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House of Commons Hansard #138 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was budget.

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The House resumed from December 5 consideration of the motion that Bill S-202, An Act to repeal legislation that has not come into force within ten years of receiving royal assent, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Statutes Repeal ActPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, before we begin looking at Bill S-202, I want to thank the leader of the Bloc Québécois, the member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie, for placing his trust in me by naming me House Leader of the Bloc Québécois. I also thank the voters in Joliette because, without their support, I could not have been entrusted with this responsibility by the leader. I can assure my colleagues in this House that I will take part in parliamentary debates as constructively as possible, as I have always tried to do since I began sitting in Parliament seven years ago.

I would also like to thank the member for Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean for all the work he has done, and particularly for everything he will be doing in the coming weeks, because obviously I am counting on his support, which I know I can rely on. As well, he has knowledge and expertise to pass on to me in order to make as smooth a transition as possible. The member for Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean will be with us until the end of this session.

In my opinion, Bill S-202, an act to repeal legislation that has not come into force within ten years of receiving royal assent, makes a great deal of sense. Some legislation has not come into force 10 years after it was adopted by the House and received royal assent. Something therefore needs to be corrected in the way legislation is made, and Bill S-202 suggests how this can be done.

The Bloc Québécois will support this bill, which is designed essentially to clean up legislation that has been adopted but has not come into force. Using a mechanism that I will come back to, this bill would force the government to make the House aware of such legislation.

This bill is also a way of clearly establishing that the legislative branch is responsible for the entire legislative process and that the executive branch has to carry out decisions made by Canada's Parliament, such as the decision to adopt bills in this House or the Senate. In a way, this bill strengthens legislative power and ensures that the executive serves the legislative and not the reverse.

We would, however, like to add some qualifications to the bill before us. We think that three amendments would be desirable. First, Bill S-202 allows legislation not to come into force within ten years. We feel that this is much too long. The House should question the relevance of any legislation that has not come into force after five years, as well as the rationale for the government's decision not to put it into force. We will therefore ask that the bill to be amended so as to reduce from ten years to five years the government's discretionary period for putting into force legislation passed by Parliament, that is the House of Commons and the Senate.

Second, we would want the government to be required to set out before Parliament its reasons for not having put the legislation into force, or not planning to do so, despite the fact that it has received royal assent. As I indicated, the goal is to enable the House to exercise its legislative responsibility in ensuring that the government does not do as it pleases with legislation passed by the House or by Parliament as a whole. In this respect, we feel that the type of explanation to be provided to Parliament by the government to justify not having put the legislation into force needs to be clarified.

Third, clause 3 should be amended to reflect the fact that the members of the Senate are not elected, but appointed by the Prime Minister, as everyone knows.

We propose amending clause 3, which currently reads as follows:

Every Act or provision listed in the annual report is repealed on December 31 of the year in which the report is laid unless it comes into force on or before that December 31 or during that year either House of Parliament adopts a resolution that the Act or provision not be repealed.

We propose amending it to:

Every Act or provision listed in the annual report is repealed on December 31 of the year in which the report is laid unless it comes into force on or before that December 31 or during that year the House of Commons adopts a resolution that the Act or provision not be repealed.

We find it is the responsibility of the House of Commons, of those who sit here, who were elected by the public—the electors—in their respective ridings. We think this should be a privilege of the House of Commons and not the Senate.

As I mentioned earlier, some bills and legislation have been passed by both Houses of Parliament. Although they received royal assent, they were never brought into force by the government.

This occurs when a bill is passed and Parliament gives the government the latitude to decide when the bill will come into force in order to give the government time to negotiate the bill's implementation with the provinces or, for regulations, the time to give the public service the latitude to consider all the implications. Nonetheless, for bills, the government is certainly not given this latitude in order to have the discretionary power to implement legislation or not, or to postpone its implementation indefinitely.

In our opinion, it is important to have a mechanism that ensures that the government is required to bring back to the House all the bills that have not been implemented. As I was saying earlier, we propose that this be done over a period of five years rather than ten. It is also important to receive the necessary explanations from the government on why the legislation has not been implemented, or why the government does not intend to implement it.

It may very well be that changing political, economic, social, environmental and cultural circumstances make it appropriate not to implement certain legislation.

The Library of Parliament has compiled information. There are acts dating back to before 1985. These deal with such matters as motor vehicle fuel consumption standards. It seems to me that we could do away with that particular piece of legislation, since consumption standards have obviously changed considerably over the past 20 years. I have not read it, but I am convinced that it is completely obsolete by now. This explains the purpose of the bill.

The mechanism in the bill provides that, on December 31 of the ninth year that an act has not been put into force, Parliament may be notified through an annual report laid before each House of Parliament, namely the House of Commons and the Senate. The government then has one year, from December 31 of the ninth year, to indicate whether it intends to put the act into force, or to explain why not, in the Canada Gazette.

In that case, if the government decides to explain why it will not implement an act, the act must be repealed if it is not brought into force by the following December 31, unless the House of Commons—if it considers the government's explanation to be unsatisfactory—that year resolves that it not be repealed. As I said earlier, the original bill also gives the Senate that power, but we believe that this ought to be within the purview of elected representatives.

The bill before us does not apply to acts or provisions of acts that are to come into force on assent or on a fixed date. Furthermore, the bill includes a transitional provision for provisions amended during the nine-year period before the enactment comes into force.

As I said earlier, this is simply about enabling the House of Commons, Parliament, the parliamentary process to ensure that we do not have to keep dealing with a series of acts that have not been implemented, or that, in some cases, cannot be implemented, or may not have been implemented for the wrong reasons by successive governments. The Senate committee was told that the bureaucrats do not even know how many such acts are gathering dust in various departments.

Parliamentarians, including government members, should be concerned about this. As I said, the Library of Parliament provided the senators who introduced this bill with a list of 56 bills that were never brought into force. Consider, for example, the Motor Vehicle Fuel Consumption Standards Act, which I mentioned earlier, and the Canadian Heritage Languages Institute Act from 1991, to name but two.

The Bloc Québécois supports the principle underlying the bill and hopes that the committee will be able to improve it—

Statutes Repeal ActPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The hon. member for Burnaby—Douglas.

Statutes Repeal ActPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, this morning I am honoured to address Bill S-202, the statutes repeal act.

Let me begin by congratulating the member for Joliette on his appointment as House leader for the Bloc Québécois. I know that he will bring his not only his experience but his commitment to this place to that job. I also want to thank the member for Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean for his work in that position up to this point. They are different MPs, I know, and they bring different perspectives to that important task in this place.

I also want to thank the member for Mississauga South for presenting this Senate bill, the statutes repeal act, here in the House for our consideration. I know that it comes out of his commitment to the functioning of this place. He takes a great interest in how the chamber works and I appreciate his initiative around this important legislation.

As we have heard, this legislation seeks to address the fact that a number of pieces of legislation have never come into effect. They have never been enacted even though they have passed through the legislative process here in the House and also in the other place. For some reason, the government has chosen not to enact them.

That came as somewhat of a surprise to me even though I have worked in this place for many years. The fact that the government could choose not to implement legislation that had been passed by the House of Commons and the Senate, that it had that prerogative, is something that I still find passing strange. I find it strange that governments would sponsor legislation, take it through the process in both chambers, with members giving it their due and careful consideration, and see it go through all the stages of the various readings in the House and Senate and ultimately be passed, yet for some reason choose not to implement that legislation, and it would also not seek to repeal that legislation. It would just let it sit there on the books without effect for many years.

Indeed, I understand how that is a problem and I understand the need for some kind of housekeeping measures, both to bring accountability for the legislative process and to ensure that governments are doing their duty and following the will of the legislative branch of our government. I think this bill is a very important piece of legislation. It is important to consider what we do with legislation that has been on the books for many years and has not been enacted.

Generally there are several ways in which this is dealt with in legislation. All legislation has a coming into effect clause, which is usually the last clause of the legislation and which talks about when the legislation will come into effect. In some legislation that is very clearly stated: that it comes into effect at the point of royal assent or sometimes on a specific timetable with specific dates. In those cases, there is not a problem in terms of that legislation not becoming effective, not being enacted and not actually being carried out.

The problem is in the situation where the coming into effect legislation talks about the date to be determined by the governor in council, when the government is given the opportunity to determine the timeline for the coming into effect of legislation. Often there is a good reason for that. It may be that there are further negotiations with other levels of government that have to happen. It may be that regulations have to be developed to allow for the implementation of that legislation.

However, it is in those situations that the prerogative begins for the government to delay or even not implement legislation. That is where I think we need to be more diligent, perhaps, as members of Parliament. I certainly will be careful to look at that clause in any legislation that I am directly involved with in this place in the future, because I think that is where we as legislators can exercise our abilities to ensure that the legislation we work on and support comes into effect in a reasonable length of time and actually does happen. I think that is a place where we need to be more careful.

I would also hope that governments might take more direct responsibility in a situation where problems do crop up with legislation that has been passed but which governments feel they cannot go forward with. They should take responsibility to bring back legislation to repeal something that has already been passed, to convince the people in this place, who have responsibility for the people of Canada to work on that legislation and to make judgments about that legislation. A government must give representatives the opportunity to understand the problems with the legislation as the government sees it and to make a decision about whether it should go forward or not.

We have heard that there are two complete bills, the Motor Vehicle Fuel Consumption Standards Act from the early 1980s and the Canadian Heritage Languages Institute Act from the early 1990s that have not been implemented. I do not know what was in those pieces of legislation that caused them to not be implemented by the government. When I see the title of the first one, the Motor Vehicle Fuel Consumption Standards Act, I wonder if it had come into effect we might have solved some of the problems that we are facing today since it seemed to be an early attempt to deal with that important issue back in the 1980s.

I also understand that there are 57 other pieces of legislation that would be affected by this bill and it seems reasonable that there should be a review of that legislation. However, I want to make sure that we do not lose the opportunity to hold governments accountable for important legislation that was passed, and that we do indulge and we are careful about the politics between the legislative branch and the executive branch of government. We sometimes have to as legislators push the governor in council, the government, to act on legislation and for very good reasons.

I will use as an example my experience since I arrived in this place with a piece of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act which was passed in 2001 dealing with the refugee appeal division. I know this is not exactly applicable to the Statutes Repeal Act, but it gives an example of the kind of situation we are talking about.

The Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, IRPA, was passed in 2001 and one feature of that act was the establishment of the refugee appeal division which was a paper screening process that gave refugee claimants an appeal of a decision made by the Immigration and Refugee Board. That refugee appeal division was established in law as a compromise in the debate on the immigration and refugee appeal division.

The government of the day wanted to reduce the panels which heard refugee claims from two members to one member, but concerns of other members of Parliament were that a two member panel gave an opportunity for corrections of errors that might be made in the process, whereas a one member panel did not afford that opportunity for fairness and justice, hence the RAD was introduced as a compromise to ensure fairness in the system.

Since then, the governments of the day have refused to implement the refugee appeal division, and every refugee and immigrant serving organization in the country and many internationally have called on the government to implement that. The previous Liberal government and the current Conservative government have faced those strong calls from NGOs which work with refugees to implement that division to bring a modicum of fairness to the process.

The governments of the day have refused to do that. It is part of the law. It was passed as part of the law, but the fact that the law also gave the governor in council the ability to determine the timetable for the implementation of that law, these particular sections have never been implemented.

This brings us to the strange situation where the member for Laval, with the support of her colleague, the member for Vaudreuil-Soulanges, have drafted a private member's bill, Bill C-280, An Act to Amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (coming into force of sections 110, 111 and 171). However, this is a private member's bill to implement legislation that has already been passed by Parliament. It seems a strange step to have to take, but many members of Parliament in all parties have called for the government to take this action.

That is one example of the kind of situation we get into, where this chamber made a decision and the Senate also made a decision on this legislation. The legislation was passed. An important piece was added as part of the debate on that and yet the government has chosen never to implement it. Many of us feel that it is a very serious problem with our immigration law.

There are other examples. There is the wage earners protection bill, Bill C-55 which dealt with corporate bankruptcies and putting workers first in the lineup to receive compensation. Parts of that have not been acted on even though it was passed in this place. There are sections of the Labour Code which face the same situation. We do need an effective mechanism to review those pieces of legislation and I am glad that Bill S-202 gives us that opportunity.

Statutes Repeal ActPrivate Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Robert Thibault Liberal West Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the House in support of this bill from the Senate. It will be very useful for all of Parliament.

It is not often that we get a chance to discuss a bill that we can agree on. This private member's bill seems to have the agreement of all parties. It has very good support in the Senate. It is not a bill that attracts a lot of attention. I have not received a lot of calls in my riding on this bill. It does not get a lot of media attention. The bill shows, for one thing, that Parliament can work and that there can be some good cooperation among parties.

The bill seeks to make Parliament work better in the future, to solve problems before they arise. There may not have been a thousand cases of where not having this type of bill has hurt Canadians, but I think we can see that the potential is there and in other instances where Canadians are not getting the benefit that Parliament intended. Previous speakers spoke about the bankruptcy protection act for workers which is an excellent example. It was passed by both Houses and it received royal assent but has not been brought into force.

I would like to begin by thanking the other place for its excellent work, and particularly Senator Banks, who has taken this on and has made great arguments. He has done a lot of good research on this matter. I think it advances the mark. I am not sure that it accomplishes the full task of what we should be doing. We should be asking very fundamental questions about why a bill can go through the House, be enacted, go through the Senate, committees, hear witnesses, be approved by both Houses of Parliament, receive royal assent, and then the government chooses not to put it into force.

Perhaps it is important for Canadians to understand that there is an operative clause in many of these bills, usually the last clause, that says the bill would come into force with the approval of the governor in council. That essentially means that cabinet would decide, and cabinet is government. There can be good reasons for that.

For example, the bill could be dealing with agreements that have to take place or be negotiated. It could have interprovincial ramifications, meaning that changes might have to be made to laws in other provinces. We have had that in certain instances with the Criminal Code where changes needed to be made in the provinces that have not happened. In those cases, we would see the reason behind it. We cannot have provincial acts and federal acts saying opposite things.

There could be other acts of Parliament that go through or are initiated with some discussion that gives reason for the original act to be not valid, sometimes counterproductive, or having a different intent.

Another example are international treaties or Canadian treaties with first nations that have to be taken into consideration. Sometimes they need negotiations and the act cannot be brought into force until those negotiations happen.

I believe there are 56 such acts of Parliament that have received royal assent but have not been proclaimed because they are waiting for governor in council proclamation. This raises the question of certainty. If I am going to be favourably affected by such an act, then I would want the certainty that the act would be implemented. If I am going to be negatively affected, or if it can change the outcome of my day-to-day decision-making processes, then I should have the right to know that also. I should have the right to know that the bill or the act will be proclaimed or withdrawn. I believe it is very good in that sense.

I find a 10 year time period a bit long. Some senators have suggested that perhaps it should have been a five year period. I would suggest that perhaps there could be other elements added to the bill, and the committee will certainly be reviewing this. Maybe there should be an annual listing of all the acts, not just at the 10 year period but at the one year, two year, or three year period. Parliament could be told where the legislation is in the process, why it has not been proclaimed, or what the holdup is. Parliament could be appraised of the situation. Again, I reference the bankruptcy provisions to protect workers.

The purpose of a bill passed by Parliament is to advise government, government being cabinet, to enact and put in place that piece of legislation so that the bureaucracy, civil servants, can make the decisions and take the actions that are deemed necessary by Parliament.

If we look at a bunch of acts that are not proclaimed or put into force, we could suggest that cabinet or government is looking at the effect of a private member's bill and sometimes even a government bill saying, “That is what the House thinks but we know better”. I do not think that is the intention and that is not how Parliament should work. Parliament is supreme and the governor in council should enact the will of Parliament as soon as possible. The only way we can know whether that is being done or whether there is justification for what government decides is that there be an annual review to look at each of the bills to see why they have not been put into force.

We live every day with ministerial discretion that gives a lot of power to a minister, not necessarily just the governor in council but as a minister independently. We have a bill before the House now on the modernization of the Fisheries Act. It is a very old act that needs modernization. I am looking forward to having a serious debate on it.

I wish we could have good consultations with the fisheries industry and the communities affected so that modifications could be brought to the proposed act. I am quite comfortable that 99% of it is good, but there needs to be some changes and clarifications and there has been a refusal to do so.

My point is that when we look at the old act, there is so much ministerial power and discretion, and the new act possibly gives more to a minister. In this case the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans could make a decision in which all would agree with the principle, as was announced a couple of weeks ago on licensing provisions and regulations in the lobster fishery in western Nova Scotia. That can have some negative effects and not give the opportunity for proper discussions and consultations on how to negate and minimize the negative effects and encourage the positive.

Protection of the independence of the inshore fleet is very positive, people want that, but they do not need an artificial effect of decreasing the value of their licences which is, in the case of family businesses, the pension plan of fishermen and their families. A quick decision by a minister without consultation and proper regard can have a negative impact. We must ensure we have those types of discussions.

In the case of bills that are brought before the House, usually we have a lot of discussions in various ways. We can have them go to committee at first reading, have public input at that time, have consultation prior to the bill being drafted, consultation after the bill is drafted, and consultation at second reading both in the House and the Senate. One would think that once that process has been followed, the will of the House should be supreme. It is in law but in practice sometimes it is not because the government will decide when it will bring a bill into force.

I was pleased to see that in this bill itself the drafter had the wisdom to put in the sixth article that this act comes into force two years after the day it receives royal assent. Ironically, had the drafter not done that and inserted the typical operative clause saying it would come into force at the proclamation of the governor in council, the bill might not be able to do at all what it seeks to do, which is to make sure these acts of Parliament are put into force unless there are valuable reasons not to, and there can be. I suggest that probably in most cases there are.

What is suggested now is a review in the ninth year. I would invite the committee to consider an annual review of all bills that are in limbo, all of them. I am sure only two or three would have to be debated. With that, I am pleased to add my support along with other members of the House to this important bill.

Statutes Repeal ActPrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

Daryl Kramp Conservative Prince Edward—Hastings, ON

Mr. Speaker, on many occasions in the House we have differences on all sides of the House, sometimes minor and sometimes sharp, but today it is a pleasure to see a fair degree of unanimity in dealing with the occasionally mundane, but most necessary, mechanics of the efficient operation of the House.

It is for that reason that I am glad to have the opportunity to comment in a positive manner on Bill S-202. It is an important initiative and one that I know most, if not all, members of our party fully support.

Today I will focus my comments on the question of how much oversight would be appropriate in respect of the coming into force of legislation considering all the other responsibilities that Parliament has to discharge. To be more to the point, I would like to address the question of how soon Parliament's attention should be drawn to the fact that particular acts or provisions have not been brought into force.

As we know, Bill S-202 would require the Minister of Justice to report at the beginning of each calendar year on all acts and provisions that have not been brought into force in the past nine years. These acts and provisions would be repealed at the end of the year unless during the year they were brought into force or exempted from repeal by a resolution of either Houses of Parliament.

The only basis on which legislation would be reported would be how much time has passed since it was adopted by Parliament. No partisan or political motives could influence the content of this report, and to me that is very important. This single criterion ensures that at one point in time every provision that has not been brought into force will be brought to the attention of Parliament and the government will need to account for it.

The downside, if I may use that expression, of having this single criterion is that it treats all acts and provisions in the same way, regardless of their significance, which may range from granting important rights to making relatively minor technical amendments.

During the December debate, the hon. member for Rivière-du-Nord suggested that a 10 year period following the adoption of legislation was far too long and that any legislation that has not been brought into force within 5 years should be repealed. I would like to express some concerns about reducing the timeframe from 10 years to 5 years as she suggested.

Under the current 10 year period, the first report to be tabled by the Minister of Justice would include four complete acts and provisions in about 60 statutes. We need to keep in mind that the first report should be the longest because it will cover old legislation. That kind of systematic repeal of obsolete provisions was last done by the statute revision of 1985. We would expect the following reports to be shorter after the first set of repeals have been made under Bill S-202.

I have had the benefit of looking at a list of all acts and provisions that would be added to the list of legislation to be repealed if the bill were amended, as suggested by the hon. member, to refer to a five year period of repeal instead of a ten year period. This simple change would add one complete statute, the Specific Claims Resolution Act, and over 150 provisions in 18 statutes. That is a lot of legislation to be reviewed by Parliament.

When I compared the results created by reducing the repeal period from 10 years to 5 years, it left me with the impression that a number of these additional provisions would probably have been brought into force between 5 years and 10 years. I am concerned about spending too much time too soon on provisions that would probably not appear on the same list five years later because they would already have been dealt with in the meantime.

Multiple consequential amendments are sometimes dependent on a single action to be completed. For example, the Cape Breton Development Corporation Divestiture Authorization and Dissolution Act provides for the dissolution of the corporation and some things can only be done once the corporation is dissolved. For the same reasons, some provisions, for example deleting references to that corporation, can only be brought into force once the corporation ceases to exist.

We can find such provisions in the five year list but they would likely not appear on a ten year list. Is it the best use of Parliament's time then to simply review such provisions?

I understand the importance and am in favour of having proper parliamentary oversight but I am concerned that in most of these cases added by a five year rule it would simply exceed what is necessary to keep track of implementation of legislation by government. In other words, during the due course of time it will probably be dealt with.

I am not the sponsor of Bill S-202 but, from the previous debates at the other place, I understand that the aim of the bill is not to simply repeal everything as soon as possible.

As I mentioned last December, there are valid reasons why some legislation takes time to be implemented. I do not believe anyone in this House is in disagreement with this point. The effect of the bill would be to provide an opportunity to consider the validity of these reasons at some point in time.

What would be the point of asking Parliament to spend time on so many items that would eventually have been resolved anyway? Considering that it often takes years for particular statutes to be adopted by Parliament, is it necessary to systematically start reviewing their coming into force as quickly as four years after their adoption? In very particular cases, Parliament provides that a review of an act be undertaken after five or ten years. This is an exceptional measure to monitor the impact of significant legislation, like the Anti-terrorism Act which touches on fundamental rights and values.

The purpose of Bill S-202 is not to provide for such parliamentary review across the board. I am concerned that not all provisions that would fall under the five year timeframe would be of such an extraordinary importance as to require Parliament's attention after simply a few years of their enactment. If they are so important as to require Parliament's attention, nothing prevents parliamentarians from asking the responsible minister what is happening in that respect and questions can be raised much sooner than before the end of five years.

Although I concede there is no magic in the particular number of years, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, it seems to me that when legislation has not been brought into force within ten years there are reasons to be concerned that nothing has been done to bring it into force. However, relatively few acts and provisions should survive this timeframe.

I mentioned last December that there can be valid reasons why legislation might take a significant time to bring into force. These reasons often have to do with the need to make administrative arrangements before implementing new programs or measures, or the time required to coordinate them with provincial, territorial or foreign governments. Parliament, though, should be entitled, as provided in Bill S-202, to receive answers.

The other point I would like to make in this respect is that once a piece of legislation appears on the list in a given year, a resolution of either Houses of Parliament will be required to save it from repeal at the end of the year and such resolution will be required every year until the legislation is finally implemented or repealed.

Do we really want to hear about an international treaty implementation act every year for five years? Quite frankly, no. This House has many pressing, urgent, necessary and demanding issues to be dealt with but it is quite common for legislation like that to take years to implement. Parliament's time is precious and it should not be spent on issues that would be resolved in due time.

I am all in favour of a process that would require the government to explain thoroughly why legislation adopted by Parliament has not been brought into force. However, I am concerned that if we put in place a threshold that is too low, like a review within five years, we would spend time on issues that would have been resolved if we had simply waited a few more years. By waiting until 10 years, chances are that only significant problems would reach Parliament. Is that not our duty? It seems to me to be a much better use of Parliament's resources.

Finally, I will repeat that if a situation requires Parliament's attention before 10 years because it is pressing, it is urgent or it is a matter that should be dealt with by Parliament, nothing really prevents any member of the House to ask for explanations from the responsible minister.

Statutes Repeal ActPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I want to speak briefly to the bill but I definitely will be supporting the bill brought forward by my colleague, the member for Mississauga South. He is a tremendous legislator who has a great understanding of the House, how it works and how it might be improved.

In such a complex system, items can sit around for years or fall between the cracks and people do not know they are there. They complicate an already complicated system. We do not need anything to make the system more complicated or to hold up the business of the country so anything we can do to streamline that and make it more effective I am sure all parliamentarians would agree.

The process for some bills is that after they receive royal assent from the Queen or the Governor General, they must then be proclaimed. Some of them come into effect on a particular date specified in the bill. Those are not the types of bills we are talking about today.

Other bills must be proclaimed by the government and, if that does not happen, then the bill does not come into effect. It could sit on the books forever which could cause a very confusing situation. In fact, years and decades later someone could proclaim a bill that was anachronistic, that had nothing to do with the times and it could be very dangerous, inefficient or not useful at all. This bill would simply clean up that situation.

A number of colleagues have already said that they wonder why that situation exists but the present system makes it possible to exist. My hon. colleague from Mississauga discovered that and came forward with this legislation to help fix that situation.

The legislation would provide that bills which have not been proclaimed after 10 years would no longer be in effect or be eligible to be in effect. The government could bring it back in the future but the legislation would allow a decision time of 10 years so that it would not be clutter and that it could not, perhaps by mistake or anachronistically, be brought into effect when it was not really meant to do so.

One thing we would want to be sure of in this process is that a bill would not be lost by accident. All of a sudden 10 years is up and the bills that might have been important, that might have been waiting for some important reasons that were mentioned by the members of the government and some other speaker to be proclaimed, they die because of the bill. However, the bill makes provisions for that. Bills will not just quietly die because a report would need to be made to the House after nine years. It also contains provisions to ensure that everyone is aware that this is about to take place and to give good consideration.

Once again, it would improve the system. When something is happening which people may not have been aware of or other exigencies or other important priorities have come forward and people have forgotten about it, the legislation would bring it back to the attention of the House that Parliament had decided to do something, that both Houses of Parliament had agreed and had passed all the procedures and for some reason it is still sitting there. The legislation would bring it to a decision point and a timely decision would be made so it does not just sit there.

At the moment about 57 bills have actually had royal assent but have not yet been proclaimed. Three of those are over 10 years old. We are not talking about a huge number of bills but there are enough that the bill is necessary as a housekeeping amendment to make Parliament and the legislative process more efficient.

I strongly support my colleague's bill and I hope the House will support it too.

I want to use the remaining time to float another concept that parliamentarians might think about in the future, which is that all legislation should sunset. There is legislation that is so old and anachronistic that it does not make any sense. Currently there are so many laws and the system is so big that the laws simply remain in force. There should be a provision that after a certain time, maybe 20 or 30 years, every bill would expire or would have to be renewed through a vote of Parliament to make sure it was still relevant.

Parliamentarians are very good at creating programs, legislation, expenditures and laws. However, they are not very good at getting rid of them when they are no longer useful.

This would affect virtually all departments and agencies of government. They would have to review what was in place and not let legislation just sit on the books. This could lead to all sorts of work, but on the other hand it would lead to a very timely review of ancient, anachronistic and useless provisions that had been created in a different era.

In the acceleration of the knowledge based world changes happen very fast and laws become outdated fairly quickly. This idea would provide a check and an update on everything the government has put into place. At some timeframe in the future all laws and programs would be reviewed by the appropriate departments and ultimately by Parliament.

This is something for parliamentarians to think about when improving the parliamentary system in the future.

Statutes Repeal ActPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a few remarks about Bill S-202, the statutes repeal act.

This bill as adopted in the other place is a valuable initiative. Like my hon. colleague, I am concerned about amending it to reduce from 10 to five years the period after which legislation could be repealed. I do not believe the purpose of the bill is to bring legislation into force as soon as possible. The appropriate time to do so is when the right conditions are in place, not as soon as possible. The real problem to be addressed is how to prevent the government from delaying indefinitely the coming into force of legislation.

Bill S-202 provides a good solution. By now we are all familiar with the process that Bill S-202 proposes to put in place. I do not intend to describe it in detail; I would prefer to focus on the problem it attempts to solve.

When Parliament is not in a position to bring an act or provision into force on royal assent, or identify a day for its coming into force, it has to rely on another mechanism to ensure that the legislation comes into force at the right time. The usual mechanism is to delegate to the government the power to select the day on which the act or provision would come into force. This is because the government should be in a better position after royal assent to assess when that time should be.

As we know, once Parliament has delegated to the governor in council the power to fix the coming into force date of legislation, it is a matter for the government to decide. As long as it considers from time to time the appropriateness of bringing the legislation into force, it has fulfilled its duties.

Until now, the only sanction the government could expect for failing to bring legislation into force was criticism in Parliament or elsewhere. Bill S-202 would ensure that the government could not consider indefinitely when legislation should come into force.

After 10 years the legislation would be repealed by operation of the law. By repealing the legislation after 10 years, Bill S-202 would ensure that the government seriously and regularly considered bringing legislation into force or it would lose the power to do so.

In addition, the reasons behind decisions not to bring legislation into force would have to be presented before Parliament in order for a resolution to be adopted deferring the repeal of the legislation. The bill would not, however, allow the government to easily dispense with legislation that it does not intend to implement at any time.

The report tabled annually by the minister of justice would put Parliament on notice that the acts and provisions it lists could be repealed at the end of the year. Any member of either house of Parliament could seek to prevent the repeal of legislation by proposing a resolution to that effect. In short, the government would have to publicly account to Parliament for the way it has exercised the power delegated by Parliament.

This new mechanism would improve our legislative process by implementing a mandatory parliamentary oversight nine years after powers have been delegated to the government to bring legislation into force. This would be an original process which has no equivalent, to my knowledge, in any of the Canadian legislatures.

Without any point of comparison, it is difficult to assess what would be the best parameter. Should legislation be repealed after 10 or five years? It is hard to assess, but considering how long it would take to re-enact legislation that would be repealed under this bill, should that be found necessary, I suggest that it might be better to keep a higher threshold. Therefore, in this regard, I disagree with the Bloc member who spoke earlier in favour of the five year threshold.

As my hon. colleague from Prince Edward—Hastings has mentioned before, there are many valid reasons why legislation might take time to be brought into force. I am concerned that if the repeal period were reduced from 10 to five years, the government might often be put in a situation where the conditions or circumstances necessary for bringing some legislation into force would not yet exist.

For example, not all the provinces or territories are ready to participate in a program or put in place a procedure needed to implement federal legislation. The procedures for enforcing federal offences under the Contraventions Act are a case in point. To keep such necessary legislation alive, the government would have to request either house of Parliament to adopt a resolution every year for a number of years.

A resolution is a good and transparent way to decide if an exemption from repeal should be allowed, but if after four years we have to seek resolutions to legislation that might take over 10 years to implement, it seems to me that Parliament would devote a lot of time to the same question that it cannot resolve because the coming into force depends on external factors. A good example of this is the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty Implementation Act which was enacted in 1998.

Statutes Repeal ActPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Unfortunately for the hon. member, the time has expired for this hour of debate, but I will go to the hon. member for Mississauga South for his five minute right of reply.

Statutes Repeal ActPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, Bill S-202 has been proposed a number of times since 2002.

If members had read the summary they would have gotten the idea that there were some solutions in it to some of the questions that were raised. The summary states that the enactment provides that any act or provision of an act, i.e. a part of an act, that is to come into force on a day to be fixed by proclamation or order of the governor in council must be included in an annual report laid before both houses of Parliament if it does not come into force by the December 31 that is nine years after it receives royal assent. The act or provisions are repealed if they do not come into force by the following December 31, unless during that year either house, the Commons or the Senate, passes a resolution that it not be repealed.

There is that stop period in case matters come before either house that would make proper argument that repeal should not take place.

The enactment applies to all acts, whether introduced in either house. It applies to government bills, private members' bills, public bills and private bills that provide for a coming into force to be set by the governor in council.

This is simply a summary, but I would like to point out that the reaction of parliamentarians thus far has been somewhat of astonishment that there could be 57 bills that have received royal assent and have not come into force. What is happening? Never mind after nine years, why is there not an annual report of all the bills that have received royal assent and have not been proclaimed. The report could provide a basic statement for the reasons the acts have not been put into force.

I understand there are some bills that have some regulations that are very complex. For example, the reproductive technologies regulations took about two years to develop and they still have not been fully implemented. We can understand how some bills can take time and there is good reason, but in many of the bills it is clear from my review of them that there is no good reason for the failure to proclaim them.

We have had a very thoughtful debate at second reading. There have been some interesting propositions about how the bill may be further improved and considered by the standing committee which will call the necessary witnesses. Let us make absolutely sure that the legislation substantiates the wish we make each day as we say our prayer that we make good laws and wise decisions.

I thank all hon. members who participated in the debate. I believe there is broad support for at least approval in principle at second reading. Let us move the bill to committee so that we can consider further Bill S-202 on behalf of Senator Tommy Banks.

Statutes Repeal ActPrivate Members' Business

Noon

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

It being 12:03 p.m., the time provided for debate has expired.

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

Statutes Repeal ActPrivate Members' Business

Noon

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Statutes Repeal ActPrivate Members' Business

Noon

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I declare the motion carried. Accordingly, the bill stands referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the second time and referred to a committee)

The House proceeded to the consideration of the amendment made by the Senate to Bill C-16, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

Noon

York—Simcoe Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan ConservativeLeader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

moved:

That a message be sent to the Senate to acquaint Their Honours that this House disagrees with the amendment made by the Senate to Bill C-16, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act.

Mr. Speaker, it is with more than a little frustration that I rise today to debate an amendment to Bill C-16. Let me be clear from the outset, the government supports, in fact initiated Bill C-16 for fixed date elections, but the government opposes the amendment made by the Senate to Bill C-16. It is unnecessary and it weakens the original legislation.

For more than a century, people from all over the world have looked to Canada as a model of freedom and responsible government. In fact, members of my own family took refuge here after fleeing repression.

They were seeking freedom, hope and opportunity. They were attracted by a country where they had a say, where political leaders were accountable to them and where government was responsive, effective and stable.

Just as John Diefenbaker said more than six decades ago, for those people, and for all Canadians, “Parliament is more than procedure; it is the custodian of the nation's freedom”.

In Canada our government has its roots in the British parliamentary system. In our short history we have adapted those ancient traditions to make them more relevant to the Canadian experience. We have made reasonable incremental changes that make government better for Canadians.

As Nova Scotia prepares for 250th anniversary celebrations of Canada's first democracy next year, many of us reflect on the impact that responsible government has had on our country. It was a step forward in making government more accountable, fairer and more democratic.

Over the years, our system has been modified to ensure that the government is listening to the people it serves. Bill C-16 represents only the most recent changes. It aims to strengthen our democracy by improving responsibility, transparency and equity.

It establishes fixed dates for elections every four years on the third Monday in October. Fixed dates take the guesswork out of the electoral process and level the playing field for the Chief Electoral Officer, for political parties and, more important, for voters.

Our government does not believe that the governing party should be permitted to time an election to exploit conditions favourable to its re-election. Bill C-16 would put an end to governance according to poll results. It would prevent snap elections such as those called by Jean Chrétien in 1997 and 2000, which predictably resulted in record low turnouts. In both cases the vote was seen to have been called for the sole purpose of capitalizing on political circumstance on a calculation of partisan interest.

Bill C-16 would eliminate situations where decisions on election timing would be based on best interests of a political party rather than the best interests of Canadians. The bill would empower governments and parliamentary committees to set out their agenda well in advance with certainty.

All the parties agree that, above all, elections belong to the people. We believe that by getting more Canadians to participate in the election process, Bill C-16 will make it possible to strengthen our democracy.

Passage of this legislation will allow citizens to plan to participate in their nation's electoral process. That participation is the bedrock upon which our democracy is built.

Bill C-16 was passed in the House of Commons without amendments. It was debated very thoroughly in the House of Commons and also in the committee on procedure and house affairs. It was passed in the House of Commons and was sent to the Senate where it was examined in detail by the Senate's committee on legal and constitutional affairs. After a detailed period of scrutiny and a detailed process, that committee supported the passage of the bill without any amendments.

Various expert witnesses have appeared before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs and the Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs. These two committees have extensively examined the bill.

No party in the House of Commons suggested an amendment to this legislation. Neither the House committee nor the Senate committee felt it was necessary to amend Bill C-16. Therefore, it is somewhat surprising that at the very last minute an amendment was passed which has never been subject to any detailed scrutiny.

One has to wonder why the amendment was never presented for debate in committee. Perhaps there, reasoned examination would have pointed out the obvious flaws. The Leader of the Opposition supported Bill C-16 without amendment, yet he was not able to persuade Liberal senators to follow suit. He could not get that job done either.

I will turn my attention to the proposed amendment.

The proposed amendment to Bill C-16 would change the existing provision of the bill that would allow the Chief Electoral Officer to recommend a change to the polling day in the event of a conflict such as a provincial election or a day of cultural or religious significance.

This existing provision would allow the Chief Electoral Officer to recommend to the governor in council that the polling day be either the following day or a week later.

The proposed amendment would alter the bill so that it would explicitly allow the Chief Electoral Officer to recommend a change in the polling day in the event of a federal, provincial or municipal referendum. It is my contention that the proposed amendment weakens the original intent of the bill, the bill that was endorsed by all parties in the House of Commons.

Instead of safeguarding election dates for manipulation, the amendment would make it easier for governing parties to manipulate election dates. If the amendment were to be adopted, it would open the door to a prime minister putting off a scheduled election by calling a referendum on the same day. With the amendment, a national election would be cancelled because of a municipal referendum. I find it difficult to imagine any situation where a municipal referendum would be so important that it would result in a date of a federal election being cancelled, but the statute would provide for exactly that to happen.

We on this side of the House do not believe democracy or accountability in government is strengthened or enhanced in any way when a referendum to build a hockey arena in small town Ontario could cancel the date of a national election. The original legislation was drafted with enough flexibility to avoid conflicts in a limited variety of situations, but that should be as limited as possible. The amendment to which we object expands, not limits, the potential for fixed dates to be altered.

Under Bill C-16, neither the prime minister of the day nor the mayor of a small town could change the fixed election date.

In short, the amendment is unnecessary. The original bill has built in flexibility for the Chief Electoral Officer to adjust an election date in the event of a legitimate conflict.

Second, we believe the Liberal amendment weakens the original legislation by making the date of elections more vulnerable to manipulation, not surprising from a party that engaged in this kind of manipulation so regularly in the past.

Today I urge all members of the legislature to join with the government to oppose this unnecessary amendment and to oppose it in short order. Let us send the Senate a message. Let us tell senators that pointless amendments to important legislation are not acceptable to the House or to the Canadian people.

Had the amendment not been sloppily attached by the Senate at the very last possible moment, fixed dates for elections would be the law right now. Unfortunately, the unelected Liberal Senate and its continuing campaign against democratic reform blocked it. Consider the irony. The elected House of Commons passes a bill to fix dates for elections. Then an unelected Liberal dominated Senate passed an amendment to water down the law, without even committee consideration of that amendment, and, by doing so, prevented the democratic reform bill from becoming law.

The Senate telling members of the House of Commons how elections should work is an irony. Let us urge it to reconsider its amendment quickly so Bill C-16 could be in place in time for the next federal election.

As I said, Bill C-16 was passed in the House of Commons without amendments. The Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs also supported passing this legislation without amendments.

It has undergone heavy scrutiny and has been found to be acceptable, but today we have been asked to consider an amendment that has not been examined in any detail. We are being asked to debate a frivolous amendment that is designed to frustrate the government's agenda of democratic reform. An amendment of this sort feeds public cynicism and erodes the accountability that Bill C-16 seeks to foster in government.

The kind of procedural manoeuvring being employed by the Senate to hold up the passage of Bill C-16 brings to mind the game playing that has left Bill S-4, the bill for Senate term limits, languishing in that place for an unbelievable 328 days so far.

Bill S-4 is legislation that proposes to limit Senate terms to eight years. It was sent to the Senate for consideration on May 30, 2006. That is when it was introduced there.

Last spring, the Special Senate Committee on Senate Reform examined Bill S-4. That committee held extensive hearings on the matter.

In October of last year it reported its findings, which supported the government's incremental approach to Senate reform. Despite that endorsement, Bill S-4 is now the subject of a second round of hearings by a Senate standing committee, a committee that is duplicating the efforts of the earlier special committee.

The Leader of the Opposition said he supports the proposal for Senate term limits. He said he hopes Bill S-4 will pass. Yet, he cannot convince Liberal senators to follow suit.

Once again, the Leader of the Opposition cannot get the job done.

Just as I did last week, I will use this opportunity to once again ask the members of the official opposition to urge their colleagues in the Senate to put an end to this game playing, stop thwarting constructive change and get on with the job Canadians want and expect them to do.

Bill C-16 represents an important step in the modernization of our political process. It is a reasonable step that would make government more accountable and more transparent. For these reasons, it should be passed without amendment.

The government opposes the Senate amendment and urges all members of the House to advise the Senate that Bill C-16 should be restored.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Stephen Owen Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, I listened very attentively to the government House leader's speech. One of the themes of his speech was delay. The irony of the opposition to this very minor amendment from the Senate is that the government House leader and his party are actually delaying the passage of the bill. Simply by accepting this minor procedural amendment, it could go to the Governor General this evening. It does not have to go back to the Senate.

By opposing the amendment, the government is deliberately delaying the passage of Bill C-16, its own legislation, which all parties accepted and supported, by sending it back to the Senate. It is inconceivable to me that this could be presented by the government House leader unless it is a deliberate stalling tactic. Those members do not want to see fixed election dates until they know whether they want to go to the Governor General and have a dissolution outside of a non-confidence vote. They could do that anyway under Bill C-16, but it would be inconceivable for the Governor General to accept, short of a national emergency, a request for dissolution within Bill C-16 if there were a no confidence vote. The government is trying to keep its options open.

Is the government House leader sincere in wanting to get Bill C-16 through, or is this really a stalling tactic to keep his options open?

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I can understand why members of the Liberal Party are anxious to avoid an early election at any cost and why they fear there are conspiracy theories out there as reasons why this would be happening. I know the member for Vancouver Quadra is not looking to avoid an election in that way because he is planning on retiring from the House after many years of good service, but his colleagues fear meeting the voters one more time. Perhaps that is why they are anxious to see this happen quickly.

However, as I pointed out earlier, the bill could have been law right now had the Senate passed it without inserting this objectionable amendment. Members need to think about how this amendment was inserted. The bill was there for just about half a year and over that time the amendment was never discussed or put forward in committee. The Senate dealt with the bill at committee where it was approved as it existed coming from the House. It was only on the very last day, at the very last minute, that the amendment was proposed at third reading and was attached to the bill.

If the member wants to know who was playing games, it is pretty clear where the games were being played. They were being played in the Senate where the amendment was attached at the very last minute.

That is not acceptable to us. We have made it clear why the change is unacceptable. Had the amendment been proposed at committee, there would have been an opportunity for it to be examined there, but the Senate did not do that. It was attached right at the end.

If the Liberals are concerned that it has not become law yet, they need only look at their friends in the Liberal dominated Senate, who chose to keep the bill from becoming law by attaching the amendment. They chose to water down the bill with the amendment, and that is the most significant part. It creates more opportunities for fixed date elections to be cancelled. It creates more opportunity for manipulation and uncertainty in our system. That is exactly what Bill C-16 was seeking to prevent.

By telling the Senate that we want it to restore the original intent of the bill, that fixed date elections will indeed be fixed date elections, we would be strengthening our democracy in a very positive way.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, at our end of the House we are rather perplexed on two different levels.

First of all, there is the obvious irony of having the Senate interfere in and make comment about our election system in this country, with the unelected, undemocratic senators actually butting their noses in and interfering with the way the nation chooses to run its elections.

Having said that, we are also somewhat confused that the ruling party seems bound and determined today to sabotage and undermine its own initiative, its own bill, something it committed to Canadians.

I would remind my colleague, the government House leader, that one of the best features of a minority Parliament is that the ruling party of the day has to take into consideration input from other sources. It has to accommodate the reasonable concerns of the other parties. In this case, the Conservatives are outnumbered by I believe three to one.

The opposition parties all believe that this is a reasonable amendment from the Senate. Notwithstanding the irony of having the Senate butt its nose into the way we elect people, there is some merit to what it is putting forward today.

Rather than hurling stones at others for sabotaging and undermining this bill, the government is giving us the spectre of the government itself sabotaging its own initiative. To what end? Selfish political advantage. The Conservatives want the ability to be able to call an election without being exposed as frauds in terms of a commitment to fixed election dates.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

Mr. Speaker, what we are doing, of course, is seeking to restore, defend and strengthen the integrity of the bill. We seek to keep it in its original form and avoid its watering down. Quite clearly, the effort to undermine this has come from the Senate.

My friend from Winnipeg Centre has said that in a minority Parliament the government should accommodate the other parties. I remind him that in this House of Commons and in this chamber all parties supported this bill in its original form. The amendment did not come from anyone in this chamber. It did not come from anyone in the minority Parliament. As he observed, the amendment came from people in an unelected Senate.

Let us think of the irony. Everyone who was elected, every single member of this House of Commons, everyone who has to face the voters in an election, supported the bill in its original form. The Senate is the only place where people thought it should be changed. The only people who thought they had some opinions on how elections should be run, opinions that were different from those of everybody in this chamber, were the people who never face elections, the senators. Let us think of that. That is what is called chutzpah. That is some nerve.

If the senators were actually proposing that they should have fixed date elections, I could understand this amendment being introduced, but I did not see them proposing any amendments that there should be elections and that this bill should apply to the Senate. I did not see them proposing that there should even be fixed terms or fixed dates for senators. They seem to be resisting that in dragging it out so far. No, the only thing the senators are willing to do is tell people in the House how they should run elections.

To me, that is the height of irony. I think it tells us what one of the problems is in the Senate right now, and it tells us why we need to reform the Senate and why we need to continue this program of democratic reform and accountability to have fixed terms for senators. Also, we have Bill C-43, and if the other parties support the bill, then maybe we even will have an opportunity for some of this legislation to apply to senators one day and have them elected.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

Sukh Dhaliwal Liberal Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the hon. government House leader and heard him say that he is not willing to accept a suggestion from the senators. When we look at it, he probably is more aware of this than I am because he has more experience in Parliament, but when bills are brought in and witnesses come before a committee, they are non-elected people and we take advice from those citizens.

I listened to the member for Winnipeg Centre. It makes total sense. If someone puts forward a good suggestion we parliamentarians should respect it. This is a very minor adjustment to the government's own bill. I think the government should accept it and should support the other parties and make this law today.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am glad the member for Newton—North Delta brought up the committee, the hearings at the committee, and the witnesses they heard from, because guess what? After committee members heard witnesses at the procedure and House Affairs committee of the House of Commons, they did not introduce that amendment. They kept the bill the way it was. As well, after the Senate committee members heard witnesses on how they thought the bill should work, they kept the bill the way it was.

It was not a suggestion from witnesses at one of the committees or a decision of one of the committees that led to this change. It was from one senator who thought he would raise it third reading, at the eleventh hour, as another way to stall this bill and to stall any form of democratic reform. That is the real Liberal Party agenda.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Stephen Owen Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, let me say at the outset that the official opposition in the House of Commons supports Bill C-16. When it was before this House earlier, we supported it wholeheartedly and spoke energetically in favour of it.

Repeatedly the House leader of the government speaks of irony. In fact, I think the walls of this extraordinary chamber are dripping with irony after his speech. However, he speaks of irony in the sense of delay, and of course the delay is on the part of the government on this unnecessary challenge of that minor amendment today.

Let me look at the other initiatives around delay. The House leader speaks of Bill C-43 and the delay there, but we started that last week. The government waited four months after tabling Bill C-43, the election through consultation of senators, to bring it forward. Why not four months ago?

He talked about Bill S-4, the bill on fixed terms for senators, and the fact that it has been held up in the Senate for over a year. This has not been held up in the Senate because of Bill S-4, because there is agreement on that. What there is not agreement on is that we should have the election of senators through consultation with the provinces, or whatever, before we redistribute the seats of the Senate fairly across this country.

How can any member of this House, and particularly of the government, support Bill S-4 without first supporting the other Senate motion to redistribute seats so there is less of the imbalance that so thoroughly disfavours Alberta and British Columbia at this time? I have colleagues in the government side from Alberta and British Columbia. It is inconceivable to me that they would think of altering in any way the status, the mandate, the credibility or the validation of the Senate without first sorting out that extremely unfair distribution for western Canada. This is where we are on that.

On Bill C-16, it is doublespeak, it is Orwellian, to hear the government House leader speak today about the Liberal side or Liberal senators delaying it. Good heavens, we could have had this passed before the Easter recess. We offered to rush it right through, get it to the Governor General and make it law before we left, but no, some bogus concept of this minor amendment as somehow frustrating the will of Parliament, the will of this House, was thrown up as a delaying tactic.

My goodness, the Conservatives refer to a referendum, as if a referendum called in some small municipality somewhere in this country would be allowed to dislodge the fixed election date. What we have to remember is that this would be with the discretion of the Chief Electoral Officer, an officer of Parliament, in one of the most respected senior offices in this country and one of the offices most critical to the fair operation of our democratic process. It is nonsense to expect that this person at his or her discretion would knock off a federal date that had been set for four years in advance because of some local referendum. It is just nonsense. It would not happen and it could not happen. Therefore, that is no reason to slow this down.

The government House leader speaks of disrespect or whatever in the other place where they would dare make a minor amendment to a House bill that has gone through this process and was supported by all parties. The Senate, whatever one thinks about elected or non-elected legislative chambers at this stage in our democracy, exists as part of our democratic machinery. We all have some firm minds about that, I think, including in the Senate, in terms of having some election process for senators. However, the Senate exists as part of our democratic machinery. It has a very specific purpose, which of course is to bring second sober thought to what is thoughtfully determined in this House. When it finds some area where it feels a bill can be made better, the Senate has the perfect right and the democratic responsibility to suggest an amendment, which is what has been done in this case.

I can recall the process last fall when Bill C-2, the Federal Accountability Act, passed through the House after several months of debate in committee and in the House. It then went to the Senate and we heard wailing and complaining from the government side that the Senate somehow was wasting everybody's time with this critical piece of legislation by not simply rubber-stamping it.

I think we all know now what happened in the Senate. There were over 100 amendments because it was a sloppy bill. There was no time as it was rushed through the process in the House. The Senate exercised its responsibilities properly by carefully looking at that massive, complex piece of legislation involving dozens of other statutes that needed to be amended as a consequence of it. The Senate came up with sensible, helpful arrangements and amendments that the House then of course accepted. That was not delay. That was the Senate doing its work in our democratic framework of institutions.

I will go back to this issue of electing, through consulting provincial bodies during provincial elections, for the appointment of senators into vacancies that happen in any one of those jurisdictions. I simply will say that this is a good piece. Let us get that moving. Why did we wait four months? Why have we waited a year without some serious consequence and a discussion of redistribution?

Let me just turn, then, to Bill C-16 itself, because this is a completely appropriate piece of legislation. It was supported in this House. Adding a final little fail-safe in case there could be a problem through a referendum process is just good sense. The Senate has suggested that, which is what we are debating here today. We are in favour of that and therefore are opposed to the government's motion.

In regard to Bill C-16 itself and fixed election dates, we know, and the House debates on Bill C-16 I think made it very clear through speeches on behalf of all parties, that this is a sensible further step in the democratic reform of Canada. It was made very clear that the overwhelming number of democracies in the world have fixed election dates and that there is a range of advantages to fixed election dates, including that it gives some predictability to government business.

Therefore, the government can put forward legislation and have the effective administration of legislation, with a timetable, knowing that it will not be dislodged short of a non-confidence vote or a national emergency. Therefore, the business of the government and the people of Canada can be done more efficiently. It can also be done more efficiently in terms of cost. Having an electoral commission and electoral office idling full time to be ready for an election that could come at any day is not an efficient use of resources.

This is also effective in terms of voter turnout, which is perhaps one of the most critical issues of fixed election dates, something with which I think all members and all parties of this House have been in agreement. For people who are first time voters, be they students, new Canadians or seniors, we can have civics classes in schools, universities and communities to ensure that people are fully engaged in the electoral discussion of the various policies being put forward in the election by various parties. That could enhance interest and voter turnout, which of course leads to a healthier democracy.

Of course in a country such as Canada it is also immensely important to have a fixed date that avoids inclement weather. The last election in this country was held in winter. Sadly, we saw a continued reduction in voter turnout and of course, unless one has the very good fortune to live in Vancouver as I do, winter weather can be very disruptive to voter turnout. That is very important. We also want to avoid the summer holiday breaks, which we can by having a fixed election date in the early fall or late spring, in order to increase voter turnout.

For all of these reasons, it is good sound public policy and we all support it, so good heavens, let us get on with it. Let us not delay this any further. The concept of a referendum in a small community is so inconceivable as to be insignificant. It should not slow down the passage of this legislation. With the support of members of the House today, and with the vote tomorrow, I believe, or whenever we are going to vote on this, we could have this as the law of Canada and as real democratic reform and we could have it immediately.

I just suggest that it is a test to the sincerity of every member of the House in terms of the need for this reform, that we not be distracted by a small amendment. It is the result of the Senate doing its job of carefully looking to see if it could possibly be improved, which to the credit of the House, could only be improved by a tiny amendment of really no consequence at all.

I speak in opposition to rejecting this amendment and in full support of moving ahead quickly in the House right now, so that it can go on to the Governor General and become law as soon as possible.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:35 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, I listened with interest to my hon. colleague's comments and I must say, for the record and as I have said privately to the hon. member for Vancouver Quadra, I wish him well in his future plans. I know he is not seeking re-election. I think that it is a shame, quite frankly. I think the member for Vancouver Quadra has brought much distinction to the House and he is the type of parliamentarian, regardless of partisanship, that all Canadians respect and deserve.

He has represented his riding well and I wish him much success in all his future endeavours. I wish frankly he was coming back to this institution. He brings with him great credit, and a lot of experience and expertise, but since that is not going to happen, congratulations for all of the work he has done on behalf of both his party and members of the committee on which he served so admirably. I had the distinction of sitting with him on one of those committee.

However, as much as I admire and respect the hon. member for Vancouver Quadra, I must say that I fundamentally disagree with the premise that he is advancing, that this is a minor technical amendment because it is no such thing.

The amendment clearly states that if there is a referendum, either at the municipal, provincial or federal level, the date of the federal election could be changed, as the hon. government House leader indicated in his presentation. There could be a referendum in a small community in northern Saskatchewan or northern Ontario, say 450 people or 500 people holding a referendum on a hockey arena. A decision could be made because of this amendment that a federal election be cancelled, delayed or put off to a date not originally recommended.

I think that is not a minor technical change. I think that is a fundamental and significant change. If it is as minor a change as he suggests, what difficulty would he or any opposition member have in just removing the amendment and going back to the original bill which the member supported? If it is that minor in nature, what difficulty would that member have in removing it all together? Should he do that as the government House leader indicated, then it would become law and very quickly.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

Stephen Owen Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his very kind remarks. In fact, I was on the verge of reconsidering my decision not to run again until he got to the word “however”.

The hon. member raises good points. The key to this issue is getting the legislation passed at the earliest possible moment. It just seems to me that the reality of a referendum being called over a relatively minor issue in a municipality, provincially or federally, would not affect Canadians broadly. It is just inconceivable in that situation that the Chief Electoral Officer, one of the most important offices in our democratic set of institutions, would delay a federal election for a municipal referendum.

We ask, why have it there? There may be some, and this is what the senators are suggesting it determine, unforseeable situation where it was important to adjust it. I think frankly that it is much more likely that if there was any conflict in dates because of a municipal or provincial referendum, or even a federal referendum, it would be done perhaps consciously in order to make the whole process more efficient. In this manner people could come out and vote on two things at the same time, which may in fact save costs and enhance voter turnout. So, there may be something very valuable in this that suggests that it would not be used lightly nor would the discretion of the Chief Electoral Officer be exercised in anything but the most serious way in the public interest.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I too would like to congratulate the member of the government in his upcoming retirement. I agree wholeheartedly with exactly what was said, that he is a tremendous asset to the House and brings all sorts of experience, decorum and benefit to the House. We will certainly sorely miss him and hopefully he will be a reference to us as needed.

I am disappointed with the government not in the substantive amendment but in three process issues and I would like to ask the member if he is also disappointed.

One is that it seems to believe in fixed election dates and now is stalling its own bill. I find that disappointing.

Second and more important is that the government House leader suggested that there were no problems with this bill when it came to the House. I commend to the House leader that if he is going to make such untrue statements, he should read Hansard to see what members have said. There was not a unanimous love-in about this bill.

As we know, there are people who have some problems with the entire concept. Those were outlined during the debate. I certainly had some problems with the concept and outlined them. The critic knows that I went to him a number of times with a very strong concern about this bill. The very first year this bill goes into effect it is going to cause an election about three days after the municipal election in Yukon. I have a number of concerns with it.

It is really not fair for the government House leader to get up and say that everyone approved it and there were no problems. He really should listen to the debate and treat those comments fairly.

Finally, we should not be dismissive of the Chief Electoral Officer. This suggestion came from the experts. I would think the government would want to listen to the experts, the people who are objectively tasked with implementing this process and have great respect for Canadians. They are non-partisan, objective and separate, and made a recommendation that we should take seriously and should not be so dismissive of it.

I would like to ask the critic if he agrees with me on those three points.