Mr. Speaker, I will move on to the business at hand which is the second reading of Bill C-16.
I support the idea of fixed election dates but I am not happy with the way the government has gone about bringing in the legislation and certain parts of it concern me.
I am confident that with further study and amendments at committee fixed election dates can be achieved in a fashion that is sound and well thought out. After all, no reform should ever be taken lightly, especially when our system of government has worked so hard and well, all things considered, since before 1867.
The Westminster system of government that we inherited from the United Kingdom dates back hundreds of years. It is a remarkable system of government in that it has adapted itself to changing times. This system has also adapted itself to a number of countries, such as Singapore, Malta, India and Jamaica. We have a strong system of government that is innovative and flexible. Fixed election dates are yet another reform that is coming along and that, if implemented correctly, can only serve to make our system stronger.
I will speak to why I support the idea of fixed election dates and then I will raise my concerns with the government's course of action on this file.
Canadian history was made on May 17, 2005, when British Columbia had the first election date set in law.
In December 2005, the McGuinty government in Ontario passed a bill that set fixed election dates for Ontario. This means that the next election in Ontario will be on October 4, my birthday, 2007, and subsequent elections will be held on the first Thursday of October every four years.
Other provinces, such as Quebec, Manitoba and New Brunswick, have considered fixed dates as well.
This is not a novel move at all. We tend to take fixed election dates at the municipal level for granted. Why should things be any different at the provincial or federal level? There has been a movement toward reforming assemblies that use the Westminster system of government.
When the British Parliament created new assemblies in Scotland and Wales in 1998, the acts proclaimed that elections were to take place on the first Thursday in May every four years.
In 2005, the New Zealand prime minister, Helen Clark, voiced support for fixed election dates in that country. It is time that we consider such a move here in Canada.
On balance, the fairness and administrative efficiency of fixed elections outweighs the added cost due to potentially longer campaigns. With the financing laws and third party advertisement laws we have in Canada, the nightmare scenario of a four year election campaign should be avoided.
Fixed election dates can actually be more efficient in that since everyone knows when the election is coming there may be more cooperation to get bills passed in Parliament. Bills that enjoy the support of most parties in the House may be prioritized and there may be agreement to extend sitting hours to get bills of common interest passed. I think here of the animal cruelty legislation that has been constantly removed from the order papers for the past few Parliaments.
There have been examples in Canadian history when everyone thought there would be an election but one turned out not to be called at all. Party workers prepared signs, pamphlets and databases and then all of a sudden there was no election.
This would be a waste of resources in that all the campaign material would need to be updated at a later date. There has to be a leaner, more efficient way.
Moreover, the duration of the formal campaign could be shortened under the fixed election date system since the work of the electoral office could begin before the election was called. This could save money and result in better planning all around. Similarly, unnecessary byelections could be avoided.
There have been examples in Canadian politics where election campaigns have been underway when a writ was dropped for a national election. Also, there have been examples of byelections held just before the writ was dropped for a national vote. In both cases there was an inefficient use of resources, both financial and human. This sort of waste and inefficiency could be avoided if the date of the national election were known and a determination could be made on whether a byelection is necessary or it could wait until the national election.
There are examples in Canadian history of premiers and prime ministers trying to avoid the electorate by waiting five years before having an election called. The playing field must be level so all may participate fairly.
Another reason to consider a fixed election date is for convenience. I do not think anyone in the House wants to go through another winter campaign any time soon. With the fixed date, everyone is on the same page and, with an election date fixed at a convenient time of the year, headaches could be avoided.
While there were no serious glitches in the 2006 election other than the outcome, this does not mean that a winter date does not cause headaches and inconveniences for senior citizens, those with disabilities and the snowbirds.
A number of my constituents, both men and women, have raised concerns about the lack of representation of women in the House of Commons. In January's election, only 64 women were elected, which is actually one fewer than in the 2004 election. A number of ways exist to address this but one way is to ensure adequate child care spaces so that women are more able to pursue a career in a field such as politics. We all know the government's record on child care. Its child care initiative has proven to be a poorly thought out plan but I will discuss that a bit more in a few minutes.
Another way to improve the representation of women in the House might be through fixed election dates. If women were able to know ahead of time the date of the election they could better prepare, plan and make all necessary arrangements. It is certainly something worth considering. The same approach might also encourage more ethnic minorities and new Canadians to run for Parliament.
I have spent the last few minutes discussing why I support fixed election dates. As a result, I support sending the bill to committee where members will be able to analyze it, debate and discuss it.
The bill could be improved in a number of areas so that it could truly accomplish fixed election dates. First, I cannot help but think that the bill was introduced in a hasty and rushed fashion. We have Bill C-16 before us but the Prime Minister also has proposals for Senate reform.
The Prime Minister should know that the functioning of Canada's Parliament has not changed much since 1867.
Reform in this country can be slow and rather than take this sloppy, misguided and unfocused approach to parliamentary reform, he should better focus his proposals. I support reform. Fixed election dates is an example, but only if it is carried out in a responsible manner. This ensures that the reforms can be well implemented and bring forth results.
Bill C-16 was introduced on May 30, less than two months after the opening of Parliament. I wish the government would have truly considered fixed election dates, then we might have a better bill than we have here today.
In the bill, the prime minister still retains the ability to advise the Governor General to dissolve Parliament at any time he believes he has lost the confidence of the House. This is understandable if the vote he has lost is a true confidence one, but what if the bill is only one that the government deemed to be a vote of confidence? This sort of confidence out of convenience could defeat fears of fixed election. I am apprehensive that an over-zealous prime minister could purposefully lose a vote; deem it one of confidence, even if it is not, and then have an election called. This is one example of how the bill was introduced in a sloppy fashion.
I am confident that with the hard work of the official opposition, the bill can be made into a good one that will serve the purpose and bring Canadians fixed election dates. However, the way the government has proceeded with the bill is indicative of how it has handled most of its files since taking office.
The government has boasted that it has worked hard on a handful of priorities, but in reality it has only left a trail of disillusionment and deception. The GST cut is a prime example. It came into effect as promised on July 1, but Canadians also noticed an increase in their income tax as of that date. The government gave with one hand and took even more with the other, especially for low and middle income Canadians. Cuts to sales taxes are not the best kinds of tax cuts to introduce as they do nothing to encourage people to enter the workforce or to invest more money from their paycheques. The GST cut only benefited wealthy Canadians to spend more money on consumer goods.
Of course, child care, as I mentioned before, is a file that the government has not handled well at all. It is with great glee that the Prime Minister cancelled signed child care agreements. The Conservatives have eliminated the national child care program and distributed monetary gifts. In so doing, it fails to build more social policies that will benefit Canadians for generations to come. Moreover, the payment to parents is taxable, so families are not even receiving the full amount they were promised. Again, bad policy was carried out in a hasty and sloppy fashion.
What about the health care guarantee? Where is that? How does the Prime Minister plan to accomplish his wait times guarantee? How will he improve health care for Canadians? Unfortunately, the government has once against introduced government policy on the fly, out of pure politics.
Bill C-16 is yet another hastily drawn piece of legislation. I support fixed election dates, but it needs to be worked at in committee to truly bring democratic change to this institution and to help us realize fixed election dates.
Some of the members across have mentioned that I had a different speech. Yes, I wanted to speak about my riding a bit more and talk about Oak Ridges—Markham, what we are doing there and what I am hearing from people on fixed election dates.
This was not something that was drawn up by the Conservative Party. This legislation has been in front of us a number of times in the House in private members' bills. I was also thinking of putting a bill forward at the beginning of the year, but I had other priorities in my riding such as rural mail delivery, which was ceased by the current government.
When I spoke with my constituents about a fixed date for elections, I was torn between the two bills. My constituents convinced me that rural mail delivery was more important. Since the current Prime Minister had put this forth as a private members' bill in the previous Parliament, I knew that it would come up one way or another. I wanted to ensure that I commented on that in my speech.