An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (verification of residence)

This bill was last introduced in the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in September 2008.

Sponsor

Peter Van Loan  Conservative

Status

This bill has received Royal Assent and is now 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 allow an elector or voucher who provides a piece of identification that does not prove his or her residence to use that piece of identification to prove his or her residence provided that the address on the piece of identification is consistent with information related to the elector or voucher that appears on the list of electors.

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.

July 15th, 2008 / 10:05 a.m.
See context

Marc Mayrand Chief Electoral Officer, Elections Canada

Thank you.

Good morning, Mr. Chair and members of the committee.

I am accompanied today, as the chair indicated, by Mr. François Bernier, the legal services director at Elections Canada.

I was requested by the chair of this committee to assist members in the study of the review and treatment of election financial returns and the key considerations involved in the review of these returns. In discussions prior to my appearance, the chair requested that I provide a detailed explanation of the aspects of the legislative and administrative framework that relate to political financing under the Canada Elections Act and, more specifically, of the treatment of election expenses.

This will be the subject of the first part of the presentation. I hope it will provide the committee with a better understanding of the operating context in which decisions are made regarding reimbursement of electoral expenses. I will then turn to the subject of particular decisions of interest to the committee and explain how they relate to the legislative and administrative framework.

The mandate of Elections Canada is to administer the Canada Elections Act in a fair, consistent, transparent and impartial manner. As an officer of Parliament, my first duty is to serve Parliament and Canadians. While the committee is reviewing the activities of public office holders, I trust it will understand that in my capacity as Chief Electoral Officer of Canada, I can only speak to electoral matters. I will not comment on ongoing investigations of the Commissioner of Elections Canada, or the specifics of the case currently before the Federal Court. As well, I will not deal with any individual cases.

Mr. Chairman, with your concurrence, I will now proceed with the first part of my presentation. The committee has already received a presentation that extends to a number of pages—42 pages, I believe. So I won't read each of those pages, but I will simply make the main comments on the essential aspects of the presentation.

The presentation will contain four parts: first, the objective itself, as well as a part dealing with the key principles underlying the legislation and the administration of that legislation, the key aspects of the legislation, and, lastly, the aspects of the administration of that legislation. I will also provide a brief conclusion.

I think it's fair to say that the first hundred years of federal democracy in Canada have been focused almost exclusively on the conduct of elections and on progressively expanding the franchise--the right to vote--to all Canadian citizens. In fact, the right to vote became a fundamental right protected by the Constitution and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982.

This focus continues today, as the agenda of the 39th Parliament attests. For example, Bill C-2, the Federal Accountability Act, dealt with the appointment of returning officers, who are now the responsibility of the Chief Electoral Officer. It also dealt, under Bill C-31, with the integrity of voting. It also dealt with the issue of proof of residence, under Bill C-18. And it is considering, currently, Bill C-6, which deals with visual ID; Bill C-16, which deals with advanced polling; and Bill C-20, an important piece of legislation that deals with the appointment of senators. This is all to show that there is still a focus on the electoral process and the conduct of elections.

However, over the last 40 years, growing concerns have been expressed with regard to the influence of money in the electoral process. These concerns have led Parliament to incrementally design a regulatory regime to govern the use of money during electoral campaigns. We are now at the point at which Canada is at the forefront among mature democracies in how it regulates the influence of money in election campaigns. This regulatory regime of political financing was initially built in the seventies, and it has since witnessed repeated legislative reform that continues today. Again, this Parliament passed Bill C-2, which deals with contributions and gifts and which banned contributions from corporations and unions. It is also considering another important aspect of the financial regime, under Bill C-29, with regard to loans.

My purpose today will be to deal with a particular and key aspect of our political financing regime, that of election expenses and their treatment by Elections Canada under the Canada Elections Act. More specifically, I will touch on the legislative framework, the administrative framework, and the compliance and enforcement program.

There are certain principles underlying the legislative and administrative framework. First, to maintain public trust, are transparency and fairness. These principles are expressed through various provisions in the act that deal with public disclosure, expense limits, public funding, compliance and enforcement, and, something that is often forgotten, the distinctiveness of political entities. Each has its own regime, with distinct rights and obligations.

Transparency is about disclosure. It's about providing information to electors on candidates, parties, and other entities. It involves, with regard to financial matters, reporting revenues and expenses and the sources of those.

Fairness is the key principle of a healthy democracy. In our democracy, fairness is about allowing political parties' candidates to have an opportunity to present their visions, their policies, and their values to electors. What those are and how they are communicated to electors is the exclusive domain of political parties and candidates. However, legislation seeks to ensure that the competition among political parties and candidates to secure the vote of electors be conducted within certain rules designed to create and maintain a level playing field. One area of legislation, again, over the last 40 years, has been the adoption of rules that will foster this level playing field. These rules deal specifically with how money can be raised and how it can be spent in order for them to present ideas and reach out to electors.

The Canada Elections Act passed it to the CEO to administer these complex rules, with a view to ensuring that key principles are maintained at all times. In doing so, Elections Canada must act fairly and impartially and exercise due diligence at all times. When it finds evidence of non-compliance and possible offences, it must exercise the authorities provided by the legislation in accordance with all the requirements of fairness and due process, within the strict limits of the law. To do otherwise would undermine not only Elections Canada as an institution but also the democratic process itself.

Let me turn now to the key aspect of the legislative framework as it relates to the treatment of election expenses and the role these key principles play in the electoral law.

The relevant aspects of the legislative framework involve key definitions, a brief discussion of duties of official agents, the notion and concept of election expense limits, the concept of transfers among political entities, reporting requirements for those political entities, entitlement to reimbursement, and key differences between parties and candidates. Note that some misunderstand the system and tend to view parties and their candidates as a single entity, yet the law makes clear distinctions and establishes distinct responsibilities, benefits, and obligations for parties and candidates. For the most part, these are treated independently of one another. This is particularly true in disclosure and reporting requirements, which are different for parties and candidates. Access to public funding is different. Spending limits are set differently for candidates and parties. To some extent, rules governing the raising of contributions are different for candidates and parties.

Let's first look at key definitions. Under candidate electoral campaign expenses, there are three key definitions that need to be considered: candidate electoral campaign expenses; candidate election expenses; and candidate personal expenses.

Electoral campaign expenses are expenses reasonably incurred in the election and include election expenses themselves and personal expenses. There are electoral campaign expenses that are neither election expenses nor personal expenses. An example is the audit expense in excess of the subsidy. It is an electoral expense, but it is not an election expense. There is also the rent of an office outside the rent period. For example, when a candidate rents an office before the writ is dropped or carries the office after the polling date, these are electoral campaign expenses, but they are not election expenses.

An election expense includes any cost incurred or non-monetary contribution received to the extent that the property or service for which the cost was incurred or non-money contribution received is used to directly promote or oppose a candidate during an election period. The expression “directly promote” does not refer only to expenses incurred to expressly urge voters to vote for or against a particular candidate. It has a much broader meaning that encompasses all expenses that directly assist in getting a candidate elected. For example, it includes the rental of office space, equipment in that office, the computers, the supplies, and the remuneration of campaign workers during the election period. All such expenses directly promote the candidate and are thus election expenses for the purpose of the act.

The third definition has to do with personal expenses. Personal expenses of a candidate are his or her electoral campaign expenses other than election expenses reasonably incurred in relation to his or her campaign. Personal expenses include travel and living expenses, child care, and similar expenses.

It's important to note that there are three categories of expenses, each with its own definition and standards. Election expenses must generally be disclosed. They are subject to a reimbursement, and they are subject to spending limits. Personal expenses must be disclosed, and they are subject to a reimbursement. Residual expenses that are neither personal nor for an election must be disclosed, but they are not subject to a reimbursement. Again, I mentioned previously the subsidy for audit.

Another key concept in looking at election expenses is the notion of transfer. The act allows specific political entities of the same political affiliation to move resources amongst themselves without being subject to the restriction on the source and amounts of contributions set out in the act. A contribution is the amount of money received that is not repayable; otherwise it would be a loan. It is the amount of money received that is not repayable, or the commercial value of a service or a property, or the use of property or money to the extent that it is provided without charge or at less than commercial value.

Again, this is a new, essential concept--commercial value. How is commercial value defined? It's the lowest amount charged for a property or service by the person who is in the business of providing that good or service. Alternatively, it's what another commercial provider charges for the property or service who is not in that business.

At the end of the electoral campaign, candidates must file an electoral campaign return. That return is an account of all financial transactions for an election. It consists of a form that has 15 pages and is divided into four parts. It's a bit longer than even a tax return, so there's a level of complexity attached to filing those returns.

Let me give you an example of how these concepts can come together. Let's assume that a party pools the purchase of lawn signs for its candidates and offers those lawn signs to candidates. They have the option of accepting the package or turning it down. Let's say one candidate agrees to purchase 1,000 signs for his campaign and that those signs have a value of $10,000; however, the candidate can only afford $2,000. Provided the signs are used during the campaign to promote the candidate, the return will have to show the transaction as follows. First of all, the election expense will be $10,000 for the candidate, because he received those 1,000 signs and used them during the campaign. That's the amount shown as the expense. Within that he will show the paid expense as $2,000. He will show a non-monetary transfer of $8,000, which is the commercial value of the signs that were transferred from the party to the candidate. The amount shown as the expense will be counted against the spending limit and it will be eligible for reimbursement. The amount shown as non-monetary will count against the spending limit, but it will not be reimbursed since nothing was paid for that amount.

This is a very simple example of how those transactions have to be reflected in the return.

To emphasize the critical role of money and the need to rigorously control inflows and outflows and ensure that financial activities are strictly within the constraints of the legislation, the legislation provides or requires that each candidate appoint an official agent. In fact, a candidate cannot officially run as a candidate without having appointed an official agent. This is a must under the legislation.

An official agent is much more than a bookkeeper. In fact, if we can do an analogy, he or she could be seen as a treasurer or a financial comptroller. You have on slide 9 the key duties of an official agent.

Generally, the official agent is responsible for controlling all electoral campaign expenses; that is, for a candidate's campaign, only the official agent or the candidate or someone authorized in writing can incur an electoral campaign expense. So you will understand that to fulfill his or her duties, the official agent must of course be familiar with all the concepts and the definitions I mentioned earlier and must develop a good understanding of the underlying principles of the legislation.

Let me talk briefly about expense limits. The first point to note is that there are separate limits for parties and candidates and that those limits apply to election expenses, whether paid or unpaid, and include the commercial value of non-monetary contributions or transfers.

Elections Canada calculates those limits for each in accordance with a formula set out in the act. I will not go through the specifics of the formula, except to say that, for candidates, that formula takes account of the number of electors, the population density in the riding, and the geography of the riding, and provides an adjustment for inflation.

Spending limits for parties are a little bit simpler to calculate. It's the number of electors in the ridings for which candidates are presented by the party.

For the 39th election—that's slide 13—the average expense limit for candidates per electoral district was a bit over $81,000, and for a registered party that endorsed a candidate in all 308 ridings, the limit was set at a bit over $18 million. What does that mean? One may be tempted to say that in total a party having 308 candidates could spend altogether up to $18 million for the party and up to $24 million, almost $25 million, given the limits of each and every candidate, for a total of $43 million. However, to look at it in this manner would be mistaken, as the law does not consider the political family as one entity but rather, in this case and this example, as 308 distinct, separate entities with their own rights and obligations.

Let me talk briefly about transfers. The Canada Elections Act recognizes the organic link that exists in the family of political entities, allowing them to move funds, goods, and services among themselves without treating those movements of resources as contributions. The provision of resources from one political party to another, which is not specifically provided for under the act, constitutes a contribution and is subject to the eligibility and limits set out in the act.

Transfer of expenses is not permitted, as this would render the distinct limit of parties and candidates meaningless. As you can see, it is absolutely essential to keep all those definitions and concepts as we look through various returns provided at the end of electoral campaigns.

You will find on slide 15 a table showing the transfers, what is allowed and what is not allowed. Clearly, you will see that transfers between parties and candidates are perfectly allowed by the Canada Elections Act. It has some standards, but they can move resources freely between entities.

You will note that for candidates, these movements of resources can start only after they've been officially declared candidates, meaning that their candidacy has been registered with the returning officer. You will also note that transfers to candidates after polling day are allowed only to pay for unpaid claims and for nothing else.

You will find again at slide 16 another way of looking at it. There is a triangle on that slide that shows the relationship between the party, the candidates, and the EDAs, and the respective rights and obligations for each. You will see clearly that the transfer of money, goods, and services among all three entities is allowed. You will also note that the transfer of expenses is not allowed, and you will see that Elections Canada is overseeing, through various programs, how the money flows among entities.

I should point out that for the 39th election, Elections Canada dealt with 15 registered parties that had over 1,200 electoral district associations, and with over 1,600 candidates, each with their respective agents.

On page 17 you will find a table of the transfers reported in Canada through returns for the 39th election. You will see that all parties represented in the House have transferred resources with their affiliated entities. These have taken place between candidates and parties, between candidates and EDAs, and between parties and EDAs.

Message from the Senate
Royal Assent

December 14th, 2007 / 1:15 p.m.
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Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

I have the honour to inform the House that when the House did attend His Honour the Deputy to Her Excellency the Governor General in the Senate chamber His Honour was pleased to give, in Her Majesty's name, the royal assent to the following bills:

Bill S-2, An Act to amend the Canada-United States Tax Convention Act, 1984--Chapter 32;

Bill C-15, An Act respecting the exploitation of the Donkin coal block and employment in or in connection with the operation of a mine that is wholly or partly at the Donkin coal block, and to make a consequential amendment to the Canada--Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Resources Accord Implementation Act--Chapter 33;

Bill C-35, An Act for granting to Her Majesty certain sums of money for the federal public administration for the financial year ending March 31, 2008--Chapter 34;

Bill C-28, An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 19, 2007 and to implement certain provisions of the economic statement tabled in Parliament on October 30, 2007--Chapter 35;

Bill C-12, An Act to amend the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act, the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act, the Wage Earner Protection Program Act and chapter 47 of the Statutes of Canada, 2005--Chapter 36;

Bill C-18, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (verification of residence)--Chapter 37.

It being 1:20 p.m., the House stands adjourned until Monday, January 28, at 11:00 a.m., pursuant to Standing Orders 28(2) and 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 1:20 p.m.)

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

December 13th, 2007 / 3:05 p.m.
See context

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Is it agreed that Bill C-18 be deemed read a third time and passed?

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

December 13th, 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

I would seek the unanimous consent of the House for the following motion. I move:

That Bill C-18 be deemed read a third time and passed.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-18, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (verification of residence), be read the third time and passed.

Business of the House
Oral Questions

December 13th, 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, there is a response to the Thursday question and then I will get to the specifics that the member has asked about as part of our business to attend to Bill C-18.

This entire week has been a week of delivering results. I am pleased to see that we have done that this week. The House performed in an exemplary fashion on Tuesday, I believe, when we dealt with the legislation on the national research universal reactor to get that safely restarted so tens of thousands of Canadians and people all around the world can benefit from the availability of isotopes.

Earlier today, we voted on the budget implementation bill.

This bill reduces taxes for Canadians by, for example, decreasing the GST to 5%, and reduces personal and corporate taxes. The bill is now in the Senate. The government hopes that the upper chamber will examine it quickly so that it becomes law on January 1.

As well, just before question period, the House passed Bill S-2, implementing a tax treaty. It is now awaiting royal assent. It will help provide certainty and benefits for Canadian business.

We hope that in a few moments our verification of residence bill for elections will pass the House. This bill is important because it solves the problem of verifying the residences of voters who do not have a civic address on their identification. I know that all members want to ensure that legitimate voters are able to exercise their fundamental rights.

We will have business when we return on January 28. We will continue to focus on the priorities that were laid out in the Speech from the Throne.

They include: tackling crime and strengthening the security of Canadians, providing effective economic leadership for a prosperous future, strengthening the federation and our democratic institutions, improving the environment and the health of Canadians and strengthening Canada's sovereignty and place in the world.

Before we go to the motion, I would like to recognize the work done by all members of the House over the past year. We have delivered results in 2007, and the week's theme was accurate.

While at times the activities and debates do get heated and tense, I know that all members have the best interests of their constituents at heart and that all members are working hard to make Canada a better place to live, work in and raise a family.

Since this is the last Thursday statement of the year, I want to take the opportunity to wish all members of the House, including the House leaders in particular, with whom I work closely, and you, Mr. Speaker, the staff and the pages of this great chamber, and the people of Canada a merry Christmas and a happy new year.

Business of the House
Oral Questions

December 13th, 2007 / 3:05 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Wascana, SK

Mr. Speaker, perhaps instead of the normal Thursday question, I wonder if the government House leader would be prepared to see if there is a disposition in the House to deem Bill C-18 to be read a third time and passed. Then there might also be a disposition to see the clock as 5:30 p.m.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

December 13th, 2007 / 1:35 p.m.
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NDP

Charlie Angus Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, my colleague, in representing an area like Cape Breton, will know the problems. I do not know where Elections Canada gets its maps from sometimes but I know that in my riding people are sent to polling stations 40 or 50 kilometres up the road. The result of that is that they simply do not vote or, if they do try to vote in their own town, they are told they cannot even though they have been in that town their whole life, and they end up not voting. That is a very serious issue.

When Bill C-31 was brought forward, our party brought forward a number of amendments to try to make the bill workable because at the end of the day, as I keep repeating, our job is to make legislation that works and that is practical.

When we found that there was not that much interest in addressing the issues we were raising, the fact that numerous people would not meet this new requirement and we needed to fix the problem, we ended up voting against that bill because we felt that it would come back to haunt us. It has already come back to haunt us twice.

The other astounding testimony that was given just the other day on Bill C-18 by Jim Quail was that this was now facing a charter challenge. It was going to court. Again, no one seemed interested in asking him any questions about the fact that we might get legislation that gets its rear-end kicked all over the courts. However, I asked him questions and there was a clear legal precedent about any interference in the right to vote.

Once again, if we are going to make laws, we need to ensure they stand up to scrutiny and the test of time. Unfortunately, Bill C-18 could have done it, and we were certainly willing to work at it, but at the end of the day I think we will be back to square one. We will still have problems with the way the vote has come down.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

December 13th, 2007 / 1:30 p.m.
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NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Timmins—James Bay for the incredible work that he did at the committee in trying to correct the serious flaws in the bill.

Bill C-18 has a bad history. It started with Bill C-31 when the government moved on legislation that was supposedly based on incidents of voter fraud. I was at some of those committee meetings where we asked questions on whether there was voter fraud going on across the country. Elections Canada told us that there were only isolated incidents and yet that original bill was brought in to a crushing effect. Hundreds of thousands of people, including in my own community of East Vancouver, are now disenfranchised as a result of the original bill and would still be disenfranchised as a result of Bill C-18 that is before us today.

I want to thank the hon. member for the valiant efforts that he made in committee to ensure that some witnesses were allowed to point out the serious flaws in this process and in this bill. However, it seems that this has fallen on deaf ears. Not only has the government been in denial about the impact of this bill, but so has the official opposition and the BQ.

It is quite stunning to see that other parties in this House have refused to acknowledge the disastrous impact of this bill and the impact it will have on people in urban areas, as well as rural areas, but because the issue in urban areas was never addressed we are now disenfranchising people.

I would like to ask the hon. member to comment from the point of view of what he heard from the witnesses and what he will see as the impact of this bill on people in urban areas.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-18, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (verification of residence), be read the third time and passed.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

December 13th, 2007 / 12:40 p.m.
See context

NDP

Charlie Angus Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I normally preface all my speeches by saying that I am very proud to rise in the House and speak to a bill; however, I am not very proud to rise and speak to this bill, because we are speaking about the increasingly dismal trade of politics as it is practised in Ottawa.

When someone does a job badly, and it is found out that the person has done it badly, it is incumbent upon the person to fix it. I have done many different jobs over the years and I have been proud of all of them.

When I was a dishwasher, if the cook did not like the way I washed the dishes, they came back to me right away and I would do them again, otherwise I was not going to hold that job.

A house builder would not get away with putting up a wall wrong. The foreman would come in and determine whether the wall was built right or wrong. If it was built wrong, it would be torn down and rebuilt.

As a musician, boy oh boy, musicians know what would happen if they did not satisfy the crowd on a Saturday night. They would hear about it right then and there and if they were going to keep those gigs, they had to improve.

What is our job here in Ottawa? Our job is to bring forth legislation. We have to do due diligence on legislation. It is incumbent upon all of us at a certain point to check our partisan hats. We need to examine proposed legislation and bring perspectives from our regions. Each of us represents different areas of the country. There are many different political and cultural points of view. We have to look at legislation and determine its efficacy, because at the end of the day, it will become the law of the land. That is our foremost job in the House, and it has to be undertaken with the utmost seriousness.

When we deliver a law that has failed badly, it is incumbent upon all of us in the House to see what went wrong, to step back and see how the mistake happened in order that we can rectify it and take pride in our work.

Unfortunately, as I said, this is becoming an increasingly dismal trade because it seems that when a mistake is made, we do not look at what went wrong. We turn it over to our spin-meisters and our wedge issue people to try to re-write history and what happened. The path to understand how the mistake was made becomes deliberately obscured. When it becomes deliberately obscured, we are doing a disservice, because our fundamental job is to represent the best interests of this country in terms of bringing forward legislation that is applicable, that is just, and that in the field will actually help our citizens.

With respect to Bill C-18, I set out with some high hopes that we would rectify the problems of a badly flawed bill, BillC-31. My colleagues from the Bloc say that Bill C-31 was brought in to escape issues of widespread fraud. The committee examined issues of fraud because fraud is a very serious threat to the health of democracy. Fraud has to be sought out wherever it exists. It cannot be sought out with vague old wives' tales or writing on the bathroom wall. It has to be proven. It is incumbent upon the Chief Electoral Officer to hunt down any cases of fraud.

The committee looked at the issue of fraud and found one case which occurred in 2006. There were no cases in 2004. There were three cases in 2000. That is not to make light of electoral fraud. We trusted the Chief Electoral Officer to investigate and study any allegations out there. We came back with Bill C-31.

At the time, New Democrats were concerned that people would be disenfranchised. At the end of the day, regardless of what my colleagues in the Bloc say, the right to vote is an inalienable right in Canada. It is enshrined in the charter as one of our fundamental rights. We have to ensure that when people have the right to vote, they are not blocked from voting.

When Bill C-31 came out, lo and behold, we found there were not one but two major problems with it. A million rural residents were not going to be able to vote, thanks to a lack of due diligence in the committee's work. Then there was the issue of the wearing of veils when voting. Now we have Bill C-6. We have a bill that became law and within a few months we already have to have two other band-aid laws to repair the fundamental flaws in the first bill. When we look at Bill C-18, we have to ask ourselves whether it will fix the problem and if it will do it right. That is our obligation at the end of the day.

As referred to many times, the discussion on Bill C-18, is to fix a problem for rural residents. When anyone raises the issue of homeless people, there seems to be a fundamental balancing act. Do we worry about a few thousand homeless people in Vancouver or do we worry about a million residents in rural Canada?

However, nowhere in Bill C-18 does it speak to the issue of rural residents. It speaks to an act to amend the Canada Elections Act, the verification of residents. The verification of residents is the key element that leads to the potential disenfranchisement, as the electoral officer said in one case, of a million rural Canadians, including urban Canadians, first nations Canadians and then homeless people.

I will not to focus too much on Bill C-31, but we need to know where we came from in order to know why we still have a fundamental problem. I know members of the House who were on the committee voted for it, but after questioned how this happened, that they must have missed a translation at third reading.

They did not miss it. They were not interested. We spoke about it. We brought forward witnesses who said that there would be problems with the ability of people to meet the onerous requirements of Bill C-31.

I spoke to Bill C-31. I am not patting myself on the back, but perhaps I was just too lazy to get the records of what everyone else said. However, I know what I said, so I will bring it up, and it is fairly straightforward.

When we discussed Bill C-31, I spoke of the problems we had in the rural parts of my riding and in other communities with mailboxes and the difficulties people would have in voting. That was on the record for many people. I spoke of the issues of photo IDs and the fact that on the James Bay coast, an area I represent, up to 30% of the communities did not even have health cards.

We help them fill out the health cards. The Ontario government does not even bother to do photographs for first nations people. It sends them little trillium stickers because it is cheaper than getting photo IDs. Therefore, we had raised the issue of the problems of identification in these isolated areas.

I had said at that time that I would invite anybody to go into Fort Albany and ask people their addresses. People do not have street addresses and that is how they get by. We find in many of our communities, they simply do not even have the most basic registration that is being required.

We were bringing forward the perspective of our regions and our constituents to bring a sense of reality to the debate. At the time, I remember it was ignored and overlooked. In fact, there was a fair amount of snickering. The old NDP was standing in the way of progress again.

I will refer to evidence at committee at the time from the Nishnawbe-Aski Nation, which was ignored. Witnesses said that the voting changes to Bill C-31 were:

—based on the assumption that the majority of Canadian electors live in urban centres. Until government services are made available in an equitable manner to our people living in remote communities and the amendments to the act reflect the realities of the lives of our people...I suggest that the committee, if possible, visit some of our communities to better understand the challenges we face in our role as Canadian citizens.

They were ignored.

Suddenly now we have a situation where there is an embarrassment that the bill has failed. Therefore, we were all called together to try to fix it. The issue of fixing it is paramount, but again we have to do due diligence. How do we do due diligence? We have to bring forward witnesses. This is not stalling. This is ensuring that we do not fall into the same mistakes that were made.

The process we went through with the bill was a very dismal, petty process. The Liberal whip tried to push the vote through without any witnesses. How can we go through with no witnesses when 80% of the people in Nunavut have been told they are not enfranchised to vote? Would we not think it would be incumbent upon us in the House, after having made such a colossal error, to at least have a witness who can speak to the bill and say whether or not it addresses the problem? However, no, it was a desire to get this thing done and out of the road by Christmas.

I brought forward four witnesses to speak to the bill because I felt the issue was whether the vouching system would work with what we had to address. There is no problem with the rest of the amendments to Bill C-18. We support the need to get this thing fixed, but the issue is whether vouching, in the way it is laid out, will be a practical, realistic solution to the problem.

We had four credible witnesses. There was a fifth witness, and I do not know where he had come from, but he was allowed to speak as well. They were given two minutes each to give their perspective on the bill. They were interrupted many times. They were cut off at the end. At the end of the day the chair basically told them they did not know what they were talking about.

I found that quite a shocking and sad testimony. Whether we agree with witnesses in committee or not, they come forward so they can given us a perspective and we can test their points of view. We are legislators, so when a witnesses come, whether they represent what we think is the most far out solution, our role is to test them, to ask them the fundamental questions to see if what they have brought forward to us stands the test of reason. That is how we make legislation.

Ian Boyko, from the Canadian Federation of Students, came forward. In his testimony, he said that to have only two minutes to address the problems with the bill and the vouching for ten of thousands of students who would be disenfranchised, he could not even begin to do it. He said that he would take questions, but nobody asked him a one.

I have never seen anything like this. I have never seen such a lack of interest. The head of the Canadian Federal of Students came to a committee and stated that tens of thousands of university students would be ineligible to vote because Bill C-18 would not address the issues they faced and nobody asked questions.

It is a funny situation when we sit in our committee and talk about encouraging young people to vote and how we can find ways to do that. Yet when they came to speak to us, nobody even had a question for them. They wanted it through.

Another astounding statement was from Jim Quail from the British Columbia Public Interest Advocacy Centre. He said that even if the changes went in, the changes that will address some of the issues we face, 700,000 urban residents would still not possibly meet the test. This is based on what the electoral officer had provided previously, and this does not include the other million people. That is based on 5% who would not meet those requirements because they have moved or whatever.

We heard in our committee on a previous bill that 12% to 15% of the voters in Australia now voted by declaration because of the continual movement in urban areas of people moving in and out or people who do not know anyone. Anyone who has an urban riding is well used to this. Even in the urban part of some of my communities, when I go into a neighbourhood six months after an election, it is almost like a completely different group of people in there. Sometimes I wonder if I am walking down the wrong street. However, a major mobility is happening across the western world.

Australia has identified that 15% of the people now vote by declaration. In declaration voting they swear and oath. There is no way to get them on the voters list. We do not have the old style days when we went out and updated the voting list so we ensured people were on there.

Even when we have the voting list, it is not up to date. Some people have tried to do a mail-out and have received calls from people, cranky as all heck, because the person no longer lives at that address or they have been divorced for years so why would a Christmas card be sent that address. We know the problems with the electoral list.

I saw that recently in Ontario. My wife and I went to vote and, lo and behold, she was not on the electoral list, and the house is in her name. I do not know how that happened, but people who trusts the computers that generate the Elections Canada lists put themselves in much higher hands than I would.

What we see is a problem of people who go to vote and are suddenly not on the list, or people who have moved to places where they do not know people. At the end of the day, they have a right to vote.

Jim Quail said that there would be 700,000 based on what the Elections Canada officer said. He could have been blowing smoke with these claims, but our job as legislators is to test him, question him and engage him. If we think these numbers are wrong, we have to test them. That is the only way we can bring forward legislation. Nobody was interested in what he had to say because members wanted the vote to be over.

This is the same pattern that happened with the previous bill. We end up in a situation where we have not done the due diligence, where we have not answered the fundamental question of whether this will work. That is what the legislation has to be able to prove. It has to prove it will work and ensure that the people, who have a right to vote, are able to vote. If we have not answered those questions satisfactorily, then we have failed in our jobs.

We certainly failed the job on Bill C-31. The problem with Bill C-18 is this. Having not answered the questions of why students will be disenfranchised, or will 700,000 urban residents be affected and how many of the 150,000 homeless people may not be able to vote, we have a serious problem.

The solution being offered is a one voucher system. At face value, it seems a reasonable solution to have someone vouch for another person. I do not have a problem with the concept, but when we make legislation, we have to establish laws that are applicable in the field.

They always say that the camel was a horse designed by a committee. We have had three and four hump camels coming out of our committees because there is such a distinct lack of reality between what we talk about in committee, which is the reality of politics, and what we see in the field. We are all in this business of politics, so we know what the reality is when we go to the voting booths and how the individual poll clerks identify what is acceptable and what is not.

I know a man in Ontario who has lived in the same rural route his whole life. When he went to vote, he was told he was not on the list. He produced his passport and was told a passport was not an acceptable piece of identification. It would get him into Saudi Arabia, but it would not allow him to vote in Ontario. Is this part of the Ontario elections act or is this how they interpret the act? We see the problems in each of these areas.

At the end of the day, the question is whether it works as a piece of legislation. Say I am a student who leaves Timmins—James Bay to go school at the University of Ottawa. After arriving there, I want to vote because the election is on September 15. When I go to vote, I am told I have to have a person vouch for me. What if my neighbour is not there that day or has already voted, then I have to wait on him or I cannot vote.

The example in a rural area is what if I know two people who moved in, but I am only allowed to vouch for one of them? Vouching, at the end of the day, is not practical so we have to go back to the issue of a declaration. Otherwise, people will continue to be disenfranchised. That is why I believe we have failed to do our job with this bill.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

December 13th, 2007 / 12:35 p.m.
See context

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to assure the member that I have read the list of required identification. I also know that many homeless people simply do not have identification, nor do they have a residence. The list is lovely, but if people do not have the identification, then they do not have it.

I want to come back to the member's statements around fraud. One of the things the New Democrats have talked about is that both bills, Bills C-31 and C-18, were using a sledgehammer on a problem that was virtually non-existent.

According to the Chief Electoral Officer, in 2006 there was one case of fraud in the entire country, in 2004 there were zero cases, and in 2000 there were three cases. If the member is aware of this apparently large amount of fraud happening, I wonder if he has brought it to the attention of the Chief Electoral Officer. According to the Chief Electoral Officer's records, there simply are not that many cases out there.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

December 13th, 2007 / 12:30 p.m.
See context

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, there are a few items the member raised which need some correction.

He indicated that the New Democrats were opposed to Bill C-31. As it turns out, it was with very good reason. The bill had some serious problems and now we have Bill C-18 in order to fix the problems in Bill C-31. Part of the solution simply does not address some of the concerns that we raised in Bill C-31.

The solution around having the ability to have one person vouch for one potential voter is just not workable. We talked about this in the past. There are a number of homeless people who often have contact with a street worker or case worker and that person will know 10, 15, or 20 people. If those 10, 15, or 20 people have to go out and find 10, 15 or 20 individuals to vouch for them, they simply will lose their opportunity to vote.

In a recent report, Miloon Kothari indicated that the Government of Canada and provincial governments keep very poor statistics on homeless people. His estimate, and many academics feel that this is grossly underrepresented, is that there are least 150,000 homeless people on the streets of Canada.

Is the member saying that 150,000 people in this country simply should not have the right to vote because they cannot find 150,000 people to vouch for them if they do not have appropriate ID?

The second issue that has come up regards first nations. The member for Timmins—James Bay has raised this issue. Many first nations communities are remote and rural communities. Many first nations do not have the required identification. Some band members do not have status cards. There is a long convoluted process. If they lose their status card, they have to reapply to the Department of Indian Affairs to replace it. Sometimes a band council could provide a letter to vouch for someone, but in many cases it is very difficult for people to get the required identification.

Is the member saying it is okay for a minimum of 150,000 people to potentially lose their right to vote? Is he saying it is okay for first nations, who only in the 1960s gained the right to vote in Canada, to be shut out from voting?

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

December 13th, 2007 / 12:10 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak to Bill C-18 on behalf of the Bloc Québécois. The Bloc supports the principle underlying the bill. The House of Commons passed Bill C-31, which modified the Canada Elections Act. The bill was needed to try to address all questions that Quebeckers and Canadians might have about eligibility to vote.

For the past several years, the federal government's way of holding elections made it practically impossible to guarantee beyond a reasonable doubt that voters were who they claimed to be. That is why we needed Bill C-31, which was passed in February 2007. I will summarize the bill because that is what gave rise to Bill C-18. Sometimes, the government comes up with solutions to problems that have been around for decades. Sometimes there are little problems with those solutions. The problem we are trying to fix with Bill C-18 is one of the little problems caused by Bill C-31.

Why did we want to adopt Bill C-31, and what was its purpose? From now on, people wishing to vote in a federal election will have to show government-issued photo identification, such as a driver's license, that shows their name and home address. Voters who do not have photo identification will have to provide two acceptable pieces of identification to establish their identity and their home address. The Chief Electoral Officer is responsible for publishing a list of acceptable pieces of identification that voters can show at the polling station.

I will read that list out shortly. The Chief Electoral Officer released it for the byelections that took place this fall in a number of places, including Quebec. Several types of identification may be used by individuals who do not have government-issued photo identification, such as a driver's license. As I said, voters can present two pieces of identification that appear on the published list.

Potential voters who do not have two acceptable pieces of identification will be required to declare under oath that they are the person they claim to be. They must also be vouched for by a registered elector. The objective of Bill C-31 was simple. It required a government-issued piece of photo ID, such as a driver's licence. Failing that, it required two pieces of ID from the list supplied by the chief electoral officer—I discussed this earlier—which was published during the byelections in Quebec this fall. If a person could not establish his identity, he had to take an oath in the presence of a person who was eligible to vote, who had a piece of ID and who knew the potential voter.

We thought this seemed appropriate and perfectly enforceable. We did not see a problem with doing things this way. Once again, I will provide the list of original pieces of identification that could be presented:

Health card, social insurance number card, birth certificate, driver’s licence, Canadian passport, certificate of Indian status, certificate of Canadian citizenship or citizenship card, credit/debit card with elector name, Canadian Forces identity card, Veterans Affairs Canada health card, employee card issued by employer, old age security identification card, public transportation card, student ID card, library card, liquor identification card, Canadian Blood Services/Héma-Québec card, hospital card, fishing licence, wildlife identification card, hunting licence, firearm acquisition card/firearm possession card, outdoors card and licences, provincial/territorial identification card, Local Community Service Centre card (CLSC).

Other original documents can also be produced, for example, a credit card statement or bank statement, a utility bill such as a residential telephone or cable television bill or an electricity, gas or water bill, a local property tax assessment, a school, college or university report card or transcript, a residential lease, a residential mortgage statement or agreement, a Canada Child Tax Benefit statement, an income statement or income tax assessment notice, an insurance policy, a government cheque or government cheque stub with the elector’s name, a T4E statement of employment insurance benefits, a Canada Pension Plan statement of contributions or old age security statement, a statement of benefits from a provincial workplace health and safety board, a statement of direct deposit for a provincial occupational injury or disability support program, a vehicle ownership or vehicle insurance card, or an attestation of residence issued by the responsible authorities such as shelters, soup kitchens, student or senior residences, long-term care facilities, aboriginal reserves or work camps.

The list of pieces of identification is very long, therefore, and a person must produce two of them if he does not have a government-issued piece of photo ID. It enables electors to find supporting documents almost anywhere, but if they still cannot, they can go to a polling station and take an oath in the presence of someone who knows the person, has met the requirements and already voted.

We thought, therefore, that we had covered everything when Bill C-31 passed. However, there was one little problem. The pieces of identification had to contain the elector’s residential address, and that was the problem. Almost all of us have addresses with a street name and number. However, there is still one situation that I myself saw when I was the mayor of a small town. It was only in the late 1990s that my town, Notre-Dame-de-la-Paix, got street names in order to have numbers. This was a requirement of the Government of Quebec, which was forcing most of the towns and small communities to have street names. It was expensive because we had to get names through the Commission de toponymie, prepare announcements, make poles and signs and so forth. That is why it had never been done.

So the municipalities of Quebec all entered the modern age. However, in a few of them and in some other regions of Canada, there are still no street names. As a result, the residential address of some people is just Rural Route 1, for example, without any street number or anything because there is none.

It was at the time of the byelections in Quebec, if not before, that we noticed that some electors had this kind of address. Although there were not very many, there could be a problem because they did not have a residential address in the prescribed form.

The purpose of Bill C-18, which we are debating today, is simply to allow a person to vote if he or she has two pieces of identification with the same information on them, such as Rural Route 1 or Rural Route 2. The purpose of the bill is simply to take this reality in a number of communities all across Canada into account.

I have some figures here. Elections Canada tells us that there are about 1,012,989 electors who do not have a residential address that meets the requirements of the Canada Elections Act as set forth in Bill C-31.

The list of electors is compiled by the Chief Electoral Officer, who is certainly well aware that some people have always provided an address that consists of a rural route. When the census is taken, people provide addresses which indicate “rural route 1” or “rural route 2,” and the name of municipality. The chief electoral officer has reported that some 1,012,989 electors have such an address.

In Nunavut, for example, 80% of residents do not have a personal address that conforms to the provisions of Bill C-31 that was adopted in February 2007. In Saskatchewan, some 189,000 electors are in that position, which is 27% of all electors; a significant proportion. In Ontario, this condition affects about 150,000 electors. In Newfoundland and Labrador, it amounts to 23% of the electors. In Quebec, the number is 15,836 electors, or 0.27% of the population, who could be faced with this same problem.

When the chief electoral officer recognized this problem, he drew it to attention of the various political parties. The purpose of Bill C-18 is to correct this anomaly. In doing so, those people who live on rural routes or who only have access to postal boxes—whose address might be “post office box 36” or “post office box 267” and the name of the municipality—which is not a residential address under the requirements of Bill C-31, that is to say, including a street number and street name and the rest, may in future present to Elections Canada workers two pieces of identification that prove their address is the same as the address that appears on the list of electors.

That will finally correct the situation of those 1,012,989 electors and it will conform to the new Bill C-31.

What is difficult to understand is the position of the other parties. I say the other parties but there is one party that is opposed to Bill C-18, the New Democratic Party, which was also opposed to Bill C-31. The argument advanced by the NDP is that we should preserve the traditional practice where there was practically no requirement for any piece of identification. In fact, a person did not need any identification in order to vote. It was enough to make a declaration under oath.

Obviously, there have been complaints for decades. Among others, in Quebec, for a long time there has been an angry outcry over this manner of voting in federal elections. In Quebec—I am referring to the province—a bill almost identical in every detail to Bill C-31 was introduced in the National Assembly in February 2007. Quebec had already decided to deal with this voting issue in order to ensure that the people who vote are the people who are entitled to vote. That is simply what it amounts to. It is a case of avoiding electoral fraud and underhanded practices.

It is difficult to understand how the parties of this House did not see this. Indeed, it is possible some people might have some minor problems. We talked about homeless people. We would like to work with all parties to resolve the problem facing people with no address. This is one way of proceeding. One way of resolving this for such individuals involves having them go to vote with another eligible voter, someone who knows them and can vouch for them. We would like to work to resolve this problem, but we cannot throw away an entire system that has been established to prevent fraud, toss it all away and return to archaic voting procedures that made it nearly impossible to confirm the identity of most voters.

Why not tackle a specific problem that affects perhaps a few thousand voters, without returning to the previous system, which, after all, does not guarantee any security, provides many opportunities for fraud against a vast majority of voters, and focus instead on solving a problem that affects a small number of voters?

Today, with Bill C-31, we are resolving a problem that affects a million voters. That is a significant number. We do not understand why the NDP will not support this.

When Bill C-31 was drafted, no one, not even the legislative staff who prepared it for the government, saw the problem posed by rural addresses and post office boxes. It only became apparent in practice. At that time, a bill was introduced to resolve the problem facing people who do not have a residential address that complies with the provisions of Bill C-31.

First of all, I would like those citizens listening to us to realize that their address is not the issue. They all have a residential address, whether it is a post office box, rural route or other, even though they may not have a street number. In Bill C-31, for the purposes of the Election Act, the residential address had to indicate a street number with a street name, rural route, or concession for it to be recognized as a personal address. When we refer to number 2 or 200 or 2250 on a street or concession, we are speaking of a personal address. When we refer to rural route 2 or a post office box, then it is much more difficult to locate the individual. It is not a personal address. In the case of a post office box, the mail is addressed directly to the post office or to a post office box, which is not necessarily located at the property address. The purpose of Bill C-18 was to correct that.

The Bloc Québécois will support this bill. We are on the eve of a federal election, which will probably take place in the spring. We do not want citizens to be denied the right to vote. When voters arrive with their identification, election workers may not allow them to vote because the address on their identification—even if the same as the address recorded on the electoral lists—would not be recognized as a personal address since it does not contain a street number. They could be refused the right to vote under the pretext that the election workers are not sure that they are who they say they are and they would be asked to swear an oath.

There is a problem, however, and the Chief Electoral Officer has pointed it out very clearly. It is all very well that someone who has a residential address can vouch for them. However, when someone lives in an area, such as Nunavut, where 80% of the territory has no addresses in the required format, even our neighbour cannot vouch for us, because our neighbour also cannot vote because his or her address does not meet the requirements of Bill C-31.

This is a fairly significant problem for part of Quebec, where It affects 15,836 electors, but even more so, for 1,019,000 electors across Canada. That is quite a large number. We hope that this bill will pass as quickly as possible. That should be done before the end of this session, if possible, so that the Senate can give it royal assent. That will allow the bill to come into force for the next federal election, which, as I was saying, will not be called much later than the spring budget, in my opinion.

Obviously, given that situation, there is some real urgency. Our electors should not have to face problems when they go to vote. We saw this to a very small extent, and forgive me for repeating myself, in the byelections in Quebec. As I said, those 15,000 electors throughout Quebec who were affected in the byelections held in Quebec this fall, do not amount to very many people. In a general election, however, the problem would affect a million electors, or nearly 4% of the population. That could cause a bit of anxiety in some communities.

We would not want things to be difficult for election workers. It is already not easy to find election workers. They are often people who are donating their time. Although the government may view the remuneration as generous, when we look at the number of hours they spend getting training and working on election day, the money the Chief Electoral Officer pays does not amount to a lot.

As well, if the voters are putting additional pressure on the election workers because they are unhappy that their address, the one they have always had and use every day, does not let them vote because it does not comply with Bill C-31, their wrath is going to be directed at the entire voting system and the entire electoral system, but in particular the election workers. Those workers do not deserve to have problems with electors who might—quite justifiably—complain. They have all their pieces of identification and their bills. We heard the list that I read out earlier. They have always received their hydro bills, their public utility bills or whatever at that address. But when an elector goes to the polling station, they are told that they do not have a individual street number, no personal address, and that, therefore, they have to find some other way of proving that they are in fact the right person. Everyone understands the issue and can probably imagine what this will look like on the ground. I would not want election workers to be put into this situation.

Consequently, I hope that all the parties, including the NDP, will appreciate the urgency, given that a federal election could be triggered as soon as the next budget is brought down. We need to act fast and call on Parliament to pass this bill by the end of the session, so that the Senate can give it royal assent. Then, this bill will be in effect when the next election campaign takes place.

To those who may be wondering whether the Chief Electoral Officer will have enough time to act, I say that there will be no problem, because the addresses are already on the voters lists. These addresses consist of a post office box number in a municipality or a rural route without a house number. Consequently, the Chief Electoral Officer simply has to tell election officials that when someone provides photo identification or two other pieces of identification with an address that matches the address on the voters list, the officials can assume it is the right person.

This will prevent 1,019,000 voters from having problems, causing congestion at some polling stations and making scenes for election officials. I repeat, these election officials are not paid well enough for what they do. Some will say people are never paid well enough. We have to consider the number of hours they put in, all the time they spend on site. They have to arrive early, before the polls open. Now, the polls are open for 12 hours. When the polls close, they have to put in as much time as is needed, because in some places, the election results are close.

Obviously, this will not be the case in Quebec, because the Bloc Québécois is going to sweep the province. But I hope the other areas of Canada do not have to deal with close results.