Bill C-55 (Historical)
An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (expanded voting opportunities) and to make a consequential amendment to the Referendum Act
This bill was last introduced in the 39th Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in October 2007.
Peter Van Loan Conservative
Second Reading and Referral to Committee
(This bill did not become law.)
June 19th, 2007 / 12:20 p.m.
Paul Dewar Ottawa Centre, ON
My question is very simple. If we don't consult with Canadians directly on these issues, aren't we leaving them out of the equation? I say that with all sincerity, because that's what I think is missing in both C-56 and C-55. We're getting it from head office, and dare I say it—and my friend Monsieur Belanger would appreciate this—often we hear out in the hinterland that that's coming from Ottawa, and that's a concern. I wouldn't want to have our reputations tainted on this or any other bill, to say that we don't provide people with good ideas in the rest of the country.
In other words, this seems and smells like and looks like coming from Ottawa and sending it out to, well, Mr. Hill's riding, etc., and saying, “We know what's good for you. Here, take it, and this will benefit you.” And that's it, as opposed to inverting that equation, going out to people and actually asking them what they think would improve—There is Mr. Reid's point, about more opportunities to vote at different places. I mentioned what they did in Manitoba. Doesn't that process make sense to you?
June 19th, 2007 / 11:50 a.m.
Mauril Bélanger Ottawa—Vanier, ON
It would be useful to determine whether that measure has encouraged better voter turnout. I think it has. In addition to achieving what Bill C-55 intends, the measure might be made more efficient by opening more than one location per riding during the run up to the election. It's up to the government to consider doing that.
As part of your consultations with Elections Canada, was there any consideration of the impact this measure might have on the demand for volunteers?
June 19th, 2007 / 11:40 a.m.
Peter Van Loan York—Simcoe, ON
A twofold response. First, I think most of us know that within the parameters that currently exist, most returning officers are, in their ridings, expanding the number of advance poll opportunities for the next election. Bill C-31 will give them further ambit to do that.
Now, here, of course, in our proposal under Bill C-55, the Sunday before election day, every polling station that would be open on election day will also be open on an advance polling day, which is the Sunday. So you will have significantly expanded opportunities exactly in the direction you're seeking.
June 19th, 2007 / 11:15 a.m.
Lucienne Robillard Westmount—Ville-Marie, QC
Mr. Chairman, if I do not use my entire seven minutes, I will share my time with my colleague Mauril Bélanger.
Thank you for your comments on Bill C-55, Minister. As politicians representing all political parties, we can only be supportive of this bill's purpose, which in essence is to increase citizens' participation in voting, a democratic process. Obviously, we want voter participation to increase.
I held a position with the provincial government before becoming a federal member of Parliament, and when I first came to Ottawa I remember how impressed I was by the variety of means available to Canadians so that they can vote. In fact, not only can they vote early by mail, but also do that at any time. As soon as the process is initiated, they can go and see the Chief Electoral Officer. I discovered that a wide variety of opportunities to vote was available to Canadians who really wanted to vote. The system has a flexibility that our provincial systems generally do not have. I think that is a very good thing.
You cited a number of studies carried out by a variety of people. But I wonder if you, minister, the Privy Council or the government itself have carried out studies to determine whether increasing the number of early polling days available, as you suggested, would really have an impact on voter participation. In addition, I would like to know whom you consulted before putting forward this proposal.
June 19th, 2007 / 11:05 a.m.
Peter Van Loan York—Simcoe, ON
Mr. Chair and members of the committee, thank you. I am pleased to appear before you to discuss Bill C-55, also known as the expanded voting opportunities bill. The purpose of the expanded voting opportunities bill is to strengthen our democracy by making it easier for people to vote.
As I stated when I introduced the bill, the right to vote is our most precious and fundamental right, and citizen participation in the political process through the exercise of that right to vote is the cornerstone of our democracy. By making the decision to vote, Canadians do take ownership in their country.
As I mentioned in my previous appearance before this committee, the expanded voting opportunities bill is one part of our plan to strengthen accountability through democratic reform. The plan has three broad themes. First, we are eliminating the influence of big money in the political process by regulating the financing of political parties. Second, we've introduced legislation to modernize the Senate to make it more democratic, more accountable, and more effective. Third, and finally, we're taking steps to strengthen our electoral system, which includes the expanded voting opportunities bill that we're discussing today.
First I want to discuss the trend of declining voter participation.
As we are all aware, there has been a disturbing downward trend in voter participation in general elections. In 1958, 79.4% of Canadians voted in that year's General Election. However, that fell to 69.6% of eligible voters by 1993, and by 2004, only 60.5% of eligible voters cast a ballot.
More troubling than the overall participation rate is the fact that the voter participation rate of young people in general elections has been even lower. A 2002 study by Elections Canada found that only 25% of eligible 18 to 24-year-olds voted in the 2000 General Election.
This is a trend that we cannot allow to continue. The health of our democratic institutions depends on how successful we are at restoring the faith of our youth in the democratic process.
In terms of facilitating voter participation, I believe it's incumbent on elected representatives to do all they can to encourage Canadians across the country, both young and old, to get involved in the political process to ensure accountable, responsible government. We need to make sure that everyone who wants to vote is able to do so. This is essential to maintaining a healthy, vibrant democracy.
Unfortunately, despite the voting opportunities that currently exist, there are still significant numbers of eligible voters who continue to cite work and family responsibilities as their primary reasons for not voting.
In a 2003 survey conducted on behalf of Elections Canada, the authors found that nearly 40% of non-voters, during the 2000 federal election, indicated that they did not vote because of reasons that could be addressed through advance poll opportunities. Examples included being too busy with work, school, or family activities, transportation issues, or being away from home on voting day.
More importantly, 43% of respondents in the 18- to 24-year-old category stated that factors such as work, family, and school responsibilities, and similar reasons, had prevented them from voting. Similar numbers turned up in a 2001 voter participation study by the Centre for Research and Information on Canada.
We've all heard stories about people who woke up on election day with every intention of voting but because of a variety of reasons—maybe they had to work late, take their kids to hockey, or run errands—they didn't have time to vote. The fact is that the busy lives of Canadians is a serious factor that we must consider when looking for reasons behind declining voter participation.
There is considerable evidence that the existence of advance polling days has a positive impact on voter turnout. The Royal Commission on Electoral Reform and Party Financing made a number of pertinent conclusions. On page 123, it says:
In the specific case of advance voting, it might also be noted that for a variety of reasons, many Canadians do find themselves away from home at any given point in time, including the day on which the election is held. The increase in the incidence of travel, for business and leisure, likely means many would not be able to exercise their franchise without advance voting opportunities.
On page 130, it says:
Generally speaking, the evidence from the four countries and, indeed, Canada itself, suggests that advance voting has become an important mainstay in the repertoire of voting opportunities. There are suggestions that without it, turnout levels would be lower, and extending the point in the other direction, with more opportunities for advance voting, turnout levels might be higher.
In a study commissioned by Elections Canada in 2003 to analyze the impact of expanded voting opportunities on voter turnout, the empirical analysis found that turnout is some ten points higher in countries where it is possible to vote in advance.
As well, since 1993, the use of advanced polls by voters has nearly doubled in the Canadian elections. In 1994, 5.4% of voters cast a ballot at an advanced poll. This number has risen steadily in each election since, and 10.5% of voters cast their ballots at an advanced poll during the January 2006 General Election.
I believe that this trend will continue and that the public would respond very positively to the increased convenience and opportunity to vote presented by additional advanced polling days.
There is some evidence that countries which offer weekend voting have higher rates of voter participation. A 2002 study by Mark Franklin of the University of Houston found a significant positive effect of Sunday voting. He found that countries with Sunday voting have a voter turnout rate that is about six to seven percentage points higher than countries without Sunday voting.
Of note, the recent French presidential election, where voting is on Sunday, had a voter turnout of 82%. Moreover, advanced polling on Sunday is already available in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Quebec. And, in his April 2004 report, the Chief Electoral Officer of Quebec recommended holding elections on a Sunday for a number of reasons, including that it would be easier for workers who normally work Monday to Friday to get out and vote.
After taking into consideration the benefits of Sunday voting on voter turnout, and the increased use of advanced polls in Canadian elections, on May 9, 2007, Canada's New Government, introduced the Expanded Voting Opportunities Bill.
With respect to the details, the bill proposes to amend the Canada Elections Act to provide Canadians with two additional advance polling days on the two Sundays before election day.
Canadians currently have access to three advance polling days, on the Friday, Saturday, and Monday of the second last weekend before election day. People may vote between 12 noon and 8 p.m., but some people have to travel long distances because maybe only half a dozen polling stations are open in their constituency. The amendments in the expanded voting opportunities bill would add an advance polling day on the second last Sunday and the last Sunday before election day. This means there would be a block of four consecutive days of advance polling on the second last weekend before election day. However, the advance poll on the Sunday before election day would be a special one. All the polling stations used on election day will be opened, thereby maximizing voter opportunities for Canadians at a time when media attention and interest in the election should be at its height.
The hours for all advance polling days would continue to be between noon and 8 p.m., as opposed to the 12-hour periods of staggered voting hours that are available on election day.
In conclusion, our expanded voting opportunities bill will mean that all Canadians will have an opportunity to vote at an advance poll in their own neighbourhood on a Sunday, which for many is a day without work or school commitments. This will make it easier for Canadians to vote.
And with this increased convenience, we hope that families will bring their children with them when they go to vote—helping them appreciate from an early age the civic duty and opportunity to cast a vote, and to understand what it means to be a citizen in a free and democratic country. These are lessons that, if well taught, last a lifetime, build stronger communities and make a brighter future for Canada. And we know that engaging more Canadians in the electoral process through increasing voter turnout is good for our democracy and good for our country.
I would now be happy to take any questions that committee members may have.
June 19th, 2007 / 11:05 a.m.
The Chair Gary Goodyear
Colleagues, let's begin our meeting today.
First of all, I want to thank everyone for coming.
I particularly want to thank the members of the committee, if I don't have the opportunity later today, for the hard work they've done over the past year. I had the honour this morning of tabling our 56th report. I certainly suspect that this committee is setting an example for other committees, but we won't go too much into that. We might not be, but anyway....
Today, colleagues, we have a couple of pieces of business to deal with, but before we get started, I would like to mention to members that we are in public again today.
Our first order of business this morning is pursuant to the order of reference of Friday, June 1, 2007, Bill C-55, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act, expanded voting opportunities, and to make a consequential amendment to the Referendum Act.
We have the honour and privilege again, colleagues, to have the government House leader, the Honourable Peter Van Loan, who is also the Minister for Democratic Reform.
Minister Van Loan, would you kindly introduce your team, and then I will give you the floor to proceed?
June 18th, 2007 / 1:05 p.m.
The Chair Gary Goodyear
On this note, I'm going to offer two things to the committee.
One, about the banking institutes, a number of them were contacted and they chose not to be here. They were offered the opportunity to submit in writing. We haven't received anything like that.
The second thing I might offer, Mr. Owen, is that if you would want to draft up a letter from this committee suggesting that to future committees as a recommendation, I think we could probably deal with that tomorrow. However, in fairness, I did instruct the committee members that today we would go until two o'clock to deal with clause-by-clause, if necessary. Since we've completed clause-by-clause, I'm happy to put this on the agenda for tomorrow, if you so choose to bring it back.
Tomorrow's meeting, colleagues, should be short. We do have the minister coming to make a presentation. Other than that, we don't have witnesses coming on Bill C-55.
Since we don't have any witnesses, my suggestion, Mr. Owen, is that if you want to get on the agenda, there's more than enough time, if you so choose. If not, tomorrow's meeting will be brief.
If there's any other business dealing with the committee, I'm happy to entertain that now.
Seeing none, colleagues, we'll see you tomorrow at 11 o'clock for the introduction of Bill C-55. Thank you.
The meeting is adjourned.
June 5th, 2007 / 11:05 a.m.
The Chair Gary Goodyear
Colleagues, we're going to start our meeting this morning.
This morning's meeting will pretty much deal with two key issues. One is the steering committee's recommendations on where this committee should go over the next couple of weeks, and the second part will be based on whether we accept that report or not.
First, colleagues, let me tell you that we potentially have six meetings left. That's not a lot of time. The steering committee met this morning at eight o'clock and reviewed all the different motions before the committee, as well as leftover business, or some small items requiring more detailed discussions—which time potentially does not permit. As well, we looked at the list of potential legislation that could be sent before this committee.
The steering committee had lengthy and very in-depth discussions, and ultimately, here's what the steering committee decided.
We will deal this morning with Monsieur Guimond's motion in relation to questions by independent members during question period.
The second thing the committee recommended was that because all the other motions on your list require significant discussion, they should be put off until the fall.
The committee discussed Bill C-54 and a number of potential witnesses to be called on Thursday. We've narrowed the list down to four witnesses, all of whom will be contacted, if they've not already been contacted. Lucile has already sent out some e-mails this morning. The witnesses we requested will be here on Thursday, and those who can't make it on Thursday will be requested to submit a report by the end of day Friday, which will be translated and submitted to members late on Monday, if all goes well, for Tuesday's meeting. So we should finish our investigative process as a result of that action. We should be able, therefore, to begin clause-by-clause consideration of Bill C-54 on Tuesday, June 12.
Again, rumours are flying about how much time we have left here in Parliament, but we may then begin with Bill C-55 on Thursday—but I think we're moving too far ahead. The steering committee only decided, therefore, on the plan of action for today's meeting, as I said, which will be to deal with Mr. Guimond's motion. If the committee agrees with that, we would ultimately adjourn today, and on Thursday we would come back to hear the witnesses.
I should also point out that the Conflict of Interest Code has been finished by our subcommittee after, I think, 11 meetings and some fairly arduous work. That is ready to be presented on Thursday. We'll have a look at that on Thursday as well, along with having our witnesses.
On Tuesday we'll begin clause-by-clause. We need to agree as a committee on a 24-hour notice for any amendments to Bill C-54, and we need to approve a budget.
So that's what we need to do today. Are there any discussions on that?
Madame Robillard, you're first, and Madame Redman, you're second.
The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-55, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (expanded voting opportunities) and to make a consequential amendment to the Referendum Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Canada Elections Act
June 1st, 2007 / 10:30 a.m.
André Bellavance Richmond—Arthabaska, QC
Mr. Speaker, if the hon. member was listening carefully to my speech, I said just that when I indicated that Bill C-55 does not solve all the problems. I was not even aware that this bill had been announced with great fanfare. That is surprising. All the bill does is give people two more days to vote.
As I said when I began my speech, it is hard not to like sugar pie, but at the same time, there are many things that need to be done to improve voter turnout. The Bloc Québécois believes that the solution to low voter turnout is more political than administrative. What we have here is a far more administrative measure. We need to fight voters' cynicism about politics. The current government is not helping matters. When the majority of Quebeckers and Canadians are in favour of implementing the Kyoto protocol and the government does the opposite, it is not respecting the will of the people. Obviously, that makes people angrier and more cynical. It also happens when the government sets priorities that do not really reflect the public's priorities.
For example, I do not think that people's priority right now is to purchase $20 billion worth of military equipment, yet that is what the Conservatives are doing. People consider the environment a much higher priority than buying military equipment. But we have to be careful when we say that. We have to say that we are not opposed to equipping our soldiers properly. However, there has not been a clear policy for years—even under the former government—on the purchase of equipment for military operations. No, the government is waging a public relations campaign and saying that it is buying aircraft and used tanks. Unfortunately, in the past the government has bought submarines that sink and helicopters that do not fly. That was a serious problem. Today, when people see that, they wonder where their priorities are and whether the government is listening to them. That makes voters more cynical. The government needs to look in the mirror and not make a huge show of announcing this sort of bill, when there are many other possible solutions to this problem.