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House of Commons Hansard #47 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was elections.

Topics

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

Jay Hill Conservative Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague from Vancouver Quadra raised the issue in his answer about the prime minister still having the prerogative under a majority situation to call an election before the fixed election date, if the bill becomes law and were to be in place.

Yes, under the legislation the prime minister of the day would still have that freedom to go to the Governor General and ask her to dissolve parliament and call an election. I suggest it would be very difficult for any prime minister to sell that to Canadians if they were expecting, especially under a majority situation, that parliament was going to last for a period of time. I cannot imagine why a particular prime minister would feel that he or she could not continue to govern, despite the fact of having a majority and having an election date some time into the future. I believe it would have to be an extraordinary situation for a prime minister to do that. If a prime minister went against the spirit of this legislation and purely called an election because he or she felt the opportunity was ripe, that the situation for his or her particular political party was very advantageous to go to the polls, I suspect that person would quite likely be punished by the Canadian people in the subsequent election campaign.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

Stephen Owen Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, the chief government whip is probably right that there would be tremendous political pressure against a crass move that was not in emergency circumstances or in some very important circumstance. However, we have an obligation in the House, to the fullest extent that we can, to simply not rely on political dynamics to ensure that something untoward does not happen. I invite government members on the committee and all members in further debate to think very carefully about this prerogative because it leaves an uncertainty.

Let me mention a type of situation which could occur. There could be a change in leadership of the government party by reason of death or incapacity, or whatever, shortly after an election. There has been a practice in our parliamentary democracy, it is not inviolate but it is quite frequent, that a new leader seeks to get his or her own mandate at a fairly early date. Maybe we can look at this opportunity to break that expectation or trend. To me it has always seemed a bit like putting a presidential aura around a prime minister who is not directly elected, but is only the leader of a party with the most elected members. If a new prime minister used that reason for asking for a dissolution, I would like to see that rejected. Maybe the legislation could make that clear in some way.

All I am suggesting is that we tighten this up to the full extent possible to ensure the certainty that we are seeking.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Gauthier Bloc Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, the legislation before us is certainly worthwhile. Everyone will benefit a great deal from having elections held on a fixed date in the Canadian parliamentary system.

I would like to tell the government that the Bloc Québécois members will definitely support this legislation because, in our view, it represents a step forward. People need to understand that we again have a minority government. In recent years, we have had several elections in a short space of time. Canadians need to know that since I became a member of Parliament in 1993, no majority government has completed its full mandate, which should run between four and five years. Choosing an election date has become a political plaything for a prime minister, who tries not to find the best way of accommodating voters, but to find a time when public opinion may give him popular support. It has become a guessing game, with absolutely disastrous consequences.

First, people get fed up with having hundreds of millions of dollars of their tax money spent to hold an election four, six or eight months before it is required. Holding elections on a fixed date is sound fiscal policy. It is wonderful. A normal mandate runs for four years. This gives the government time to do things, and no one has to deal with the stress of an unexpected election campaign.

There is a serious shortage of women in politics. But let us look at what is required of candidates who want to join us here in the House of Commons or serve in the provincial legislatures. We are talking about professionals, business people, people who have some responsibility in society. They are expected to announce six, seven or eight months in advance that they intend to run for office. Imagine a wife and mother or a career woman who also has family obligations. She has to tell her husband and children that she plans to run as a political candidate in the next election, with all that involves.

This is fine if the election is called a month later: people announce their intention to run, then they start campaigning. We know how it works on the ground: we campaign daily, selling memberships leading up to a convention and convincing the organizers. That is how we work. However, the election might not happen until seven months later because the Prime Minister decided to put it off since the polls were not looking very good. Then people find themselves in a pseudo-campaign situation for six or seven months while they prepare and wait for the big day. Obviously, they have to keep working at it because everyone knows they intend to run.

This kind of cat-and-mouse game is detrimental to recruiting candidates. If we know that the election is to take place on such and such a Monday in October of such and such a year, people can plan for it, at a time that suits them, and then announce their candidacy.

I sincerely believe that one of the major advantages of this bill is that is would simplify life for people who want to enter public service, but who are not prepared to play around with their careers for five, six, seven months, or maybe even a year while they wait for a general election to be called. This is an extremely important part of planning the transition from private life to political life for people who decide to take the leap. This is an important element.

The second very important element is that democracy works best when everyone, even the men and women in politics, knows that there are fixed elections. Fixed elections enable us to take more coherent, organized action rather than playing the will-he-or-won't-he game with the Prime Minister.

I believe that there is nothing worse for democracy than letting the Prime Minister decide when to hold an election based on when public opinion tells him he is at his best, and then surprising everyone with the election announcement.

In my opinion, an election is not a game. An election must be taken seriously, approached honestly and not be a surprise. It must take place in its own time in order to allow citizens to express their opinions. This is another extremely important consideration.

Past prime ministers toyed a great deal with election dates. Oddly enough, this card has almost always been played in the month following the arrival of a new leader of the opposition. That indicates that the prime minister would take stock of the situation. If the Bloc Québécois was holding a leadership convention, the time was right to call an election two months later. How considerate. There is no time to organize as everyone is caught off guard.

A leadership race is currently underway in the Liberal party. It would be tempting for a prime minister, in these circumstances, to call an election perhaps two, three or four months after the new leader is chosen so as to not give this individual the time to organize.

I must say that the Prime Minister is being reasonable and sensible when he tells citizens that he is setting aside this prerogative, which is his to exercise, and doing so deliberately. He says that he will not play games with the opposition parties or public opinion. He will simply respect the mandate given. Obviously this bill does not and cannot change the constitutional powers of the Prime Minister and the Governor General, particularly those of the Governor General.

A responsible government assumes that the Prime Minister could, at any time, if defeated in the House, go to the Governor General and advise him or her that he no longer has the confidence of the House. That goes without saying.

The Constitution has not been amended. However, the Prime Minister, by putting forward this legislative measure, and even if he does retain the authority to act otherwise, places considerable political pressure on himself and on those who will follow .

People would not understand, for example, if the Prime Minister, after tabling this Bill providing for elections in October of 2009, should decide to call an election in 2008, with three months notice—because the polls were favourable or because of some other circumstances—perhaps because he was hoping to achieve a majority government. That would not be well received. The voters would say he was two-faced, saying one thing when talking about principles but acting in an entirely different way when it is time for action.

It is no secret that in tabling this bill, the Prime Minister is creating a framework that he will have to respect in all situations and that he must accept. In addition, what he is doing will have consequences for others. He is agreeing, for himself, to give up that prerogative of playing with election dates. As a result, it won’t be done any more.

Once he has taken this step, the path will be marked out for subsequent prime ministers, who will have to respect this legislation which is a very clear expression of the will of the House of Commons.

Moreover, the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer has very complex work to do to prepare for an election. At present, the possibility that there might be an election at any time during the government’s mandate requires Elections Canada officials to be in a state of constant readiness. Some rather large expenditures are linked to that state of affairs. I am not just talking about the mandate of a minority government. It is true even in the context of a very strong majority government, as we have seen in the past.

It seems to me that with a fixed election date, in the context of a majority government, Elections Canada could better plan its work and its schedules and be better prepared, more adequately prepared, when the situation required it. That is also an absolutely remarkable benefit.

In addition, elected members have many other matters to be concerned with than the need to be re-elected, perhaps in a year-and-a-half, two years, or three-and-a-half years. They have a great deal of parliamentary work to do and lots of work in their ridings. Having a certain, predetermined room for manoeuvre will allow members, through agreement with all parties, to plan the work of parliamentary committees and the legislative agenda to be accomplished. The government and the opposition will be able to plan better and work more effectively. It avoids unpleasant surprises and enables parliamentary committees to schedule their work so that within one mandate a number of problems could be dealt with. Parliamentary committees will be able to plan their work and establish a schedule that respects dates known to everyone.

A clear democratic advantage ensues, for this leads to improved democracy. As for the practical organization of elections, this will also allow for a better electoral process. It also has the advantage of making it possible to better organize the work of Parliament. It also allows very worthy candidates to better plan the announcement of their candidacy, which is not currently the case. This could draw more women to political office, and certainly more senior level professionals who cannot risk putting their careers on hold for months at a time.

Furthermore, researchers looked at approximately 40 parliamentary democracies from around the world and found that only 12, including Canada, do not have fixed election dates, or at least an electoral period established within a couple of months. In short, only 12 out of 40 do not have elections on a certain day or during a certain period. This means that accepting fixed election dates would be a step towards progress. It would mean joining the 28 other parliamentary democracies that have established this rule. This also prevents overlapping with unsuitable periods for an election, such as during holidays or during periods that could interfere with elections being held in other areas of our public life. This allows us to simply declare late September and October, every four years,as the election period for the House of Commons, as we would all know that the election is held the third Monday in October. Everyone could then plan their schedules based on this information.

We therefore support this bill. It does not change our democratic habits in any drastic way; it merely specifies the importance of fulfilling four-year mandates.

I have served several terms in this House since 1993, and I have never seen a government complete its mandate. When a minority government was elected, reporters asked me whether I was disappointed that we had another minority government, because that could mean an election in the relatively near future. I told them that whether we have a minority or a majority government, it never completes its mandate. The legislation before us will allow governments to complete their mandates. That is what we hope and want. For a minority government to complete its mandate, it needs to do one very simple thing: respect the members of this House.

Any government that decides to respect the will of the House of Commons will easily be able to complete its four-year mandate. From now on, the Prime Minister and the cabinet—the executive—will have to agree to govern by consensus. The opposition has the power to allow the minority government to continue or to defeat it. Of course, our goal is to allow the government to govern. But the government has the responsibility to develop the tools it needs in order to govern. With a minority government, an election might be held in October 2009. This government would have to try to govern more openly to rally the forces of the NDP, the Bloc Québécois, the opposition as a whole or the Liberal opposition. This is possible. It has happened in the past, and it generally means more responsible governance.

Fixed election dates can benefit both majority and minority governments. We all try to the best of our ability to ensure that the government governs properly, over the course of a full mandate. Canadians do not like having too many elections and want us to act responsibly. The bill will make that possible.

Again, without eliminating the Governor General's prerogative to dissolve Parliament, the Prime Minister has set an extremely rigid set of parameters for himself, and he will have to abide by those parameters or else lose all credibility. When he has followed those parameters once, his successors will be morally obliged to do the same. This is a step forward. I salute this initiative. The Bloc will support it on its merits, as it approaches every piece of legislation tabled in this House.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Bloc

Diane Bourgeois Bloc Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

Mr. Speaker, we just heard a very fine speech. It is always a pleasure to listen to the hon. member for Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean who is very eloquent and has a quiet, subtle way of advancing ideas that are real food for thought.

He mentioned one point that I would like him to explore further. That is the need of ordinary citizens for fixed election dates. Why? As he explained, they are a great help to the hon. members and the parties. However, for a community that is waiting for a bill, for example, what is the effect of fixed election dates?

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Gauthier Bloc Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, I mentioned this briefly, but for the benefit of my hon. colleague and everyone else, I will add the following. The parliamentarians in this House and the government could do a better job of preparing; they could draw up their schedule better and would have a better idea of how much parliamentary time they have to critique a bill and consult Canadians. If necessary, they could consult a little longer and do further research.

When we know the election date and how long we have for our work, the quality improves. We know where we are at.

I am the House leader. I have been in the House of Commons for 13 years and have been House leader for 12.

For all 12 years, at the end of every session ministers in the various governments come to see me, because I am the House leader, and beg me to allow their bill or legislation to pass. They tell me that a certain bill is absolutely essential and ask if I would be willing to consent to this legislation being speeded up so that it can pass.

I am saying this for the people listening to us and for the hon. members who have not yet had a chance to experience a few ends of session. I find this game at the end of parliamentary sessions unseemly and unfortunate. However, I can understand it.

A minister who has an important piece of legislation— on the environment or industry or in any given area—is very eager to see it pass. He has worked on it for seven, eight or ten months and sometimes more than a whole year, and there have been consultations and much effort. When the minister sees the end of the session looming, he definitely does not want to all this work to go down the drain. He does not want to have to start all over again a few months later, or even after an election, because there is nothing left that matters any more.

Fixed election dates would eliminate surprises. How many prime ministers have thrown their own ministers for a loop by calling early elections? It is amazing. I think that Canadians—whom we are supposed to be serving here by introducing and passing legislation—would be happy to know that the hon. members work in a planned, orderly fashion and that the results will arrive as expected.

This would therefore be a great improvement for everyone: for both the people and ministers. They voted for legislation and did well. It will be easier for them and easier as well for opposition members to work on legislation that they want to help along. That is another good reason to support this bill.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

Ottawa West—Nepean Ontario

Conservative

John Baird ConservativePresident of the Treasury Board

Mr. Speaker, I wish to thank my colleague from Quebec for giving a good speech.

Obviously it is always the third party’s fault when a government that had a majority for close to 10 years did not have an opportunity to put its own bill to the vote. That is what happened with the previous government. I find these stories really funny.

I agree completely with the member from Roberval: this new bill would let us know ahead of time when the next election would take place. The ministers would have lots of possibilities and would know how many years, months and days they had left to work on their bills.

Something else that is very important is the way things operate, particularly a minority government. But it is exactly the same way of operating in a majority government: the ministers work with the opposition critics.

I had a very enjoyable experience working with the former Bloc Québécois critic, Benoît Sauvageau, who passed away. He was an extraordinary man, a very honest man, with great abilities and a lot of experience. It was a great pleasure for me work with him. All our thoughts go out to his family and his colleagues on both sides of the House.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Gauthier Bloc Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased that the President of the Treasury Board liked what I had to say about the ministers. I can tell you that this is so for all ministers of all governments. It is natural and it is also to their credit.

I have always had respect for a minister who goes to the trouble of crossing the House, of coming to see me, going to see the leader of the official opposition or the leader of the NDP to try and get a bill passed. I have always found that it was a mark of trust and commitment on the part of such people.

So I sincerely feel that holding elections on set dates will get rid of this element of surprise. It will give rise to fewer surprises for these people, and more work will get done with better planning.

It has happened that, in wishing to support bills, we have agreed to go a little faster, and sometimes we have made mistakes from going too fast, because the legislative process requires us to act seriously. This is another reason in support of holding elections at set times. We will have more time to do our job properly, we will not need to fast-track, there will be less need for us to rush and there will be less risk of typos slipping into bills. So it is a good measure.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

Questions and comments. Two minutes remain for the question and answer.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Windsor—Tecumseh has the floor

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to Bill C-16 and to signal, as I did earlier this afternoon, that the NDP would be supporting this legislation. We are looking forward to getting it into committee for further discussion and perhaps amendments. In essence, the proposition being put before this House right now is one that we have supported for a good number of years. In the 2004-06 Parliament our former member, Ed Broadbent, was a strong proponent of this and encouraged the government of the day to press forward with it, to no avail. We are pleased to see that the government has in fact moved on the issue.

To a great extent this bill is about combating the cynicism that is in the electorate. We can say it makes sense for our electorate to know that there would be a fixed date for an election every four years and prepare for it knowing in advance when voting would take place. However, what is more important, and I do not want to downplay the significance of that certainty of a fixed date, is that if this bill passes it would be an opportunity for this House, for Parliament, to say to the citizens of Canada right across the country that we are no longer going to have their decision making process manipulated by the government in power. That has been very much the history of parliaments of all stripes in this House.

A parliament, a government of the day, will say this is to its advantage to go now even though it is nowhere near the generally accepted four, four and a half year mandate that we should stay and work and do what is our responsibility to the country. The government says, no, this is to our advantage right now, because of this issue, it is popular in the country, it is our issue and so we are going to go to the electorate.

We saw that, as we heard from some of the other speakers today, in the last number of years happening repeatedly, where we had elections at three and three and a half year intervals, and that suffers. If nothing else, if we want to look at it from a non-democratic standpoint and simply from a financial standpoint, it means we have more elections, and those cost money, in the range of $200 million, each time we go to the electorate. More importantly, the essential issue is that we say to the people of Canada that we are no longer going to manipulate the electoral date in order for it to be of advantage to the government in power of the day.

One of the side effects of that, because of the certainty of the date which would allow people to know in advance when the vote would be and to prepare for it, is that it would increase, I believe, the number of people who would vote because they would not feel this negative cynicism toward all parties and all politicians from this perspective. They would say that they knew this election was coming at this point, it is part of our law, they are ready for it, they are going to participate in it, they are prepared for it, and they have not been forced to go to the polls only because of an opportune time for the government in power. For that reason the bill is important. It is one that we should all be supporting. I think we have heard today from the various parties that they all intend to in fact support this approach.

I suppose the comment one has to make is that it is too late. We should have done this a long time ago, but in fact we are now finally now getting to it.

One of the concerns that we do have of this legislation is with regard to the situation in a minority government because of course this law would have no effect if the past practice continues. The past practice is, as often as not in a minority government situation, that the government comes down not so much because of a lack of confidence generally in the government but on a specific issue.

We are proposing for consideration in this minority government situation, and we will be raising it at committee when it gets there, to constrain the ability of the government to intentionally bring itself down by creating a false issue, by setting up an issue that all three of the opposition parties with the majority of seats in the House would vote against. That has happened and there certainly has been speculation that the government may be planning on doing that some time in the spring of this session.

In order to avoid that kind of cynicism, there are alternatives. I put this to the government House leader today. He, of course, was dismissive of it in the sense that it would usurp the power of Parliament and cross over into conflict with our courts. What I suggested to him was that we limit the number of issues that can be confidence motions, so that a government cannot unilaterally, as it can now, say an item is a confidence motion and if we do not vote with it the government, it goes down and we have an election.

That again is a manipulative tool that governments in the past have used. From a democracy standpoint there is no reason to have that in our system. We could, I believe, with some discussions, debate and negotiations come to a conclusion and incorporate that into legislation as to what is a permissible motion of confidence and exclude all others.

One of the answers I received from the government House leader was that we cannot do it because we would end up being challenged in the courts. That is not necessarily the consequence. The decision as to whether a motion is one of confidence or not, once we have set the criteria, could be determined, first by your Chair, Mr. Speaker. That is one alternative, or it could be by a vote in the House. There are other alternatives.

Albeit, and I am not going to advocate it, another alternative is to allow the Governor General to make that decision. Being an unelected position and being a strong democrat, I am not prepared to turn the power over to that office, but I do believe it would fall within the perspective, control and authority, and jurisdiction of either the House or of the Speaker of the House at the time, and so there are alternatives.

Going back again to why we are supporting the bill, both from a democratic standpoint but more to deal with cynicism within the electorate, it would be another way of saying to the electorate, even in the minority government situation, that they would not be forced to go to the polls, that we would be able to continue the government and continue on the issues that are confronting the country without going to the electorate. We would not allow the government of the day to simply say something is a confidence motion, that if we do not vote with it we would have an election.

There are alternatives. It is an alternative that I believe would deal very much with the other part of the cynicism when elections are called in this country.

I want to say that there are clear reasons why this will be effective and I want to address one of the negatives at the same time as seeing it as a positive. I believe that by allowing for fixed election dates we actually would reduce the amount of partisan electioneering that goes on between elections. We would reduce it to that latter period of time, to the last six months.

What happens now, and I think we are being less than honest with the electorate when we stand in the House and say that we are going to be in a constant election mode with the implication being that we are not right now and we are not even in a majority government situation. I have been in both. Anybody who has been here knows whether one is in a majority government situation or a minority government situation, as it stands right now, electioneering goes on because we do not know, and I was very glad to hear my colleague from the Bloc making this point, when the plug will be pulled. Right now we are into that situation and in fact we do partisan electioneering on a constant basis.

Having fixed dates, I believe and would argue strongly, would reduce the amount of partisanship that goes on between elections and restrict it to the latter period of time of, as I say, six months to a year before the campaign starts. The argument is that it is somehow going to increase the amount of politicking that goes on, being meant in a negative tone, the result of which will in fact be just the opposite.

With regard to the other positives here, again it is a situation where because one knows what one is confronted with in terms of a date, the recruitment of candidates by all parties and the recruitment of volunteers by all parties will be enhanced when we know the dates that we are working toward as far as the election date itself.

The bottom line is, and I will conclude with this, if we proceed with the legislation as proposed, it is definitely a step forward but it is not enough. I believe we should strongly look extensively at the issue of how we trigger elections in a minority government situation around confidence votes and amend this legislation to include criteria as to how the situation would be dealt with then. That would go to finalizing that cynicism that the electorate feels toward all politicians about the way we manipulate election dates in this country.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Conservative Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to what the hon. member had to say. I am encouraged to hear that it sounds as though he is supporting election reform in this manner. I was, however, disturbed by some of the amendments that the member was proposing with respect to confidence motions in the House.

It seems to me that governments are elected on a mandate and are expected to deliver on the promises they have made. Certainly, this government is making a case for the fact that it will deliver on what it has promised. If bills are going to be constantly debated, and no one has to express confidence in a government, I do not think any government could really go to the people and express that it would deliver on its promises. I would like to hear what the member has to say about that.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, perhaps the member should study some of the other governments. I am going to use England as the example. England's legislature has been going through an extensive reduction in the votes that are considered to be confidence motions. It does not in any way demean the democracy in that country. I believe it is just the opposite.

Governments there, both conservative and labour, have suffered defeats on issues they ran on and saw as part of their mandates in their elections. Their governments did not collapse. Democracy continued in that country. It can in fact work.

The other point that one would have to make, if one goes back and studies the history of successive governments in this country, is that all too often matters that were not part of the mandate are brought forward as confidence motions. They tend not to be the major issues of the day on which the political parties ran for government or ran for office, but more mundane ones that are oftentimes manufactured as causes for confidence motions knowing that the opposition parties collectively will vote against it and bring the government down.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thought the member raised a couple of interesting points. I think there is general support in the House for the legislation but subject to some discussion and maybe some witnesses at committee on a couple of points, many of them are around the issue of the concept of the royal prerogative.

As the member will know, Eugene Forsey has opined that to set fixed terms for government or fixed election dates would in fact require a constitutional amendment. He also indicated that a constitutional amendment would eliminate the royal prerogative because then the Governor General would not be in a position to go against the laws of the land. In fact, even if a prime minister were to go to the Governor General because he or she would like to refresh the mandate, the Governor General would probably have to say no simply because of the issue that the royal prerogative in fact would have been muted by the override of Parliament.

I am wondering if the member has done any reading in this area and whether there is any concern with regard to the need for a constitutional amendment in this regard.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have looked at it to some degree. I certainly do not claim to be a constitutional law expert, which is what we are into here. I would not challenge Mr. Forsey's opinion but it is only one opinion. There are strong opinions on the other side within the constitutional law, both academics and practitioners, that this proposed amendment by the government to the elections act would withstand a constitutional challenge.

I would make one additional point and that is that our Constitution is not just a written one. The Supreme Court has made it clear that we can create constitutional conventions and that may very well occur here. It is certainly what I believe would occur if we moved along the lines I am arguing for which is a restriction on what a vote of confidence is. If over a period of years the Governor General were advised by the government of the day to have an election on a certain date and abided by that, over a period of several elections that would then become a convention within this country. The same would be true in a minority government situation along the lines that I previously mentioned.

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1:40 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, being a former municipal councillor I have always supported fixed election dates. It has never been an issue. People know when an election will be held. It is no big deal. B.C. has fixed election dates. I think it is about the only thing Gordon Campbell has done in B.C. that I agree with.

One group of voters that are ready and waiting for the next set election date are the voters of Vancouver Kingsway. They were denied the opportunity to send a message to their member of Parliament who betrayed them in the last election by switching parties. While I support set election dates, it is very unfortunate that the Conservative government has chosen to sweep under the carpet and ignore one of the most basic forms of voter accountability and democracy in our country and that is to ban floor crossing.

I would like to ask the member for Windsor—Tecumseh if he could comment on that. It seems to me that we cannot cherry-pick these issues. This is about democracy, accountability to voters and making our system work. The fact that the floor crossing bill never happened under the government is a crying shame and really betrays the voters of Vancouver Kingsway who have a right to say something about what took place there.

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1:40 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, I could not have said that better myself.

What we are doing here with regard to fixed election dates is a very small part of the electoral reform this country needs. Floor crossing is one of the issues that badly needs to be addressed given how the electorate has been so abused by both the Liberals and the Conservatives in the last two Parliaments.

A number of other amendments and changes to our laws are needed. Some are extensive while others are fundamental. In the last Parliament, Mr. Broadbent led the way at committee by proposing a number of necessary amendments to our laws and to our system. I was just reading one of the reports from the committee before I came over here today. The Conservative government supported a number of those amendments and yet we have seen no sign of them. We see things like the push for an elected Senate being sidetracked to a significant degree by the appointment of unelected senators by the government and by simply moving to change the time they will be in office.

A number of things rapidly need to be done and the government is just sitting on its hands with regard to them. We really have to question its intent and its sincerity in this regard.

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1:45 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I will just take this opportunity to briefly ask my colleague about the need to reform the elections act. In terms of election financing, one of the most glaring things facing us today that we believe could have been addressed by the government is the fact that the current Liberal leadership race is relying on massive election loans that are more like donations which would clearly be in violation of the election financing act were they viewed in their real context.

Perhaps my colleague from Windsor could comment on the lack of real election reform and the need for raising these other important issues in the same--

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1:45 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I know it is in the rules of this place that no one is to be accused of breaking any laws. Indeed, the laws are being followed in accordance totally with electoral laws. I think the premise of the member's question and the insinuation is an embarrassment to Parliament.

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1:45 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, I did not get any implication from the member that he was accusing the Liberals of illegalities but more of moral bankruptcy, and he is right. The issue of those types of loans was raised in 2003 at committee by one of our members who is no longer in the House that this was a glaring loophole. We are seeing that loophole being exploited at this point.

What are they thinking Canadians will think about that? It clearly is a loophole and it is a wonder that the government did not plug it. Some more work for its members to do.

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1:45 p.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, in case there is any confusion among those people who are viewing this debate, I want to say that we are not talking about fixing elections because that would be a bad thing. Bill C-16 is a very good thing. This is part of our overall democratic reform package. I think it will be well received within this place because it is one of the more positive steps in democratic reform that any government can bring forward.

We currently have a system where at the will of the government it can call an election. That obviously leads to many things along the lines of manipulating voters and manipulating dates to get the most beneficial time to the governing party to call an election. Obviously, as many speakers before me have indicated, this would bring an element of fairness to the whole equation.

I should also say at the outset that I am very pleased to hear the majority of my colleagues in this place stating unequivocally that they plan to support this important legislation. I say the majority but I cannot say all because as usual my colleagues on the official opposition side of the House, the Liberal Party of Canada, seems to be all over the map in terms of whether they want to support this or not. I heard today my hon. colleague from Vancouver Quadra state that he wishes to support this legislation, although he offered a few pieces of advice that we perhaps could tweak the legislation and make it stronger.

I have also heard in previous interviews the member for York South—Weston state without reservation that he will support the legislation but I also hear my colleague from Wascana say without reservation that he will oppose the legislation. I suppose it is not unusual to hear my colleagues on the Liberal side of the House once again failing to come to any unanimity on a very important issue. In fact, I find it distressing and troubling that members of the Liberal Party of Canada would oppose, in any way, shape or form, a sense of accountability that would bring transparency and fairness to this place.

Let me once again try to point out some of the elements of this legislation and why it makes sense to me and to most Canadians. In fact, I should say that a recent polling has observed that over 77% of Canadians polled think that fixed election dates would be a good thing and a necessary change. I agree with that for all of the right reasons.

First, of course, it would ensure fairness. It would ensure that no party, regardless of political affiliation, while in power would be able to manipulate a date for a federal election to its particular advantage. I must say that this has happened time and time again over the last 100 years and not only by Liberal governments. It has happened with Progressive Conservative governments in the past. In fact, my research indicates that since 1867 with majority governments, the vast majority of governments ignored the four year traditional and conventional timeframe for federal elections.

Not once over the course of 12 years did the previous Liberal government adhere to the four year convention. Former Prime Minister Chrétien was in the habit of calling elections every three to three and a half years. That allows the governing party to have a political advantage over its opponents. Only the governing party knows the dates of the next election. If the polls happen to be favourable and it looks like the governing party might be returned in either a majority government or at least a strong minority, the governing party can call an election at its whim.

Conversely, if it appears that the polls indicate that the governing party may not win an election at that four year cycle, it can delay that election up to five years and beyond. Quite frankly, that should not be allowed to happen.

This legislation would take care of that. It would make it incumbent upon the present government and governments in the future to adhere to a fixed date for federal elections. The manipulations of governments trying to buy voters with their own money would come to an end. This is a very important step in our package of democratic reform.

It is more than simply fairness. It is the transparency that I think most Canadians are looking for in their elected officials. Canadians do not want to think that the timing of a federal election will be held behind closed doors where a bunch of party hacks and pollsters get together and say that this would be their best chance to win the next election and that they should call the next election on a particular date. That should have no bearing on the timing of a federal election.

The bill, if adopted by this place and the upper chamber, will prevent that type of action from happening again. All Canadians will have the luxury of knowing that their governments, now and in the future, will have to adhere to a certain timeframe, the third Monday in October every four years. If that is not enough, it will also improve the ability of each successive government to provide the type of legislation and governance that Canadians expect and, frankly, deserve.

Too often we find a sense of gridlock within the public service because public servants are unaware of when the next election might be called. They are somewhat fearful of bringing forward initiatives or improvements within their particular government department or agency for fear that legislation or that initiative will be quashed by the government with the call of a federal election. Without question, if all parliamentarians and public servants knew that there were specific and fixed dates for elections, governance would vastly improve.

One of the more important elements of the legislation, of which very few people have spoken today, is that with fixed election dates I believe voter turnout would probably increase. Right now we all know and I think admit that there is a high level of voter cynicism for a number of reasons. One of them is that elections can be called at the whim of the government in a majority situation. I believe if the general public knew when the election would be held, they would have more confidence in coming forward to vote on election day, notwithstanding that if we had fixed elections dates, over time there would come a sense of knowledge and reality within the electorate that every four years, the third Monday in October, there would be a federal election. It would become almost routine and more and more voters would come out to the polls because they would know and expect an election on that appointed date.

One of the real tragedies we have is the fact that over the last 10 years or so we have seen a steady decline in voter turnout to the point now where slightly over 60% of Canadians exercise their franchise on election day. That is a tragedy. Decades ago we had 75% and in some provinces at least 80% voter turnout. People took pride in the fact that their vote counted. They had an opportunity to change the course of the country or at least elect a government that seemed to agree with their particular point of view.

Now, particularly among young people, we find a situation where people just do not feel they have an opportunity to truly influence democratic institutions. This is one small step in rectifying that.

Finally, I encourage all members in the House, particularly my friends opposite, to vote in favour of the legislation. Without their support, without the support of all opposition parties, the legislation will fail. That would be to the detriment of all Canadian people.

The government is convinced and committed to ongoing democratic reform. This is the first step and we will take other initiatives as we come through this fall session. With the support and help of all my hon. colleagues, we can all engage in true democratic reform for the benefit of all Canadians.

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1:55 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, during his speech, the member referred to party hacks and other backroom people setting election dates.

Would he care to comment on the story in today's press from the Conservative Party hacks and backroom boys that the next election is next spring, right after the budget comes down?

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1:55 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague has again got it completely wrong. It is idle media speculation.

Let me just assure my colleague that the longer we have a chance to stay in power, with the legislation that is being so overwhelmingly approved and appreciated by Canadians, the better we will be. We do not want an election after the next budget. We want an election after four successive budgets. That would ensure that we stay in power for an awfully long time.

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1:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

When we resume discussion on the legislation, there will be four minutes left for questions and comments.

Fort McMurrayStatements By Members

2 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Conservative Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

Mr. Speaker, I want to take you on trip to northern Alberta, to Canada's future, to the year 2016 and to a community where the local population has more than doubled to over 160,000.

Seventy-five billion dollars has been invested in the local economy. Three million barrels of oil are produced every day from this community, resulting in 6% of Canada's gross domestic product and 50% of Canada's oil production.

Today, unfortunately, the average home price is over $438,000. The rental price for a two bedroom apartment is $2,000, if one can be found. The municipality has a $1.2 billion infrastructure deficit and the lowest doctor to patient ratio in the country: 2.1 doctors to every 6,500 people.

Mr. Speaker, if you want to take one of the over 400,000 new jobs that will be created in Alberta over the next 10 years, come on up to Fort McMurray. Just ensure you have a place to sleep first because you will not find a bed once you get there.

Anthony BonecaStatements By Members

September 18th, 2006 / 2 p.m.

Liberal

Joe Comuzzi Liberal Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Mr. Speaker, on February 13, 1985, Shirley Boneca gave birth to a boy, whom his parents called Anthony.

Anthony, or T-Bone as he was known, lived all his life in Thunder Bay. He attended St. Ignatius High School. He was a good student and an outstanding athlete. He was a fine young man and he was honoured by the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario in 2003.

After high school, Anthony joined the Lake Superior Scottish Regiment as a reservist. His first tour of duty was in Afghanistan and he returned to Thunder Bay safely. He then volunteered for another tour and arrived back in Afghanistan in February of 2006. Anthony never saw Thunder Bay or his parents again. He was killed in action on July 9, 2006.

Our sincere sympathy to his parents, who have honoured us with their presence today. Anthony was their only child. All Canadians should feel proud of this fine young man from Thunder Bay who made the supreme sacrifice for his country.

Anastasia De SousaStatements By Members

2 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Ménard Bloc Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker a family in the Ste-Rose neighbourhood of my riding has been struck by tragedy.

A mad gunman killed the oldest daughter with nine bullets.

He did it because she was beautiful and she seemed happy and he detested happiness and beauty.

Like millions of people, my eyes fill with tears and my heart breaks at the sight of the lovely graduation picture of this young woman and upon reading and hearing the testimonials of her friends and teachers.

It is at times like these that the true meaning of the word “sympathy” is apparent. The term comes from the Greek and means to suffer with. It is very little, too little, but it is the best we can do to help one another bear the unbearable.

Thus, I wish to express my heartfelt and most sincere condolences for the loss of the beautiful and, above all, the beloved Anastasia.