quebeckers are concerned about the environment. They have made serious efforts to encourage industries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Much work has been done. Quebec has made a huge effort. But what does the government do? Once again, it introduces a bad plan based on the polluter-paid, instead of the polluter-pay, principle.

The government really needs to be sent back to redo its homework. It went completely off the track in drafting Bill C-43. God knows we tried to help it. We presented it with proposals that were, it seems to me, not only credible but also effective, given the financial means available to the government at the present time. What did it decide to do? It shunted them aside just like that.

Unfortunately, we are often far too creative for this government. To give just one quick example, my colleague from Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher introduced a private member's bill that proposed a very simple solution, one to foster a better environment and cut down on greenhouse gas emissions. It proposed a tax incentive to users of public transit for the purchase of bus passes. This was something so simple and easily applied. But no, it had not crossed the government's mind. We thought of it, though. We presented this bill to the government but we are still waiting to hear its reactions.

Another really simple element could also be readily applied. Why not have a tax credit for the purchase of hybrid vehicles? This would both encourage a major industry and thereby create employment, and result in a cleaner environment. This is exactly in line with the concept behind Kyoto.

But this government is far too concerned with piling up a surplus, with ganging up on the sovereignists in particular. This government realizes it has nothing to gain in Quebec. It has already dumped it and continues to ignore it.

As for agriculture, we again made some concrete and precise proposals to the government. Agriculture is going through the worst crisis in decades. Mad cow—I hardly need say more. I can remember meetings in Quebec of the Union des producteurs agricoles, when the minister preferred to hide here in the House rather than go out and meet them. The Bloc Québécois did go. In fact, a number of Bloc Québécois MPs left Ottawa and went to meet the farmers in Quebec City. We listened as they told us what they needed, and reassured them that we would defend their interests. We came back here in order to be in the House when there was an opposition day on agriculture.

What did the minister do in the meantime? Said he had been unable to go. Defending the interests of Quebeckers means defending them in this House, defending them in our ridings, defending them at meetings like the one I just mentioned, and bringing word of their true needs back to this House.

There was talk in this House this afternoon about international aid. Again, the UN has set a noble target, whereby Canada should allocate 0.7% of its gross domestic product to international aid. Bill C-48 does provide a $500,000 increase in that respect. The UN's goal is for this 0.7% target to be met by 2015. What is this government headed for? Provided the required investments are made and maintained, this target will not be achieved before 2035. Again, the government is totally off the mark.

Now, let us look at the issue of respect for the jurisdictions of Quebec and the provinces. Understandably, this is an important topic for us. Today, in this House, there were more discussions about early years child care. The Prime Minister had pledged to transfer funding to Quebec with no strings attached. Yet, several months later, he is still negotiating. Can you tell me, Madam Speaker, what is there to negotiate when there are no strings attached? It eludes me. Or did I misunderstand something? There are no strings attached. In that case, what is there to be negotiated? Why does he not simply transfer to the Government of Quebec the funding for a system which he himself holds up as a model?

Where the Canadian Francophonie is concerned, our francophone cousins in the rest of Canada have been completely ignored in this budget. In some ways, I find it somewhat ironic that the Bloc Québécois is far too often the one championing the cause of French-speaking minorities outside Quebec. In this respect, my colleague from the NDP, the name of whose riding unfortunately escapes me, regularly emphasizes the importance of protecting the French-speaking minorities in the rest of Canada. I want to commend him on his work on that.

I said earlier that we cannot talk about Bill C-43 without talking about Bill C-48. Briefly, I will say that, on Bill C-48—and I hope that my words will not be too harsh for this place—the NDP has been royally had. It is as simple as that. Why did that happen? Let me give a quick example.

The NDP said that the reduction in the capital tax had to be withdrawn from the budget and invested in social measures. The government said that, of course, it would do that. In doing so, last week in this House, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance said to us that, if we were not convinced, he would invite us to examine the document he had in front of him so that, I paraphrase—although the government is introducing a motion whereby only 40% of businesses will benefit from the reduction in the capital tax, in any case, whether it is accepted or not in future legislation, the government intends to reintroduce this capital tax. So, it will reintroduce it.

The NDP has been had, and that is only one of the ways.

More important still, we heard from Mr. Charles-Antoine Saint-Jean of the Treasury Board Secretariat in the Standing Committee on Finance a few days ago.

On the subject of Bill C-48, my colleague from Joliette pointed out that, with a budget surplus of $2 billion, the government could do the spending provided in C-48. I will quote from Mr. Saint-Jean:

The opportunity is there; it is not mandatory. The bill makes it possible—

The member for Joliette replied: “Ah, so it is not mandatory? Remind us why.” And Mr. Saint-Jean replied:

This bill enables the government—

It enables it. It does not oblige it. A little while later in this committee meeting, I wanted to make sure I understood. I will quote myself, with your permission. I asked Mr. Saint-Jean:

So, if I have understood rightly...the government needs the $2 billion surplus. It can then, if it wishes and if its priorities have not changed, if, in the following year, in a new budget, it does not introduce a bill eliminating the $2 billion, it can allocate up to..., but it is not obliged to do so. In addition, there is the $2 billion, naturally—$2 billion in surplus.

So I want to make sure I understand that, Mr. Saint Jean. The government can, but is not obliged to, spend up to— the amount specified in Bill C-48.

Mr. Saint-Jean's answer was as follows. I invite both my NDP and Conservative Party colleagues, along with the parliamentary secretary of the finance minister and his Liberal colleagues to take note of the answer. It is very important, and our fellow citizens must understand.

Indeed, clause 11 provides clearly that the Minister of Finance may make payments to be taken from the Consolidated Revenue Fund up to the amount of the difference. So that is “may” and not “must”.

And I concluded, “That concludes very well, Mr. Chair”.

So they made a deal with the government. Basically, it involved removing the elimination of the capital tax. The government has already said it did not intend to do so, as it will act, in any case, under future legislation.

The government gave itself a way out by saying that there absolutely had to be a $2 billion surplus accrued at the end of the year. We are not talking about quick investments. There needs to be a $2 billion surplus. However, nothing in Bill C-48 requires the government to pay the amounts mentioned.

It could pay $0 or $1. It could pay half the amount. It could pay the full amount, I agree. Nevertheless, it is not required to. Next year, it will table a new budget. It could decide that it no longer has the same priorities as those mentioned in Bill C-43 and Bill C-48, especially C-48. It could present a budget that might end up reducing the surplus, hypothetically speaking, to $1.5 billion. It would thereby be free from its virtual obligation imposed by Bill C-48. And the NDP will have been had. Even if there is a $2 billion surplus, nothing requires the government to spend the amount stipulated in Bill C-48.

Since I have only one minute remaining, I will wrap up my speech. Unlike the NDP, we did not wait until the last minute to present the government with the priorities of Quebeckers. We presented the government with important and achievable items based on the consensus in Quebec that would serve the best interests of our constituents in Quebec, as well as those in the rest of Canada. We did not make a last minute deal and we were not had by the Liberal government.