House of Commons Hansard #91 of the 35th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was promise.

Topics

Canada Elections Act
Private Members' Business

11 a.m.

Liberal

Anna Terrana Vancouver East, BC

moved that Bill C-307, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act (polling hours), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Madam Speaker, today I would like to discuss my private member's bill, Bill C-307, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act (polling hours). This bill provides that every polling station on election day will close at the same time regardless of the time differences across the country.

As you know, Canada is a large country where distances sometimes make things a lot more complicated, in spite of new technologies and means of transportation.

The fact is that when British Columbians are waking up, Canadians living in St. John's, Newfoundland, are having lunch. The time difference is a major problem for all those who travel, and more so for westerners on election day.

In British Columbia, results from the Atlantic region are in just after 4 p.m., while those from Quebec and Ontario are known an hour later. In British Columbia, where the population is much smaller than in eastern and central Canada, this means that voters always feel excluded from the federal election process.

Many British Columbians feel they are second class citizens. They feel alienated. They have felt alienated all along. The other western provinces have the same problem, although not as much as British Columbia.

It is not right that such a large part of Canada is left out of a process that touches all of us and determines the future of our country. For this reason I have tabled a bill that provides that every polling station on election day will close at the same time regardless of the time differences across the country.

The current elections act gives the following provisions: Section 79(3) provides that elections be held on Monday or Tuesday. Section 109(5) requires that polling hours be from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. across the country. Section 324 carries exceptions for constituencies with two or more time zones. Section 160 asks that ballots be counted immediately after closing of polls. There is no provision for delay. Section 328 says that it is an offence to publish election results in any area before voting ends in that area.

In my bill changes would occur in the hours of voting. They would increase from 11 to 12 and the times would be as follows: B.C. from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Alberta from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Saskatchewan and Manitoba from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Ontario and Quebec from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; the maritime provinces from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; and Newfoundland from 11.30 a.m. to 11.30 p.m.

After discussions with the Chief Electoral Officer who asked that the hours not be increased from 11 to 12 because of increased costs, I am proposing that we vote for 11 hours as it is done today and that voting from Ontario to the maritimes be from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and from 11.30 a.m. to 10.30 p.m. in Newfoundland. In this case British Columbia would receive the Atlantic Canada results around 6 p.m. or 6.30 p.m. which would be acceptable. What is disconcerting is getting the Quebec and Ontario results before the closing of the polls in British Columbia.

Generally speaking, this proposal is acceptable. We know that, in Ontario and in Quebec, 10 p.m. is not very late in the evening. A lot of people start relaxing at this time. However, my colleagues from the maritime provinces tell me that 10 p.m. or 10.30 p.m. is too late in Newfoundland.

If this bill is referred to a committee today, we will have an opportunity to review it and make appropriate changes if necessary. There is a lot of opposition to the idea of voting at the same time and not counting votes until all polling stations are closed, because those working in polling stations located in eastern Canada would

have to wait for a long time. Moreover, we do not want to stop the publishing of results, something which is clearly an offense under the act. The problem comes up every time an election is held.

Only two bills have been presented in the past to change the system. In 1982 Bill C-113, on staggered hours, was tabled and went only to first reading. In 1988 Bill C-79, to establish the prohibition of election results before polls are closed, was tabled and did not make second reading.

Complete staggered hours across the country would not solve the problem. What we have to achieve is to have all of the results from B.C. to Quebec, including the territories north of those provinces, announced at the same time, that is, after 10 p.m. Only the maritimes and Newfoundland would be allowed to announce results earlier, after the closing of polls in those provinces.

In 1989 the Lortie commission recommended changes to the voting hours. In 1991 the report of the special committee on electoral reform recommended that we vote for 10 hours and that those hours be staggered. This solution would not solve western Canadians' sense of alienation and lack of participation. I do not think that people who reside in the central and eastern provinces and in the territories are aware of the difficulty western Canada faces at every election.

It must also be realized that British Columbia is experiencing the fastest growth in the country and that its population accounts for 13 per cent of Canada's overall population. The only poll on the issue was held in 1990. Seventy per cent of those who took part in it said voting hours were a problem, including 41 per cent who considered the problem to be a serious one that had to be corrected. As well, 50 per cent of the participants were in favour of making changes to the system, with 29 per cent strongly supporting such changes.

Yesterday, delegates at the Liberal convention voted unanimously in favour of such changes. As you can see, there is a general consensus. We realize that Canadians care for their country's well-being and for each other. I spoke to a lot of people regarding this issue, and the vast majority of them support the idea. Even newspapers and media people are in favour of this change, and I am grateful to all those who reacted positively to the idea.

The Ottawa Citizen stated: ``Think of how western voters will feel if for once they can go to the polls at dinnertime without knowing Ontario's vote has determined the winner. From time to time Parliament is faced with legislation which is inherently sensible''.

Some people may think that 10 p.m. is too late, but remember that in British Columbia we will only be able to vote until 7 p.m.

instead of 8 p.m. That is the difficulty of administering a country that goes from the Pacific to the Atlantic to the Arctic. Remember that this difficulty presents itself only every four to five years and Canadians are able to adjust themselves to these kinds of changes.

I hope this bill will continue to be a lucky one and that we can give it royal assent before the next election. On election day I am sure people in the western provinces would celebrate and would feel a part of this big country of ours when at night in front of the TV they are informed of the election results at the same time as people in the rest of Canada. For the first time in the history of this country they would then feel that they count.

Madam Speaker, if you were to seek it I believe you would find unanimous consent to change the reference of Bill C-307 to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs instead of the Standing Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs.

Canada Elections Act
Private Members' Business

11:10 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Ringuette-Maltais)

Is there unanimous consent?

Canada Elections Act
Private Members' Business

11:10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Canada Elections Act
Private Members' Business

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

Anna Terrana Vancouver East, BC

Madam Speaker, I want to conclude by thanking all those who supported me, who encouraged me and who provided advice regarding this bill.

I also ask hon. members to give me their support to refer this bill to a committee at the earliest opportunity, for a more in-depth review of this important issue.

Canada Elections Act
Private Members' Business

11:10 a.m.

Bloc

François Langlois Bellechasse, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak on Bill C-307, which the hon. member for Vancouver-East just moved for second reading.

But first, I want to point out that today is the first day that people everywhere in Canada and in Quebec are wearing, just like the members of this House, a lapel poppy to pay tribute to all those who served in the armed forces during the first and the second world wars, during the Korea War and even during the first wars of the Empire, including the Boer War at the end of the previous century.

Whatever their origins, these people were sent wherever they were needed to defend democracy. In my native parish of Sainte-Claire de Dorchester, there were people who had fought the Bosporus and Dardanelles war and who vividly remembered that experience throughout their lives up until their deaths. I met and still meet with veterans who served during the second world war and in Korea and who are still very proud of the duties they carried out.

Those who never came back deserve, of course, all our admiration and those who fought and were lucky enough to come back know they did world peace a huge favour. Some mothers lost their

sons, some wives lost their husbands, some brothers and sisters lost their brothers and even their sisters.

So, of course, today, all the members of this House spare a thought for those in our families, in our communities, and in all of Canada, who fought to defend the values they believed in.

We have taken over, in a more peaceful fashion, but may the example they have set guide us in the debates we hold and the decisions we have to make.

Regarding Bill C-307, I had the privilege to hear the explanations given by the member for Vancouver-East. Obviously, when polling hours were set, we did not think that Canadians would be able to get the results over the radio immediately via another country. We did not think that a television network such as CNN could broadcast the results instantaneously throughout the world. We did not think that results would be available on Internet.

These technological developments mean that just a few minutes after polling stations close in St. Anthony or Maryston, Newfoundland, the results are available to Canadians via foreign countries, even though they cannot be announced in Canada under the Canada Elections Act. They are available in Langley, British Columbia, in Surrey, in North Vancouver, in Calgary or anywhere in Canada.

Instantaneous communications have rendered the provisions of the Canada Elections Act obsolete and they have to be revised. In this sense, the official opposition, concerned with what goes on from coast to coast, supports in principle the bill introduced by the member for Vancouver-East.

To make a comparison, everybody in this House certainly remembers the all important hockey games we used to have many years ago between Canada and Russia. We got the result on the news before we could watch the game on television. What was the use of watching a hockey game when you already knew the result? Even when the CBC, Radio-Canada and private broadcasters held back the results in response to public pressure, people took to their telephones and always managed to find out who had won a game in international competitions.

The magic of modern communications has made it easy to obtain results, even though the law technically prohibits it. It is therefore time to amend the provisions of the Canada Elections Act so that voters in different time zones voting to elect the same Parliament may cast their ballot on a footing that truly feels equal, not just one that is theoretically equal. Voters in Vancouver, Calgary, Saskatoon and Winnipeg all have a right to feel that their participation in the Canadian democratic process carries the same weight as that of any other citizen.

The United States is having the same problem, as we are now seeing. There has been much talk in the western states about whether legislation should not be standardized so that results are not known ahead of time.

Political analysts who have looked at several presidential elections in the United States have shown that there was a snowball effect at play in presidential wins, particularly in the 1980 election. This was noted not only in the selection of the president, but also of congressmen, with eastern results coming in quickly and western voters apparently staying home in droves or voting with the tide, thus creating a snowball effect. This effect is not necessarily desirable.

The hon member for Vancouver East was saying earlier that, in Quebec and in Ontario, 10 p.m. was not particularly late in most municipalities, that in fact there was still quite a bit going on at that time of night. There will perhaps be a small problem in the Atlantic provinces, because there is still a one and a half hour difference with Newfoundland, but these are questions that are worth looking at in committee, and that must not used as excuses to block the bill at second reading.

Thus, in the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, where we are now in the process of looking at Bill C-63, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act, which was referred to us after first reading I might note, we could probably wrap up our examination if Bill C-307 was referred to committee fairly rapidly.

With this in mind, and in order to make our contribution to the debate and show our understanding of the problem associated with the existing Canada Elections Act, we will be supporting the bill at second reading and following its progress in committee attentively.

Canada Elections Act
Private Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Ringuette-Maltais)

On debate, the hon. member for Vancouver North.

Canada Elections Act
Private Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Reform

Ted White North Vancouver, BC

Madam Speaker, that is North Vancouver. My constituents get quite upset when they hear it come out the wrong way.

This bill does attempt to address the irritation felt by western voters when they learn from the Ontario and Quebec results which party will form the new government. In that respect I guess C-307 has a lot of appeal.

Of course, irritation when the election results come out is really only a small part of the overall irritation felt in the west in connection with what happens here in Ottawa, or what is run from Ottawa, symptomatic of terrible things to come starting with election night.

Election night is the night when Canadians gather together in front of the television in order to watch the results to see what party will be the next government. Frankly, it is extremely frustrating to be in front of the television, to have the end of the media

blackout and see the 7 p.m. results being announced from Ontario naming the next government barely before our polls even close.

In any case, political junkies, if we can call them that, all have friends in Ontario, Quebec and further east and by about five o'clock B.C. time they are busy calling their friends to find out the first results. Quite often in B.C., if we are honest about it, we really do know what is happening before the media blackout comes off.

Whether or not this spreading of the message by word of month has an effect on the voting patterns is impossible to tell. Obviously we cannot rerun an election to test it under different conditions. Therefore it is impossible to tell whether changing voting hours or some leakage of results have any impact whatsoever.

The remedies proposed in Bill C-307 do go some way forward in dealing with the problem of western voter frustration of the release of election results. However, like all of the other proposals suggested over the last few years, Bill C-307 is not really the perfect answer. For example, although some eastern Canadian results will still be available prior to the closing of the polls in B.C. the rest will be delayed. This leads me to the conclusion that one form of frustration presently felt in the west will simply be transformed into a different form of frustration for eastern voters who will now have to wait up until quite late to begin seeing the meaningful results.

Perhaps it would be easier to critique this bill indirectly by referring to the various solutions that have been suggested over the years by past commissions and study groups. These are not in any particular order but I will number them just for reference. The first suggestion is that all of the polls across Canada open at the same local time of, say, 8 a.m. and close at the same local time of 7 p.m., with the counting of the votes deferred until all the polls are closed.

The problems identified with that sort of solution are that the scrutineers, the returning officers and their staff would probably have to remain in a lock-up for several hours, particularly in eastern Canada, in order to wait for the polls to close everywhere before they could begin counting and releasing the votes. It could possibly be in the wee small hours of the next morning in eastern Canada before that could happen. The average voters in those areas would probably start to complain that they could not wait up so late and would not find out who the government was until they got up in the morning. That would be a legitimate complaint with that suggestion.

The second suggestion uses the same opening and closing hours as the first, but with all of the vote counting deferred until the beginning of the next day in the west. Counting would then take place and the results would be released simultaneously all across the country.

The problem with that is that one has to ask whether the scrutineers and other staff would have to be retained in a lock-up

overnight. Would the ballot boxes have to be removed to somewhere secure in order to make sure there was no ballot tampering before the next day? Either way, this method would probably cause major disruption to commerce throughout the country for the next day because all the those people who are trying to watch the results or who are working within the system to count votes or deal with the other aspects of the election would not be at work. Frankly, it would appear to be a major disruption.

The third suggestion proposes staggered hours across the country so that the polls open and close simultaneously. That is similar to what was proposed in Bill C-307. Frankly, we do not know whether the convenience factor of the polls being opened at certain hours encourages or discourages people from voting. We are well aware that there is legislation requiring employers to give employees time to go and vote but in practice we all know that a lot of people wait until after work. For example, in B.C. they do not go to the polls until 5.30 p.m., 6 p.m. or 7 p.m.

In addition, on the problems mentioned earlier regarding that it would probably then be the wee small hours before eastern Canadians would know the results, it would just transfer the frustration from the west coast to the east coast and so it is not really a solution.

The 1991 royal commission on electoral reform and the 1993 special committee on electoral reform both recommended staggered opening and closing hours at the polls as the best way to address the issue. I am sure they spent a bundle of money coming to their conclusions.

It is almost a shame we are not discussing royal commissions and special committees today because we could probably get in some good shots about the amount of taxpayer money wasted on some of these projects. More often they appear to be simply a way of postponing decisions rather than actually finding sensible solutions.

In addition to the taxpayer funded political commissions that have worked on this in the past, the Chief Electoral Officer has also proposed a solution. That solution would involve the bridging of time zone differences by combining modified staggered polling hours, which sounds complicated but is not too complicated, with special provisions for the counting and deferral of the release of results after closing of the polls. I sense from the speech made by the member for Vancouver East that these solutions could be amendments to this bill.

Under this system, the results from eastern Canada would still be available prior to the close of the polls in B.C. but only by about half an hour. It would involve about 36 seats and would not have a

major impact on the results, and so it is probably not a bad compromise.

There would be a significant alleviation of the time zone effect, with the results in eastern Canada still being available right before 11 p.m.

I support this bill's going to committee following today's debate. It appears to be a non-partisan issue. We are all prepared to talk about it to see if we can find meaningful ways to make this legislation work, which I certainly support.

However, I would like to bring one point forward. It is a very large unanswered question which we did not have to deal with in the past. I will illustrate with an example. On October 12 an election was held in New Zealand. The official results were released poll by poll on the Internet. Anybody could dial up from anywhere in the world to see them, as I did.

I discovered that along with the official results, some unofficial results were being posted presumably by the various riding associations. This will become a major problem-if we call it a problem-in the future. All the media blackouts in the world will not mean a thing if various riding associations, unofficial or not, can just put results on the Internet. There is the potential for hoax results to be put on the Internet in an attempt to affect election results.

That is an issue we will have to deal with eventually. It may well be that the only way we can deal with that is to simply not release any results until a set time. I am not presupposing what the answer would be but I suggest the issue should be looked at in committee.

One way of reducing the effects of counting delays, which would allow for closing of polls more closely together, would be to encourage the use of electronic voting methods. I will be introducing a private member's bill to the House on Wednesday regarding initiative and referendum. There is a provision in that bill to permit electronic voting methods to be used.

For example, touch tone technology is well researched now and has been proven to work. One way we could reduce the counting time is with instant tallies done electronically. I hope the government side will recognize the inevitably of having to move with technology by moving toward those solutions in the long run.

In the long run new technology may actually come to the rescue. It may help us to overcome this problem. Just as one portion of technology is interfering with our ability to block results, another set of technology may help us to overcome the problems.

Although many different proposals have been put forward over the years, like those identified in Bill C-307, none of them has been perfect and none of them has been adopted. Bill C-307 also suffers from the problem of not being perfect but we could hardly expect it to be perfect considering all the problems involved in getting it to work.

On balance, it is probably the best opportunity we will have during this Parliament to at least go part way in addressing the existing concerns. For that reason I am supportive and I would urge other members to support this bill's going to committee before second reading.

The issue crosses partisan lines. There is every reason to believe we can work together to put it into an enactable form. I urge members to support the bill.

Canada Elections Act
Private Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

Reform

Stephen Harper Calgary West, AB

Madam Speaker, I rise very briefly to address Bill C-307. I consider this an important proposal, an important piece of legislation that apparently has the support of the government and all parties. In light of this unanimity, as a private member I thought it was more important than ever to put on the record my reservations about this bill.

This bill is to address, as I understand it from the member who proposed it, two problems. One problem is people finding out in western Canada the results of elections in eastern Canada before the polls have closed. In other words, knowing what the election results are, which could influence the vote. The second is addressing the problem of western alienation. On the first count, there are some valid concerns. That is the reason the House is looking at this legislation.

For example, in the last election it would be pretty easy to guess that had more westerners known the results from Quebec, it might well have influenced their vote in terms of the choosing of the official opposition. No doubt, with modern computer technology, these results will become more and more known before the polls are closed in western Canada. That is a valid concern.

However, I want to express my own objections and, more than objections, it is an insult to suggest that this is a serious attempt to address western alienation. Westerners often find out that Parliament has already been elected before the polls close in their riding. Our system is structured such that governments can be elected without the support of anybody in western Canada, and can rule this country without any input from westerners no matter what order the votes are counted in.

The cry of government members who are in trouble in the west is that the whole problem is the counting of votes. Let me use a specific reference. In the 1980 federal election, shortly after I relocated to western Canada, the federal Liberal Party got itself elected in eastern Canada by running on a platform of expropriation of western resources. That is how it got elected.

It got elected by getting a majority of the seats in Ontario and Quebec with virtually no representation whatsoever in western Canada. It then proceeded to govern the country, making massive changes to western industry and the resource base without any

input whatsoever from western Canada. It did that on the basis of how our system of government operates. If the votes had been counted first in the west and later in the east, or at the same time, it would have made no difference whatsoever to that.

It is absolutely ridiculous to suggest that the counting of the ballots was the problem in that instance. It was a problem of the system of government and the actual policies pursued by the federal government vis-à-vis western Canada.

My colleague from North Vancouver has outlined in great detail and very confidently the deficiencies of this proposal as well as the deficiencies of alternatives. I congratulate him for that.

I want to add, however, one additional concern I have once again as a westerner about this proposal. The staggered hours as modified by the chief electoral officer means that the voting polls would close very early in the evening in western Canada.

Those of us who have worked in many elections know that the evening hours are the heaviest voting hours anywhere in the country. What this proposal does which worries me the most is restrict the access of westerners to the polls far more than it does other Canadians because it impacts the hours when they are most likely to vote. This is a serious concern. I hope the committee will look at the reservations of the member for North Vancouver and consider some of the options available.

That is all I want to say. I want to make it very clear in this atmosphere of unanimity that there are serious reservations about this bill. I want them on the record.

Canada Elections Act
Private Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Ringuette-Maltais)

Is the House ready for the question?

Canada Elections Act
Private Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

Canada Elections Act
Private Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Ringuette-Maltais)

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Canada Elections Act
Private Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Canada Elections Act
Private Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Ringuette-Maltais)

The bill is therefore referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the second time and referred to a committee.)

Canada Elections Act
Private Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Anna Terrana Vancouver East, BC

Madam Speaker, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the House for co-operating and for letting this bill go to committee. I thank all of my colleagues for their interventions and assure them we will work together to make this bill as workable as possible.

Canada Elections Act
Private Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Marlene Catterall Ottawa West, ON

Madam Speaker, since the House has dealt with its business this morning so efficiently, I think you might find there is unanimous consent to suspend the House until noon.