Mr. Speaker, it is always an honour to rise and speak on behalf of the people of Timmins—James Bay, and speak on the issue of Bill C-46, the so-called pipeline safety act, the amendment to the National Energy Board Act. As I rise today, back home there is great concern in my region about the third derailment in this past month in our region. There were two tanker derailments in the small community of Gogama, one at Hornepayne. Twenty-nine cars carrying heavy crude went off the tracks. A number of them are still burning out of control in the Mattagami River right now. The Mattagami River runs from that part of northern Ontario right through the heart of the city of Timmins, through communities like Smooth Rock Falls up into the Missinaibi and the Moose rivers in James Bay. A huge drainage area of 37,000 kilometres is affected.
This heavy crude is burning in a fish habitat very close to the community of Mattagami First Nation and very close to Gogama. We need to look at these issues in terms of government policy. We saw the horrific tragedy at Lac-Mégantic this past summer and we saw the failed safety measures. We saw the promises that have been put in place allowing companies to look after themselves, that somehow Canadians would be better protected in this privatized world and that if we let corporations look after themselves without oversight, everything will be fine. Many good people in Lac-Mégantic died because of that.
If the train had derailed just a few kilometres from where it did, not into the river but into the community of Gogama, we could have had a repeat of Lac-Mégantic. For all of us across so much of Canada and across the north, our communities are built on the rail lines. Across the street from my house, the Ontario Northland carries its heavy duty sulphuric acid from the smelter in Rouyn-Noranda. In fact my street address is Mileage 104, on the railway line. We are so closely tied to the issues of safety.
I speak of that in terms of the huge economic impact the oil industry has on our country. It is a huge driver, but also we need to start addressing the growing environmental impact to make sure that there is a balance. There will be some people who say “we will not ship by rail anymore, let us get the pipelines through and once the pipelines are through, we will not have to worry anymore”. The problem is the lack of a long-term vision of the government where, as my colleague from Toronto—Danforth said, they only believe in the rip-and-ship philosophy.
There is something fundamentally, economically wrong when the vision of our national economy is to take raw bitumen out of the ground, ship it 2,000 kilometres to a port in Quebec so it can be shipped off to China or someplace else to be processed. That is an abomination. That is not an economic plan. The people who carry the risk are the people living along that pipeline because the government stripped all the environmental protection acts, stripped the Navigable Waters Act so that the need to have the shut-off valves along the rivers does not exist anymore.
We are told that somehow this is in all our interests. I see oil industry ads all over Ottawa say “It's your oil, it's our oil, let's do the right thing”. It is not our oil. It should be Canada's interest. No, it is our risk. The benefits are going to the Koch brothers in the U.S. They are going offshore. Ask any northerner at the pumps, for all the damage they suffered in the economy lately, when have they ever had a break on gas prices. We never had one.
We need to look at this. There are some good things in the bill about issues of liability. I ask people back home about the processes that are in place to protect the public. If I look at the National Energy Board, I do not feel much comfort. I guess if I were an oil lobbyist, I would feel great. If I were a big Suncor or Sunoco, I would think the National Energy Board is good. Energy east is a major project that is happening. The public has a right to participate because if we talk about moving bitumen through pipeline, there needs to be public buy-in and they have to understand what is at stake.
The National Energy Board needs to hear from the citizens about what is at stake. However, citizens do not get to write a letter to the National Energy Board. They have to get approval to write a letter in order to be able to write a letter. The National Energy Board does not accept unsolicited letters. People have to apply and then it will decide whether or not their opinion counts. That is not how to build public trust. That is not social licence. The National Energy Board will decide whether the letters will be posted or whether to outright refuse them.
Therefore, granting or refusing a project application impinges on whether or not there is a direct effect on the interests of the person, the degree of connection between the project and the person, the likelihood of severity of harm that a person is exposed to, and the frequency and duration of a person's use of an area near the project. I am trying to interpret what that means. Maybe if I live right on top of the pipeline I get to go to the hearings to say whether or not I like it. If I am like the citizens of Timmins, in the case of the Gogama derailment, if I am part of the larger population of 37,000 square kilometres who has been impacted by this present derailment and if it was a pipeline blowout, would any of those people be allowed to speak at the National Energy Board hearings?
The issue we are dealing with here with crude, with oil, are about a national vision that says that there is no point processing and upgrading in our own country where we can create value-added jobs and ensure the great gifts we have in terms of resources of oil, gas and mineral production. There is no national vision to upgrade, to make sure there is value added, so we are taking less out of the ground because we would see more in our economy. However, we are being told that somehow we should trust the pipeline agenda because the government has turned our country into a petrol state and, like all petrol states, it is corrupt. We see its attack on birdwatchers, on environmental organizations, on anyone who speaks up against its agenda.
We are supposed to believe that bitumen is just like oil, but it is not. I am looking at Bill C-46 that talks about a $1-billion liability, which was surpassed in terms of the damage that Enbridge did to the Kalamazoo River. It is still being ordered by the Environmental Protection Agency to go back and fix the damage it did to the Kalamazoo River. It may not ever be able to fix the damage it did to the Kalamazoo River because it did not have the proper oversight.
I am thinking of a pipeline running through northern Ontario like the train that ran through Gogama. If there is a blowout and it is carrying bitumen, is there enough protection in this bill to offset the billions of dollars in damage that would accrue? If this northern gateway pipeline had ever gone through and it was blowing bitumen out through the B.C. mountains, how would anyone be able to get to that? When one drives up through the mountains in B.C., sometimes there are trucks at the bottom because it was too difficult to get down to the trucks that went off the edge. How would we be able to somehow get the bitumen off those rivers? That is why President Obama rejected Keystone, contrary to the demands of the Liberal Party and Conservative Party leaders. He said it was not in America's interests to take the risk without the benefit.
Therefore, I am looking at where we need to be as an economy. Our natural resources are vital to us but there has to be social licence. It has to be done safely and with the long-term implication that if companies will be moving products like bitumen out of the ground they are doing it in a safe way. They failed with our rail. We have had too many accidents and we need accountability there. However, if we are supposed to trust that this bill would protect us on pipelines, when we see the collusion of the oil interests and the Conservative government, I do not believe them for a moment and I do not think Canadians do either.
We are interested in this bill and want to bring it to committee, but there is a bigger issue with respect to environmental accountability that has to be addressed by this nation.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to echo the comments of my colleague from Toronto—Danforth. What I find incredulous is that the government would invoke a limitation on the debate of this bill that it has said is a critical bill for the safety of Canadians.
This is the point in time where we debate the fairness of the process in this place to represent our constituents across the country, yet when we raise our concerns about the time allocated to debate the very bill, the government House leader uses the opportunity to start talking about the substance of the bill. If he believes so strongly that we should have the opportunity to debate the substance of the bill, why is he putting time limitation on the debate and limiting our opportunity to debate the bill?
I have to share that it is important for Canadians to understand the ambit and extent of these measures that the government has proposed in the bill, and why it is so important that we have the time to debate and discuss the ramifications of the bill in this place and at committee. Frankly, it is my personal opinion that this bill should go across the country so people in every small community understand what they are about to face.
I am saying this because of a situation that occurred in my province of Alberta, when there was a proposal before a utility board to build an electrical transmission line. I was working with farmers who were deeply concerned because they had already put up with a lot of impacts on their farm land, and there was going to be yet another major transmission line to export electricity. During our telephone calls, it was discovered that the utility board had spied on those calls. The end result of that revelation was that the whole agency was shut down.
We are not just talking about extreme terrorists. We are talking about intrusions on the right of ordinary Canadians in their community, protecting their property rights, which is supposed to be a concern of the government, to have the right to come forward and state their objections.
I am very deeply troubled that the government is trying to reduce debate on this significant bill.
I would like to draw to the attention of all hon. members a new flagpole and stand fashioned from wood from the silver maple tree that inspired the song The Maple Leaf Forever here at the right hand of the Speaker's chair. The remains of the tree, which fell during a storm in 2013, are being turned into 150 art-craft projects for public display across Canada.
I wish to thank the hon. member for Toronto—Danforth who proposed that the House of Commons participate in this initiative.
I would also like to thank the teams of conservators and tradespeople in the House administration for their superb design and excellent craftsmanship in creating these historical objects.
Members may also have noted the maple leaf flag in the Hall of Honour. It was flown at the top of the Peace Tower 50 years ago on February 15, 1965.
It will be on display until March 1. I invite all hon. members to stop by and have a look at this remarkable artifact of our country's history.
Mr. Speaker, I am so pleased to stand today and speak on my friend's bill, Bill C-586.
Before I get to my specific comments, I want to thank the member for Wellington—Halton Hills for his hard work. I know that this has not been easy to do, and sometimes it was a case of friend against friend discussing the bill. However, he brought dedication, spirit, and collaboration to the endeavour, which is not always shown in this place. When we do take the time to listen to the views of others, we sometimes get it right, or, as the member has said, it is perhaps not perfect, but we do take steps to get there. The hon. member has shown an extraordinary openness to discuss and, some might say, compromise, but at least he worked together with others here in the House. That certainly helped the bill make it through committee.
I will begin my comments with a brief outline of how we have arrived at this point.
The first iteration of the bill was introduced late 2013. After consultation with colleagues and many discussions among ourselves, and not even with the member sometimes, the member for Wellington—Halton Hills introduced a modified version of the bill in the spring of 2014.
Since April, many in the House have reviewed, considered, and discussed the revised bill. In its original form, the bill would have made substantial changes to the Westminster system of governance, which needed to be carefully considered. I personally spent a lot of time talking to the member for Wellington—Halton Hills and others. We talked about proposed changes, and through the summer I realized that while I might not like the bill entirely, boy there was some good stuff in it, as the member said, and so we had to work to get it here.
My colleague, the member for Wellington—Halton Hills, worked with members on both sides of the House to improve the bill, and in September he announced further changes. It was also announced that political parties would remain in charge of their own nomination rules and have freedom to choose who approves candidates, which is such a large step. I do not think members recognize how large a step that is. This would allow caucuses to determine whether they wanted to opt in or opt out of some of these processes.
I think there may be some initial fears about some of the changes that have been suggested, but as the member has said, we cannot reach for the stars without taking a couple of steps forward, which is exactly how this would happen. We cannot have it all at once, but we will never finish the trip if we do not take the first steps.
I was pleased to see some of the further changes. I listened intently to the debate in the House at second reading, and then the bill came to committee. It is the changes that were made at the procedure and House affairs committee that I will focus the rest of my comments on.
As the chair of the committee, I have been there a long time, and the rules of this place, as the member for Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor said, sometimes get in the way. People do not understand why a rule is there and why a member cannot just stand up and do something about it.
I thank the member for Toronto—Danforth for his great help at committee on this, but as he said, the procedures are what run this place, and if we write the right rules the place will run better, and if we write bad rules it will not. The member for Wellington—Halton Hills has it somewhere nearer to right, I might chance to say. However, as the chair of the committee, I must take a non-partisan role throughout all of the points I have discussed so far. When the bill gets to committee, I must help the committee move it as we can. Personally, I had some great thoughts as to what could be done, but we had to let it get there, and I thank the member for the kind comments about the work the committee did.
I will talk about some of the rules in the bill.
Regarding the role of the party leader to endorse candidates, as I said, it is a huge step forward when we can designate the person who would do that. If we take out of the law the provision that it is the party leader who endorses candidates, will that be a great change? We will see. As each party grows into the system, we will find out.
As I said, section 67(4)(c) of the Canada Elections Act currently requires candidates to have the signed approval of their party leader. That could now change, and we expressed that we hope it will.
A number of commentators have pointed out that the nomination contests represent the most fundamental element of our democratic system; that is, the people back home choose who is going to run to represent them back home. It is important that sometimes the party stays out of the way on that. This bill would help do that.
The original version of Bill C-586 would have amended the Canada Elections Act to dictate a more elaborate process, but we have now got it to where each party can choose its own and, through a democratic procedure, make that happen. I think it is important that we have that freedom.
This led to an important debate in the House about how to uphold the independence of parties and their right to decide how to function as private organizations and, in fact, function differently from other parties. I think the internal workings of parties need to have that type of flexibility.
As amended by the procedure and House affairs committee, the requirement for the party leader's signature would be replaced with a more open requirement of the signature of a person or persons authorized by the political party to endorse prospective candidates.
Those are just words on a piece of paper, but I find them to be extremely significant in this place. When we can change the rules to make the place work better, change party rules to make parties work better, we have accomplished something.
It would also remove the presumption that only the party leader has the ultimate power to endorse candidates while, at the same time, recognizing the right of parties to tailor their process to meet the unique needs of that party. Large, small, national in scope, or not national in scope, all of these things can now be taken into consideration. We would have that flexibility when we pass this bill that we did not have the moment before.
At committee, we also discussed caucus members and party leaders. The other key aspects of Bill C-586 are the provisions for the removal and the re-admission of caucus members and the removal of party leaders. These were discussions and parts of the bill.
Unlike the role the party leader plays in endorsing prospective candidates, the rules and procedures of party caucuses have never been set out in standard. There is not something we could point to and say, “That is what they are”.
In fact, we are ploughing some new ground here, certainly, in this Parliament, giving those options for a caucus to meet immediately after election and decide what rules it would be run by in the election of caucus leaders and the election of how to admit caucus members or dismiss caucus members.
Again, having spent some time in this place, I know these are extremely large decisions. We may look back on this day and say, “I remember when we allowed ourselves to have the freedom to do exactly that”.
Parties must have the freedom to organize themselves as they see fit. Again, what works for one party may not always work well for the other. However, the bill from the member for Wellington—Halton Hills would allow that freedom between those parties.
I believe there are important changes in the reform act.
I have spent a great deal of time working with a great group of people at the procedure and House affairs committee, moving things forward that are hard to do, but sometimes they are not as rewarding as I find the bill today from the member for Wellington—Halton Hills is, and would be, going forward. We have accomplished something here and I am proud to be able to do it. I am proud, now, to able to stand in the House, remove my non-partisan hat that I have to wear at committee in order to make things happen functionally, and say that I will be standing to support this bill and I hope all other members will.
Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. Three and a half minutes, for some of us who are a bit more verbose, is just getting warmed up. Just saying hello where I come from in the northwest takes well more than three and a half minutes. However, in this particular case I can at least put a couple of important points on the table.
First, I would like to say from listening to the debate this afternoon that it has mostly been New Democrats who have been carrying the debate on Bill C-32, an act to enact the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights and to amend certain acts.
I am so impressed by my colleagues on this side. They have vast experience, both from the legal profession, as in the case of my friend from Toronto—Danforth, and many from their personal experiences as New Democrat MPs, having taken the time to sit with the families of those who have been hurt to understand that victims' rights is about the stories of people who have been impacted by an injustice, and that when we are describing the policies of the day they are not in cold black and white as prescribed in legal notes put forward in bills such as this one.
To summarize, New Democrats will be supporting the bill because it is a small step forward. As was mentioned earlier, it is a failed opportunity because it over-promises and under-delivers, as is so often the case when we look at Conservative legislation. If only the title of the bill matched the reality of what is contained within the bill, then we would be a great deal more satisfied, simply because a bill of rights is such an important phraseology for a place like a parliament, implying that the piece of legislation would contain within it rights that people can then hold up and defend their interests in a court of law and when dealing with the judicial system at large.
The challenge we see here is on two fronts. It is a challenge legislatively speaking, in that this bill is desperately lacking in ability to affect laws and compel certain judicial processes to deal with victims; and it is also a challenge on the money side, in terms of the ability to spend sufficient funds to allow victims to have services they will require to get through the system. As we know, we have an excellent justice system, an excellent judiciary, but sometimes it is not completely accessible due to people's insufficient means. Lower-income families will need support, and we do not find it acceptable for the Conservatives to simply pass the buck down to the provinces and then try to take credit.
The last thing I will say is that I have sat at the kitchen tables of families who have suffered enormous loss, the loss of a son or a daughter, from a crime. To try to find some level of understanding and compassion for what they have gone through is difficult, and I am not sure I will ever be able to do that.
What I can appreciate and honour is that those families remain so dedicated to the memory of their loved one, be it a family member, a son, a daughter, a husband, or a wife, and continue to try to make the system better, even in the midst of their grief.
It would be understandable if they chose not to re-engage with the system whatsoever, but they choose, instead, to come to us, as members of Parliament. The least we can do is to honour the memory of those they have lost by bringing in legislation that would actually make the world a better place for victims.
While we are supporting the bill, we do believe the government completely shortchanged those interests of honouring and respecting those values and views.
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Toronto—Danforth for his comments. Bringing this back to the families and the victims who are impacted by crime brings home to all Canadians the importance of getting this type of legislation right.
Families that have gone through losing a family member in particular have been deeply hurt and victimized. Some of those families get through and deal with that grief and then become advocates to try to make the system better for future victims. I do not know if there is any effort made by citizens in this country that is more admirable in that they have had to deal with their personal loss while advocating for better public policy.
My question is very specific and is about what the bill lacks, because I think this is a missed opportunity in some ways. It is not as if we will revisit this type of legislation every year. It has been eight years since the promise from the Conservatives to bring forward this legislation. We finally have it now, so getting it right seems important.
My question is about resources, because we have heard from victims groups before that to properly incorporate victims into the justice system, there needs to be the ability to fund the types of services they will need: the counselling, the access to legal advocacy, and the ability to be in the court system properly.
My friend is a learned scholar and knows the legal system well. A piece of legislation like this, for all its good intentions, without any financial support in it, is worrisome to me in terms of what experience those families will have in the future as they try to approach the justice system and redress some of the faults within our criminal justice system as they exist right now.
Resuming debate, the hon. member for Toronto—Danforth will have only about two minutes.
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comment and the very specific attention to detail that the member for Toronto—Danforth has brought forward. It serves as a good example of how some committee members do due diligence. We listen to witnesses and the suggestions they put forward. They are often experts, and my colleague has named one here.
Then we put forward amendments, but they just do not seem to mean anything anymore. What we end up with is a bill that has very broad powers, has extraordinary generality, and raises the possibility that either it will be challenged or that those powers will be abused. That is the problem, and that is what we are here to protect against. Unfortunately, when they are overruled by a majority in the House, those protections do not exist anymore.
Mr. Speaker, it is very interesting, as I rise to speak to the motion put forward by the member for Toronto—Danforth, to hear people talk about how we cannot rush into this change.
I was elected in 2004. I would like to pretend that this is the very first time that I have risen in the House to speak to the notion of moving toward proportional representation, but sadly, it is not.
I spoke about it when our former leader and the former member for Ottawa Centre was in the House in 2004 and 2005. I spoke about it when Catherine Bell, the former member for Vancouver Island North, brought forward her motion. I spoke about it in 2008, when a member from the Bloc brought forward a motion.
I know that over the last 10 years, many other members in this place have raised it time and time again. I hardly think that this is a rapid change. In addition, a number of studies have been done and I am going to reference them.
Before that, Mr. Speaker, I wish to inform you that I will be splitting my time with the member for Ottawa Centre.
I would like to turn to the 2004 report from the Law Commission of Canada entitled “Voting Counts: Electoral Reform for Canada”. I wish I could read all of the couple of hundred pages, but I cannot.
In its executive summary, it said:
For the past decade or so, Canada has been in the grip of a democratic malaise evidenced by decreasing levels of political trust, declining voter turnout, increasing cynicism toward politicians and traditional forms of political participation, and growing disengagement of young people from politics. However, as the Commission heard throughout its consultation process, many citizens want to be involved, want to have a real voice in decision making, and would like to see more responsive, accountable, and effective political institutions.
That was in 2004. A substantial amount of consultation was taking place and some very strong recommendations were made.
It goes on to criticize our current first-past-the-post system. Those of us who have been around for a while can talk about the problems and challenges with our first-past-the-post system after seeing in 2011, that the Conservative government was elected with less than 40% of the vote.
There is something wrong with a system that allows less than 40% of the voters, which was only about 25% of the eligible voters because the voter turnout was so low, to actually put a government in a majority situation. It is now driving the agenda for a whole country, when it does not remotely have a majority of Canadians supporting it.
The Law Commission of Canada identified problems with the first-past-the-post system. It said:
For many Canadians, this system is inherently unfair—more likely to frustrate or distort the wishes of the voters than to translate them fairly into representation and influence in the legislature. It has been criticized as: being overly generous to the party that wins a plurality of the vote, rewarding it with a legislative majority disproportionate to its share of the vote; allowing the governing party, with its artificially swollen legislative majority, to dominate the political agenda; promoting parties formed along regional lines, thus exacerbating Canada’s regional divisions; leaving large areas of the country without adequate representatives in the governing party caucus; disregarding a large number of votes in that voters who do not vote for the winning candidate have no connection to the elected representative, nor to the eventual make-up of the House of Commons; contributing to the under-representation of women, minority groups, and Aboriginal peoples; preventing a diversity of ideas from entering the House of Commons; and favouring an adversarial style of politics.
Again, over the last three years, I can certainly speak to my own personal experience in the House. It is the most adversarial that I have seen it in the 10 years that I have been a member.
In its conclusion, the Law Commission of Canada said:
Canada inherited its first-past-the-post electoral system from Great Britain over 200 years ago, at a time when significant sections of the Canadian population, including women, Aboriginal people, and nonproperty owners, were disenfranchised.
I heard the Liberal member talk about the fact that there are three western democracies that still have this system. It seemed to me that he was touting this as a great thing, whereas other democracies have moved on. I would suggest that, perhaps, after 200 years of the same system, it might be time to take a fresh look at how Canadians should be represented.
The Law Commission of Canada also said:
Canada’s political, cultural, and economic reality has vastly changed; the current electoral system no longer responds to 21st century Canadian democratic values. Many Canadians desire an electoral system that better reflects the society in which they live—one that includes a broader diversity of ideas and is more representative of Canadian society. For these reasons, the Commission recommends adding an element of proportionality to our electoral system.
Furthermore, because of its many potential benefits, electoral reform should be a priority item on the political agenda.
Its final note was:
However, it has become apparent that the first-past-the-post electoral system no longer meets the democratic aspirations of many Canadians. Electoral reform is thus a necessary step to energize and strengthen Canadian democracy.
Ten years ago and we are still making no movement with regard to examining the first-past-the-post system.
In a speech on October 15, 2005, on ethics and democratic reform, the Hon. Ed Broadbent noted a couple of key points. I will not talk about the ethics and the accountability part of the speech, but I will focus on proportional representation.
In his opening statement, he said:
The debate and time spent in Parliament should be about the state of our health-care and the state of our economy, about foreign policy and human rights, about the security of our seniors and the poverty of our children. I have never seen such a reversal of priorities as in the past 12 months.
I want to remind people that this is 2005 I am talking about. He said:
Time spent on governmental policy has yielded more often than not to debates about the process of governance: about Canadians' concern over the integrity of elected politicians and public servants, about the rules and accountability governing those appointed, about access to information, about contract corruption, about high living at public expense, about unaccountable lobbyists, about wrong-doing partisan-appointed officials resigning with legal impunity—
Here we are almost 10 years later and we have got exactly the same situation here in this House. We can lay part of that at the foot of the fact that we still have a first-past-the-post system. We do not have a more representative House here.
Mr. Broadbent talked about the ethics and about some of the ways to address the accountability deficit in this House, but he also talked about democratic reform. He said:
A major source of needed democratic reform is our outmoded first-past-the-post electoral system.
Ninety percent of the world's democracies, including Australia, New Zealand, Scotland, Ireland and Wales have abandoned or significantly modified the pre-democratic British system that still prevails in Ottawa. As the Law Commission recommended and five provinces seem to agree, fairness means we need a mixed electoral system that combines individual constituency-based MPs with proportional representation. Only such a system would positively redress the existing imbalance in gender, ethnic, ideological and regional voting preferences.
Just a note on the gender issues, over a couple of decades we have only seen the representation of women marginally increase in this House. In many countries, proportional representation has assisted in that.
He went on to say:
In particular, as the Pepin-Robarts Commission pointed out 26 years ago, our present system does a great disservice to Canadian unity because regional representation in the House of Commons--in the caucuses and in the cabinet--does not reflect Canadian voters' intentions.
I know that members in other parts of the House talk about how the Senate can address regional representation, but I am talking about elected representation here. That way, people have a real voice in who it is that speaks for them here in the House.
British Columbia unfortunately had a failed referendum with regard to a single transferrable vote, but the process that was used in order to come up with the system, the first time it went to a referendum, it was so close that the government had to hold a second referendum.
Part of the reason the second referendum lost was not because people were not hungry for change, they wanted change, but what happened in British Columbia was that many people did not understand the system.
Many British Columbians that I spoke to, after the referendum failed, said that they really did want change, but they did not understand what it was, so they voted no.
What we need is a very clear proposal for Canadians, outlining how it would affect them in their riding, in their district, and how their access to a parliamentary procedure would improve under a system of proportional representation.
We should all be very concerned in this House about the lack of participation in the electoral process. We should all take a hard look at how we operate in this House. Our objective here should be to increase voter participation. Our objective should be to ensure that the values of Canadians are adequately represented in this House by having a broad cross-section.
I have heard people say that the NDP proposed this system because it would advantage it.
Actually, in a number of elections, proportional representation would have advantaged the other parties, whether it was the Liberals, the old Reformers or the Green Party. We are proposing a system that will more adequately reflect what Canadians want to see.
I would encourage all members of the House to support this good motion and help us ensure that the next election in 2019 reflects true Canadian wishes.
The the hon. member for Toronto—Danforth is rising on a point of order.
Mr. Speaker, I certainly thank the government House leader for his comments today. I was in the House and heard his comments yesterday. I have copies of what he said yesterday in the House of Commons.
First off he said it would be premature at this time for the House to suspend. The motion the government was offering yesterday was that all of the matters involving the member for Peterborough be referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs with instructions that it report back to the House with recommendations. No due date was given, not forthwith, but just that at some point procedure and House affairs would report back.
However, there was no immediate action taken on the government motion. Procedure and House affairs was to look at suspension, impacts on the member's pension, travel status expense account, et cetera. Some of these elements, of course, the member for Toronto—Danforth and I have incorporated into the motion we offered, but this is a very clear change from where the government was yesterday.
Yesterday, the government was opposed to suspension. Yesterday, the government did not want to take any immediate action and felt we should refer it to procedure and House affairs.
My question is very simple. What changed the government's mind from yesterday?
Mr. Speaker, thank you for recognizing me. I felt it important to stand and ask a good friend some questions on this. He has done a great job of sharing his views with us. I respect him and I respect the work he does at committee. I am having a little more trouble with his House leader at the moment.
It was discussed that, if this were to go to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, it would be swept under the carpet. I am here to point out that it would need to be a very large carpet.
The other piece that the House leader suggested is that the committee is somehow derelict in its duty and behind in its times. It is one of the few committees meeting in the House every week, each time it is set to meet, and filling its time. I ask if the member for Toronto—Danforth thinks we have been slagging and not getting our work done.
Mr. Speaker, this is the point we are making today in the House of Commons. It is very clear.
The government saying yesterday that it wants to put it off to the procedure and House affairs committee, which is still considering referrals it received in January 2014 and has not dealt with, is inappropriate. There need to be some initial steps, although procedure and House affairs will eventually be called upon to deal with some of those issues.
The other thing that obviously concerns us is the golden parachute and the decision this morning by Conservatives to actively shift on Bill C-518 so that in the case of the member for Peterborough, he would have a full right to his pension. They made two important amendments. I know my colleague, the member for Toronto—Danforth, will speak to this in just a moment.
It adds up to a golden parachute. We think that is a completely inappropriate response by Conservatives to what has been a conviction on three counts in a court of law on serious violations of the Canada Elections Act.
Mr. Speaker, I move:
That, with regard to the guilty verdict of October 31, 2014, against the member for Peterborough on four counts of violating the Canada Elections Act, (a) the House immediately suspend the member of (i) the right to sit or vote in this place, (ii) the right to sit on any committee of this place, (iii) the right to collect his sessional allowance as a member of Parliament; and (b) this matter be referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs for further study of appropriate measures concerning the member for Peterborough's membership in the House of Commons.
He said: Mr. Speaker, I would first like to say that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Toronto—Danforth, who will deliver the second part of my speech.
This is an unprecedented situation in our history. Before I present my arguments in support of our motion, I would like to take a few minutes to talk about what happened on October 31.
Since we are talking about something that is rare in the House, unprecedented, I think it is useful to start off the important debate on this issue by citing the various violations of which the member for Peterborough was convicted last Friday.
First off, the member for Peterborough was found guilty of personally paying an election expense, thereby willfully exceeding his contribution limit, contrary to subsections 405(1), 497(3), and 500(5) of the Canada Elections Act. Just to reference those important subsections, 405(1) says, very clearly:
No individual shall make contributions that exceed
(a) $1,000 in total in any calendar year...;
(a.1) $1,000 in total in any calendar year to the registered associations, nomination contestants and candidates...,
Every person guilty of that offence, knowingly contravening these subsections, is guilty of an offence under sections 481 and 482.
Second, the member for Peterborough and his official agent were found guilty of willfully incurring election expenses in excess of the campaign expense limit, contrary to subsections 443(1), 497(3), and 500(5) of the Canada Elections Act. Subsection 443(1) stipulates:
No candidate, official agent of a candidate or person authorized under paragraph 446(c) to enter into contracts shall incur election expenses in an amount that is more than the election expenses limit calculated under section 440.
This is an important part of the Canada Elections Act and is an extremely important violation the member has been found guilty of.
Third, the member for Peterborough was found guilty of providing an electoral campaign return containing a false or misleading material statement in omitting to report a campaign contribution, an election expense, contrary to paragraphs 463(1)(a) and 497(3)(v) and subsection 500(5). Again, 463(1) stipulates very clearly:
No candidate and no official agent of a candidate shall provide the Chief Electoral Officer with a document referred to in subsection 451(1) or 455(1) that (a) the candidate or the official agent, as the case may be, knows or ought reasonably to know contains a material statement that is false or misleading;...
Finally, the member for Peterborough has been found guilty of providing a campaign return that did not substantially set out the required information by omitting to report a campaign contribution and election expense, contrary to paragraphs 463(1)(b) and 497(3)(v) and subsection 500(5).
Among the convictions on three counts, the final count was stayed, at the crown's request, following the finding of guilt.
Each of the three counts of which the member for Peterborough was found guilty carries a maximum penalty of $2,000, one year in prison, or both.
This is not a little event in the life of the House of Commons. There is a serious criminal conviction, in three cases, under the Canada Elections Act. The judge stated that the evidence provided by the member for Peterborough was incredible and full of inconsistencies and improbabilities and that the member for Peterborough frequently obfuscated.
Justice Lisa Cameron was very clear in terms of the guilty verdict she rendered on three counts for the member for Peterborough. What was the response from the member for Peterborough? I heard it myself on the radio. The member for Peterborough said that it was just her opinion.
This is not a matter of opinion. This is a matter of the law of the land not being respected by the member for Peterborough. The House is now seized with this question and has to make a decision about what comes next. There is no doubt that this is a serious violation of the Canada Elections Act, and it should be treated seriously.
Yesterday we had, from the government, its initial response on how it is going to respond to the important issue of convictions on three counts of violating the Canada Elections Act. I am certainly not going to reproach the government House leader for being very clear on where the government wants to go, but I think it is important to note that the government said very clearly that it wanted to do nothing. The Conservatives want to tuck it under a carpet and refer the whole matter to the procedure and House affairs committee.
On this side of the House, we believe that the serious violations of which this member has been convicted require serious measures. That is why we are putting forward a motion today that says very clearly, given the serious violations of the Canada Elections Act, that this House should immediately suspend the member.
That is our approach. The government has seemingly not wanted to take this approach. Seemingly, the government has said, no, it just wants to tuck it over to the procedure and House affairs committee. We disagree profoundly with that approach. We believe that these serious violations demand a serious response from this House of Commons.
Given the current government's track record, it is not surprising that the Conservatives would want to, in effect, by putting it over to the procedure and House affairs committee, try to sweep this under the carpet. However, when we couple this with what we have seen as a systematic pattern of behaviour by the Conservative government, members can begin to understand why we are concerned that the government's approach is to tuck this away in a committee rather than deal with a very serious series of violations and a guilty verdict that is very clear on three counts. Rather than tucking it under the carpet, we believe that serious measures are required.
On the Conservative government's history, when we look at the last three federal elections, I think, to a certain extent, there is diminished public trust in how the government approaches violations of the Canada Elections Act.
In 2006, the first election in which the current Conservative government was elected, we had the in-and-out scandal. What we saw following that were a number of Conservative Party operatives found guilty of breaking Elections Canada rules. They had to pay more than $52,000 in fines. Taxpayers spent more than $2.3 million for the investigation, which led to a five-year legal battle.
For the 2008 election campaign, we have the conviction we have just seen. The member for Peterborough has been convicted on three counts.
In 2011, we saw the robocall scandal. A former Conservative staffer has been found guilty. We have also seen the former member of Parliament, the former minister from Labrador, very clearly overspending and seeing that the Canada Elections Act did not apply.
There has been a systematic pattern of breaking the Canada Elections Act.
The Canada Elections Act is a fundamental Canadian value. It sets a level playing field for all candidates. It sets the rules for our democracy. Given these systematic violations we have seen over the course of the last few years, we say that on this case now coming before the House, it is important for the House of Commons to say that it is a serious violation. These three counts are serious in nature, and as a result, the House of Commons should be moving to immediately suspend the member from the right to sit or vote in this place, the right to sit on any committee in this place, and the right to collect his sessional allowance.
I have two final points I would like to make.
First, the procedure and House affairs committee is now nine months behind on its consideration of Motion No. 428.
Second, as we saw today, and as the leader of the official opposition mentioned, on Bill C-518, what we have seen is the government moving to extract from the Canada Elections Act a series of violations that would lead to the end of the sessional allowance. We do not stand for that on this side of the House, and the member for Toronto—Danforth will comment further.
There are still seven minutes left for questions and comments for the speech of the hon. member for Toronto—Danforth.
The electoral district of Toronto--Danforth (Ontario) has a population of 103,655 with 74,826 registered voters and 183 polling divisions.
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