Mr. Paul Dewar (Ottawa Centre, NDP)
|| That Bill C-31 be amended by deleting Clause 18.
|| That Bill C-31 be amended by deleting Clause 21.
|| That Bill C-31, in Clause 22, be amended by deleting lines 28 to 42 on page 10.
|| That Bill C-31, in Clause 26, be amended by replacing lines 38 and 39 on page 11 and lines 1 to 18 on page 12 with the following:
||“26. Subsection 161(6) of the Act is replaced”
|| That Bill C-31, in Clause 28, be amended:
||(a) by replacing line 32 on page 12 with the following:
||“28. (1) Paragraph 162(f) of the Act is”
||(b) by replacing lines 37 to 42 on page 12 and lines 1 to 11 on page 13 with the following:
||“(2) Section 162 of the Act is amended by striking out the word “and” at the end of paragraph (i) and by adding the following after paragraph (i):”
|| That Bill C-31, in Clause 30, be amended by replacing lines 25 to 43 on page 13 with the following:
||“30. Section 169 of the Act is amended by”
|| That Bill C-31 be amended by deleting Clause 33.
|| That Bill C-31, in Clause 38, be amended by replacing lines 31 to 40 on page 15 and lines 1 to 6 on page 16 with the following:
||“38. (1) Subsection 489(2) of the Act is amended by adding the following after paragraph (a.1):
||(a.2) contravenes subsection 161(7) (vouchee acting as voucher);
|| (2) Subsection 489(2) of the Act is”
He said: Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-31. I want to step back and talk a bit about how we arrived at where we are.
Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Public Service Employment Act came from a committee report that was commissioned by all parties initially to look at the previous election and how it had been conducted. People had some concerns about how that election and previous elections had been conducted. This report was boiled down and turned into this bill.
Unbeknownst to many people, including myself, the bill was put forward without those of us in the House and on committee understanding that we were going to take on how people voted, the most fundamental aspect of our democracy.
We heard from numerous witnesses in committee about their concerns with this legislation. The amendments that we have put forward deal with those concerns as well as the concerns of many others who spoke to us in our communities.
The concerns expressed by witnesses and people who we spoke to in our communities were about the requirements for photo ID. Initially, many people said that was fine. However, those without photo identification would be required to have people vouch for them, but an individual who vouched for one person could not vouch for another, and they considered this restrictive. Witnesses who supported this amendment and had those concerns spoke from the perspective of those who worked with our homeless, our most vulnerable, and our students, who some would say are part of our most transient population because of the fact that they move back and forth from their homes to their schools numerous times.
We have tried to encourage both of these groups over the last number of years to exercise their franchise, to vote. Sadly, what we have in front of us are barriers to that. Why? Now they are required not only to have photo identification, but different tiers are being used. If they are unable to produce photo ID, then they are required to produce other pieces of identification with vouchers.
Vouchers is a topic of great concern for myself and my colleagues in our party. They will now be required to have someone who is already on the voter's list vouch on their behalf. This can only be done once. We know from people who were witnesses at committee that this is impossible in many cases simply because of the populations with which they deal.
If I can reference the homeless population. It has only been recent that we have been able to organize systems in our country allowing homeless people the opportunity to exercise their franchise. That was not done by government, but by the people who work in our communities. They took this on themselves. They were not paid by government exclusively to do this. They saw the need, the benefit and the responsibility as citizens to ensure that our most vulnerable citizens were not disenfranchised. These people did the work that some of us in government should perhaps have done. They took this on themselves.
They are confused and angry because they believe Bill C-31 will undo all the good work they have done by way of organizing people who do not have addresses because they are homeless. They ensure the homeless have an address, usually a drop-in centre or homeless shelter, and they are able to vouch on their behalf. The bill as proposed, without our amendments, would mean that those who work with the homeless would not have the opportunity to vouch for more than one person if they themselves were on the voter's list. This would be the restriction.
We put forward an amendment that would allow someone to vouch for more than one person. Also, we would have an opportunity to use a system that works in British Columbia. There would be an opportunity for them to swear that people were in fact who they said they were, and this could be tracked and accountable and would not be open to exploitation.
Further amendments that we have made have to do with privacy issues. I want to underline the concerns that we have, which I brought forward in committee.
According to the bill as written, electors will now have their birth date information given to Elections Canada. This birth date information will be passed on to people who are working in the polling stations for Elections Canada.
I do not have to tell you, Mr. Speaker, about the concerns people have had recently about privacy and personal information. We have seen exploitation of the privacy of people recently with companies. We have seen stories about the information of people being used and abused.
What we have in front of us is a bill that would take the birth date information of citizens and that information would be circulated among all those who work on behalf of Elections Canada. I am not concerned about the propriety in the trust of the employees of Elections Canada. I am concerned about how this information can leak out. We have 308 ridings with I do not know how many different polling stations. This kind of privacy needs to be protected. That is why we put forward an amendment to remove the requirement to have birth date information shared with Elections Canada because of the privacy factor.
When we look at ensuring we have legitimacy and trust in the election system, there are other ways of dealing with that issue, other than sharing the privacy of one's birth date. I know many people in my riding are aghast at the fact that their birth date information would be shared with Elections Canada.
What is even more egregious is the fact that we now will share, according to the amendment put forward by the Bloc and supported by the Liberal Party, this birth date information with all political parties. For what reason? We know what it is. It is so they can exploit it and use it for their own purposes. It has nothing to do with checking the verification of the voter in front of them. It is an opportunity, to be polite, for political parties to use personal information for their own purposes. Why else would a political party need one's birth date information?
We put forward amendments on birth date information and the sharing thereof. We do not believe Elections Canada should have it to share with everyone. We most assuredly, and I think there would be a charter challenge on this, do not want political parties to have birth date information.
Consider this. In my riding of Ottawa Centre we have up to eight to ten different candidates and parties running. This would mean that each and every one of those parties would have access to the private information of each and every elector. How do we ensure that this information will not be shared with others for purposes other than to verify if a voter is genuine?
I implore other members of the House to support our amendments to ensure that there is privacy protection. When they find out that Parliament will pass a bill that will open up their private information to not only Elections Canada but to political parties, I think most people will be aghast. I am sure they do not know that at this point.
That is why we have put forward these amendments. I hope for the support and hopefully a change in the minds of the Bloc and the Liberals, who at committee said that it was fine for political parties to have birth date information shared among themselves. That makes no sense. I am sure others in the House, now that they have learned about this, will want to support our amendment to remove that clause of the bill, which allows political parties to have this kind of private information of citizens.
Finally, I think if we are unable to have these amendments go forward, it will be very difficult for us to support the bill. I look forward to questions from my colleagues.
Hon. Peter Van Loan (Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak today to the amendments proposed at the report stage of Bill C-31.
This is a bill that provides real, tangible results for Canadians. Without a well-functioning electoral machinery, of course, our democracy simply will not work. All hon. members will agree that the machinery must be regularly maintained, updated and renewed. That is what Bill C-31 seeks to do. It is in fact an ideal example of how to go about doing that.
The genesis of the bill was a parliamentary committee report to which the government responded with legislative action. We have worked with the other parties in fine-tuning the bill after hearing from a number of witnesses at the committee.
I point out that while we opposed certain changes that occurred to the bill at committee, that is, our Conservative members opposed them, we are now prepared to support Bill C-31 in its current form. A big reason behind this is that we think this bill has benefited from a multi-party degree of support, which is important in a bill of this nature. For that reason, Conservatives are not going to support the proposed NDP amendments that are before us today.
Before elaborating on some of the benefits of the bill, I want to express my thanks and gratitude to my predecessor, the member for Niagara Falls, the Minister of Justice. Through his work as the former government House leader and Minister for Democratic Reform, we are now in a position to advance this important bill, which was, I repeat, the product of cooperation and collaboration in this Parliament.
Bill C-31 is just one part of our very robust democratic reform agenda, an agenda based on bringing accountability and integrity to the institutions and processes of governance.
We of course know about Senate Bill S-4, which remains mired in the Senate. Again today the Liberal senators refused to debate it. It has been almost a year since they have gone about refusing to debate it and have filibustered. Their own leader says he supports term limits for senators, yet that bill remains mired there. I cannot understand why Liberals want to make their leader look so weak, but I am not surprised that it is happening.
That is just one part of our agenda. At least on Bill C-31 we think we can see results very soon.
With regard to some of the amendments before us, it is important to note that the bill implemented virtually all of the parliamentary committee's recommendations in its report. In particular, it took up the committee's call to do more to combat voter fraud. That is really the core of Bill C-31: to protect the integrity of our electoral system.
The two major recommendations made by the committee—and included in Bill C-31—were as follows: to confirm the identity of voters, record their date of birth on the new official lists; establish a standard process for identifying voters.
This same committee reported, on December 13, 2006, on Bill C-31 to which some amendments were also made. Once again, the committee emphasized the importance of these two specific aspects of the bill. Motions in amendment moved by the member for Ottawa Centre attempt to reverse the committee's decision in this regard.
I urge all other members to join me in opposing these amendments so that we can avoid further delays to this very important bill. Let us address them.
First is the date of birth on the list of electors: The first amendment proposed by the member for Ottawa Centre proposes to remove that provision. At committee, we opposed that as well. However, it is now there in the bill and, as I said, in the spirit of cooperation, we are prepared to support it at this stage so that the bill may move forward. Also, we do agree that it can go some distance to assisting in combating voter fraud and ensuring that people's identification is what they say it is.
Second is voter identification. The balance of the NDP amendments aim to gut the provisions of the bill that require the provision of identification for someone to vote and, in so doing, effectively undermine the central objective of the bill, which is to ensure the integrity of the electoral process.
Let us take, for example, Motions Nos. 2, 4 and 9. On the requirement for voter identification and the ability for polling officials to challenge voters for identification, both of those provisions were part of the key recommendations of the thirteenth report of the procedure and House affairs committee, aimed specifically at dealing with the potential for voter fraud. There were no dissenting opinions to that report, so now we are hearing from the NDP a new position compared to what took place in the original report.
Second, as I said, addressing voter fraud is the core reason for Bill C-31. If we were to remove those provisions, we would weaken it. In terms of requiring identification, the Canada Elections Act already requires voters to provide identification if they wish to register. However, there are no guidelines on what kind of identification is acceptable. Bill C-31 establishes what constitutes acceptable identification by implementing the recommendations of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs on this matter.
Bill C-31 will require voters to show one piece of government-issued photo identification with name and address, or two pieces of identification establishing identity and residence. If the voter does not have identification, Bill C-31 allows the voter to take an oath and be vouched for.
These motions for amendment being proposed today will take us back to a realm of uncertainty and uneven practice as to the types of identification that can be used. The government strongly opposes these motions.
Simply put, we have ample opportunity for anyone who seeks to vote legitimately to do so. The net effect of the amendments being proposed by the New Democratic Party here--and I am surprised after the positive experience of the NDP in supporting the federal Accountability Act that the NDP would propose such amendments--would be to open up loopholes for those who wish to take advantage and those who wish to commit voter fraud.
That is what the effect of these amendments would be. That is why I am surprised that they come from the New Democratic Party, which I thought was concerned with seeing some preservation of the integrity of the process. That is what we are trying to do with the bill.
In conclusion, the potential for voter fraud hurts the integrity of our electoral system and undermines public confidence in the voting process. In fact, every time someone votes fraudulently, it undermines the legitimate say of every other voter. We all lose a little when that fraud takes place. That is why we cannot support amendments that create the opportunity for such fraud.
This bill provides better tools to poll officials to confirm the identity and eligibility of voters. One way is through the addition of the date of birth, which is in that amendment.
Another way, which came out of the committee, is to require voters to show identification or be vouched for before voting, and to systemize the identification required before registering at polls so there is certainty, no ambiguity and no opportunity for fraud and cheating.
The third way is to allow poll officials or candidates to challenge the eligibility of potential voters and require them to affirm their eligibility in writing: to say who they are and prove who they are. I think most Canadians actually think that is what we have to do now when we vote. I do not think many people are offended by the fact that when they say their name is X they must actually prove they are X. I think that is what Canadians expect. I think that is what Canadians hope for.
There are many who come to me after voting in an election and say they are amazed by the fact that anybody could have walked up and said they were Jane Doe, or by the fact that their vote could have been taken away because nobody actually asked them for ID. That troubles people. That is why we need to have those voter identification provisions.
Each of these tools would be removed from the bill under the proposed amendments from the New Democratic Party. Bill C-31 and these features in particular were the result of a non-partisan, multi-party recommendation of a parliamentary committee of the House that was seeking to improve the integrity of the electoral process.
These motions for amendment would reverse that work and I hope members will join me in opposing them.
Hon. Stephen Owen:
Mr. Speaker, the standard we use in advising other countries in their electoral commissions and their electoral processes and in monitoring those elections is free and fair. Were the elections free and fair? When we say free, we are talking about the right of every adult person to vote, which is a charter right in Canada. The fair side is equally important to the equation of having an election. Fairness means the integrity of the process.
We as legislators have a duty to ensure that there is integrity in the voter process, so that it will be fairly applied and available to Canadians. Hon. members opposite have spoken of marginalized communities. Of course that means they must be given every possible opportunity within the integrity of the system to vote. That is fairness. It is also fairness to ensure that fraud cannot be perpetrated. I suggest that is what this bill is intended to do.
We have had a long series of discussions and processes to get to this point, including the Chief Electoral Officer's report after the January 2006 election to the committee, our committee's report to the House, and the response of the government in Bill C-31.
The bill makes a number of improvements. It improves access for the disabled. There are more convenient locations for advanced polls. There is access for candidates as well as election officials to gated communities. The processes of the electoral office also allow candidate access to malls or privately owned public spaces where often candidates are not allowed to communicate with the public. A former chief electoral officer made it very clear that there will also be an opportunity for electoral officials to go to perhaps seniors houses and shelters, places where people may not be able to get to the polls. I would suggest that we as a committee and we as legislators be immensely vigilant going forward to ensure that marginalized groups are not left out.
We on this side of the House had real concerns with the electoral officials and other witnesses who came before us. We implored the Chief Electoral Officer to be more vigilant and more targeted in areas of low enumeration or voter turnout. That office has taken on that responsibility.
We also asked that in areas, whether it is an intercity or a remote community, an aboriginal community or otherwise, where people in the past have shown an inability to exercise their franchise, that more vigilant and more targeted enumeration takes place.
With the special concern that has been raised with respect to aboriginal communities, remote communities in particular, we put to the Chief Electoral Officer that an acceptable form of government picture identification could be an aboriginal status card, if it had an address on it. If the address is not on it, then there could be a letter from the band office or something else indicating the address of the person together with the card in order to satisfy the requirements.
While we must be extremely vigilant that marginalized groups are not left out of the process, we must also be vigilant and ensure that there is no opportunity for voter fraud, not by those people, but by others who may for unscrupulous reasons, and with many more resources, try to defeat the process and the fairness of the process.
It is the fairness of the process and the belief that Canadians have that it is a fair and honest system that is really one of the major concerns in this country. I would suggest that nothing will cause voter participation to decline faster than if the general public loses its faith in the fairness of the process.
That may sound far-fetched, but we all know what happened in 2000 in Florida with the U.S. presidential election and how flawed that process was even though it was presenting a very elaborate electoral system.
We do need to be vigilant going forward to ensure people are not left out but we also need to take this as a first step in a much broader electoral reform process. In the spring of 2004, the Law Commission of Canada published a paper. It is an independent commission which, I would remind the government, that it has just starved of all of its budget from its actions last fall. However, the Law Commission came up with a paper on electoral reform that is probably based on greater consultation and greater research than any other electoral reform suggestion in the Commonwealth and there was an obligation on our previous government and on the current government for the Minister of Justice to answer that Law Commission report.
The process had begun. Electoral reform, with the agreement of the NDP, was put in the Speech from the Throne of the previous Liberal government. A committee had plans to look into electoral reform but that, for some reason, has now been stopped. I would put it to all members of the House and certainly to the government and the Minister of Justice that there is a responsibility to take up that public review.
I heard last week that the government will be hiring a polling company and a think tank to consult in a few communities across the country. I would ask the Prime Minister and the Attorney General of Canada whether they have ever read that Law Commission report and, if they have, why they think they need an alternative process at this stage and start all over again.
We should have Parliament and the House of Commons in a special committee looking at real electoral reform and then we need a proper response from the government to the Law Commission's report. If we are to have a citizen's assembly, which we had in British Columbia and which is being advanced in Ontario, we need to ensure that the objective is to have an open and comprehensive process and not some slapdash polling process.
Ms. Pauline Picard (Drummond, BQ):
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to discuss Bill C-31 at the report stage.
Before stating our position on the motions in amendment, I would like to provide an overview of Bill C-31 and the work that has been done.
The purpose of this bill is to improve the integrity of the electoral process by reducing the opportunity for fraud or error. As a member of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, I participated in the work leading up to the introduction of this bill in the House of Commons, so I can say that a lot of work went into it.
The committee includes representatives of each political party, all of whom cooperated effectively, thus enabling us to achieve our goal of improving the electoral process and strengthening the public's faith in it.
This bill will reduce the opportunity for fraud or error and will improve the accuracy of the list of electors. It will also make it easier for people to exercise their right to vote and will improve communication among election officials, candidates, political parties and voters.
I would suggest that the Conservative government approach other files with the same attitude and the same level of respect for other parties' ideas. The Conservatives' ideological agenda did not dominate our work, which probably explains why we were able to cooperate so well.
I would like to discuss in detail some of the provisions designed to reduce the opportunity for electoral fraud and error.
Electors must now present government-issued photo identification showing their name and address. In Quebec, a driver's licence is an excellent example of acceptable identification.
An elector who cannot produce such identification must present two pieces of identification authorized by the Chief Electoral Officer showing both name and address.
Potential electors who cannot produce two acceptable pieces of identification may swear under oath that they are who they say they are. They must also be vouched for by another qualified elector.
The bill also provides that in case of reasonable doubt concerning whether a person qualifies as an elector—for example, if the person's age or citizenship are in doubt—that person must sign an affidavit. Only citizens over age 18 qualify to vote; currently, no proof of age is required, not even if there is reasonable doubt that the person qualifies.
We think that such a simple and clearly defined procedure will improve the electoral process by preventing more fraud.
The elector's date of birth will be added to the list of electors. This will help better identify the person wishing to exercise their right to vote.
In Quebec, the lists of electors include date of birth. This system works and fosters the objectives we want to achieve with this bill.
The bill also limits vouching so that an elector may vouch for only one person. This measure will help prevent a practice referred to as “serial vouching”, which could result in fraud.
What is serial vouching? Serial vouching is when an individual who was not originally registered to vote is vouched for by someone—whose name is on the list of electors—in order to be added to the voters’ list, and then vouches for someone else who was not registered, and so on.
The bill also contains another change that the Bloc Québécois has been calling for for a very long time and that is assigning a unique identification number to every elector. This unique identifier will be included on the list of electors and will improve the quality of the lists by ensuring that duplications are eliminated.
It is important to point out that this unique identifier will be randomly generated and assigned by the Chief Electoral Officer.
Bill C-31 also proposes measures to facilitate the right to vote. The time limit within which an elector with physical limitations can request a transfer certificate to vote at a polling station with level access has been removed. There will no longer be a deadline for disabled electors to apply for a transfer. I want to emphasize that this amendment does not give licence to avoid making polling stations accessible.
Bill C-31 permits an advance polling station to serve a single polling division rather than two or more polling divisions, in order to improve accessibility to advance polling stations for voters, particularly in remote regions.
It can be difficult for voters in these regions to get to advance polling stations. Year after year, a growing number of people choose to go to an advance poll to exercise their right to vote. It is therefore necessary to enhance accessibility.
The bill also seeks to improve communications between election officials, candidates, political parties and voters. It gives candidates a right of access to common areas of public places for election campaign purposes.
It is important to be able to meet people where they are. An election campaign is a unique opportunity to call attention to ideas and to talk about our record as members of Parliament. We must promote this, while also respecting the public.
Bill C-31 also improves access for parties and candidates to up-to-date lists of electors, which they can use to communicate with voters and encourage them to vote. In order to do so, it is important that they have access to accurate and up-to-date lists.
Various motions were presented to amend this bill. The Bloc Québécois reviewed all them and has taken a stand.
The Bloc Québécois opposes Motion No. 1, because it would imply not indicating the date of birth on voters lists, thus reducing the chances of properly identifying a potential voter.
The Bloc Québécois is also opposed to Motion No. 2, because it increases the risks of electoral fraud by opposing the simple and clearly established procedure of identifying potential voters by requiring appropriate pieces of identification and having them take an oath.
In conclusion, I want to mention the successful cooperation that led to this bill. I hope the Conservative government will follow this example in the future.
The Bloc Québécois supports this legislation. However, we oppose the motions presented at report stage.
My Bloc Québécois colleagues and I are proud to have proposed some elements of the Quebec electoral system to help the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs in its work. The Quebec electoral system has proven its effectiveness. The elements found in Bill C-31 that are patterned on the Quebec model will help improve the federal electoral system.
The objective of this bill is to improve the integrity of the electoral process. I believe that, in this sense, the bill is a step in the right direction.
Ms. Libby Davies (Vancouver East, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to the bill. It is a very important bill and unfortunately it has not had a lot of attention. If the bill goes through unchanged, it will have a substantial impact on the voting rights of many low income people in Canada, and certainly in my own riding of Vancouver East, which includes the downtown east side.
I would like to begin by laying out the alleged problem we are dealing with. We are told that there is voter fraud and therefore these very significant changes need to be made to the Canada Elections Act to prevent fraud. Yet at committee when the debate first started, I actually asked the Chief Electoral Officer if he felt that there were huge instances of fraud. He basically said that there were a few isolated incidents, but no political party had brought to his attention any systemic things going on, and as far as he was concerned it was not a big issue. I was very curious about that because that was the Chief Electoral Officer who was speaking.
It has been very mystifying and in fact disappointing, as I said earlier, to know that three parties, the Conservatives, the Liberals and the Bloc, are in bed together here to change the Canada Elections Act to deal with an alleged problem. It is like applying a sledgehammer to a fly. The consequences of the bill will have a disastrous impact.
We have heard the parties that are supporting the bill claim that they have put provisions in the bill to ensure that homeless people vote and that there can still be a vouching for somebody. However, if we actually look at what the bill contains, we see that it creates a myriad of bureaucratic procedures which I can guarantee will result in many, many people being disenfranchised.
As it is now, if a person is homeless, on the street, if he or she does not have ID, the person can get a statutory declaration from a lawyer. There can be someone in the community who vouches for people, someone who really does know all kinds of individuals because that person may work at a place like the Carnegie Centre in my riding and can say, “Yes, I know who that person is. Yes, they are who they say they are”. The individual gets the statutory declaration and that individual can vote.
The way it will work now is that somebody can only vouch for one person if they are in the same poll and if that person is on the voters list. It will be like two needles trying to find each other in a haystack. It will create absolute chaos.
I am deeply concerned that the bill is going through with so little attention, other than from the NDP. I want to thank the member for Ottawa Centre who did an incredible job on the committee of pointing out every single clause that was a failure and was basically denying people's rights. Other than the NDP and some of the witnesses who came forward to point out the problems, the bill will apparently sail through.
I want to give one example. In the 2000 election I felt very honoured to accompany Sereena Abotsway to the poll. She voted under the statutory declaration. It was the first time she had ever voted and she voted with a sense of hope. She was becoming more aware of the political system. Because we had a system in place of lawyers who were there to assist, she felt she had the confidence, the reason and the hope to vote. This young woman unfortunately is one of the six murdered women who are now part of the missing women trial that is taking place in Vancouver. It just wrenches my gut to know that there are so many people out there who are so marginalized and disenfranchised by the system that we create on the basis that we are making it all neat and tidy and that it is all about dealing with fraud.
We hear theoretically from the Liberals, the member for Vancouver Quadra who said, “Oh, yes, I believe in fairness. It is about fairness”. The way the system will work will be incredibly unfair. Even in the memory of Sereena Abotsway, to think about her and what happened to her and what happens to other people, I feel terrible that the bill will go through and that people will lose the right to vote.
I am very proud of the fact that the NDP caucus is standing up against the bill and saying that the bill is really quite awful and will deny people the right to vote.
I want to thank some of the lawyers who came forward at the committee and appeared on video conference: Jim Quail, executive director for the B.C. Public Interest Advocacy Centre; Tina-Marie Bradford, a lawyer with the B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union; and Murray Mollard, executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.
They are knowledgeable people who came forward and told the committee in detail what the system is like now, what works, what does not, and what the impact of these changes will be. They were basically ignored, other than by our member on the committee, the member for Ottawa Centre, who valiantly put forward amendments to try to mitigate the damage in the bill.
These are the lawyers who actually know what this system is about. They are not dealing with it at a theoretical level. They are dealing with it on the ground. Their advice and expertise were basically ignored and turned down. I feel that this is very unfortunate.
I heard the government House leader say that he is in favour of having a system that is as open as possible to maintain the franchise. I heard him say that the Chief Electoral Officer has said that there will be more aggressive enumeration. None of those things are actually going to assist in terms of what takes place in ensuring that a statutory declaration on its own is available and that there can be a proper vouching system to allow it to work.
I feel that the claims being made by the government in pretending that the bill will ensure that people who are at risk still have the right to vote are completely false. Even to say that there will be enumeration in homeless shelters and that the government will make sure it happens, it sounds good on paper, but we know that most people who are in homeless shelters have to leave during the day.
That is the way these places work. In many places, one part of the rules is that the homeless have to leave early in the morning and not go back until late at night, so exactly where are the enumerators going to find people in homeless shelters?
I feel that the rationale being given by the government House leader on this bill is very superficial. Again, the government should have paid attention to the people who really know how the system works in the local community and at each individual poll and polling district and what it is that the bill would do.
I believe that if we were truly addressing the inconsistencies and problems in our electoral system we would be calling for universal enumeration. Again, this is something that was ignored by the government. It is being ignored by the other political parties.
I do not know about other members, but I remember the day when we could go down the street and actually see the voters list on the telephone poles. We could see whether or not we were on the voters list. We actually had an enumerator who went door to door and asked if people in the enumerated household were eligible to vote.
It was a system that worked, but now we have the high tech, centralized system. There is absolutely no question about it, because the evidence is there: as a result of that new system, many people have been left on the margins and their ability to access the system and to get on the voters list has been seriously undermined. That is a reality of what has taken place over the last decade.
Now the government adds insult to injury by taking away the one provision that was left to ensure that someone who was in a very vulnerable situation and did not have the right ID could at least still get to the poll. That would now be taken away with the bill if these particular amendments are not supported.
In closing, I do not think that this is a good day for the House of Commons. We are meant to be here to represent the public interest. The right to vote of all people, whether wealthy or poor, homeless or living in a fancy house, is being seriously undermined by the bill, so it will be a very bad day in the House of Commons if the bill goes through.
Hon. Karen Redman (Kitchener Centre, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak in the House today on Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Public Service Employment Act.
On June 22, 2006, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs tabled a report in the House that was entitled “Improving the Integrity of the Electoral Process: Recommendations for Legislative Change”. The report was based in part on the recommendations from the Chief Electoral Officer.
While it has already been referenced and there continue to be ongoing discussions and debate about fundamental changes to our electoral system, these should not detract from the efforts that should be made to improve the existing system.
This enactment amends the Canada Elections Act to improve the integrity of the electoral process by reducing the opportunity for electoral fraud or for error. It requires that electors, before voting, provide one piece of government issued photo identification that shows their name and address, or two pieces of identification, authorized by the Chief Electoral Officer, which show their name and address. Or they can take an oath, or be vouched for by another elector.
It also amends the Canada Elections Act to, among other things, make operational changes to improve the accuracy of the national registry of electors. It facilitates voting and enhances communications with the electorate. It goes on to amend the Public Service Employment Act to permit the Public Service Commission to make regulations to extend the maximum term of employment of casual workers. This works both for the system and for the individual workers.
All of us in this House have gone through the electoral system at least once. Many of us have gone through it several times. On election day, we put our faith in the hands of our electorate. However, collectively as Canadians, voters and candidates, we also depend on the integrity of the electoral system to reduce the opportunity for electoral fraud and to ensure secure, fair and accessible voting on voting day. It is my hope that the initiatives contained in this legislation will enhance this process for Canadians.
A key concern for the Liberal committee members is ensuring that the bill allows for aboriginal status identification to be acceptable as proof for voting purposes. Government officials have clarified that the text of the bill requires either, number one, government issued photo ID with an address, or number two, government issued photo ID without an address, including band status cards, accompanied by a letter from the band council or by a phone or utility bill that shows the resident's name and actual address.
A second concern for the Liberal committee members is ensuring that the enumeration process is strengthened in reserve communities. The government has suggested that, rather than send the bill to committee, the committee simply pass a motion calling on the Chief Electoral Officer to strengthen enumeration in reserve communities and in other areas of low enumeration.
It is difficult to strike the balance that ensures the integrity of the system without becoming overly onerous on the citizen and denying him or her the right to vote. It is a privilege to cast a ballot. I appreciate the fact that voters do not have acceptable ID. I also know that all of us in this House can dedicate ourselves entirely to the activity of election day. As a matter of fact, many of us spend every waking moment and several weeks campaigning.
However, the vast majority of Canadian voters have busy lives that involve hectic, challenging schedules. Even though voter turnout improved in the 2006 federal election, it continues to be alarmingly low. It is important that Canadians can go to their local polling station knowing what information is expected of them in being able to exercise their democratic right. It is our expectation that a uniform procedure for voter identification at the polls will provide clear and consistent information and a system that reinforces the importance of exercising one's right to vote.
We on this side of the House also support the strengthening of the enumeration process, particularly, again, in reserve communities and in other areas of low enumeration.
Further, parts of the proposed legislation also address accessibility issues as some voters with disabilities will no longer required to request a transfer to a polling station with level access three days in advance. As well, the proposed legislation opens up accessibility to advanced polls. These are positive improvements for people with mobility limitations.
On this side of the House, we support the changes to the Canada Elections Act that protect against the likelihood of voter fraud and misrepresentation. We need to ensure that aboriginal photo identification is an acceptable form of voter identification. It is our understanding that Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Public Service Employment Act, makes the operational improvements that are necessary and will advance the integrity of our voting system.
Mr. Charlie Angus (Timmins—James Bay, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-31. There are a number of concerns that we face on the front lines in my riding to which I would like to speak.
At the outset, I find it very interesting that in terms of electoral reform issues, this is the one issue that has been brought before the House. We are talking about the threat of fraud, yet we see very little evidence of actual fraud having occurred.
In 2006 there was one case of fraud in the entire country. In 2004 there were zero cases. In 2000 there were three cases. That is four out of the millions of people who voted in elections in the country. Yet we have a need for all parliamentarians to stand up and deal with this threat.
I raise the question that perhaps it is guilty minds. We have only to look at the leadership races of parties in the House, where questions of conduct have been much more egregious than what we see in people who try to exercise their democratic franchise. Certainly no one would suggest average citizens would be out patting down cadavers to see if they had party memberships to vote for the leadership, as happened to some very august members of the House. What are we thinking to impose on the honest law-abiding citizens of our country?
I suggest the bigger issue is disenfranchisement and cynicism about the electoral process. We need to be looking at that. There are number of problems that have to be addressed. I would have expected that they would have been addressed in a bill brought forward by the new government.
For example, on the need for electoral reform, people have been calling out for it. People are tuning out of the electoral process. They are tired of our old system and they feel that more voices have to be heard. Yet the two main parties certainly have no real interest in seeing this go forward, so this is not coming forward as a priority.
The other question is on how the actual electoral voting system works now that we do not have a proper voting list.
In the 2004 election people in my riding who went to vote were told that they were on a voter's list 40 kilometres away. I know people in the southern end of my riding were told they did not belong in their own riding because their mailbox was in the municipality. Elections Canada had actually run a line through the bottom of my riding so people who lived in my riding were told they had to vote in another riding.
These are problems. People get fed up when they try to vote. They go home and they say they are not going to vote. That is a serious threat to democracy. I would have thought that issue would have been brought forward with some sense of urgency, but no.
What we are dealing with is the potential that somewhere down the road Canadians are going to commit fraud in voting. Why would anyone go out of their way to defraud just to try to vote, when we are begging and encouraging people to come out? However, that is a larger philosophical question.
I would like to focus on a few areas that are very important in my region. I have very large isolated first nation communities. When we talk about getting a photo ID card, that makes sense, if we believe that every Canadian has a right to a photo ID card. However, on the James Bay coast up to 30% of our population is not eligible for health care status because the province of Ontario does not bother to go and deal with the Cree communities. It has fallen to my office and my provincial counterpart, Gilles Bisson. We go there and fill out these cards.
The interesting thing about this is how do they get a photograph on the ID when the provincial government is leaving it up to a federal member of Parliament and a provincial member of the legislature to fill out the forms for citizens? Guess what. The Ontario government has a special loophole. It does not bother giving a photograph, if one lives on the James Bay coast. It will simply fill out the form and send it there with a trillium logo.
It is amazing. I have thousands of wonderful looking Cree families and all their faces look like a trillium logo because the province of Ontario does not even both to ensure that these people have photo ID. This is something they are expected to have if they are going to be able to vote.
There is the issue of having an address. I invite anybody to go into Fort Albany and ask people their addresses. People do not have street addresses that they go by. We find that in all our communities. We have many of our communities where they simply do not have even the most basic registration.
In fact, if we are talking about administering an oath, I would like to see electoral officers come up and do the oath in Cree or Ojicree. Many elders, for example, do not speak English. Many elders have not birth certificates, but we are trying to get them.
There is the issue of these community members being unfairly penalized because somebody somewhere might some day decide to defraud the system. I find it is an outrageous thought. Imagine people in Attawapiskat going to the poll and claiming to be someone different when everybody knows who they are. I think they would get run out of town fairly quickly.
Unless the members of Parliament think I am making light of these issues, I would like to quote some of the testimony that was brought before the committee from Nishnawbe-Aski Nation, which represents the 70 communities across the northern Treaty 9 area, an area I represent.
|| We are also concerned that these amendments to the act could affect our elders. Most of these people do not have birth certificates; few of them have a driver's licence. Leaving their communities to acquire photo identification is a severe hardship and in some instances it will be neither feasible nor affordable.
||—we suggest that the proposed amendments have failed to take into consideration the realities of the people in our remote communities. They are based on the assumption that the majority of Canadian electors live in urban centres. Until government services are made available in an equitable manner to our people living in remote communities and the amendments to the act reflect the realities of the lives of our people....I suggest that the committee, if possible, visit some of our communities to better understand the challenges we face in our role as Canadian citizens.
This is the message I hear from the leadership in Nishnawbe-Aski Nation and the Mishkeegogamang tribal areas, and it is a message I want to bring to Parliament. Our people on the James Bay coast are not committing fraud. The biggest issue we have is encouraging them to see themselves as participants in the electoral system. That has been a hard sell. We need to ensure that more and more Canadians are entitled and encouraged to vote and are made to feel that voting is something worthwhile.
I will go back to the original point that I started to make.
We have put this forward as the only bill so far of electoral reform in this Parliament, and it is to deal with fraud. We have had almost zero cases of fraud in the electoral system. Yet we know this bill would disenfranchise hundreds, if not thousands, across Canada. For the one person convicted of fraud in 2006, for the zero persons in 2004, for the three convicted in 2000, what we are setting out to do is to go after many people on the margins who right now we should be trying to encourage to vote.
I will conclude with this whole question of allowing political parties access to birth dates. Some people might say this is a minor issue, it is a way of ensuring fairness. I do not impugn any political parties here or any political regions in the country, but I suggest that is in there for the crassest political opportunism. The idea of outreach in certain parties is to get people's birth date and then phone them on their birthday and say, “Hi, it's Bob, your MP, phoning you on your birthday”, and that is supposed to suffice.
In fact, I first heard about this trick from a MLA from Quebec who said, “You know, this is the one thing I do all year, I make sure I phone everybody on their birthday, and they love it. And you know what? I don`t have to do much else”.
What we are saying is, in the interest of going after the fraudsters, we have to ensure that every political party can ensure that they can phone constituents on their birthdays just to secure their vote. That is the reason we are talking about this today.
Let us be honest. I know it is a sin as a politician, and I have to admit it, to give away trade secrets to the general public so they know how politicians really act. However, I feel incumbent at this moment to stand up and speak. The reason we want their birth date information is so we can hit them up on their birthday and secure a vote. I think that is fairly cynical, just as I feel a lot about this bill.
I would encourage the members to consider the bigger issue, which is that we need to find ways for people to have confidence in the democratic system and to feel as if they can become involved. I am concerned that what we are going after is a chimera because we have not seen the evidence of fraud to back up the need for this. If there were large areas, I would consider it, but at this point I cannot see further disenfranchising the communities in my riding, such as Ogoki, Kashechewan, Attawapiskat, Peawanuck, Moosonee and Moose Factory. I cannot see people from those communities, who have already been marginalized enough, feeling that they need to do anything more than to show up and say that they are citizens of this country.
As it says in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, every citizen of Canada has the right to vote in an election of members of the House of Commons or a legislative assembly and to be qualified for membership therein, end of story. There are no qualifications. It does not say anything about bringing ID. It does not say anything about people having to give out their birth date information. They have that right.
Mr. Scott Reid (Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I want to deal with the item the member mentioned in this intervention and in previous interventions when he stood in questions and comments and suggested that there was no electoral fraud in Canada. The Chief Electoral Officer presented himself to the committee and that was not what he said.
Initially he said, “We will prosecute and we are prosecuting electoral fraud vigorously”. I asked him to tell us how much had actually been done and to send the committee the information. Having been the Chief Electoral Officer for five elections, I asked him how many prosecutions there had been. His answer was that there had been less than one prosecution per election.
I do not think the member is actually suggesting that less than one case of actual fraud occurs in the entire country over the course of more than one election. A more plausible scenario is that basically the way the law is written it is impossible to prosecute electoral fraud. The problem is that it is impossible to hunt down the multiple voting that occurs because there is no record left behind. This is an attempt to deal with that problem.
I want to give an idea of how bad the problem is. In the riding of Trinity—Spadina in the last election we were told that thousands of people turned up on election day who did not have any record of their existence on the voters rolls but were allowed to vote because the choice came down to either allowing them to vote en masse or basically freezing out large numbers.
One man, James DiFiori, said that he voted three times, once for the Liberals, once for the Conservatives and once for the New Democrats. He is the only person being prosecuted by the Chief Electoral Officer after the last election because he was the only one for whom they had any hard evidence whatsoever.
This is an attempt to deal with the fact that there is no evidence by creating a paper trail, by creating ways to allow people to vote legally and preventing others from voting multiple times or illegally when they are not eligible. I wonder if there is a response from the member to this particular problem.
Hon. Keith Martin (Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak today to Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Public Service Employment Act.
It is important at the outset to give accolades to Elections Canada and the men and women who serve in that institution. What is probably not well-known by many listeners today is that the people who work at Elections Canada are world-class individuals who do world-class work. The proof in the pudding is that they have been asked time and time again to lend their expertise to countries that are trying to get out of environments that were highly undemocratic and often fraught with individuals who grossly abused their power and often dictatorships. Canada, through Elections Canada, has given those countries the ability to move from a dictatorship to a democracy.
One individual who is more responsible for that happening than anyone else, someone who is one of the best and brightest, is the head of Elections Canada, Jean-Pierre Kingsley. He has led Elections Canada and, under his 16 year tenure, has moved it into an institution that is world-class.
Elections Canada has served in many areas. I remember during the time when South Africa was moving from its dark days of apartheid into a rainbow nation and a democracy, it was Canada that came to the forefront to help out the South Africans to do something that was utterly inspiring and quite remarkable in moving from a draconian system into one that is a democracy without bloodshed.
All of us remember those times so long ago when we saw lineups of people that would extend for kilometres, individuals who for the first time in their life were able to exercise that most remarkable of democratic rights, the right to vote. Canada played an extraordinary role in that, as did Elections Canada. In fact, Jean-Pierre Kingsley and his team had a lot to do with it, as they did in the Ukraine, Democratic Republic of Congo, Aceh and so many others.
Unfortunately, the government has, ironically, squeezed Mr. Kingsley out of his position. No longer will Jean-Pierre Kingsley be Canada's Chief Electoral Officer and, in that, we all lose.
If we are to have electoral reform, what is one thing that we could do to dramatically improve the ability of individuals to exercise that mighty right to put their check mark against somebody's name they want to represent them? It is electronic voting. In this era of new Windows operating systems, in these powerful computers that we have today and powerful operating systems, does it make sense that we cannot use the technologies that we have today to enable Canadians to vote electronically? There is no reason whatsoever, without putting the appropriate checks and balances in place, that we cannot have electronic voting.
One can just imagine what we could do if that were an option for Canadians to vote in a federal election. One can just imagine what that would do in terms of being able to garner and allow a greater number of people to exercise this right that so many have gone before and given their lives to enable us to do.
It would be a remarkable thing and, in particular, for a couple of populations: first, populations that are isolated, aboriginal and non-aboriginal, as members have mentioned before; and, second, youth. We know that many youth are not getting their information and news from traditional media. They are getting it through other means, often through computers and through the Internet. Why not tap into that and enable people to vote electronically which would enable people to exercise their democratic right and strengthen the democratic pillars of our country. It would be a remarkable thing.
Perhaps what is more important than how we elect individuals is the ability of those who we choose to come to this mighty House to exercise their ability to represent their constituents. I am talking about democratic reform. The Conservative Party's roots were in the Reform Party, and I was a member of that party. In part we came to this House to democratize it. What happen to those ideals of that party long ago?
What happened to enabling all members of Parliament to innovate, to drive and implement ideas, to work with members across party lines, to work with the bureaucracy, to work with the best and brightest in our country to implement the solutions that Canadians need?
Our constituents have less patience for the shenanigans that take place in this House. They have much more interest in their elected officials doing their jobs and implementing solutions in the best interests of the public. All of us here are trying to do that.
Mr. Speaker, you sir, have been here much longer than many of us and have seen that the system has declined over time. Particularly over the last year there has been a precipitous decline.
The Prime Minister was a member of the Reform Party. He knows from where I came. His view is different from that party's. His view is the opposite of reforming Parliament. He is an acolyte of the Straussian view of the world and believes that a small group of people are destined to rule. This is a dangerous thing. We see it now where decisions are not being made among the Conservative caucus but decisions are being dictated to the caucus by the Prime Minister's Office. A tiny group of people in the Prime Minister's Office is making decisions for everybody. It has to be disheartening for members who can serve their constituents, their communities, this House, and our country well with their individual expertise. They are innovative and they have solutions to offer that can be implemented in the public interest. Why is that no happening?
The government is being utterly remiss in not offering solutions that we can work on. My colleague from Vancouver Quadra is a world-class innovator. He knows how we can democratize and liberate Parliament. He knows how we can draw the best and brightest to the House in the interests of the public. The Prime Minister and his caucus could tap into the expertise and knowledge of individuals like my colleague from Vancouver-Quadra. There are others who can offer similar solutions.
Why can we not reform the committees of the House? Why can we not allow individuals on those committees to do a better job for their constituents? There is no reason that cannot happen.
One of the things the government could do with respect to the public service that would be innovative would be to abolish the mandatory age of retirement. The mandatory age of retirement was set when the lifespan of individuals was in the late fifties, not today's lifespan which is 79 years for a man and 81 years for a woman. That would be an innovative way to reform the public service act. That is not included in this bill but it ought to be.
On the issue of accountability which the government speaks about, one of the big lies is the government's Federal Accountability Act. It is one of the government's initiatives where it is pulling the wool over people's eyes. The Federal Accountability Act is causing gridlock in the public service. It will not enable the public service to do its job and liberate the innovation that resides in the outstanding men and women who serve in our public service. That is a shame. The public is not aware of this. The Federal Accountability Act works counter to the public interest.
It is important that--
Mr. Pat Martin (Winnipeg Centre, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I will do my best to speak to the bill and talk about the issues related to the Canada Elections Act.
We are here to talk about Bill C-31, in case anyone who has tuned in may be mixed up given the debate we just heard. The object of Bill C-31, as I understand it in my reading, is to amend the Canada Elections Act to improve the integrity of the electoral process by reducing the opportunity for electoral fraud. At least that is one of the elements of Bill C-31.
To start from that basis we must be of the view that there is widespread fraud that justifies the introduction of this bill and justifies our being preoccupied with it today. When I used to negotiate collective agreements for the carpenters union I would sit down at the bargaining table and say that we wanted to change a clause in our agreement. The first question the employer would always ask was, “What has the experience been? Has this clause been a problem that warrants amending it?”
My colleague from Timmins—James Bay pointed out that the actual empirical evidence, the incidence of electoral fraud, at least the convicted cases, is so insignificant and minuscule that it makes me wonder why we would burn up our political energy, our political capital and House of Commons resources to address this particular issue. In the context of all of the things we could be talking about in terms of elections, how we conduct them and electoral reform, we have seized on this issue of fraud.
I would argue, as my colleague from Ottawa Centre has pointed out, that voter turnout is a far more compelling problem in this country than the almost insignificant incidence of convicted fraud. About 60% of all registered voters in the last election voted, but only 50% of all eligible people voted. I would think that would be a cause of grave concern to anyone who embraces democracy and espouses to want to use our time to enhance the process.
Even the Chief Electoral Officer when he testified before the committee testified that on electoral fraud he did not see the need for these measures, if I can paraphrase him.
My colleague from Timmins--James Bay went through the actual incidents. In the last federal election, of the 10 million people who voted, only one person was actually convicted of fraud. It turned out he was not yet a Canadian citizen. Perhaps he misunderstood the rules. He was a landed immigrant, but he did not have his citizenship. Somehow he did manage to cast a ballot. The system caught him. He was given an absolute discharge. I guess the Chief Electoral Officer determined this was not malicious. It was in fact erroneous. It was more in error. We are glad that the system was working such that the person got tripped up. I believe he received 30 days of community service and then it ultimately wound up in an absolute discharge.
The NDP is passionate about this issue for a number of good reasons. Anyone who heard the speech by the member for Vancouver East would have been moved. My colleague from Vancouver East has tried to address the issue of disenfranchisement and to enable more low income people to vote who otherwise may fall through the cracks. She has gone to enormous lengths. She has even set up voter registration tables with lawyers working pro bono to help people who may not have their requisite pieces of ID, or may for whatever reason not have been enumerated.
I could point out that one of the things that does deserve our attention is the appalling condition of the permanent voters list and the lack of enumeration that goes on in the current regime. As the member representing the riding of Winnipeg Centre where there is a high incidence of low income people and a transient population, the permanent voters list is of almost no value to us in certain neighbourhoods. When the door to door enumeration stopped, we lost track of tens of thousands of people. I say that with no fear of exaggeration or being accused of any contradiction.
The permanent voters list and the full door to door enumeration, those are areas we should be debating in the House of Commons today. I am not sure we should be debating this non-issue, this notion that there is widespread fraud.
As my colleague from Burnaby—Douglas pointed out, if we did want to write a new law about electoral fraud, we should have pulled together a committee of failed Conservative and Liberal candidates who may be authorities on the subject. Given the way some nominations we know of are run in this country, maybe there are people who have had personally frustrating experiences within their own parties but do not extrapolate that on to the population as a whole.
I am the spokesperson for my party for ethics, privacy and access to information. Under the privacy category, I am appalled that we are considering putting the date of birth on the voter's list. We will now have a voter's list with a name, address, phone number and date of birth. That is a recipe for identity theft. We might as well hand somebody a kit stating that this is all they need to steal somebody's identity and get credit cards, et cetera. This is appalling.
We are in the process at our committee of reviewing PIPA, the Personal Information Protecting Act. It is all about the obligation, the duty, to protect personal identities that we have in our possession. I know how voter's lists end up getting distributed within election campaigns. Sometimes a page gets torn out and given to a canvasser who is told to go canvass a couple of blocks. It gets circulated widely and freely. That alone would make this particular bill subject to a number of legal challenges.
I believe the stricter requirements about identification will have the net effect of disenfranchising people to the point where those barriers will be deemed to be in violation of the charter and the right to cast one's ballot. I believe there is enough in the bill that it will be challenged and probably will not survive that challenge.
The privacy issue alone is enough reason to condemn the bill. The idea is that we are throwing up barriers for low income people, marginalized people, and people with unstable addresses and a lack of ID to vote, which I believe could constitute a charter issue.
The third thing, the most frustrating thing, perhaps, is that in the context of this 39th Parliament it is unlikely that electoral reform will come back to us, although there is a private--