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House of Commons Hansard #113 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was quebec.

Topics

Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

Conservative

Lynne Yelich Conservative Blackstrap, SK

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all remaining questions be allowed to stand.

Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Is that agreed?

Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

West Coast Salmon FisheryRequest for Emergency DebateRoutine Proceedings

June 16th, 2008 / 3:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

The Chair has notice of a request for an emergency debate from the hon. member for Vancouver Island North. I will hear the hon. member now.

West Coast Salmon FisheryRequest for Emergency DebateRoutine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

NDP

Catherine Bell NDP Vancouver Island North, BC

Mr. Speaker, as you know, I requested an emergency debate and was denied. My hon. House leader also requested a take note debate, but the government is denying all take note debates. Therefore, because this is such an urgent issue in British Columbia, I am once again requesting an emergency debate to highlight the issue of the disappearing Pacific salmon.

Overall, abundance is down. On the Skeena River, diverse salmon stocks are in such dire straits that harvest would have to be cut by 50% just to save them. On the Fraser River, 94 first nations bands, totalling 50% of all first nations people in British Columbia, have been told to ration their catch. On the west coast of Vancouver Island, fishermen will see their harvest cut by 30% this year, and I just learned that yesterday the Fraser chinook will be closed for this summer.

Chinook in the Fraser and Thompson and coho in the Upper Fraser are low. The Cowichan River had returns in the hundreds instead of in the usual thousands, and there are many more rivers and streams that have virtually no returns.

Conservation measures are kicking in under the wild salmon policy, but they do not address why the salmon are in peril. In question period last week, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans agreed with me that this is a crisis, a serious situation, and that I was not exaggerating the significance of this issue.

I truly want to strongly emphasize the importance of this issue for the people of British Columbia, for our coastal communities, for first nations people, for all fishermen, for habitat restoration groups, but especially for the salmon.

West Coast Salmon FisheryRequest for Emergency DebateRoutine Proceedings

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I must say the Chair appreciates the fact that the hon. member put arguments on this matter before us last week and I have now had an opportunity in effect to review the arguments and hear further submissions on the point.

I do not deny that there is a problem in the salmon fishery on the west coast. There is no question about that. The difficulty is whether it constitutes an emergency for the purposes of an emergency debate since it is, in my view, a longstanding problem, one we have had for some time now that is perhaps getting worse but has been there for awhile.

Based on what I have heard today, again, I feel I must say that I do not believe that a request meets the exigencies of the Standing Order at this time, and accordingly I am inclined to decline the request at this time.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-29, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (accountability with respect to loans), be read the third time and passed.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Before question period, the hon. member for Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord had the floor for questions and comments following his speech.

Questions and comments. The hon. member for Yukon.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I cannot remember if the member referred to it in his speech, but I would ask him to repeat the rationale for how to deal with the problem of a person running for office who incurs debts that people do not know about, with those debts then becoming the responsibility of the local or national party. If a new candidate for the Bloc Québécois were to incur a lot of debt that the party does not know about and the party has to pay for it, is there any precedent for that elsewhere in life?

My other question is related to the financing and to allowing only chartered financial institutions to provide the financing. Does that then give them a more favoured position in that they are the only ones that can provide the loan financing?

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Guimond Bloc Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is a shame that there are only three or four minutes left in the debate. I almost wish I could seek unanimous consent to talk about this for another 20 minutes, but I will be reasonable.

I will explain to my colleague that the problem stems from the fact that a local candidate could incur expenses to get nominated or elected, expenses that the party could be completely unaware of, expenses that could be considerable. The individual could declare bankruptcy, and the party would be liable for the debt.

My colleague is a member of the Liberal Party. There will be 308 candidates in the next election. Some of them might end up spending excessive sums of money to get their nominations.

Why should the party be responsible for expenses that it did not even know about? That is the problem.

I see that my colleague, the member for Hull—Aylmer, is here. I managed to get an amendment in the committee to raise this absurd possibility. Unfortunately, we have to go back to the original starting point as it was set out in Bill C-29 at first reading.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Marcel Proulx Liberal Hull—Aylmer, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask my colleague to explain once again, however briefly in the time that remains, the negative impact of this. I realize that his answer will have to be brief, but so is my question.

As members of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, we worked on this issue together, and I think that my colleague should have a chance to explain this once again, however briefly, because it is of utmost importance that everyone understand his point of view on this.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Guimond Bloc Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, in law, this is what we call the principle of surety. A guarantor is responsible for the debts incurred by a third party. We wonder why, if the guarantor did not witness the expenses—in this case, the political party did not witness the ineligible expenses—it should be held responsible for expenses made unbeknownst to it by a third party.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

Independent

Louise Thibault Independent Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take this opportunity to present my general views on this bill, and on what accountability with respect to loans means.

Of course, I cannot imagine that many people here would be opposed to tighter controls. Personally, I am very much in support of a strict control of election expenses, and of ensuring that there is no way to circumvent the Canada Elections Act, so as to manage—illegally—to spend more money during an election campaign.

As we know—and the numbers are often mentioned by many in our society, with good reason—elections cost a fortune. To whom? Because of our type of financing—and we should be pleased that it is primarily a public type of funding—elections cost money to taxpayers. They are the ones who must once again foot the bill. Indeed, a large number of candidates will be refunded for their election expenses. Of course, this costs a lot of money to militants, to people with or without party memberships, who decide to make an election contribution. It is important to keep this in mind, when we look at the spirit and the letter of legislation dealing directly or indirectly with the issue of financing.

Since 2004, when I ran in my first non-municipal election, a federal one, I thought—and I still do—that the goal was to limit money spent during an election or leadership campaign. I always thought that the last thing a candidate should do is blithely say that they need a certain amount of money or else they will not be able to get elected. There could be some stiff consequences for the people paying the bill at the end of the day.

In recent years, I have observed different parties and realized that the opposite is true: parties are departing from the spirit of the law to find ways to spend as much money as possible, and in some cases, more money than the law allows. That in itself is rather telling. At the federal level, the law was changed a few years ago to give parties access to rather significant funding: $1.75 per vote in the different ridings. This corresponds to direct funding for the parties by the government, thus by taxpayers, the public, the people paying taxes in various forms.

One way to spend more than what is authorized is obviously to take out loans for which the terms of repayment are unfair. These loans make it possible for individuals or businesses to make significant contributions to get a candidate or party elected, while ignoring the set limits.

In my opinion, election spending should be as closely monitored as possible, and any deviations should be punished as severely as possible. That is the objective of this bill, and for that it is laudable, although there are still some restrictions, such as the ones other colleagues have mentioned. I will not go into detail about what was discussed before my speech.

Nevertheless, there is an inequity that I would like to see changed one day. For our democratic process, referred to as an “election”, there are essentially two types of candidates: party candidates and independent candidates.

Of course I take full responsibility for the decision I made a little over a year ago. When I run again, as I have announced, it will be up to me to take charge of my election campaign according to the guidelines I will set for myself.

People should take the time to read the Canada Elections Act and talk to independent candidates, past or future. It is remarkable to see that because they do not run under a party banner, they are not treated the same under the Canada Elections Act as are candidates who run as part of a party. Whether or not a party is aiming to be in power is irrelevant.

As soon as it comes to a recognized party with associations, there are known financing methods. I will name a simple way to generate revenue known to the majority of people here in this House, as well as to those watching at home. I am talking about fundraising activities—collecting, one way or another, reasonable contributions of $20 or $50 that the people in our municipalities and towns are willing to give to a candidate or a party.

If independent candidates try to obtain funding, they must naturally give a receipt to record the transaction and keep detailed financial records. Yet, they cannot give tax receipts. They can only do that once the event has started, that is to say, once an election has been called. That seems truly absurd to me.

The member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel had this to say on Friday:

—it is disappointing that not everyone in this House realizes that politics should be open to every man and woman, to every citizen. It is not a matter of money, friends or anything like that. It takes someone [referring to candidates] who is able to express their ideas and defend them—

This clearly demonstrates that an inequity exists from the outset, since the elections act imposes such a limit and makes such an important distinction between independent candidates and candidates running for a particular party. In any case, I would like to tell future independent candidates to be prepared, because once they are elected to this House, the inequity will continue. Indeed, our parliamentary system is a party-based system, so one must have patience. We are given the opportunity to speak during a debate, as I am speaking now, but only after all other members have spoken and right before the debate ends. We can attend committee meetings and sit at the table, but we do not have the right to speak, unless another member shares a moment or two of his or her time with us. I would point out that this is highly unlikely, since time is always at a premium in committees.

So, once again, when it comes to elections, there is discrimination. The Canada Elections Act truly reserves different treatment for candidates who want to serve their constituents but not under a particular party.

As for loans, it would be very difficult for independent candidates to take out loans in good conscience, knowing full well that they will not be able to pay them back. Indeed, only small amounts of money could be borrowed, considering the short amount of time these people have for their funding, that is, probably 25, 27 or 30 days, at the most.

Anyone who has been through an election campaign knows what is involved in funding a campaign, not to mention running the campaign itself. Since there is a non-repayment provision, it would be entirely dishonest to take out a loan when the candidate knows full well that he or she will not be able to pay it back when the time comes, with no riding association involved that make up the shortfall by holding special events. Clearly, this is impossible for independent candidates.

I thought this was an important point to raise for those watching us. Indeed, very few people know this.

Like my other colleagues in the House, I regularly meet with people in my riding and we talk about this aspect of election campaigns. It should be said that many hundreds of people run in federal elections as independents. It is not unusual. It is unfair to them right off the top, therefore, because they will not have the same opportunity to raise money as people who run on behalf of a party.

We know very well, of course, that candidates can fund their own campaign. We are entitled, as individuals, to give to our own campaigns. I have always done so, and the amount can be topped up with an equal amount given as a candidate. Unless the figures have changed, it is about $2,200. That is already a good start for someone who wants to run as an independent. It will hardly surprise anyone to hear it, but I think these rules should be changed, along with some others.

My colleague from Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup said earlier that independents and party members run with all the pros and the cons that their status entails. He also said that candidates should be given equal opportunities. I agree with him on that. They should have equal opportunities, and this means the overall situation should be fair. That is not the case, though, as I just explained.

It is necessary, therefore, for the most basic funding avenues to be available to any citizen who wants to get involved in politics. I think we need fewer and fewer irritants because there is unfortunately a lot of cynicism at large in the general public. I say unfortunately because I think it is bad for democracy. I can understand it very well, though, because we regularly see moments in the House that are not exactly brimming over with respect and goodwill. Quite the contrary, there are times when the least pleasant aspects of human nature take over, on both sides of the aisle. We often see it at the end of a session when it is time for us to leave and go meet with our voters and take a few days of well deserved rest.

In summary, independent thinkers who do not want to have their say through a particular political party have a somewhat more limited ability to speak and act when the key moment arrives in democratic life, that is to say, elections. In other ways, though, many people clearly see an advantage in being independent, and I am one of them.

I chose to be an independent MP and believe me when I say that I accept full responsibility for that. I just wanted to point out the differences. I am not complaining. I just wanted to mention some of the inequities that exists. And I believe that this inequity, if not injustice, must be corrected because we have a democratic system. We are proud of our democratic system. Furthermore, we are envied throughout the world.

When we have to take measures to restore balance, we do so here on behalf of the people we represent. And I believe that such measures are indicated.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have watched the hon. member, in her role as an independent member of Parliament, show up all the time. She is here, she does her work and she needs to be recognized for her contribution, in spite of the challenges she has mentioned.

We talked earlier about how Prime Minister Chrétien brought in the toughest legislation and made a lot of changes to how we would run our elections, as well as other things, when it came to ensuring fairness and transparency. However, the issue of the spending limit interests me, given some of the changes, and a lot of us desire full accountability and transparency.

Does the member think we should, along with Elections Canada, also look at the whole issue of the limits we would be allowed to spend on elections, that if we had lower limits, less fundraising would be needed, which is always a challenge for everyone?

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Independent

Louise Thibault Independent Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her glowing comments. It is always nice to recognize each other's work. Most of us do very good work, with conviction and sometimes with emotion. I understand my colleague to have said that we owe this legislation to Mr. Chrétien. I am pleased to say, as other colleagues have said in this House, that he followed Mr. Lévesque's lead. People know that not only am I an independent, but I am also a separatist. I am always pleased to commend Mr. Lévesque, his influence and his inspiration.

As far as limits are concerned, as I was saying earlier, I think our goal should be to spend as little as possible and not to adopt the philosophy of spending as much as possible, since it is not our money. It is not right to think that way because it is all our constituents who pay a big part of the bill, whether through the Elections Canada rebates, and that is fine, or through financial donations.

In my opinion, it has always been absurd for political parties to tell their candidates to take advantage and spend the maximum in order to elect their party and their candidates. The priority should obviously be to work as democratically as possible, to defend the common good and our citizen's interests and to show them how we, as candidates, plan on doing that.

What about visual pollution? We should agree to not buy the huge numbers of signs that we see in major centres or rural regions on posts kilometres apart. Candidates in rural areas know this. In the cities, it is a visual abomination and is very harmful to the environment because the material used, coroplast, is not recyclable. It can be used to insulate garages, but it lasts 504 years.

Our guiding principles could be to spend less and also to save the environment. I have never believed, especially in the case of candidates outside major urban centres, that regional advertising in daily newspapers has helped elect anyone. We do it because everyone else is doing it. Candidates end up spending inordinate amounts.

To answer my colleague's question, I have always been pleased to say, and this can be verified, that I have always spent only half of the amount allowed by the Chief Electoral Officer in my riding.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Daniel Petit Conservative Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened closely to my colleague. I would like to begin by congratulating her on her work. We have attended committee meetings on the issue of violence against seniors together, and I appreciated her presence there because she knows this file well. I have also benefited from her advice when we discussed this issue together.

Today, we are considering a particular act, the act that governs the election of members of Parliament. Earlier, my colleague said that she wants to spend as little as possible. My question is, does she agree with a political party that demands that its candidates spend the maximum allowed so that it can get as much as possible back from Elections Canada? Does she agree with that?

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

Independent

Louise Thibault Independent Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, the answer to that is easy. I know exactly what the member is getting at: he is looking for an answer he can use.

I have always expressed my opinion publicly, whether to party officials or in my riding. I am against any kind of action that makes it appear as though people are taking advantage of money that, as I said, comes from public coffers, from taxpayers.

That is disgraceful in and of itself, regardless of the party involved. There could be as many as 150 registered parties in Canada. I have no idea. Provincially, in Quebec anyway, it is the same thing. It would be appalling to ask a party to spend as much as possible in such-and-such a riding when reimbursement is guaranteed because it will garner at least 10% of the vote.

To answer my colleague, it is unbelievable that any candidate representing a party in this House—Conservative, Liberal, New Democrat, Bloc or independent—would be unable to figure this out for him or herself, would fail to think this over and decide that it is not right, to realize that the money is not a gift from the gods, that taking money from fellow citizens and the general public simply should not be done.

Actually, there is a way to work it out without using the maximum allowed.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, you are an honourable man and I am just amazed that you would not let the member speak in committee because she is an independent. Does the member have some suggestions that she should at least have one out of three hundred and eighth of the amount time to be allowed to speak in committee?

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

Independent

Louise Thibault Independent Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his question. As I said earlier, and I have discussed this with several people, but many members in this House are not aware of the fact that members sitting as independents are not allowed to speak at committee, unless another member agrees to share his or her time with them. All they are allowed to do is sit at the table.

I suggest that the rules be changed. The parties should be able to reach an agreement. Similarly, when we rise to seek the unanimous consent of the House, we should not state that there is agreement among the parties. Everyone in this House should forget about the political parties and think instead of the other meaning of parties, or sides.

I can say that the four independent members of Parliament are merrily ignored by all parties. It is as if they did not exist, as if their consent was not required. So, from time to time, I make a point of rising to refuse consent, at which time I indicate that I was duly elected to this House, even though I left a party to sit as an independent member, as opposed to another member who was elected as an independent. I work as hard as my colleagues.

Every independent member should have speaking time both in the House and at committees. That is essential. We have things to do and things to say, and what we do is just as valuable as what our colleagues do. We bring grist to the mill. We are here to debate. A fine way to recognize that would be to give unanimous consent to allow independent members to speak at least three or four minutes every two hours of sitting time of a committee. That is not too much.

I expect my colleague from Yukon to make that suggestion to his party.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

Is the House ready for the question?

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

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

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

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

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.