Madam Speaker, I rise on behalf of the people of Okanagan—Coquihalla to speak to Bill C-2, an act to amend the elections act.
As a young man I joined the Canadian armed forces. I was very proud of our country's democracy and I still am today. But as we look around the world we see that Canada still operates in some areas where we can improve our democratic system. I think all people in the House would agree that the way in which senators are appointed should be changed. That is why Bill C-2 is very important.
Webster's Dictionary defines democracy as “a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their agents under a free electoral system”.
Legislation that governs the way in which people elect their representatives is a statement of how democratic a nation is. If it is to meet these ideals of democracy, it must be as free and unhindered of restrictions as possible. At the federal level in Canada, the elections act governs the way Canadians elect members to this House.
In the past, the elections act has been criticized for having a number of restrictions that limit the ability of Canadians to exercise democracy. The Liberal amendments have done nothing to address these restrictions. In fact, they have strengthened them with the intent of ensuring that the Liberals as a governing party are re-elected.
I will test three aspects of the bill to show they do not meet the definition of democracy. They are the debate over third party spending limits, the blackout on poll results prior to election day, and patronage appointments.
The first aspect I will test is the debate over third party spending limits. Two separate court decisions in Alberta have struck down the elections act spending limits on third parties as unconstitutional and for good reason. Spending limits always work in favour of the governing party which in this case is the federal Liberal Party. It has a big advantage. The Liberals by virtue of having the most MPs have the most free broadcasting time. In their role as government they can use taxpayers' dollars to advertise for re-election under the guise of information from the government.
The Liberal Party's election spending limit is close to $30 million. The official opposition has a spending limit of closer to $9 million. Third parties cannot spend more than $150,000 or not more than $3,000 in any one riding.
I for one fail to see how spending limits enhance the freedom of Canadians to elect representatives. The spending limits are obviously biased toward the Liberal Party with its massive spending advantage. Associations and private individuals can barely get their message across given the $150,000 spending limit in this bill. The whole idea behind Bill C-2 is to curtail freedom of expression and the democratic process.
The second aspect I would like to test to show that it does not meet the definition of democracy is the poll results publication blackout period. In a recent court case, Thomson Newspapers v the Crown, previous legislation preventing the publication of poll results in the final 48 hours of an election campaign was struck down and for good reason. Canadians do not need a paternalistic government trying to black out information from the voting public.
Not to be foiled, this Liberal piece of legislation re-establishes a poll blackout during the last 24 hours of an election campaign. The Liberals believe that if the polls are favourable for them on election day, voters will be more likely to vote for an alternative party to send a message of protest. A blackout on polls during the final 24 hours limits the constitutional rights given to all Canadians while favouring the governing party. It will certainly be challenged by the media in another costly court case which of course again will be lost.
The Reform Party has suggested a compromise that would see an end to poll blackouts. Blackouts would end if the media disclosed their methodology, who paid for the poll, the number of respondents and the question asked. The Liberals rejected this sensible solution, even though it better informed the electorate, because there is no advantage to the governing party.
The third aspect of the bill I would like to test that it does not meet the definition of democracy is the continued use of patronage appointment. There is not too much to examine because the continued use of patronage appointment fails the test straight off the mark. It is unacceptable in a democracy for the Prime Minister to appoint Liberal Party loyalists to key positions like a returning officer in every riding of the country.
I know the parliamentary secretary stood in debate and said that appointments were no problem. Even the Chief Electoral Officer has asked that he be given the power to hire returning officers based on merit alone.
It is ironic that when Elections Canada assists emerging nations during their elections it recommends avoiding a patronage ridden system like Canada's. The Chief Electoral Officer has gone as far as to say that he would not recommend this elections act to a third world nation or emerging democracy, calling the appointment of returning officers in Canada an anachronism.
This patronage system must be abolished. Returning officers and poll clerks should be selected on the basis of ability, experience and impartiality and these positions should be publicly advertised. By not eliminating patronage appointments within the electoral process, the Liberal government is blatantly trying to ensure it has the advantage in every riding.
To conclude, the Liberals had an opportunity to modernize our electoral process by increasing the freedom of the electorate to choose their representatives. This would have strengthened our democratic process making Canada the envy of the world. Instead the Liberals have reaffirmed the regressive aspects of our elections act ensuring the governing party has all the advantage while limiting the freedom of Canadians to elect their representatives.
These regressive measures not only fail to meet the test of the definition of democracy but have created the situation where our own Chief Electoral Officer would not export our system to a developing nation. Instead of vesting the power in the people, the Liberal government is vesting it in itself.