Evidence of meeting #60 for Procedure and House Affairs in the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was election.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • David Anderson  Senior Policy Advisor, Legislation and House Planning, Privy Council Office
  • Marc Chénier  Counsel, Legislation and House Planning, Privy Council Office

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Gary Goodyear

Colleagues, let's begin our meeting today.

First of all, I want to thank everyone for coming.

I particularly want to thank the members of the committee, if I don't have the opportunity later today, for the hard work they've done over the past year. I had the honour this morning of tabling our 56th report. I certainly suspect that this committee is setting an example for other committees, but we won't go too much into that. We might not be, but anyway....

Today, colleagues, we have a couple of pieces of business to deal with, but before we get started, I would like to mention to members that we are in public again today.

Our first order of business this morning is pursuant to the order of reference of Friday, June 1, 2007, Bill C-55, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act, expanded voting opportunities, and to make a consequential amendment to the Referendum Act.

We have the honour and privilege again, colleagues, to have the government House leader, the Honourable Peter Van Loan, who is also the Minister for Democratic Reform.

Minister Van Loan, would you kindly introduce your team, and then I will give you the floor to proceed?

11:05 a.m.

York—Simcoe
Ontario

Conservative

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

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

I would start by asking my officials here, David Anderson and Marc Chénier, to tell you a little bit about themselves and why they came along.

11:05 a.m.

David Anderson Senior Policy Advisor, Legislation and House Planning, Privy Council Office

My name is David Anderson. I'm a senior policy advisor with the democratic reform secretariat, at legislation and House planning, in the Privy Council Office.

11:05 a.m.

Marc Chénier Counsel, Legislation and House Planning, Privy Council Office

My name is Marc Chénier, and I am legal counsel for the Democratic Reform group at the Privy Council Office.

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Gary Goodyear

Thank you all for joining us this morning.

Colleagues, the minister has an opening statement and some comments to make regarding the bill, and then we will proceed with the usual round of questioning.

I understand the minister is here for one hour, if we need that kind of time.

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan York—Simcoe, ON

Sure, or even longer, if you want.

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Gary Goodyear

Thank you very much.

Minister, please.

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan York—Simcoe, ON

Mr. Chair and members of the committee, thank you. I am pleased to appear before you to discuss Bill C-55, also known as the expanded voting opportunities bill. The purpose of the expanded voting opportunities bill is to strengthen our democracy by making it easier for people to vote.

As I stated when I introduced the bill, the right to vote is our most precious and fundamental right, and citizen participation in the political process through the exercise of that right to vote is the cornerstone of our democracy. By making the decision to vote, Canadians do take ownership in their country.

As I mentioned in my previous appearance before this committee, the expanded voting opportunities bill is one part of our plan to strengthen accountability through democratic reform. The plan has three broad themes. First, we are eliminating the influence of big money in the political process by regulating the financing of political parties. Second, we've introduced legislation to modernize the Senate to make it more democratic, more accountable, and more effective. Third, and finally, we're taking steps to strengthen our electoral system, which includes the expanded voting opportunities bill that we're discussing today.

First I want to discuss the trend of declining voter participation.

As we are all aware, there has been a disturbing downward trend in voter participation in general elections. In 1958, 79.4% of Canadians voted in that year's General Election. However, that fell to 69.6% of eligible voters by 1993, and by 2004, only 60.5% of eligible voters cast a ballot.

More troubling than the overall participation rate is the fact that the voter participation rate of young people in general elections has been even lower. A 2002 study by Elections Canada found that only 25% of eligible 18 to 24-year-olds voted in the 2000 General Election.

This is a trend that we cannot allow to continue. The health of our democratic institutions depends on how successful we are at restoring the faith of our youth in the democratic process.

In terms of facilitating voter participation, I believe it's incumbent on elected representatives to do all they can to encourage Canadians across the country, both young and old, to get involved in the political process to ensure accountable, responsible government. We need to make sure that everyone who wants to vote is able to do so. This is essential to maintaining a healthy, vibrant democracy.

Unfortunately, despite the voting opportunities that currently exist, there are still significant numbers of eligible voters who continue to cite work and family responsibilities as their primary reasons for not voting.

In a 2003 survey conducted on behalf of Elections Canada, the authors found that nearly 40% of non-voters, during the 2000 federal election, indicated that they did not vote because of reasons that could be addressed through advance poll opportunities. Examples included being too busy with work, school, or family activities, transportation issues, or being away from home on voting day.

More importantly, 43% of respondents in the 18- to 24-year-old category stated that factors such as work, family, and school responsibilities, and similar reasons, had prevented them from voting. Similar numbers turned up in a 2001 voter participation study by the Centre for Research and Information on Canada.

We've all heard stories about people who woke up on election day with every intention of voting but because of a variety of reasons—maybe they had to work late, take their kids to hockey, or run errands—they didn't have time to vote. The fact is that the busy lives of Canadians is a serious factor that we must consider when looking for reasons behind declining voter participation.

There is considerable evidence that the existence of advance polling days has a positive impact on voter turnout. The Royal Commission on Electoral Reform and Party Financing made a number of pertinent conclusions. On page 123, it says:

In the specific case of advance voting, it might also be noted that for a variety of reasons, many Canadians do find themselves away from home at any given point in time, including the day on which the election is held. The increase in the incidence of travel, for business and leisure, likely means many would not be able to exercise their franchise without advance voting opportunities.

On page 130, it says:

Generally speaking, the evidence from the four countries and, indeed, Canada itself, suggests that advance voting has become an important mainstay in the repertoire of voting opportunities. There are suggestions that without it, turnout levels would be lower, and extending the point in the other direction, with more opportunities for advance voting, turnout levels might be higher.

In a study commissioned by Elections Canada in 2003 to analyze the impact of expanded voting opportunities on voter turnout, the empirical analysis found that turnout is some ten points higher in countries where it is possible to vote in advance.

As well, since 1993, the use of advanced polls by voters has nearly doubled in the Canadian elections. In 1994, 5.4% of voters cast a ballot at an advanced poll. This number has risen steadily in each election since, and 10.5% of voters cast their ballots at an advanced poll during the January 2006 General Election.

I believe that this trend will continue and that the public would respond very positively to the increased convenience and opportunity to vote presented by additional advanced polling days.

There is some evidence that countries which offer weekend voting have higher rates of voter participation. A 2002 study by Mark Franklin of the University of Houston found a significant positive effect of Sunday voting. He found that countries with Sunday voting have a voter turnout rate that is about six to seven percentage points higher than countries without Sunday voting.

Of note, the recent French presidential election, where voting is on Sunday, had a voter turnout of 82%. Moreover, advanced polling on Sunday is already available in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Quebec. And, in his April 2004 report, the Chief Electoral Officer of Quebec recommended holding elections on a Sunday for a number of reasons, including that it would be easier for workers who normally work Monday to Friday to get out and vote.

After taking into consideration the benefits of Sunday voting on voter turnout, and the increased use of advanced polls in Canadian elections, on May 9, 2007, Canada's New Government, introduced the Expanded Voting Opportunities Bill.

With respect to the details, the bill proposes to amend the Canada Elections Act to provide Canadians with two additional advance polling days on the two Sundays before election day.

Canadians currently have access to three advance polling days, on the Friday, Saturday, and Monday of the second last weekend before election day. People may vote between 12 noon and 8 p.m., but some people have to travel long distances because maybe only half a dozen polling stations are open in their constituency. The amendments in the expanded voting opportunities bill would add an advance polling day on the second last Sunday and the last Sunday before election day. This means there would be a block of four consecutive days of advance polling on the second last weekend before election day. However, the advance poll on the Sunday before election day would be a special one. All the polling stations used on election day will be opened, thereby maximizing voter opportunities for Canadians at a time when media attention and interest in the election should be at its height.

The hours for all advance polling days would continue to be between noon and 8 p.m., as opposed to the 12-hour periods of staggered voting hours that are available on election day.

In conclusion, our expanded voting opportunities bill will mean that all Canadians will have an opportunity to vote at an advance poll in their own neighbourhood on a Sunday, which for many is a day without work or school commitments. This will make it easier for Canadians to vote.

And with this increased convenience, we hope that families will bring their children with them when they go to vote—helping them appreciate from an early age the civic duty and opportunity to cast a vote, and to understand what it means to be a citizen in a free and democratic country. These are lessons that, if well taught, last a lifetime, build stronger communities and make a brighter future for Canada. And we know that engaging more Canadians in the electoral process through increasing voter turnout is good for our democracy and good for our country.

Thank you.

I would now be happy to take any questions that committee members may have.

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Gary Goodyear

Thank you, Minister.

Colleagues, I think we've handed out the notes from the minister's opening comments. I hope everybody has a copy of that.

We will begin our usual round of questions. We'll start with seven-minute rounds and then move to five-minute rounds in the usual fashion.

We'll start with Madame Robillard, please.

June 19th, 2007 / 11:15 a.m.

Liberal

Lucienne Robillard Westmount—Ville-Marie, QC

Mr. Chairman, if I do not use my entire seven minutes, I will share my time with my colleague Mauril Bélanger.

Thank you for your comments on Bill C-55, Minister. As politicians representing all political parties, we can only be supportive of this bill's purpose, which in essence is to increase citizens' participation in voting, a democratic process. Obviously, we want voter participation to increase.

I held a position with the provincial government before becoming a federal member of Parliament, and when I first came to Ottawa I remember how impressed I was by the variety of means available to Canadians so that they can vote. In fact, not only can they vote early by mail, but also do that at any time. As soon as the process is initiated, they can go and see the Chief Electoral Officer. I discovered that a wide variety of opportunities to vote was available to Canadians who really wanted to vote. The system has a flexibility that our provincial systems generally do not have. I think that is a very good thing.

You cited a number of studies carried out by a variety of people. But I wonder if you, minister, the Privy Council or the government itself have carried out studies to determine whether increasing the number of early polling days available, as you suggested, would really have an impact on voter participation. In addition, I would like to know whom you consulted before putting forward this proposal.

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan York—Simcoe, ON

There are a number of studies that deal with that in a couple of different areas, and you're right, there are a lot of ways that people can vote. The 2003 study of the 2000 election by Larry LeDuc and Jon Pammett threw a lot of these things into a category they call “personal administrative”. One of the challenges with many of the additional opportunities you talk about—to vote by mail, to go to the returning office, that kind of stuff—is that there's a very high personal cost to voting in that fashion. So somebody has to be quite interested in doing that. Increasing numbers, they are. But overall, the turnout continues to decline.

So when you look at the two significant changes here, perhaps the most significant is the creation of voting opportunities on a Sunday, and the second is that with the Sunday immediately before election day, it's an area that's in very close proximity to where you live—essentially the same location as where you would vote on the regular election day—and that really reduces those personal transaction costs that make it difficult for people to vote, which become a burden.

About the Sunday voting, which is absent right now, I talked about studies where they think, based on evidence elsewhere, that would increase voter participation by 10%. It's interesting to note that just in general, in terms of Sunday voting, we're actually the exception in not having it, and adding it for advance polls won't change the fact that we're still the exception. But of the OECD countries, I think there are maybe half a dozen that do their voting on days other than Sunday, and we fall into that category. There is a consistent trend through a lot of the research and a lot of the studies that says Sunday voting would make a big difference and would have a positive result.

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Lucienne Robillard Westmount—Ville-Marie, QC

If I understand correctly, neither you nor the government have carried out studies. You are relying on studies conducted by others.

Second, I asked you whether you had consulted anyone in connection with this bill, and if so, whom. You did not answer that question.

My third question is this: Are you able to tell us the financial impacts this bill will have, among other things on costs relating to employees assigned to polls.

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan York—Simcoe, ON

I'll go with the last one first, because we did actually calculate the costs. There would be a one-time cost of $6.8 million for information technology, and then of course for every election, in terms of recurring costs for staffing of the additional polling stations, $30.4 million. So that's the cost.

In terms of consultation, the bulk of it has been obviously of the academic research. The research, I can tell you, has been done by very impressive people. I talked about Pammett and LeDuc's study. Louis Lavoie has done a study that we looked at. André Blais, Louis Massicotte, Agnieszka Dobrzynska.... I think perhaps the most interesting one is the 2001 study that was done by the Centre for Research and Information on Canada, which is a very stimulating piece, and I encourage you to go to it anyhow, as people who are obviously interested and involved in politics.

But you look at folks like André Blais; Marc Chénier, a very impressive author and a contributor; John Courtney; Donna Dasko; Agnieszka Dobrzynska; Fred Fletcher from York University, and I think most people know him; Mark Franklin; Jonathan Malloy from over here at Carleton; Louis Massicotte, Université de Montréal; Alain Pelletier, who came from Elections Canada; Jon Pammett; and Lisa Young, out of Calgary, who has done a fair bit of research on voter turnout, and she comes up with all kinds of different conclusions all the time.

There's an abundance of research. I'd go beyond that to say there's a lot of research that's outside of the political realm, and I'll maybe save that speech for answering another question.

But I think one of the mistakes that's often made in looking at this stuff is to limit ourselves only to the political horizon, because we're really looking at an overall decline of community involvement over the past half-century or more in every kind of community organization that exists. I shouldn't say it so sweepingly—“every kind of community organization”—but generally speaking, community involvement has been in decline for a bunch of reasons.

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Gary Goodyear

Thank you very much. The time is up on that round.

Mr. Hill, you have seven minutes, please.

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

Jay Hill Prince George—Peace River, BC

Well, I'm not sure whether I'll use the entire time.

Partly in response to Madame Robillard's questions in connection with Bill C-55, I want to be on the record as representing rural Canada on this particular issue.

I have the good fortune of representing roughly a quarter of the land mass of British Columbia, more than 250,000 square kilometres, almost evenly divided by the Rocky Mountains. That riding certainly would benefit hugely, I believe, from this type of legislation. The rural ridings, in particular....

Madame Robillard made the quite correct statement that any elector can exercise the option of attending the returning office in the riding at any time during the writ period to cast a ballot. Indeed, I think statistics would show that a number of Canadians do exercise that option. But in a rural riding like mine, to do that would still necessitate the vast majority of constituents travelling hundreds of kilometres. And as the minister stated, not only is it inconvenient, it's obviously costly. It's also, I would argue, somewhat dangerous in winter driving conditions, should we happen to have a winter election again, when the roads can be particularly treacherous.

So having the advance polls, not only as we normally operate them in the communities, but even on the Sunday before, and having all the polls open to give them more opportunity I think would be hugely advantageous to my constituents up in Prince George—Peace River, and, I would argue, to most rural ridings.

I just wanted to be on the record with that.

As well, Mr. Chair, on this whole issue of consulting anyone, I think the minister has addressed that. But I want to say that, again, I've had the privilege and honour of representing my constituency for close to 14 years now. Many times my constituents have suggested to me that if they had greater opportunity, they would certainly take advantage of it. In ridings like mine, where the economy is doing extremely well.... It's an oil and gas economy. It's a big part of the economy of Prince George—Peace River, as is forestry. There is a lot of blue-collar work, with people out in the bush working. The more opportunities they have when they might not be on shift work or might not be out in the bush where they can't readily get to a poll.... This type of legislation would give them greater opportunity to do that.

I wanted to be on the record, I guess, both in that sense and with the feedback I've gotten from my constituents over the years, especially in relation to the oil and gas workers, the forestry workers, and the miners. They are out in the bush—that's what we call it up north—working, perhaps, on election day, and they don't have the same opportunities as other Canadians to just stop by the polling station.