Mr. Speaker, this time, I will use every minute and second available to me, since Bill C-76 is a very important bill for anyone who believes in democracy.
When it comes right down to it, MPs of all stripes are just advocates who decided to take their political commitment to the limit and help develop our society to the best of their ability and in keeping with their values.
Every member of the House knows how lucky he or she is to live and participate in a democracy. However, our democratic system, like many others, is far from perfect. We would hope that each and everyone of us would be able to help perfect it and that any bill that would make major changes to our entire electoral system, in whole or in part, would have not only the broadest possible consensus, but complete unanimity.
A bill that affects the very foundation of our democracy should not be a partisan bill. Still, we do have to admit that things have changed a bit ever since the Conservatives introduced Bill C-23, the Fair Elections Act, in the previous Parliament. In our search for a better democratic system, the aim should always be to strive for a consensus. However, we seem to be seeing more and more partisan games, which I believe have no place in a bill like this.
I obviously feel privileged to rise to speak on a bill as fundamental as Bill C-76. However, I unfortunately feel like I am acting in an old movie because the government seems to be assuming it does not need a consensus. The government is using our old parliamentary system to its advantage since that system allows the political party that holds a majority in the House to bulldoze, and I do not think that is too strong a term, its agenda through, rather than striving to reach a consensus.
Even as we debate this topic, something very important is happening in Quebec City. Just months—weeks, actually—before the Quebec provincial election, four parties held a joint press conference to say that, regardless of the outcome of the next election, they all agree that the existing electoral system should no longer be used in our society.
Québec solidaire, Coalition Avenir Québec, the Parti Québécois, and the Green Party of Quebec joined forces to say that the coming provincial election should be the last to use this voting system. That is why I feel like I am in an old movie, unfortunately. Many parties have sung that tune, especially the Liberal Party during the last campaign. The party said loud and clear that that would be the last election with that voting system, which worked fine back in the day.
When this Parliament was created, it was a two-party system. In a society with two parties, one of them will, by definition, get at least 50% plus one of the votes. What could be more democratic than that? Since then, things have changed a lot in Canada and Quebec, as they have in all the other provinces and territories.
A plurality of political opinions and approaches emerged, which all demand representation in the House of Commons. We think that, no matter which party is in government, even if it was the NDP, it is completely inappropriate for a government that wins 39% of the popular vote to get 100% of the power in the House. This is what happened with this government, and it was the same with the previous government. There is a massive dichotomy that needs to be addressed.
The government has backtracked on this specific issue, which was a very important issue for the Liberal Party and the New Democratic Party during the last election. It is clear that the Liberals have backtracked on their election promise, probably because now that they are in power, they want to continue to enjoy full control over this country's democratic institutions.
Now Bill C-76 is being rammed through at the very last minute. I would say it is being done at the eleventh hour, when the acting Chief Electoral Officer does not even know whether he will be able to implement all the different measures this bill contains in time for the next election, because the Liberals dragged their feet so long. First they dawdled with the study on what our new voting system should be. Then they ignored an overwhelming consensus in favour of a mixed proportional system, while trying to convince Canadians that there was no consensus or that the consensus was for something else. That is a funny way to put it, but it shows how desperate they were to dodge the issue.
Not content to have delayed this process, the Liberals also delayed the next process, which was aimed at correcting some of the stalled measures that were stuck behind those they had rejected. However, here we are at the eleventh hour, and they cannot even guarantee that all of the measures we have been discussing this morning and over the past few days will be implemented by the next election.
It is therefore fairly safe to say this has been a total failure, even though, as I will elaborate, Bill C-76 does contain a few measures that are worth studying and implementing.
We are talking about a 230-page bill that will have to be rushed through because, as I was saying, the Liberals have been behind on all counts from the very beginning.
Worse still, this very rushed bill will likely pass thanks to the majority this government holds. This means that the broad consensus that has been the tradition in this House could once again be ignored in favour of the bulldozing effect of a government majority.
After two press releases in quick succession proposing two different names, this week we learned of the appointment of a potential new chief electoral officer. The person responsible for implementing the measures in Bill C-76 has not yet been officially appointed. It is safe to say that problems are piling up.
Let us explore some of the things in this bill that deserve a closer look, such as the issue of financing. As people generally expect more transparency in the lead-up to an election, this bill proposes a number of measures in that regard. However, while promising greater transparency, the bill also raises spending limits at the same time. This means that election campaigns will become much more about money than ideas.
I think that there is a very broad consensus in Canada and Quebec regarding the U.S. election system, because no one wants to see money take precedence over ideas. For years now, money seems to have become increasingly more important. Canadians are well aware that there is a cost to living in a democracy. No one expects elections to be free. I will get back to public financing a bit later, since this aspect is largely missing from the bill. This was an opportunity to restore the balance that was lost under the previous Conservative government led by Mr. Harper, which completely eliminated the per-vote subsidy. I am not saying that this made for a proportional government, but at least the public financing was representative of the public vote and gave additional meaning to casting a vote.
What is more, increasing election spending limits is also problematic and feeds into the trend of making money more important than ideas. In an election campaign, I would like to see people debate ideas equitably rather than see parties inundate people with ads because the rules are not the same for everyone. Conversely, one could argue that the rules are equal for everyone since everyone has the same spending limit, but when that spending limit is at a height that not every party can achieve, then clearly there is an imbalance.
I would also like to address another problem that is widely panned and does not seem to have been resolved by Bill C-76: personal information protection. That is an issue that everyone in Canada and Quebec is concerned about now and not just when it comes to elections, but also in daily life. Every move that is made on the web leaves a footprint and we cannot begin to imagine how much personal information we leave there.
Perhaps members have already had the experience of downloading an app on their cell phone or other device and reading the terms of service. I do not know whether this has ever happened to you, Madam Speaker, but I have tried a few times to read the terms of service, but I have rarely succeed in getting all the way to the end. The times I did manage to finish, I must admit that it was a challenge. However, just because I read the terms, does not mean that I understood them, but people always end up agreeing to the terms because they need the app in their daily lives. Once we accept the terms, we no longer know exactly how much personal information will be shared or how that information will be managed. Bill C-76 does nothing to address that issue.
I would like to quote what a few witnesses had to say about this. Teresa Scassa, the Canada research chair in information law and policy at the University of Ottawa described the solution proposed in Bill C-76 as “an almost contemptuous and entirely cosmetic quick fix designed to deflect attention from the very serious privacy issues raised by the use of personal information by political parties”.
Lori Turnbull, director of Dalhousie University's School of Public Administration and co-author of a document about the modernization of public funding published by the Public Policy Forum said, “It’s a step in the right direction, but it looks as if they were pressed for time and some big problems have been left on the table.”
I have used this image many times: when you take a step forward, you are not actually moving forward, you are just moving your centre of gravity. In order to move forward, you have to take at least two steps. Bill C-76 is only one step.
Funnily enough, Canada does have a privacy act. It is quite a progressive act, and it is often studied by many other countries seeking to perfect their own privacy acts and learn how a united front is needed to protect personal data in our new computer-oriented society.
However, political parties are exempt from Canada's privacy act. For example, a private company that wants to solicit customers by email has to seek their consent to store their email addresses for future correspondence. Political parties are not required to ask for consent. They can even sell the personal data they gather, which to me is an utterly absurd situation that Bill C-76, as drafted, does not address.
Where are the rules for increasing the number of women to a significant level? That is another issue that Bill C-76 does not resolve. In terms of women's representation in the House, we are light years away from parity, except in the NDP. Why? At the very beginning of an election campaign, the very instant the writ drops, the NDP have rules in place that require candidate nominations to be gender balanced from the get-go. If there is no parity at the starting line, how can we hope to miraculously reach parity by the finish line? We ought to thank the NDP for its efforts and make sure more women get into the House.
By voting down the bill introduced by my colleague from Burnaby South, the government missed a great opportunity to make additional strides in that regard. Bill C-76 again misses the opportunity to introduce specific measures to achieve gender parity, or at least something close to parity between 40% and 60%, by the next election. We should not have to wait decades for this. If current trends in the number of women in the House of Commons remain at the same level, it will likely take 40 or 50 years to achieve parity, and even that is not guaranteed. This is an absolutely crucial issue that has been completely overlooked in this legislation.
The bill does contain some important positive aspects, which is why, at the end of the day, I will be voting to support it at second reading, even though I may sound like I completely oppose it. I think it is important to send it to committee so that we may get some answers to relevant questions and see how we can make the most of a bill that has been reduced to the basics and does not really reform our electoral system. That is the role of all opposition members, in other words, not to simply oppose legislation but also improve it.
We do welcome the time limit for an election campaign. Having election campaigns in this era of faster travel and digital media means they can be shorter than back in the day when candidates had to travel across Canada by train, which of course took longer.
Offering a 90% refund for child care expenses is a good measure. We support that.
In closing, democracy does not belong to just the Liberals or any one party in the House. It belongs to all parties in the House of Commons.
I hope the next changes made to our electoral system are based on a consensus.