Mr. Speaker, I have to say at the outset that the Bloc Québécois will be supporting Bill C-16 in principle.
Let me start by saying that, in 1998, at the hon. member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie's initiative, the Bloc Québécois Bloc launched a number of reflection exercises, including one on citizenship and democracy, in which it was agreed that, in a sovereign Quebec, a fixed election date system would be much more suitable than the British system which is currently in place in the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa. Indeed, holding elections on a fixed date would allow parliamentarians to plan their work better, giving them a better chance to undertake it.
Personally, I remember very well that, under the previous minority government, the international trade subcommittee never got going because we did not know when an election would be called. That caused very serious harm to industry in Canada and Quebec, given a context where Canada is lagging behind terribly in terms of globalization and free trade.
We also feel that it would promote voter turnout. We know that, in the bill, the third Monday of October is the proposed time to hold elections. It was precisely selected because that is a time of year when people are available to take part in electoral process and elections. People are certainly more available then than they were for the June 28, 2004 election, and probably more available than for the last election. As hon. members will recall, that election was called in November, then came the Christmas period and, in January, we went to the polls.
We therefore believe that having to hold elections on a fixed date would not only allow to better plan parliamentary work, but also foster improved voter participation.
We see many advantages and I do not feel I need to drone on about this for too long. It is a matter of fairness between the parties. Indeed, we all know that, at present, the governments in power and the Prime Minister exploit the calendar and the current situation in order to call an election at any time they like. During Mr. Chrétien's era, for example, we rarely saw terms last longer than three and a half years. He would wait for the right time and call an election only when it was in his best interest and that of the Liberal Party. We believe, however, that all Canadians and all the parties should be aware of the exact framework for the rules of the game. Obviously, we would know when the election date would be. As I mentioned, this would foster much more rational governance and, we believe, promote political participation. Certain months are completely inadvisable, if we really want to increase voter turnout. Thus, by knowing the rules of the game, by knowing the date in advance and choosing a date that appears to be at the most convenient time of year for all Canadians and Quebeckers, as is the case in Bill C-16, we will be in a better position to encourage voter participation.
I cannot ignore the fact that knowing when the election will take place could help with the recruitment of some future candidates. I know very well that, in Quebec, some very valuable people have left their jobs believing that an election was imminent. When they had found other jobs they could not leave when Premier Jean Charest called the election. Others were unable to run because they could not leave their professional responsibilities at the drop of a hat, or the roll of the dice.
Therefore, we believe that we would just be reflecting what is happening in today's modern democracies around the world. You may be familiar with the studies published by Henry Milner of the Institute for Research on Public Policy. Of the 40 democracies he studied, there are only 12 that do not have fixed election dates.
Naturally, if a minority government were to lose the confidence of the House, the Prime Minister would be able to call on the Governor General to ask that an election be called. However, he could not do it based solely on the fact that the polls were favourable, for example following a given decision. Following a temporary increase in support for the government in power, he could not call on the Governor General and have her dissolve Parliament without valid reasons.
Given the current system, as I mentioned earlier, the Bloc Québécois will support the principle underlying the bill. We think that the new system being proposed is much fairer and more modern. It will support voter participation in the campaign and the election, and it will not challenge the government's responsibilities. That is why we support this bill.