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.

Sponsor

Peter Van Loan  Conservative

Status

Not active, as of June 1, 2007
(This bill did not become law.)

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Canada Elections Act to increase the number of days of advance polling from three to five, and to increase the number of advance polling stations open on the last day of advance polling. It also makes a consequential amendment to the Referendum Act.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

May 31st, 2007 / 3:35 p.m.
See context

NDP

Charlie Angus Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to my hon. colleague's discussion of Bill C-55.

We talk about wanting to engage the public and wanting to get people involved in the democratic process. However, I find that there is such a massive disconnect between what happens in this House and what happens out in the real world. For example, I would suggest that civility and accountability in this House would probably go a long way to getting people actually feeling that they should get off their couch and participate in the democratic process.

When we are looking at how we will actually engage people, my question concerns this notion of a so-called advance poll on a Sunday. It is clear. We are not talking about an advance poll. We are talking about the full election machine running on the one day that people have for their families. People will be knocking on their doors, the phones will be ringing from the phone banks, and someone will be saying, “Have you come out to vote?” There is stress on our volunteers.

Whether one is from a church background like myself, and our family has always felt Sunday was our day, or like people I know who do not go to church but feel that Sunday is the one day for them to just be with their families, the sense I am getting from people I have spoken with about this idea is that they will now have government in their face on their one day. Government will be trampling on the time they have and basically throwing it upon them to rise above this resentment and see themselves as citizens in a democratic debate.

My question to the member is this. Should we not be respecting the voters, respecting the one day they have and finding some other legitimate ways to engage them in the democratic process rather than trampling on the one day that we have set aside in the week for the family?

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

May 31st, 2007 / 3:15 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Alan Tonks York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am privileged to rise today to continue the debate with respect to Bill C-55.

There has been a great deal of extrapolation and overview with respect to the ingredients of the bill. I do not think there is anyone in the House who would take exception to the efforts of the government and the opposition to find ways to broaden the franchise and to encourage people to exercise their democratic right to vote. As has been pointed out, this is one of the most basic freedoms that we enjoy and we should always be perceptive and reactive to citizens' needs for accessibility in order to exercise that franchise.

This particular bill is systemic in the sense that it deals with the mechanics of the election through the availability of advance polls. The bill is suggesting two additional days, one of which would be exactly the same, and the other being the Sunday prior to the election. Polling subdivisions across the country would be the same as those that would be accessible in the general election. That is self-evident in the sense that it would be more accessible for Canadians across the country to avail themselves of their franchise. Thus, it would be surprising if there were any opposition to that.

One issue has been indirectly raised and I would like to bring it into the discussion. I would suggest that this is more of a discussion with respect to allowing people to exercise their franchise and encouraging them to vote rather than one in terms of the usual cut and thrust of debate where something is put forward and the opposition has to tear it apart and find some way to improve it.

There are many improvements, I suppose, that generally could be made to the manner in which we carry on the electoral process. Fixed dates has been mentioned, and it is generally considered that this would be advantageous and a step in the right direction toward democratic reform.

The advance poll would be on the Sunday prior to the election and would have the same level of accessibility as a regular polling day during an election. This advance poll would be held the day before the election. I do not know whether the government has given enough consideration to the implications this might have if there were an issue of a high level of interest such as we experienced during the same sex debate where amendments had been made and had became law, but there was a continuing discussion of that through the last election period.

The fact that there was an interlude or, what I would characterize it as, a cooling off period between the time the bill became law and the election, very strong positions were taken across the country among various groups, but at the end of the day everyone had the opportunity for discussion, decisions had been made and we were moving ahead.

This just occurred to me. In the heat of debate, where there are issues that touch on the moral and legal lines, is it in the national interest for there to be the heightening of concerns and a re-awakening of issues the day before the vote? The ability to have a cooling off period, a period where people have an opportunity to digest what has been done, reflect on it and then exercise their franchise during the general election is that implicated by the fact that we are now having a poll the very day before an election, a poll that will be accessible in every constituency, every subdivision across the country?

In fact, that might become the source of discussion as a matter of religion. We have always tried to consider religion as absolutely sacrosanct in terms of issues related to what people view as their religious feelings on a matter and balance that against what is a political issue that is being defined by charter issues and so on.

It is this kind of balance that Canadians have been able to advance civil society through our institutions and conventions. We treat our conventions with respect and tend not to over-moralize. We try to have a balanced perspective with respect to how we would like to entrench the rights of all Canadians in terms of our institutions through our Charter of Rights. This was both the process and substance of what that discussion was all about many months ago, and we advanced past that.

I have a concern, and I am not sure whether it has been reflected on by the government, about should an issue of this nature arise or one related to our history in conscription. This was an extremely divisive issue and we had to come to grips with it. It led to regional differences that in fact threatened to divide the country and it took years for us to move past that issue.

The day before the election is there a possibility that there could be a negative influence in terms of institutions that would now be used, in the name of religion, to mobilize around particular points of view and inordinately affect the outcome with respect to an issue as it relates to a political decision? I only put that out as a concern. It has not been mentioned and it is perhaps something, had there been a broader consultation, that would have been more clearly articulated with respect to the bill before us.

When we look at the statistics, particularly for young people and those who have felt disenfranchised for whatever reason, they indicate that voter involvement has gone down. It was as high as 75%, as I understand it, in the 1970s and 1980s and has gone down to 65% or 60%. We note also that even among seniors, for whatever reason, there seems to be a diminishing of interest with respect to exercising their franchise, which might be a surprise to some people. There are regional patterns with respect to people being less inclined to exercise their franchise.

Although this is an exception, it is worthy of mention. Where we have done studies empirically trying to establish why people get involved in the process of voting and so on, it has been very clear that new Canadians, particularly those who have become citizens in the last decade, are exercising their franchise at a higher level than those who have been here for a long time.

Is it because we take our democratic right to vote for granted? Is it because of the experience new Canadians have, coming from countries where they did not have those privileges? As immigrants always have in the history of our country, they come here to seek a better life, a life where they have more say in their own futures, the futures of their children, the legacy they are creating. It is obvious to me that with those higher voting ratios among new Canadians, there is something for us to learn.

It is why this discussion goes beyond Bill C-55. Bill C-55 provides another opportunity for people to exercise the franchise. For us to really come to grips in real terms with increasing the responsibility and accountability to be part of the electoral process, we have to look beyond Bill C-55.

My colleagues in the New Democratic Party were speaking yesterday about proportional representation. They were alluding to what was happening in the province of Ontario with respect to a citizens commission, which looked at different approaches to electoral reform. This will find its way through into the next election in which there will be a referendum, just as there was in British Columbia. This is one approach that could be taken with respect to mobilizing public opinion and attempting to focus that on improving our electoral system.

I believe the government has attempted to look at different approaches because two other bills were introduced. Bill C-56 was introduced to change the formula for redistributing seats in the House of Commons. Bill C-54 looked at the restrictions on the use of loans by political entities governed by the Canada Elections Act.

The amendments through those bills were earnest attempts by the government to focus on the whole issue of accountability and relevance, and hopefully a corollary to that, getting people involved in the democratic process and in political organizations and mobilizing them to become more involved in Canadian politics.

As part of the discussion, I will make a few comments without straying from the intent of Bill C-55. I have stated that we all should support Bill C-55 with respect to the amendments it is make to allow for two additional advance polls.

However, if we are to draw people into what we view as political life and the discussion of issues that affect us, we have to look at issues related to accessibility. We have to look at whether we are really debating the real issues that people are not only interested in, but also issues that they see as part of the legacy for them and their children.

We also have to take some reflection on whether we have and are earning the public trust. It is matters of accessibility and that we are dealing with the real issues that concern Canadians. If we are doing those in earnest, they will view that as us exercising what they deem to be the public trust.

I reflect yesterday when we had workers here from all over the country. I know many of us in the House joined with the Canadian Labour Congress. People from coast to coast to coast talked about job loss and about the dramatic and traumatic implications of that. Workers had tears in their eyes. At the gathering in room 200, I and many of my colleagues were moved as we listened to the descriptions of what was happening in small communities across the country, with respect to the loss of jobs.

I mention this because this is not something of a partisan nature. Yes, we can look at governments and say we did better than that. These issues are of a global nature, which reflect on very complex and interconnected issues related to capital and how we are competing with countries in the global economy and what is happening with respect to foreign investment in terms of how we can connect and convince Canadians that we have control over our economic future.

It is related to issues that people are caught in a sense of helplessness. If they see this House, both in terms of the substance of that issue and the style of addressing it, they will see us grappling with the issues about they are most concerned. In that way we will be earning to some extent their trust. They may think we are making mistakes in their opinion or they may think we are on the right track, and hopefully we are. They may exercise their franchise in different ways, but that is part of believing in this country and believing in our institutions of governance.

I use that as an example because it goes beyond this bill. It goes into the manner in which we have representation and the manner in which we debate and are seen to be debating. It relates to how we contribute to the positive culture of parliamentary democracy in Canada.

I have shared this on occasion with many of our colleagues, that sometimes we are less than up to the challenge in terms of meeting the expectations of Canadians.

I will talk just for a moment to Bill C-56 as it relates to broadening the franchise. As I mentioned, that bill deals with changing the formula to redistribute seats in the House. In terms of whether we are earning the public trust, both the province of Quebec and the province of Ontario have indicated great concerns with respect to what the bill says. The government should be aware that consultation is absolutely fundamental to gaining the public trust and that we are attempting to broaden the opportunities for people to get involved in the process.

The last comment I have is with respect to Bill C-54 on loans. One of our most sacred rights is the right to be a candidate. Under the Canada Elections Act, we have the fundamental processes and protection in place to ensure that loans are dealt with, that candidates cannot go beyond what they spend.

With respect to some of the content of Bill C-54, it becomes apparent that some are less equal than others when it comes to borrowing money. What we have said is we will make everybody borrow from the bank, thus making it impossible to go our friends and have them on record loaning us money and on record having to pay us back.

Everybody now has to go to the bank and I am not sure that it is a democratic principle that everybody has to go to the bank because everybody does not have the equal ability to get the same loan and get the same rate of interest, and so on. Everybody always has to negotiate.

That bill went, to some extent, philosophically in an opposite way. The legislation that the government had brought in previously was designed to deal with that.

I did not mean to stray by mentioning Bill C-56 and Bill C-54, but I did want to elaborate. If we are dealing with electoral reform to broaden the franchise, those are the things we have to increase. We have to increase accountability, we have to increase accessibility, and we have to earn the public trust.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

May 31st, 2007 / 3:10 p.m.
See context

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, the question put by the hon. member for Western Arctic had two points to it but the first had nothing to do with Bill C-55, which is not unusual coming from an NDP member.

However, he did say that he did not believe that our Bill C-31, which deals with voter fraud, would in fact be effective because it would disenfranchise voters. I absolutely reject that premise and I think we will find out, in years to come and elections to come, that this bill will increase the security of voters, ensuring that all voters eligible to vote have an opportunity to do so.

However, he did make one comment about Bill C-55 concerning the advance polling date, the Sunday immediately preceding election day. He said that was tantamount to having a two day election and in fact that would be wrong. For the life of me, I cannot understand why any member of this place would want to see fewer opportunities for voters to exercise their franchise rather than more.

He also pointed out that one of the reasons he felt this would be wrong was that advertising by political parties would continue on the day prior to the election and that this would be something that would unduly influence the voter outcome. I must point out that advertising is already allowed during regular advance polling days, days 10, 9 and 8, prior to an election. In other jurisdictions, including my province of Saskatchewan, political parties can advertise on voting day.

Therefore, the point made by the hon. member for Western Arctic is weak at best.

Bill C-55 is intended to increase the level of voter turnout. If we can do that, in any way, shape or form, no matter how small or how large, it will be a good day and a good bill for democracy.

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.

Business of the House
Oral Questions

May 31st, 2007 / 3:05 p.m.
See context

York—Simcoe
Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, with regard to the last point, we have already addressed that.

However, with regard to the balance of Thursday's statement, I am pleased to respond that today and tomorrow we will continue with Bill C-55, the expanded voting opportunities bill; Bill C-14, the adoption bill; Bill C-57, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act; and Bill C-45, the fisheries act.

In the last Thursday statement, we indicated that we were hoping to have this week as “enhancing the quality of the life of first nations people week” but this was cancelled by the opposition parties when they did not release Bill C-44 from committee, the bill that would give the first nations protection under the Canadian Human Rights Act. Not only is it being held up now but, as early as this morning in this House, the opposition obstructed our efforts to get the bill dealt with forthwith so that first nations people could have the human rights that every other Canadian enjoys. We know that if all parties would agree to proceed with that, as we saw when we sought unanimous consent, it could proceed, but some would prefer to obstruct it.

Next week will be welcome back from committee week, when we welcome business that has been at committee, including some that has been stalled there for some time. We will deal with Bill C-52, the budget implementation bill, which will begin report stage on Monday and, hopefully, we can get third reading wrapped up by Tuesday.

Following the budget bill, we will call for report stage and third reading of Bill C-35, bail reform. After that, we will call Bill C-23, the Criminal Code amendments. I hardly remember when Bill C-23 was sent to the committee by this House. That took place long before I was even House leader 228 days ago.

Thursday, June 7, shall be the last allotted day. There are a number of other bills that we would like to include in our welcome back from committee week. I still hope we can see Bill C-44, the amendments to the Canadian Human Rights Act, to which I just referred; Bill C-6, the amendments to the Aeronautics Act; Bill C-27 dealing with dangerous offenders; Bill C-32 dealing with impaired driving; and Bill C-33 dealing with foreign investment, if the opposition parties will release those from committee.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

May 31st, 2007 / 1:30 p.m.
See context

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand in the chamber today to speak in favour of Bill C-55 on enhanced voting opportunities. I am hopeful that all of my colleagues in this place will also vote in favour of the bill when it finally comes before the members.

I am sure that I am not alone when I say that during the last couple of federal campaigns I have had opportunities to speak many times before young people, whether it be in primary schools, high schools or universities. One of the things I always say to these young people is that I sincerely hope, no matter for whom they choose to vote, that they at least exercise their franchise and use the ability and the privilege given to them to actually cast their ballots in a federal election.

One of the most disturbing trends that I have seen over the course of the last 10 to 20 years is the decrease in voter turnout, especially among young people, particularly in the 18 to 25 demographic. What I say to these young people and what I will say to the members of this place is that why this is so disturbing is that eventually those young people will be determining the fate of their governments. I would hate to think that if these trends continue we would see a time when a federal election was held with a less than 50% voter turnout, or in other words, when less than 50% of the eligible voters of this country actually would elect a government.

Regardless of which government it is and regardless of which party or political stripe is represented, it is a very disturbing trend to think that young people in particular, but all voters regardless of age, are exercising their franchise less and less. That says perhaps many things about the inherent problems that we have within our political parties, our political system or our electoral system, but nonetheless, it is incumbent upon all of us to do what we can to try to increase voter turnout.

Regardless of the government that is elected at the end of the day, I would feel more comfortable, and I think most Canadians would feel more comfortable, if 80% or 90% of all eligible voters cast their ballots. Then one actually could say that the vast majority of Canadians expressed their opinion, cast their ballots and elected a government in which the majority of Canadians had a say.

I am disturbed when I think that roughly 60% of Canadians, and only 60%, end up electing governments. Whether they be minority or whether they be majority, if only 60% of Canadians feel it is worthwhile to go out on voting day to cast their ballots, it says there is something wrong.

I am not here to speak to all of the ills that currently may be within our electoral system or our political parties, but I am here today to speak to Bill C-55, which is an attempt to increase the voter turnout at future federal elections. While I will be the first to admit that the bill is certainly not intended to be the panacea for all the ills, I think it is a step in the right direction.

Should the bill be passed into law, I believe that it will have a positive impact on increasing the level of voter turnout that we have seen. It may not dramatically increase the level of voter turnout, but I think there will be an increase. Even if we increase the number of voters casting ballots by a few percentage points, the bill will have had a positive effect. That is why I will very gladly and wholeheartedly vote in favour of the bill.

What does the bill say exactly? What does it do? It does not do much outside of the fact that it gives two additional days for voters to cast ballots in advance polls.

Currently, as I am sure most members understand, the situation is that on day ten, nine and seven, in other words the tenth day, the ninth day and the seventh day prior to election day, advance polls are currently in operation, where voters who may not be in town or who may not wish to vote during election day can, during prescribed hours, go to prescribed voting locations, advance poll locations, and cast their ballots. Over time that has proven to be a very valuable tool in assisting all Canadians in their ability to cast a vote.

We all know that come election day certain factors occur which prevent some Canadians from going to the polls. It might be work related functions, the voters may be out of the country on vacation, they may just happen to come down with a bad cold, or some other circumstance might prevent them from actually casting a ballot on E day, election day. Being given the opportunity to cast an advance ballot would ensure that those votes are counted. This bill would increase the number of opportunities that voters would have to actually cast a ballot should they choose do so other than on election day.

This bill specifically deals with voting on the two Sundays immediately prior to election day. There is one slight variance in that in as much as on the eighth day prior to E day, the Sunday which would be the eighth day prior to E day, the polling location for this advance poll would be the standard advance poll location.

As most Canadians understand, advance polls are traditionally always located in different areas than the general polling location in individual ridings. My particular riding of Regina--Lumsden--Lake Centre, which is consistent with the geographic area of most rural ridings, is a very large riding. The advance polls for the rural areas in my riding are all held in a community called Lumsden. Lumsden is fairly central, but it is a fair hike for one coming down from Nokomis or Davidson. People sometimes have to travel over an hour, sometimes an hour and a half, to get to the polling station to cast an advance ballot. That in itself poses some difficulties for individuals who may be somewhat restricted in mode of transportation, whether or not they can drive a car, or whether they have access to a ride to get to the polling stations. Even though they have an opportunity to cast a ballot, it is somewhat restrictive in as much as some people have to travel up to an hour and a half or longer.

Bill C-55 proposes that in addition to allowing advance polls to be open the eighth day prior to E day in the traditional advance polling location, advance polls would be set up the Sunday immediately prior to the general election, which traditionally has been on a Monday. That advance poll, which would be open from 12 noon to 8 p.m. local time, would be located in the general polling location.

Let me explain exactly what that means. On election day, there are many polling locations throughout each member's riding. Perhaps in some riding there might be as many as 30, 40 or 50 actual polling locations located in schools, gymnasiums and churches. This bill proposes that the advance poll for that Sunday, that one day only, one day prior to an election, would be located in the same polling locations as would be held the following day.

In other words, rather than just having one or two advance poll locations, which would require some individuals to drive an hour or more, they would have the convenience of going to a polling station the Sunday prior to the general election and located relatively near their residence. The intent is to give as much flexibility as possible in order to give individuals an opportunity to cast a ballot.

There have been some questions. Why Sunday? Is Sunday not supposed to be a day of rest? Would that not interfere with the practices of some to attend the church of their choice? There may be some validity to that argument, however, I would suggest that since we are recommending that the time of the advance polling would be from 12 noon to 8 p.m. of that day, then that would probably give sufficient time to those who wish to worship at the location of their choice. They would have time to go to church and after that go to the polling location.

I would also suggest that this is not something radical. It is certainly not something new. Other jurisdictions have been providing polling opportunities on a Sunday.

I know my colleagues in the Bloc have long argued that Sunday voting was something that was accepted widely and broadly in Quebec. Other provinces, such as Saskatchewan, have had opportunities on Sundays to cast ballots.

I think that we would find that generally speaking, this has been a practice that has been accepted in other parts of Canada by other Canadians. I would suggest to members of the House that the practice on a widespread basis through all of the ridings would also come under much acceptance.

What does it mean that we have an eight hour window on the Sunday prior? Some would argue that is just merely another extension of voting day, and while I can understand why some individuals would say it is actually adding an extra day, so there would now be two days of voting, it is not quite true.

Number one, the polling hours are different. As I mentioned earlier, the polling is going to be from 12 noon until 8 p.m., whereas on the Monday, the day of a general election, polling stations open on a staggered basis, usually from 9 a.m. until 8 p.m., sometimes 9 p.m., but the times are staggered across Canada to take into account the various time zones. That is the first difference.

The second difference of course is that these are advance polls only. Ballots would not be counted that day. The ballots would be sealed and contained in the advance poll ballot box, referred to the returning officer at the general polling station the following day, and ballots would be counted at that time.

I should also point out that should the eventuality ever occur that the Monday is not election day, it would still be a Sunday prior to the general election day that this special advance poll would be in operation. There are some distinct differences between the two.

However once again, the general intent of this bill is to try to increase the ability of voters to cast ballots during a general election. I would like to think that all parliamentarians, regardless of political affiliation, would agree with me that that is a good thing. I have yet to hear an argument from any member in this place that suggests lower voter turnouts are better for democracy. It is an absurd argument and I think everyone would agree with that. Everything that we can possibly do to increase voter turnout is something we should welcome.

I have heard today that there have been some minor disagreements with this proposed legislation. Some members have argued that it needs improvement.

Perhaps, but on a general basis, on balance, this bill is an improvement to the current voting system that we experience today because it gives additional opportunities to all Canadians to express their opinions and exercise their franchise. It gives them the opportunity in a way that is intended to drive up the number of people who vote.

Can we do other things? Absolutely, and I have long argued that what we need to do, and perhaps this is a function of the Chief Electoral Office of this land, is have a far more aggressive and pervasive educational program to encourage all Canadians, particularly young people, vote.

This is without question, in my view, the most important privilege that every Canadian has, the right to exercise their franchise and to elect members of Parliament, and on a provincial basis, to elect provincial governments.

There is no fundamental democracy or democratic premise or tenet more important, in my view, than the right to vote. Canadians, and in fact citizens worldwide, have long fought, sometimes literally fought, for the right to vote. We still see now in some jurisdictions across the globe a discrimination against some people having the ability to vote.

In this country, of course, not that many years ago there were restrictions placed upon who could vote. We have come a long way in the last century, and that is a good thing, but we still need to do more. Through methods of education and awareness, whether it be in the schoolroom, whether it be through the Chief Electoral Office, or whether it just be us as parliamentarians advocating and encouraging Canadians in our ridings to get out and vote, regardless of who they vote for, it is something we should all take very seriously.

Again, let me say that while I do not think that this is the total answer, a complete panacea to the problems of low voter turnout, I think it will go in an incremental way toward increasing the level of voter turnout.

I would like nothing more than to be able to come back to this House, some day in the future after this bill has been implemented, and point to the fact that the percentage of voters who attended the Sunday polling stations on day eight and day one prior to election day was significant and the overall voter turnout across this country was significant. We would be able to turn to this bill that we passed, and I hope it will pass unanimously, quite frankly, and say that we had a part to play in allowing more Canadians to vote, in fact in encouraging more Canadians to vote.

If we do that I think all of us can go back to our ridings and say, “I earned my dollar today. I earned my salary”. It may be a small blip on the political landscape that people look back after years and say, “That was an obvious thing to do”. I think these are the type of initiatives as parliamentarians we need to engage in on a more frequent basis.

I certainly encourage every member of this House, when Bill C-55 come before them for third and final reading, and I am sure it will in due course, to vote in favour of the bill.

Once the bill gets to committee, and I am quite confident that it will, should the procedure and House affairs committee dealing with this bill feel or deem that there are any necessary amendments to be made, I have no problems and no qualms with amendments to this bill should they be in the spirit in which the bill was introduced and that is to genuinely put procedures in place that will increase the level of voter turnout.

There may be some amendments that I have not considered and perhaps there may be some amendments offered that this bill has not contemplated. Regardless of that, I think the spirit of this bill is one which all parliamentarians can agree upon.

We need more people in this country to vote. I will give a quick example. In my riding in 2004 just over 63% of eligible voters cast a ballot. When we have 37% of the people not voting, that concerns me, particularly since I will be representing them, regardless of whether they cast a ballot or not.

I would love to say that 100% of the people in my riding voted. Therefore, I would be absolutely convinced, whoever the successful candidate was, that this was really the person who my constituents wanted to see in Parliament representing them.

Right now there certainly can be an argument to be made that I did not receive 50% of the vote and only 63% of the people participated in the vote. One could certainly argue that the majority of people, perhaps even the vast majority in my own riding, did not want me as their member of Parliament but they got me. I would like to think that is not true. I mean that is an argument that could be made and with some legitimacy.

If we can do anything in our power to increase the number of people casting their votes, it will be a good day for democracy.

I go back to 2006. I was hoping that the level of voter turnout would actually increase from the previous election due to the fact that we had many issues that were coming forward during the election campaign. Generally speaking it has always been a historical fact that when there is a change in government, traditionally voter turnout goes up because people want a change. Therefore, they will take the time to go to the polls and vote for a new government.

Quite frankly, that did not occur in the 2006 election. I know that the voter turnout percentages vary from riding to riding, but as a general rule of thumb the voting turnout in 2006 remained fairly static to what it was in 2004, around the low 60% mark.

If we can say that at best we remained the same, that we have not continued to decrease, I do not think that is good enough.

In summary, this bill is a very simple bill. It merely purports to try and do one thing, to allow more people to cast their ballots and to encourage more people to cast their ballots. If we are successful in that initiative by the passage of this bill, it has been a good day for democracy.

The House resumed from May 30 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.

May 31st, 2007 / 11:05 a.m.
See context

Conservative

Peter Van Loan York—Simcoe, ON

And I'm Peter Van Loan.

I'm pleased to appear today to assist the committee in its scrutiny of Bill C-54, the accountability with respect to loans bill. The bill is another important part of our agenda to strengthen accountability in Canada through democratic reform.

Our agenda in this respect is extensive and ambitious. It has three main components: strengthening our electoral system to make it more responsive, fair, and effective; second, modernizing the Senate; and third, reforming the financing of political parties to eliminate the undue influence of rich and powerful individuals.

To start, we are strengthening our electoral system by, firstly, ensuring our democracy remains fair to Canadians across the country through Bill C-31, which seeks to reduce voter fraud, and Bill C-56, which ensures fairness and representation in the House of Commons by restoring the principle of representation by population.

Secondly, we are taking steps to improve voter turnout through Bill C-55, which adds two additional days of advanced polling on the two Sundays prior to election day.

Lastly, we are also providing a level of certainty and transparency to the public by establishing fix date elections. Under legislation that was recently enacted into law, the date of the next general election will be October 19, 2009.

Through another piece of legislation currently before Parliament, we hope that October 19, 2009, is the date of the first national consultations process for choosing senators.

For the first time, Bill C-43 provides Canadians with the opportunity to have a say in who represents them in the Senate. This legislation, which represents a realistic and practical way of modernizing the Senate, is one part of our plan to do so. The other part is our bill to limit the terms of senators to 8 years from the current maximum of 45.

The last major component of our agenda to strengthen accountability through democratic reform is our legislation to reform the financing of political parties, candidates, and associations to eliminate the undue influence of rich, powerful individuals in the political process.

We committed to doing this in the last campaign, when we introduced, as our first piece of legislation, the Federal Accountability Act. On April 11, 2006 we fulfilled that commitment and on December 12 of the same year, the Federal Accountability Act became law.

The act banned corporate and union contributions, imposed tighter rules on gifts and trust funds and limited annual donations to a political party to $1,100 in 2007.

The bill being studied by this committee today builds on the Federal Accountability Act and on our commitment to eliminate the influence of rich, powerful individuals from the political process.

The bill would amend the Canada Elections Act to establish stronger rules and better transparency for loans made to political parties, candidates, and associations. These amendments would enhance accountability and increase transparency around the use of loans as a political financing tool, which is vital to ensuring the confidence of Canadians in the integrity of the political process.

Along with the Federal Accountability Act, the changes proposed in Bill C-54 will ensure that the financing of political parties, candidates, and associations is fully transparent with straightforward rules that are easy to enforce.

The amendments proposed for the treatment of loans in Bill C-54 would extend to loans the same standards of transparency that are now in place for contributions. By removing chapter 3, which allows for the use of loans to circumvent the restrictions on the source or limit of contributions, the amendments will ensure that the reforms enacted in C-2 cannot be undermined through the misuse of loans.

Specifically, the amendments would make the following changes to the treatment of loans.

First, the bill would establish a uniform and transparent way of treating loans made to political parties, candidates, and associations. It would require mandatory disclosure of terms and the identity of all lenders and loan guarantors. It would achieve greater transparency and ensure that political parties, candidates, and associations are treated uniformly, which is, believe it or not, not now the case.

Second, total loans, loan guarantees, and contributions by individuals could not exceed the annual contribution limit for individuals established in the Federal Accountability Act, which is set at $1,100 for 2007. Since loans from individuals would be treated as contributions from the time they were made, loans could not be used to circumvent the limit on individual contributions.

Third, only financial institutions and other political entities could make loans beyond that $1,100 limit. Unions and corporations would now be unable to make loans, consistent with their inability to make contributions. They could not disguise contributions as loans. Since financial institutions would have to charge commercial rates of interest, neither borrowers nor lenders could exchange favourable rates for favourable treatment.

Finally, the rules for the treatment of unpaid loans would be tightened to ensure that candidates cannot walk away from unpaid loans. Riding associations will be held responsible for unpaid loans taken out by their candidates. Those would succeed to the associations.

At this point I want to pay some tribute—and I don't want to say I'm disappointed that Monsieur Godin is here, but I am disappointed that Mr. Martin is not—because Pat Martin deserves some credit for having kept this issue on the radar screen and pressing us to move forward with this legislation. I wanted to give him due credit for having done that.

In January 2007, the Chief Electoral Officer presented recommendations to Parliament for changing the rules on loans. This was the first examination of the rules for loans since 2000.

The CEO recommended that Parliament impose additional controls on loans, make loans more transparent, and establish consistency in the treatment of loans for all classes of political entities. Specifically, he recommended the kinds of changes we are including in Bill C-54: the amendments in Bill C-54 implement the recommendations of the Chief Electoral Officer with respect to loans.

At second reading, several members expressed an interest in having the bill come into force earlier than six months after royal assent, which is the current wording in the bill. The government would like to see the changes in force as soon as possible. l would encourage the committee to discuss the matter with the Chief Electoral Officer, Mr. Mayrand, when he is here next hour—how quickly the changes could be put into operation—and to feel free to encourage him and challenge him to do it as quickly as possible.

In conclusion, accountability with respect to loans is an important part of our new government's agenda to strengthen accountability through democratic reform. By adopting this bill, which updates the rules for loans and expands transparency, Parliament would demonstrate to Canadians that it remains serious in its commitment to clean up all aspects of federal political financing.

It will show that we will not allow rich, powerful individuals to influence the political process. It will show that we will continue to build upon the reforms made in the historic Federal Accountability Act.

Today, I am seeking your support for these measures and will be pleased to attempt to answer your questions.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

May 30th, 2007 / 5:15 p.m.
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NDP

Paul Dewar Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to speak in the House to this bill. I want to outline a number of things the government has said about this bill. I want to look at what, I believe, is the motivation for this bill. I also want to talk about some of the concerns about the bill that have been brought to my attention. I will then underline the void left by the government on the whole issue of fairness and voting on democratic reform that the bill does not really substantively deal with.

I will begin with the bill itself in terms of when we first heard about it. As I mentioned in questions and comments earlier, it was with much fanfare on the front lawn of the House of Commons that the announcement was made. As I previously said, we were told there was a big announcement coming on democratic reform and, in fact, the government even titled the week democratic reform week. We were all wondering with great anticipation what the announcement would be.

There was a great photo op with all the interns together to make it look good on camera. The minister came out and announced that there would be what we thought would be democratic reform, like the mixed member system or some other substantive proposal, but, lo and behold, he announced that the government would be expanding advance polling. People in the crowd made some comments and even the media asked, “They brought us out here for this”.

In fact, the page from the press release that I have in front of me on the bill itself is pretty small. It contains the main parts of the bill but it is what we call piecemeal. I say that because the government is trying to brand itself, as it says now, as getting things done on democratic reform, which is a laudable goal. Some would say that is the way to do it, one piece at a time, but the problem is that there was absolutely no consultation on this bill.

This idea came from what looks like the back room of the Conservative Party to cover for the fact that it had not done some things on democratic reform, like the triple E Senate that many in the party had gotten involved in politics on. In fact, we are hearing now from the backbench that the Conservatives have not been able to deliver on the triple E Senate. The government had to come up with something so it came up with Bill C-55 and Bill C-56. That is the background, the trajectory of how we got this bill.

The claims that the government has made are very interesting. When the minister spoke on this bill today he said things like, “We want more people to vote”, “Elections Canada has indeed identified that people need more time to vote”, “Canadians need more opportunity to vote”, et cetera. Of course no one will disagree with that. The problem is that the Conservatives make assertions that this bill will be the grandiose architecture for changing our democratic system so that we will see more voter participation and that it somehow will deal with all the ills that exist in our present system.

However, there is a cost to this. As the minister said today, it will cost somewhere around $38 million for this initiative, an initiative that the government has not consulted on but just dreamed up and brought forward. I say that because it is important to underline.

This is not a bill that was discussed at committee nor was it discussed during the election. It also was not discussed in the House. This is not a bill that Canadians were clamouring the government to act on. That is important to note. In my opinion, this is the piecemeal approach of the Conservative Party to cover for the fact that it has not delivered on its triple E Senate promise.

The minister also stated that there was more advance voting in 2006. I see some smiles from my friends so I must be hitting a nerve. Therefore, this will be a continuation of that and there will be more voting if we do that. That might be but 2006 was a very different election. Many people who were going south took advantage of the fact they could vote in the advance poll. Therefore, I do not think it is a good benchmark to look at 2006.

The government talks about France having had 85% voter participation in the last election and that they vote on a Sunday and, therefore, that is a meritorious argument for this bill. I think it is a bit of a stretch to say that because they vote on Sundays in France and that they had an 85% voter turnout that somehow is the rationale for this bill. The reason is that it is a different political culture.

One of the things they have in France is a proportional system as well. We have spoken consistently from this side of the House, from the NDP's perspective, on the need, not just to have piecemeal change but to ensure that we change our voting structure so that it actually makes the system fair. Just to provide more time for people to vote, in and of itself, is not what really ails us right now. What really ails the body politic in Canada right now is having a fair vote so that someone's vote in Calgary counts as much as someone's vote in Prince Edward Island, in Toronto or in Timmins.

We know that a person, shall we say, wanting to vote Conservative in downtown Montreal, as we learned this past election, finds that their vote really is meaningless, other than the $1.75 that might go to the Conservative Party. That was illustrated clearly after the last election when the government could not find a cabinet minister so it had to pluck one from the back room of the Conservative Party, pop him into the Senate and then hoist him into the cabinet. It was a sad day for democracy.

What we need instead of these piecemeal solutions that have been put forward by the government is substantive democratic reform. What we and the Citizens Assembly here in Ontario have proposed is to have a mixed member system, which is what the system the government is lauding in France has, and that is some proportionality. If the Conservative Party had won the election fair and square with a mixed member system, Mr. Fortier may have been a nominated candidate on its list and he could have been legitimately appointed to cabinet.

The same goes for the minister who crossed the floor from the Liberal Party and ended up in the cabinet of the Conservative Party. It was simply that the Prime Minister had no one from Vancouver. I do not know when the actual conversation took place but I suspect it was either right after the election or soon thereafter.

I underline those examples because what is wrong with our system right now are the floor crossings and the appointments to the Senate and then into cabinet, which deepens the cynicism of the population. I would submit that is more problematic and more of a challenge to us as parliamentarians to increase voter participation, not these piecemeal approaches, as populace as they might be, if I may use that word, because young people, for instance, are not voting because they do not see their vote counting. It is not that they cannot find the time.

I should turn to the province of Manitoba where recently the people of Manitoba increased their voter participation. I think it was because the government opened up the opportunities to vote, as well as, hopefully, they had something to vote for. That should be looked at. Manitoba made voting polls more available to people. They did not do what the government is proposing. They actually made the advance polls very accessible. They were in shopping malls and in everyday places where people go. That is the kind of thing we should look at.

I do not think this idea of having an advance polling day on a Sunday will find favour with people from our faith communities. I have talked to people in my constituency and some of them, not all, believe that Sunday should not be a voting day. I think some people in other faiths would have the same concern if were on their Sabbath. That needs to be addressed as well.

What are the costs? The government has estimated it at $37 million. How will we do this if the voting booths or the advanced polling booths are in churches? Will that affect the services of any given church? Has that been thought through? I would think not. Has the government consulted with people in the faith communities about this? I think not. It is obviously something that can be addressed at committee.

The last thing I want to talk a little bit about is what the government's agenda is on democratic reform. I have already mentioned the fact that the government has had some democratic reform ideas but, in many ways, they are a cover for its democratic deficits that it suffered from in the first days of government. I am speaking of the floor-crossing and the appointment of the public works minister to the Senate and into cabinet.

On the surface, one would think that a government that claims to want substantive democratic reform would actually consult.

I guess we will debate Bill C-56 at some time. It fell off the calendar recently. It was on the calendar, then I gather the Conservative leader from Ontario said a couple of things about it and then it disappeared off the calendar, but I will leave the government to respond to that. It is another bill on democratic reform.

What the government is trying to do with that bill is to change the formula on how seats are assigned after a census. Do members know who the government consulted on this? Did it consult the provinces? It consulted no one other than itself. The problem with that is that this has consequences for every province. The way the government has done it, in terms of the lack of consultation, it will divide people as opposed to bringing them together. What democratic reform should be is bringing people together to have more faith in the democratic system and the democratic institutions we have built.

The government is offside on its consultation on this bill and on Bill C-56. I saw this on Bill C-31 when we saw that our privacy would be compromised. Bill C-31 is in the Senate now but Canadians are surprised to find out that a bill that is supposed to deal with so-called voter fraud gives up their privacy by having their birthdates published on the voters' list and given to political parties for their benefit.

The government says one thing and does the other. It has some pieces that we can say are fine, but the government does not consult. It has missed, not only the boat on the practise of democratic reform in terms of accepting floor-crossers and putting people from the back room into the Senate and into cabinet, but it has not dealt with the one issue that Canadians want it to deal with, be they young, middle aged or older, and that is the fairness of our system so that when someone votes their vote counts.

The fundamental question for our party has to do with voter fairness and until we deal with voter fairness, all these other tinkerings and piecemeal approaches are really secondary. They do not deal with the fundamental question.

When the minister talks about comparisons to Europe and other jurisdictions, he should look at the whole picture and not cherry-pick but, sadly, that is what the minister has done.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

May 30th, 2007 / 5:10 p.m.
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Bloc

Pierre Paquette Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, as I said, we are not opposed to this measure; however, in our view, it is not enough to make us believe that voter turnout will change significantly. If we do not engage citizens and make them want to vote on the issues that are democratically debated and decided by a vote, all we are doing is shifting the timing of the vote. The most recent Quebec election provides an example of this. Voter turnout at the advance polls reached 10%, a record high. More than 500,000 votes were cast at advance polls in Quebec; however, the voter turnout was the same as in 2003. Voters who would have cast their ballots on Monday, March 26, simply voted at advance polls.

In closing, I would say it is somewhat like the hours of operation of a business. More shopping hours do not translate into more purchases by consumers. If they could shop 24/7, they would not buy more because they do not have more money in their pockets and they cannot go any further into debt. We must not believe that Bill C-55 will solve all our problems. We must avoid simply displacing the votes that would be cast anyway, on the day of a general election.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

May 30th, 2007 / 5:10 p.m.
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Conservative

Bruce Stanton Simcoe North, ON

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague had a rather lengthy dissertation on various topics, some of which I thought did begin to stray a bit from the matter at hand here, but really he was talking in terms of what he felt were some of the causes for poorer participation in elections.

As I consider some of the points that have been brought up this afternoon, it has been interesting to see that in other jurisdictions that have in fact expanded to Sunday voting and increased advanced polling, certainly the statistics suggest, both in this country but also in Europe, they are getting in some cases as high as a 10 point increase.

As a matter of fact, even in the province of Quebec, and I thought this was rather instructional, I have come to understand that advance polls are conducted on a Sunday both in municipal elections in the province of Quebec and provincial elections.

Therefore, I would suggest that in fact what we are seeing here in this bill before us, Bill C-55, is intending to address the very problems and issues of which the member speaks. I wonder whether he would feel that this approach in fact is going to do exactly as his home province would suggest, where participation has increased, and that this bill is in fact right on the mark, and it is going to create the kinds of results in voter participation that are needed.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

May 30th, 2007 / 5:05 p.m.
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Bloc

Pierre Paquette Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for Brossard—La Prairie for his question, which will also allow me to complete my response.

In Quebec, the permanent voters list is an extremely important tool. For example, every time a person moves and changes their address on their driver's licence or social insurance card, the address is automatically changed on the voters list. This makes life easier for the Chief Electoral Officer and also for the individual, who will not have to jump through hoops to ensure that their name is on the voters list. This does not solve every problem since some people do not have a driver's licence, although people usually have a health insurance card. Nonetheless, this makes it easier to register voters, who then receive a notice from the Chief Electoral Officer.

The federal Chief Electoral Officer wants to incorporate this permanent list. It has been noted during past elections that this list was quite incomplete and people who honestly thought they were registered on voters lists learned they were not.

At the federal level, rather than address this problem by creating a permanent voters list, they decided to allow voters to be added to the voters list on election day, which sometimes causes problems in terms of identifying the voters and their eligibility to vote. In Quebec, a voter can only be added to the voters list during the period scheduled by law for the revision of the voters list. In my opinion this provides a better guarantee to citizens who have the right to vote and greater fairness for everyone.

The response of the Chief Electoral Officer and Parliament was to create a new gadget to respond to a real problem. I think they should have opted for a real tool like a permanent list. That is precisely the type of suggestion that Bill C-55 proposes. I am not against allowing people to register on election day since the voters list is so poorly managed. However, I think we should address the real problem, and that is the quality of the voters list. We should make it easier for people to register on this list before the election to make sure they are eligible to vote.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

May 30th, 2007 / 5:05 p.m.
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Bloc

Pierre Paquette Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for his question.

As I said earlier, voter turnout in Quebec is higher. I think that this is because the political debate there focuses on more fundamental issues than it does here in Ottawa. I am not saying that to be mean. Politically, the constitutional future of Quebec gives rise to a sense of competition. As a result, voter turnout is higher in Quebec, especially among young people, even though they vote less than older people.

I think that the lesson here is about political issues and how we should be debating them. I am not against taking steps to facilitate voter turnout. People have to feel that their vote makes a difference and will affect not only their community's future, but also their own. I think that this is what has been lacking in Canada and in most western societies over the past few years.

As I suggested in my counter-example, during the recent elections in France, where voter turnout had been in decline, Mr. Sarkozy and Ms. Royal talked about issues that would have an impact on France's future, which resulted in an 85% voter turnout. I think that we should work toward that rather than on superficial measures, like those in Bill C-55. Even so, we will not oppose it. Fundamentally, we still have to ask ourselves questions about how we do politics in Canada, in Quebec and in the entire western world.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

May 30th, 2007 / 4:40 p.m.
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Bloc

Pierre Paquette Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, this is another opportunity for me to rise on a bill that is far from revolutionary. I have said so several times, and I believe that the same sentiment has been expressed many times in this House in the past few months. It is hard to be opposed to this bill. But at the same time, it does not attack the root of the problem of voter turnout, which is not dropping dramatically, but declining from year to year, particularly at the federal level.

This bill is intended to increase voter turnout. It proposes to add two advance polling days on the two Sundays prior to polling day. All the polling stations that will be open on the day of the general election would be open on the Sunday before that day, maximizing—according to the bill's sponsors—voting opportunities until polls close on the Monday after the second Sunday. On the other advance polling days, a limited number of polling stations would be open, as is the case now.

It seems to me to be a bit simplistic to expect that adding advance polling days will reverse the strong downward trend in voter turnout. However, we cannot oppose a relatively minor measure that would create a real opportunity for some people to vote on the added Sundays. We will therefore not vote against this bill. However, in our opinion, this is a minor measure that will not correct the strong downward trend in voter turnout. The government needs to attack the real causes of this decrease, which are diverse.

I want to give the figures for some past elections, which show that voter turnout at advance polls does not have a substantial or significant impact on general voter turnout on polling day.

For example, here are the results from Quebec for the 1997 federal election. Approximately 704,000 people voted at advance polls, some 3.6% of everyone who voted in the 1997 election. Again, I am referring to the federal election, but these figures pertain only to voters in Quebec. The overall voter turnout was 67%.

In 2006, during the last federal election, 1.5 million voters voted at advance polls in Quebec, or 6.8%. Thus, 6.8% voted in advance. One might have expected this to translate into much higher voter turnout, since the number of people who voted at advance polls nearly doubled. Yet, when we look at the overall voter turnout in the 2006 election, for Quebec, it was only 64.7%. We can therefore see that increasing the number of days of advance polling does not necessarily lead to higher voter turnout overall.

In that regard, we must ask ourselves whether the money it would cost to open polling stations the Sunday before an election—since, as we heard, all polling stations would be open that day—could not be used much more productively towards increasing overall voter turnout.

For instance, the total number of polling stations in each riding could have been increased, to make them more accessible. Also, particularly for our seniors, we could have tried to find ways to ensure they do not have to travel. I think there is a long list of possible solutions that would have been much more effective in increasing voter turnout, which, as we know, is decreasing every year.

Once again, I believe that the crux of the problem is not a function of the mechanics but of the general context and our citizens' views of politics. This holds true for Canada, and to a certain extent for Quebec, which nevertheless has a higher voter turnout. We have noticed it also in the United States and in France, although this last presidential election was quite exceptional with voter turnout of 85%. It may be an exception, but that is all for the best. Perhaps there is a change in the trend.

In my view, this fairly widespread tendency—particularly in industrialized countries where voter turnout is decreasing with every election—should lead us to look more closely at the general public's perception of politicians and of politics. For example, almost every government that has taken power, here in Ottawa and in many western countries, has told us—and the Minister of Industry is one of the best examples that I know of—that nothing can be done about the effects of globalization and market forces, and that the strongest must be able to crush the weakest as it is the law of nature manifesting itself in society.

That is wrong. A good part of the population, a good number of voters, have been led to believe that voting for representatives when electing a government is pointless because they are unable to solve their problems. What can the federal government do to help a worker from Saint-Michel-des-Saints who is losing his job because a Louisiana-Pacific sawmill and waferboard plant are shutting down?

The Minister of Industry is constantly telling us that nothing can be done, that these are the results of market forces and that no manner of industrial policy will prevent it. It could not have been prevented. But I say that it could have been prevented.

I would like to remind the House that, since 2003, the Bloc Québécois has been promoting a plan to help the forestry industry get through the current crisis. However, the previous Liberal government and the current Conservative government have always hidden behind market forces and the unrelenting effects of globalization. We know very well that when the citizens' democratic will is expressed through its democratic institutions, we are capable of putting a stop to things, of changing the course of events in economic, social or environmental matters.

For example, some countries, such as France, have said they did not want to be part of the multilateral agreement on investment and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, because they were negotiating privately. This would diminish the role of the state and its ability to exercise its sovereignty. France was able to stop this agreement, and this decision was made in the general interest.

At that time, the French president did not say that he could do nothing about it because of market forces and that this was the natural tendency. On the contrary, he said that this was not the direction in which he wanted to see French society and all other societies in the world go.

Currently, there is a disillusionment with respect to politics that is the fault of politicians. Obviously I am not talking about all politicians, but about those who, like the Minister of Industry, say that democratic institutions and political power no longer have any influence over economic, environmental and social matters. Not only are they responsible for this disillusionment, but they have also created in the population—this is true in Canada, Quebec, Europe, Latin America and the United States—a protectionist sentiment against opening up markets and borders. For three or four years, the Doha round has been blocked by the inability of governments to turn the people of the countries involved in favour of opening up the markets with rules, of course. Politicians could have made rules, but they did not want to. Because politicians did not want to make rules, the process collapsed.

It primarily collapsed because of the demonstrations in Seattle. But the developing countries said that in the last round, the developed countries had advantages, but had not done what was necessary to open their markets. So the developing countries decided to put a stop to it.

This happened because of the approach adopted by the Minister of Industry and the Conservative government. Not only did this approach lead to the current standstill in WTO and Free Trade Area of the Americas negotiations, but it also led to political disenchantment. This way of thinking is false because if we want to, we can use politics to influence economic, cultural, social and environmental issues. This way of thinking has led to disillusionment among many people who believe that voting is pointless because even citizens' representatives are powerless to help them get through difficult situations.

Unfortunately, politicians like our Minister of Industry and our Prime Minister have caused problems in other areas as well. This is also about transparency. We must not fool ourselves: the sponsorship scandal really hurt the Liberal Party of Canada, especially in Quebec, and that is a good thing. However, unfortunately, it also hurt politicians as a whole.

Our governments have demonstrated their ineptitude. I am referring to the Liberal government, but I have a feeling that the Conservative government is heading in the same direction by trying to fiddle with things. In so doing, they have discredited their own political activities as well as all politicians, and that is a real shame. They got caught red-handed, which is exactly what they deserved.

We are currently facing another situation. With respect to Option Canada, the Prime Minister can launch an independent public inquiry to uncover everything that happened during the 1995 referendum. Let us not forget that the government invested $11 million—no small sum—through Option Canada and the Canadian Unity Council. I would also like to mention that each camp—the yes camp and the no camp—was entitled to $5 million. Option Canada spent as much as both camps combined. In all, the federal government invested over twice as much as the yes camp.

The Prime Minister's refusal to launch an investigation to get to the bottom of this is, understandably, creating doubt among Canadians It suggests that the first thing a government would try to do is hide as much as possible from the public, by creating organizations such as Option Canada, which break the law. This time, it was Quebec's Referendum Act. Theoretically, politicians should be the ones to ensure respect for the law, since parliamentarians are the ones who make the law.

This creates rather serious uneasiness. We saw this uneasiness during the sponsorship scandal. We are seeing it again now, because of the Prime Minister's refusal to create a commission of inquiry to get to the bottom of the Option Canada scandal. This is a second factor in our problem with voter turnout. Unfortunately, more and more people are losing faith in the role of MPs and therefore choose not to vote.

In his response, the minister responsible for economic development said so many things that are out of touch with reality and the facts that, if I were a regular citizen, I would not vote for the Conservatives—I can assure this House that that will never happen, nor have I ever even considered it, in all my years of voting. This creates a degree of cynicism. I will give some examples.

Question period took place barely a few hours ago. I will give the example of one of this government's ministers. Earlier today, the Minister of Industry was in my line of fire, now, it is the Minister of Labour. What did that minister say in response to a question from a Liberal member, who asked him what was happening with the bill on bankruptcy, once known as Bill C-55?

The Minister of Labour stood up and said that everyone agrees, but the Bloc Québécois is blocking the bill. That is absolutely false. The Bloc Québécois is not blocking the bill. The minister is blocking it by digging in his heels on an amendment that the governments of Quebec and the other provinces want in order to ensure that the federal legislation will be consistent with provincial legislation. I have here the proposed amendment on which we worked together with the Government of Quebec. The minister has been aware of this for several weeks now. However, he is misrepresenting reality by saying that the Bloc is preventing the passage of this bill. We are in favour of the bill, but we are also in favour of respecting Quebec's jurisdictions. In his response, the minister completely misrepresented reality. What we are trying to do with this amendment is protect Quebec's power to exclude certain heritage property in bankruptcy situations, to keep RRSPs and RRSFs in comprehensive plans and to respond in a simple and effective manner to the concerns raised by Quebec's finance minister, a Liberal and a federalist. I am talking about Mr. Audet.

Once again, words were taken out of context and reality was misrepresented. Everyone is well aware that the Minister of Labour was not describing reality. Again, they are discrediting the ability of politicians, hon. members, ministers and members of this government in particular, to respond to questions accurately and truthfully.

On other occasions the debate is completely diverted. I am thinking of the Minister of Labour in his role as Minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada.

The Minister of Canadian Heritage and Status of Women was asked about the $60 million over two years for festivals. Some festivals are starting to have serious problems. Mr. Bachand, Quebec's tourism minister, warned Conservative ministers when they come to Quebec not to make too many appearances at festivals because he was not sure they would be welcome. Again, Mr. Bachand is a Liberal and a federalist.

For several days now, we have been trying to ask the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Status of Women why she has been unable to establish criteria to distribute the $30 million allocated to festivals this year. This is true for Quebec, and it is also true for the rest of Canada. Her answers do not really make sense.

My colleague from Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine brought the issue up again by sharing the example of a festival in the Magdalen Islands that lost its permit in a competition because it did not have the necessary funds. Then the Minister of Labour and Minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec—the same minister I was talking about earlier—rose to say that last year, the government invested a certain amount of money to promote the event, but that this year, since the event has already been promoted, it invested a little less. He did not answer the question. The question was for the Minister of Canadian Heritage concerning a new program to replace the old program that the Liberals messed up with the sponsorship scandal. Festivals, exhibitions and cultural events need the government's support. They did not answer the question; they are avoiding the issue.

This sort of conduct has increased in recent years, especially here in Ottawa, and has discouraged many people from voting. It is very clear that by adding two days of advance polling, Bill C-55 will not solve this fundamental problem.

All parliamentarians need to do some serious soul-searching about their ability not only to see the truth for what it is and give honest answers to the questions they are asked, but also to shoulder their responsibilities instead of hiding behind so-called market forces and the inevitable effects of globalization. They are creating a sort of skepticism and defeatism among members of the public. Once again, even though we are seeing this more here in Ottawa than in Quebec City, it will still have an impact if nothing is done to correct things.

I will close by saying that the Prime Minister was asked to apologize for the federal government's actions during the referendum campaign, when the government violated the Referendum Act. He refused to do so. I am happy, though, that this afternoon, the Premier of Quebec, Jean Charest, condemned the violations of the Referendum Act, even though he had initially had the same reaction as the Prime Minister. I believe that his response may signal that politics will be cleaned up. It is to be hoped that a new generation of politicians—and I am not referring to age—will change these practices and promote greater voter participation in our electoral process.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

May 30th, 2007 / 4:15 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Stephen Owen Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, the debate on Bill C-55 provides the opportunity for us to have a wider debate as well on democratic reform.

However we might support the bill, and I support it very strongly to give greater opportunities for individual electors to get to the polls and vote, there is a difficulty with the government's approach to democratic reform as a whole. This is one other example of issues being brought to the House in both a piecemeal fashion, instead of a comprehensive way, as well as in a way that has involved no consultation with the other parties, the provinces or the public in general.

It is passing strange that we have seen a series of piecemeal bills not dealing comprehensively with either Senate reform, electoral reform or parliamentary reform, but trying to nick them off one at a time. They are done in the name of greater public engagement, when the public, nor Parliament, nor the other parties and provinces are engaged in consultation beforehand to see what might be the best way to move forward to ensure that these various elements of electoral, parliamentary and Senate reform are going ahead in a comprehensive way that makes sense with each other and do not give rise to unintended or, even worse, intended consequences of the government.

Let us look at this approach with respect to other aspects of, in this case, electoral reform. Cooperation and collaboration is immensely important, especially in this complex federation in which are fortunate enough to live. We have many levels of government, constitutional divisions of power and high sensitivities to overlapping powers and impacts that actions and legislation in one level or order of government may have on another. That is why it is so important to have full consultation. Let me speak to a few.

Bill C-56 would attempt to better reflect the constitutional principle of representation by population by adding extra seats to British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario. This sounds like, in constitutional principle, a very valid objective with which to go forward.

It can be said that this is something within the individual competence of the Parliament of Canada with which provincial and territorial governments do not have to give their consent. However, that completely misses the complex nature of our country and the need for collaboration among different levels of government to make things happen in a way that best reflects the interests of the whole country and does not lead to any unintended consequences.

Bill C-56 has been introduced and it sounds good. I am a member of Parliament from British Columbia and British Columbia is to get seven extra seats to bring it up to representation by population, as with the five extra seats in Alberta. However, almost immediately we get a unanimous vote in the motion condemning this by the National Assembly of Quebec. Within a week of that, we get both the Conservative leader in the Ontario legislature plus the Premier of Ontario saying that they are against it and are considering legal action on the basis that this is inappropriate.

Since the bill has been discussed, we have heard in the last two weeks concern expressed from members from the prairie provinces, Manitoba and Saskatchewan. They feel their relative influence in the House may be slipping even though their absolute numbers stay the same. We have also heard from MPs from Atlantic Canada who may be protected in certain ways from having their absolute numbers slip, but are worried about their declining influence in the House.

That is not to say they all have to be completely taken into full account. There may be, and obviously is in this case, some kind of negotiation and collaboration that has to go forward so the range of interests in the House, reflecting the interests of the different regions of the country, is properly protected and balanced. But that requires consultation.

That is why we would like Bill C-56 to go to committee before second reading, so there can be the fullest scope for the consultation to take place and that we in committee, as members of Parliament individually, can consult with the various provinces that have various information on it.

One of the most foundational issues of conflict resolution, and there seems to be conflict in this case, is that we involve everyone in the discussion who is affected by it. They will be interested in it and perhaps have the best information about it, without trying to prejudge that.

I raise that as an issue, as a bit of a paradox of putting forward legislation that is meant to make things more democratic, when in fact it is cutting off a prior consultation that would be effective in making the democracy more effective.

That takes me to issues of the Senate, and they were raised by the government House leader. He raised the issue of Bill S-4, which would limit the terms of senators. Let me take a step back and again reflect that this is piecemeal and without adequate consultation.

There is a complaint that this has been stuck in the Senate for a year. In fact, a very important motion was put before the Senate, which is very much related to this, by former Senator Jack Austin and the sole remaining Progressive Conservative senator, Senator Lowell Murray. It would look to the addition of seats to western Canada in the Senate, to bring some proportionality to the regions of Canada, which was intended by our founding fathers, the Fathers of Confederation.

That raises the issue of distribution again, which makes it very clear why piecemeal approaches to Senate reform, electoral reform and parliamentary reform are so inappropriate. If we look at the Senate, there are three critical areas of the other place that must be respected if we are to have change. I think we all agree, including members of the Senate, that a modern democracy should not have a legislative assembly which is non-elected. It is how we get there that is important. To get there, we have to deal with three things simultaneously in Senate reform.

One is the selection process, and that could be both the terms and the fixed dates that have been suggested in Bill S-4. It also could become the selection process and the consultative elections that have been suggested in Bill C-43. The problem is that this is only one of three categories.

Another category is the mandate of the other place. Is it to be, as it is now, a mirror image of the legislative authority, only altered by convention of this place, that creates the expectation of deference at some stage after full debate in both places, or is there to be something different?

If it exactly the same, and electoral legitimacy is equal by elected senators or consultatively elected senators, however Bill C-43 puts it, then we will risk gridlock and that we must avoid. To deal with that, we must have either different mandates or offset mandates or a dispute resolution clause to deal with problems that might arise between the Houses of Parliament. Therefore, a second stage is neglected in just dealing with Bill S-4 or Bill C-43.

A third area, and perhaps in many ways in terms of the health of our Confederation the most important, is the distribution of Senate seats across the country. I notice in Bill C-56 there is an attempt to arrange for better representation. I say attempt because, as I have mentioned, the government has not done the proper consultation to get the very best answer for that. There is no enthusiasm whatsoever to contemporaneously, in looking for Senate elections or Senate set terms, look at distribution, and most important, the extraordinarily inequitable distribution across the country with respect to western Canada.

It is hard to imagine that members of the government, who represent ridings in western Canada, could possibly be in favour, including the Prime Minister, of trying to give more status, more validity to the other place as a legislative body without first fixing the inequitable distribution across the west. That is passing strange, but it is another example of doing things piecemeal without proper consultation and without dealing with them comprehensively.

Let us look for a moment at electoral reform, because this is immensely important to members of the House. It is part of the old Bill C-55, which attempts to address a small corner of electoral reform.

We have a suggested consultative process by the government, which put out tenders to hire a polling firm and then hire, some would say, a think tank. In fact, it turns out to be Frontier Centre in Winnipeg, which has published works against notions of proportionality to amend, improve and reform our electoral system. It is to hold so-called deliberative, closed door meetings in a few centres in the country, which is somehow some kind of a substitute for a meaningful public discussion on the very desperately needed electoral reform in our country.

It is worse than that, because it is in the face of two other clear opportunities, one is an exercise and another is before us, to do this properly. Again, in reverse order, we do not pretend to consult and then bring in some kind of response to that without going to the people and to the opposition and looking to parliamentary committees and other expert bodies first. This is a jury-rigged, false consultation, which will do nothing for the health of our elective democracy.

Let us look at what the other options are. The Law Commission of Canada is highly respected internationally as one of the foremost law reform bodies in the Commonwealth. Its reports are watched and followed in many other countries. After extensive real public consultation and extensive research here and internationally on electoral reform, in 2004 it published a very thoughtful deliberative piece on a mixed member proportional system. This is an independent statutory body with the responsibility to consult, to do research and to report publicly to Parliament and the Minister of Justice. It reported more than three years ago now and there has been no response, no reflection of any attention being given to that good work.

In 2004 we also had the Speech from the Throne, which was amended in the sense of its application to include electoral reform as a prime objective of the 38th Parliament. Unfortunately and unnecessarily it was interrupted by an election that was commenced in 2005. The work of a special committee to do the proper consultation on behalf of all the House of Commons was cut short.

We should be working with the opposition parties, and I hope with the government, to have a legislative committee, perhaps the procedure and House affairs committee, hold those consultations, rather than the closed door, jury-rigged type of consultation that has been set forward. That is important. Let us have the House involved. Let us look to real public consultation and let us get moving on real electoral reform.

Maybe in the wisdom of that deliberative discussion with Canadians, we can reaffirm the first past the post system we have now, but let us do it when we know there are real strains and real non-representative aspects to it. Let us have that conversation and make it a real deliberative one.

Let me turn to another aspect of democratic reform. This is one about which we have heard so much rhetoric from the government, and that is the Federal Accountability Act, Bill C-2. It is almost Orwellian in the way that aspects of this act, and aspects that certainly this side of the House supported, are actually damaging and non-democratic.

I start with observing that Bill C-2, the accountability act, got royal assent on December 14, 2006. Members will recall that this was following a number of months of very careful deliberations and amendments passed by the Senate and then accepted by the House. I think there were more than 50 of them.

There was constant deriding of the other place for having delayed that important piece of democratic legislation and yet one of the absolutely most important foundational parts of the accountability act was the appointments commission. This would apply the same principles around public service appointments that the Public Service Commission applies: objective criteria, competitive processes, transparence, real accountability. That appointments commission which was part of the act in a form that in fact the NDP put forward, a form that I put forward as an amendment were not accepted. That was five months ago .

I will end with this reflection on non-accountability. After five months, there is no appointments commission and yet every week there are dozens and dozens and dozens of order in council appointments that should have been subject to that merit based, objective, non-partisan appointments commission. What kind of accountability is that? What kind of democratic reform is that?

While I have no difficulty supporting the idea of greater advance opportunities for people to vote to increase voter opportunity and therefore voter turnout, we have to look at the whole picture and, if we are to be taken seriously as a modern democracy, deal with this in a comprehensive way.