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September 19, 2006

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Speech:  Bill C-16 Speech on Fixed Dates for Elections

Hon. Carol Skelton (Minister of National Revenue and Minister of Western Economic Diversification, CPC):

    Mr. Speaker, I wish to split my time with my hon. colleague from South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale.

 

    It gives me great pleasure to rise to speak on Bill C-16, which would establish fixed election dates for the third Monday of October every fourth year. The bill continues the Conservative government's commitment to provide accountability and transparency in our Canadian democracy.

 

    There is no perfect day for an election. There are, however, better days than others, as everyone in the House knows. I commend all the volunteers in the last election who had the unfortunate job of trying to hammer--or should I say jackhammer?--signs into the ground and who door-knocked with chilling winds and snowy days.

 

    Of special importance to my riding of Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar is that October 19, in good years, allows farmers to finish their harvests. Agribusinesses and the people employed in those businesses could become involved in the election process. During the harvest, the agricultural sector barely has time to sleep, let alone participate in or even think about politics. Bill C-19 would ensure that they are able to fully participate in elections.

 

     Senior citizens would also not have to brave the cold weather to exercise their democratic rights. I have heard from many of my senior constituents about the difficulty of making the trek to the polls in freezing temperatures that can reach -30C. The ice is another danger best avoided when possible, as it seriously hampers their ability to participate in Canada's democracy.

 

    The third Monday of October allows our youth to get settled in the school year. Students could hold candidate debates so they could actively participate and become aware of the issues. As we all know, youth voter participation is at an all time low, with only an estimated 35% of 21 year olds to 24 year olds voting. The most cited reason for this lack of participation is cynicism of the political process. This cynicism extends further than youth, with manipulation of election dates increasing voter apathy.

 

    A poll in 2004 by the Environics Research Group found that 81% of people supported having elections at fixed times. The government listened and now we are acting. By removing the politics from calling elections we are restoring trust in Canadian democracy. No longer will election dates be manipulated by politicians behind closed doors. Combined with the federal accountability act, we are responding to the concerns of our youth and all Canadians by doing politics differently.

 

    The bill makes elections predictable but also makes room for flexibility. In the case of the election falling on a religious holiday or near an important provincial or municipal election, the date can be moved up to seven days following the set polling date.

 

    With the passage of Bill C-16, elections will become predictable and stable while still keeping governments accountable. B.C. and Ontario, under Liberal governments, have both adopted fixed dates for elections, with other provinces considering doing the same. These governments remain accountable because they still allow for votes of non-confidence.

 

    Bill C-16 would allow the government to be voted out in a vote of non-confidence. In this way, the Governor General retains her powers to dissolve Parliament. The bill explicitly states:

 

      Nothing in this section affects the powers of the Governor General, including the power to dissolve Parliament at the Governor General's discretion.

 

     There have been no constitutional or legal problems for either B.C. or Ontario with their election dates and there will not be for the federal government.

 

    We are providing predictability while still working with the traditions of parliamentary democracy. This bill is truly the best of both worlds. It would also allow for provincial governments to plan their elections around federal elections. They could plan to hold them closer or further away from federal elections based on their preferences. One thing is clear, though, and that is that it would make election planning a more rational and easy to follow process. People could plan in advance to get involved in the political process knowing exactly when the next election would be called.

 

    This bill will increase voter turnout by giving more access to our electoral system. Predictable elections will also reduce waste in government machinery and give Canadians value for their money. Elections Canada has to be in a constant state of readiness, which forces it to keep a high level of staffing. This is very costly. In the case of a majority, Elections Canada knows when to expect an election and can plan accordingly. This bill will substantially reduce the cost of holding elections in the future.

 

    Political parties, individual candidates and staff will also be able to plan better. Staff members may be able to join a hockey league knowing that they will not have to leave it midway through to participate in an election. Candidates can plan their election strategies knowing precisely when they will start campaigning. Government departments can plan their agendas more effectively. Instability and uncertainty means that departments have to hold off on projects because they are unsure who will be in power. Committees will be able to plan policy in advance, making it a more focused and efficient system.

 

     Predictability has many political rewards for government and allows us to do our jobs better. In the current system, the governing party has an unfair advantage over opposition parties with the ability to call elections when that suits its purpose. We have seen this done in the past by federal and provincial governments and parties of all stripes. Governments can call elections to coincide with upturns in the economy after large capital projects have been completed or if they are doing well in the polls. This is clearly an unfair advantage for the governing party. Levelling the playing field is an important aspect of democratic government.

 

    People in my riding often come up to me and say that they do not feel the democratic process is working for them any more. Instead, they say, it is working in the interests of those in power and their friends. With this bill, election dates will no longer be set to benefit the ruling party but set to benefit the people.

 

     We must continue the process of restoring trust in our democratic institutions by making them independent of internal party politics. Parliament has been developing a non-partisan electoral system for the past 100 years. Electoral boundaries are drawn by independent commissions and elections are administered by Elections Canada. The date of elections, though, continues to be in the hands of politicians.

 

    In conclusion, let us finish the process by taking politics out of electoral date setting. Let us restore trust in Canadian democracy.
 
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