House of Commons Hansard #47 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was budget.

Topics

Finance
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

Dave MacKenzie Oxford, ON

Mr. Speaker, if this government is listening to Canadians, Canadians will end up with more money in their pockets. The government would only be fulfilling what it said in the throne speech earlier.

Finance
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Bloc

Christian Simard Beauport, QC

Mr. Speaker, in the few minutes at my disposal, I will say a few words about the budgetary consultations that were held for the next budget and the positions of the Bloc Québécois in connection with it.

I remind hon. members that we made firm commitments during the last election. The Liberals have to understand that we will not compromise our principles. They will have to make serious moves in a series of cases.

I am talking about fiscal imbalance, employment insurance, the environment and Kyoto, agriculture, international aid, respecting Quebec's jurisdictions, social housing and funding for Francophone and Acadian communities.

At this time I will address the issue of the environment and Kyoto, and the issue of social housing for which I am the Bloc Québécois critic.

The presentation of a budget is extremely important. Beyond the rhetoric, the government has to decide whether to spend or not spend, invest or not invest in one policy or another. In a budget, generally speaking, one cannot lie. This government has certainly been somewhat creative when it comes to hiding a huge surplus of nearly $10 billion. Year after year, instead of permitting a healthy social debate on how to use this surplus, it used it to pay down the debt, while Quebec and the provinces, who have to deliver the services, are required to cut library, education, health and front-end services. In the meantime, the government brags about surpluses not debated at the end of the year.

As I said, generally a budget reveals where a government is at, so we shall see whether or not this government is capable of making commitments for the population. Otherwise, we will not think twice about voting against it. We are convinced that the public will be behind us. If there is no correction of the fiscal imbalance and the EI situation, people will perhaps be only too pleased to teach another lesson to this government, if it is incapable of facing up to its responsibilities and realizing it is a minority government that needs to listen to what the people have to say.

The government did not enjoy the confidence of Quebeckers, and I do not think it can earn it. We would like to show it the paths of virtue, however. These impenetrable paths also involve saying what has been done and doing what is said. Unfortunately, as far as child care is concerned, an announcement was made during the election campaign that an agreement had been signed, and today, February 1, is the deadline and it has still not been signed. I have just checked the Radio-Canada site and I can confirm that as of right now it has still not been signed.

There have been commitments made about social housing. Others were made about Kyoto. As far as the environment and the Kyoto protocol are concerned, there have in fact been some $3.7 billion in expenditures, but the spending has been ill-informed. That amount of $3.7 billion may have been spent, but as it was invested without any consistency and without any specifically designated and worthwhile taxation measures, the objectives were not met.

Imagine, $3.7 billion have been invested, while our greenhouse gas emissions have risen 20% since 1990, and we have not met the 28% Kyoto objective. That is quite something, considering that $3.7 billion have been spent.

Often this government does not meet its commitments. When it does invest money, it administers it badly, that is it invests it in the wrong things. It does not in fact take the appropriate fiscal measures.

For example, still concerning Kyoto, they preferred—at the cost of $260 million a year—to provide oil companies with tax havens and other tax favours through legislation. This government is acting very badly when it does act, and often does not make the required choices.

Before the last budget, many groups were involved in consultations about housing. Everyone was certain that the 2003-04 budget was going to contain social housing provisions.

But there were none. During the election campaign the government made a commitment of $1 billion to $1.5 billion for investment in social housing. We are not sure that this promise will be kept. This government, unfortunately, has taught us to be cynical of politics. They feel free to say one thing and do the opposite with little concern.

Therefore, an amount of $1 to $1.5 billion over 5 years has been promised. We are not sure if this bare minimum is going to be in the budget. If it is not, the Bloc Québécois will pleased to take up the argument and see what happens. Still, in terms of all our activities, we think it is unacceptable. That is why there must be a bare minimum for social housing, and at least get the Liberals to commit. Nevertheless, we think up to $2 billion per year could be put into this area within three years.

What is even more cynical is that in 1990 the current Prime Minister and the current Minister of Labour and Housing signed a report in which they denounced the Conservatives' management in the field of housing. At the time there were 1.3 million poorly housed families in Canada; now there are 1.7 million.

When the Prime Minister became finance minister in 1994, he cut all investment in social housing after making a big scene. Between 1994 and 2001, he put nothing into social housing despite making a fuss and declaring it a major fundamental value.

There are moments of truth respecting housing, other social measures and the fiscal imbalance. There will be one, of course, around February 22, the date the budget is brought in. In that moment of truth we will see the true nature of Bernadette, the true nature of this government. We fear that the true nature, once it has been seen naked, will not contain much and will not be clothed in valuable measures.

If these minimum commitments are not made, the Bloc Québécois will ensure—

Finance
Government Orders

5:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

It being 5:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

I want to inform the member that, the next time this subject comes before the House, he will have 13 minutes to complete his speech and 10 minutes for questions and comments.

Canada Elections Act
Private Members' Business

February 1st, 2005 / 5:30 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Ajax—Pickering, ON

moved that Bill C-261, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act (voter and candidate age), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I want to begin by taking the opportunity to thank the member for Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor for seconding this motion and the 20 individuals who seconded the bill.

I also want to recognize the multi-partisan nature of this effort. There is a caucus leader within each party. I want to recognize the member for Newmarket—Aurora, the member for Verchères—Les Patriotes and also the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley, who have all, within the different political parties, been coming together and fighting this issue, recognizing that there is a serious problem in this country. That problem is with the disengagement of our youth from our political process.

We need only to look at the last couple of federal elections to see what the impact of this disengagement has been. We see that roughly 25% of young people in the 2000 election actually came out to vote. We notice that in the 2004 election, which has just happened, only 33% came out to vote.

We need to do something fundamental to change this. If we extrapolate this over time, we will have a situation where roughly a quarter of the population will be deciding the fate of the entire nation. That is indeed a serious problem.

I think that reducing the voting age to 16 represents an incredible opportunity. It represents an opportunity to engage youth while they are still in a general education environment and to give them an opportunity, frankly, that their parents would not even have had.

In school, for example, while I can assure everyone that the candidates would go to schools and talk to the students, there would be a supportive environment, maybe leading up from ages 14 and 15 to 16, for them to talk about issues and get engaged. It would not be merely academic; they would actually know that they would be able to take action on something. It would be a tremendous opportunity. By the time they get to 18, they are often disengaged, and often they can be 20 or even 21 before they get to vote for that first time. By then, they are often disengaged and they are not in a general education environment any more. Their patterns have already been established.

This has been shown time and time again. The member for Newmarket—Aurora conducted a lot of polling and I thought some of it was very interesting. We got a lot of it on the Vote16.ca website. It demonstrates very clearly that young people are very interested in voting. We know that if we can get them to vote once they will vote again and again. This is about establishing patterns and turning it around.

What are the arguments for not doing this? What are the reasons for us not moving forward and pursuing this bill?

Some would say that young people are not mature enough and that they simply do not have the cognitive capacity to be part of our electoral process. I take great exception to that.

My experience in dealing with 16 year olds and 17 year olds is that they are exceptionally sharp. They are individuals who often have a clear vision or who may be confused but have clear ideas about the things that are going to be impacting them. Whether or not it is post-secondary education, finding a summer job so that they can afford to go to school afterward, or finding something after school in trades or apprenticeships, their eyes are turning to the future.

It is not that long ago that the same argument being made about 16 year olds and 17 year olds was being made about women: the argument was that women do not have the mental capacity to comprehend political problems.

Often this issue of maturity is used to not allow different segments of our population to have a voice. In reality that is exactly what this bill is: it is to give young people a voice, to give them their rightful place as others have gained their rightful places, whether it has been women, aboriginals or other groups that have been denied the right to vote. This is to give them their rightful place, to give them an opportunity to have a say on the issues that matter to them and an opportunity to be part of the broader mosaic that makes the decisions on what is going to happen in this country.

There is another argument that I have heard and it is that young people “are just going to follow their parents” when they vote. “They are just going to do what their parents say,” I have been told. As an anecdote, I can tell members that after a long discussion with an 80 year old lady whose door I knocked on, I asked her, “Have you ever voted Liberal?” She said, “Well, there was the one time that my sister Mabel voted Liberal”. It was that sort of time. All of them in the family could remember when somebody broke ranks and decided not to follow the lead of their parents.

The reality is that we all come to our voting decisions in different ways. Sometimes it is because we trust those in our family and decide to make a decision that way. Sometimes we have the strength of our own personal convictions, which differ from those of our family. But certainly it is not an issue that is exclusive to 16 year olds and 17 year olds.

On the issue of youth being too radical, this is something else I have heard. “Youth are too radical. If given the opportunity to vote, they are going to do something dramatic and it is going to dramatically change the course of the nation”. This certainly contradicts the first argument; either they are just going to follow somebody or they are going to be radical. In my opinion, if we look at it in terms of overall population, a demographic, these youth would represent a small group, but a group that should have the opportunity to have a say.

The opposite is sort of true. If these individuals are not given the opportunity to have their say in our political process, to come forward and state the issues that matter to them, oftentimes their issues then are not listened to.

Rick Mercer had a very interesting quote on this. Sometimes humour is a good way to approach things. He said, “If I was 16, I would write members of Parliament and I would complain, except if I was 16 they wouldn't care what I had to say because I don't have the vote, which is the problem in the first place”. This leads to a cycle of neglect. Often young people's issues are not given the attention they deserve because they are not given a voice in our political process.

Maybe one of the reasons they are not engaged is because we are not speaking to them. We are not talking to them about the kinds of issues that really have an impact in their lives. If they had the opportunity in a general education environment, when they are 16 and 17, before they go to wherever they have go and it is hard to get a hold of them, to actually engage in debate and discussion with candidates, we would have a renewed opportunity to talk to them about their issues. They would have an opportunity to say back to politicians, “You have to listen to us. We are a group now that must be reckoned with”.

I know the issue of the Supreme Court case recently came up. There were two youth that challenged the constitutionality of 16 and 17 year-olds not being allowed to vote. The Supreme Court ruled that ultimately it is a decision of Parliament. It acknowledged that it is in fact discrimination, but it is a political decision that must be made.

In Canada not too long ago, a person had to be 21 years old to be able to vote. If we look at other jurisdictions, Brazil has changed the voting age to 16 and Germany has changed the voting age for municipal elections to 16. This debate is happening in the U.K. legislature. As part of our broader process on engagement and talking about how we talk to young people, there is a movement to deal with this issue.

Youth have so many different responsibilities. This is one of the other arguments we talk about. We have sort of this contradiction with them. We expect them to be very responsible with certain things. Yet when it comes to giving them a voice and an opportunity to vote, we say they do not know enough. That is a contradictory message. We give them the opportunity to drive at 16. We give them the opportunity at 17 to join our armed forces and fight for this nation.

We give youth the opportunity at leadership conventions to select the leaders of our respective parties, who become prime ministers. That certainly is something that we all think is acceptable. In fact, in all of our nominations youth as young as 14 are allowed to select who their local candidate will be.

We have this inherent contradiction. On one hand we say they are not responsible enough; on the other hand we are giving them these sets of responsibilities. We need to bring in line those other things we are asking of them and give them an opportunity to have a voice.

I see it as a graduated process, as an opportunity at 14 years of age to join a political party, to engage in vigorous debate in school and in that general education environment, all of which will graduate to the opportunity to vote at the age of 16 in a safe environment, and perhaps cast ballots perhaps in a school. One of the problems we have with young people is that by the time they are 19 or 20 or 21, they have moved away from home, they have gone to college or university, they are in trades, they are very hard to pin down and they are not registered. That is not the case when they are younger. We can register them, we have the opportunity to talk to them, and they have a safe and secure environment of a school in which to cast their ballots.

I have to speak to this because I think it really talks to the broader issue. I have had the opportunity to work with some remarkable people from both sides of the House on this issue, who I think share the conviction that this is not the only solution. I think this is part of it. It is part of a broader discussion that we need to have in general about young people, about how we get them excited in our political process, how we engage them, how we make sure they do come out and vote, and how they do care. I think fluffing it off and saying they are only interested in Jessica Simpson or Britney Spears misses the point. We are setting a very dangerous precedent that we have to redress.

We will be going across the country very soon speaking to different individuals in different parts of the country, going into schools and speaking with parents about this idea and about the opportunities that exist for youth. Through that process I hope that every single member of Parliament in the House and Canadians in general will engage in a debate about how we get our young people excited about politics, and how we get them to be passionate about the process that so many have died for.

I think we take for granted in this country the fact that wars have been fought to give us the right to vote, that people have died and laid down their lives so that we can sit in this chamber and vote freely.

We often forget that in other parts of the world, most recently in the Ukraine, people are protesting in the streets demanding what we take for granted.

We have a responsibility to connect with our youth and to get them excited. This is an opportunity that we cannot pass up. Let us respect them. Let us recognize that they have a legitimate place in our system and deserve a voice. Let us move forward on that basis.

I urge all members to support Bill C-261. I encourage them to contact my office or the seconder's office for more information and to visit our website at vote16.ca.

Canada Elections Act
Private Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

Bloc

Stéphane Bergeron Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

Mr. Speaker, first, I want to salute the initiative of my colleague from Ajax—Pickering, who had the wisdom to make this a non-partisan bill. Anything related to electoral reform must, in essence, be non-partisan. It is in this spirit that any amendments to electoral legislation in Canada must be made.

It is my great honour to support this bill introduced by my colleague to lower the voting age to 16.

In a few moments, the our party's whip, in an effort to educate and ensure healthy democratic debate, will address the pros and cons of this bill. I want to state that this in no way undermines my support for this bill and that of most of my colleagues who, at present, intend to support it.

That said, I want to ask my colleague a question. A few moments ago, he spoke about the reservations often raised to oppose such legislation, stressing the supposed lack of maturity of sixteen-year-olds. I want to ask him the following question: what would one say to people who claim that sixteen-year-olds and seventeen-year-olds are not sufficiently interested? Of course, one can object on the basis of their maturity, but also on the basis of their interest in politics. I want to know what he would say to those who think that young people are not sufficiently interested.

Canada Elections Act
Private Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, in my experience young people are very interested. When we ask them if they are interested in politics, we may not engage them. The question is phrased the wrong way. They are sent the wrong argument.

When we tell them at 16 and 17 that they do not know enough to vote, we are essentially telling them not to worry about it because they do not know enough. A lot of young people 18, 19, 25, or 30 years old say they do not know enough. They do not vote because they do not know enough and do not follow the issues. This essentially establishes a trend.

When we sit down and ask them how they feel about, for example, gay and lesbian marriage, or how they feel about post-secondary education and tuition costs, or how they feel about issues that are impacting them around summer employment, the room opens up. They are taxpayers so we should ask them how they feel about these issues. In discussions I have had with 16 and 17 year-olds I am absolutely amazed at the level of their maturity, and the different perspective they bring to the debate. It would be a shame if that was not included in the mosaic of our decision-making process. It is wrong not to do that.

There is a fundamental flaw in logic and that fundamental flaw requires intelligence to vote, that someone has to be of a certain maturity level to vote. Each and every one of us could point to brilliant adults and adults who are not so brilliant. We could also point to mature adults and adults who are not so mature. The same thing can be said of 16 and 17 year-olds. It has been said time and again that we do have some brilliant young people. With respect, if a dumb adult can vote, or an immature adult can vote, then why can a brilliant, mature 16 or 17 year-old not vote? That whole argument misses the real point and sends a real damaging message.

We need to be talking to our young people in a respectful way, in a way that respects their voice, respects their opinion, and does not belittle it. When we tell them they do not know enough, we are really telling them not to get involved in the political process. To me that is a real problem.

Canada Elections Act
Private Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Conservative

Belinda Stronach Newmarket—Aurora, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to commend my colleague, the hon. member for Ajax--Pickering, for taking the initiative and recognizing what young people can contribute to the public process. I will be fully supporting this initiative.

The hon. member mentioned a poll that was conducted among 1,000 young people between the ages of 14 and 17 at the end of November by Professor André Turcotte from Mass Communication at Carleton University. When 1,000 young people were asked, three out of four said they would exercise their right to vote.

The hon. member has had a chance to speak to many students at universities and high schools. I wonder if he could tell us what the response has been. Is it similar to the poll or has he experienced otherwise?

Canada Elections Act
Private Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for her questions and for her support in this initiative. My experience in the poll, anecdotally, and I have had an opportunity to talk to many students, including many university students, is very much that case. There is a tremendous interest, particularly in those who are 16 and 17, on being engaged in the process.

One of the interesting things that I find is that sometimes we run into someone who is 17 who says, “I really want to vote. I am mature enough. I know enough, but I am not so confident about my other colleagues”.

I was speaking at the University of Toronto and the people said to me that they had that exact opinion. A 16 or 17 year-old brought up this issue, that until they got to college or university, and it was basically the same issue, they felt that they were mature enough and had the knowledge, but when they looked at some of their peers, they wondered if they did. So it held through into that age.

I think there is a tremendous amount of interest, but it is not being tapped. If we do not tap that interest when we can get them, and we actually have an opportunity to discuss with them their responsibilities and roles and what is involved, and get them comfortable with the voting process, then we have really missed that opportunity.

Ironically enough, and I think all the polling work that the member was so good to do demonstrates this. If we capture them at a younger age, they are actually more likely to vote and more likely to establish those positive habits.

Canada Elections Act
Private Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am here today to address Bill C-261, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act, voter and candidate age.

As far as I have seen, there are two rationales that have been provided in favour of this legislation. The first is that people effectively become adults or capable of adult actions before they reach the age of 18 and therefore they ought to be permitted to vote, which of course is an action where one requires a certain level of maturity to participate in intelligently.

The second rationale is that giving people the vote at age 16 would familiarize them with the voting process, thereby raising the participation rate among those in the age 18 to 25 cohort who are currently eligible to vote but who do so at less than a 25% rate of participation.

I will address both of those arguments in turn. I must say, I think both of them are incorrect. I will address both of them in turn and then turn to some additional observations.

My response to the argument that 16 year olds are de facto adults or are capable of acting as adults would be the following. The proponents of the bill have pointed out that many of the privileges and obligations of adult life kick in before a person is 18. Surely, they argue, it is odd to allow people to engage in driving at age 16, to join the army at age 17 and to have sex with adults at age 14, all of which is permitted in Canada, and yet to withhold the right to vote.

Leaving aside the age of consent in Canada, which I think should be raised from 14, I will just point out that in most provinces in Canada, voting age adults are denied the right to drink alcohol or even to purchase cigarettes until they are 19 years old. In the United States they can vote when they are 18, but they cannot drink until they are 21. So the age at which we achieve these mileposts of maturity in adulthood vary within jurisdictions without necessarily being a sign of injustice.

I might point out that there was a time in the United States when people could only vote at the age of 21, but they could drink at 18. Now it has been reversed. I am not sure that this indicates a great injustice.

My response to the argument that giving the vote to 16 year olds would increase participation rates among 18 to 25 year old is twofold. First, I would start by agreeing that this is a genuine problem. We see declining voter turn-out rates among young voters and it appears to be a problem that is growing over time.

I would like to quote what Margaret Adsett wrote in a recent issue of the Journal of Youth Studies. She said:

After the 1980 election...a consistent pattern of lower voter turnout with decreasing age emerged, and the spread in the turnout rates by age groups consistently increased. The difference in the spread was 19.5% in 1984, and it rose to 34.4% in 2000.

This is a very real and growing problem. However much of this seems to have nothing to do with voting age. Young people seem to be less involved in the political system in a variety of ways that have no relationship to the voting age and therefore are not curable by means of an adjustment to the voting age.

For example, a survey conducted in the year 2000 revealed that while 60% of Canadians of all ages, including 33% of Canadians born before the year 1943, held membership in one or another of the political parties. Only 2% of those between the ages of 18 and 27 were party members, and that is despite the fact that both the Conservative and Liberal Parties make provision for people under the age of 18 to hold party memberships.

I believe there are ways of increasing the participation rate for people in the 18 to 25 age cohort. Let me run through a few of those.

One thing that the Chief Electoral Officer has already started to do, the results of which cannot be felt until the next election, was to conduct a series of student votes at high schools across the country in the year 2004, including seven or eight high schools in my own constituency and many hundreds of others across the country. The purpose of this was to familiarize 14, 15, 16 and 17 year olds with what it is like to participate in an election, thereby preparing them for the next election, when they are old enough to vote.

I think that was a profitable measure. It is now in place and it probably deserves to be expanded to a wider selection of high schools across the country.

My hon. colleague from Ajax—Pickering pointed out that people who are 18 have typically moved away from home and are difficult to register to vote. He has suggest that we try to register them while they are still at home.

The obvious solution to this is to have another enumeration. We used to enumerate in Canada and register those people despite the fact they moved away from home. If we simply reintroduce the enumeration system, which, frankly, we need to take care of all the adult voters who are being left off the voters list, this would do much, not merely to capture younger voters and cause them to vote in increased numbers, but also to ensure that people of all ages who are currently being left off the voters list are being captured and therefore able to participate in greater numbers than is currently occurring. Of course voter participation rates are declining in all age groups.

We frequently talk about European countries where there are higher voter participation rates than in Canada or in the United States. Typically, in Europe elections occur on weekends rather than on weekdays as in North America. Simply changing the day of the week on which elections are conducted would boost voter participation rates or indeed holding elections over a two day period rather than simply one.

The greater availability of advance polls, particularly the greater widespread geographic availability of advance polls would have a significant impact as well. As someone who represents a rural riding, I am very conscious of just how important this really is.

Finally, I want to turn to another issue which is to look around the world. I am a comparative historian. I always do this when I look at any policy. What do other countries and other jurisdictions do? What can we learn from them? We can learn that the practice of lowering the minimum voting age below 18 is not a very common practice. There are no major democracies in the world in which the voting age starts below the age of 18. None of the great democracies of the Commonwealth and British common law tradition have a voting age below the age of 18: not Canada, of course, nor any of our 13 provinces and territories; not the United States or any of its 50 states; not Australia or any of its six states and several territories; not the United Kingdom or any of its devolved regions; not India or any of its mini states; not any of the dozen or so Commonwealth democracies in the Caribbean. The same is true for every democracy in continental Europe and Latin America. When we add to this the many thousands of local jurisdictions in Canada, the United States, Australia and elsewhere, none of which allow voting below the age of 18, I think the trend is apparent.

However voting is permitted at age 15 in Iran and in Brazil, according to my colleague from Ajax—Pickering, and also in Nicaragua, Cyprus and Cuba, although how much a vote in Castro's Cuba is worth is an open question. I would like to see some evidence from Canada's own municipal and provincial experience to indicate what voting at age 16 is actually like and what its implications are before jumping in at the federal level.

In the United States the states have been referred to as the laboratories of democracy. In Canada I would like to see us experiment with any such innovations at lower levels of government before we adopt them at the level where the stakes are the highest. This has been the process in the past with various electoral reforms, changes to the first past the post system, referendums, recall and the various other types of innovations in democracy. It would be profitable for us to start there in Canada as well and for that reason I will be recommending to members of Parliament that they vote against Bill C-261.

Canada Elections Act
Private Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Guimond Charlevoix—Montmorency, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-261, introduced by our Liberal colleague, which calls for the voting age to be reduced to 16 years.

I would like to situate this in context. In Quebec, the age was dropped from 21 years to 18 in 1963. In Canada, the first election in which anyone under the age of 21 could vote was held in 1972. So, the question of lowering the voting age to 16 years has been raised regularly for about 20 years. This is what one might call an ongoing debate with periodic recurrences.

In February 2001 and in 2003, two NDP members introduced bills similar to Bill C-261, which we have before us today. Theirs did not, however, differentiate between the age for voters and the age for candidates. Under the parliamentary rules of the day, neither bill was votable.

I would like to take this opportunity to properly present the two opposing points of view. There are a number of debates here in this House, not only those that confront party differences or the differences between us sovereignists and the other members of this House who are federalist. In this case, since this is an important issue and can trigger debate, there will be arguments for and arguments against. Anyway, there is no such thing as unanimity of thought or magical thought on this earth.

I would like to start by illustrating certain points in favour of this reform. Other colleagues have already spoken on this. It is being argued that this measure could get young people more involved in politics. A recent study suggests that people who start voting early keep on voting throughout their lives. It is presumed that young people would have their first contact with politics when still in school, which would help prepare them for later life, through such things as civic courses.

On the other hand, reference is made to certain inconsistencies between our present system, with the Elections Act stipulating that the minimum voting age is 18 years, and other legislation that contains age restrictions. I would like to point out some of these inconsistencies.

Among other things, at 17, one can enroll in the army and go off to war. At 16, one can drive a car. Everyone will agree that these are actions with potentially more serious consequences than one individual's vote. At 16, at the wheel of a car, one can endanger someone else's life as well as one's own. At 16, a young person can decide to leave school. At 14, one has the right to work, and with a high enough income, the duty to pay taxes. At 14—16 in Quebec—a young offender may be charged in adult court. At 14 in Quebec, a teenager has the right to consent to receive or refuse medical care, with one anomaly in the jurisprudence: a court may order a 14-year-old to take medical treatment. At 14 one can marry.

Those who say that the right to vote should be extended to 16-year-olds consider it a question of fairness, and ask the following question, more or less: why do informed and motivated young people of 16 not have the right to vote when poorly informed and uninterested adults do?

On the flip side are those people who have quite the opposite opinion. They tell us that comparing the right to vote to other rights shows there is a problem with the age of criminal liability and that to use responsibility at an early age would be to approve a reduction a priori. We have to look at how all this fits in the Young Offenders Act. The Bloc Québécois was against lowering the age of criminal liability.

There is another aspect. Before the age of 18, the contractual liability of a minor is limited. Does lowering the voting age have an impact on contractual liability? Should this be amended in any way?

Although it is possible to do so, we know that until the age of 18 is reached, parental consent is required for marriage and enlisting in the army. Earlier we heard that a minor is not treated as an adult when receiving medical attention. Also, you have to be 18 to buy cigarettes or alcohol. What about the right to vote? Is there a link between these legal provisions?

In a way, the right to vote marks the arrival at the age of majority, when all restrictions related to being under age are lifted. To those who oppose I ask, how do you reconcile allowing a person the right to vote when he cannot enjoy all the other rights and freedoms?

Some observers or specialists argue that youth under 16 are not mature or knowledgeable enough to make an informed decision. I admit that this argument advocates the elitist concept of the right to vote. As far as I am concerned, I am not prepared to equate 16 years of age with a lack of maturity, because we all know of someone, regardless of their age, who still has not achieved maturity. Let us be clear. We must avoid making a direct link between age and maturity. There are young people, 16 or 17, who are perfectly mature.

Young people themselves do not seem convinced. In fact, according to a November 2004 poll, approximately 37% of young Canadians and Quebeckers aged 14 to 17 say they are interested in politics. However, 50% of them would like to have their say. Furthermore, 50% believe that lowering the voting age to 16 is a good idea, while the other 50% believe the opposite.

I have illustrated that the two opinions are diametrically opposed and balanced. There is support and opposition.

However, a vast majority of young people, 76%, state that they would travel to vote if they had the right. However, in the most recent federal election, voter turnout among young people between the ages of 18 to 21 was 38.7%, compared to 60.9% for Canada overall.

I have the following question: do we know for sure that lowering the voting age would mean higher voter turnout among young people? I think this is difficult to prove.

I am running out of time, but I could have mentioned the March 2003 reform of democratic institutions, on which Claude Béland submitted his report containing various recommendations including keeping the voting age at 18. I could have talked too about the fact that, in the vast majority of countries around the world, the voting age is 18 and that polled countries where the voting age is 15 or 16 are, in some cases, ones where the word democracy has to be written in quotation marks.

In closing, there is no magic solution. I believe that the debate needs to continue in this institution called Parliament. If the House of Commons approves this legislation at this stage, in my opinion, the appropriate committee, which is the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, should seriously consider this issue, hear witnesses and report back to the House on this bill.

Canada Elections Act
Private Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleagues for probably one of the most enjoyable debates of the day, the most informative at the very least. Not to comment on the excitement of prebudgetary consultations but this debate is clearly engaging some members in the House in bringing before us a fundamental question about how we view our democracy, how we view the responsibility that we share as Canadians.

We often lament to voters who do not come to the ballot box and say that men and women died for this right. People for generations have fought here and abroad in foreign lands for the very right to engage in the political process. Some of the arguments saying that this bill is not good for Canada today are most profound in their simplicity and their lack of vision and courage for the country that we are trying to create for Canadians. I proudly and strongly stand in support of my colleague on Bill C-261.

Engaging young people and engaging Canadians in the debate about where we want to lead this country is fundamental to the very things that we do here each and every day. This bill has been introduced a number of times, twice before by my party, but they were in circumstances where the government of the day was able to run over it, ignore it, dispel it and push it to the background.

Now we have an opportunity. I was most encouraged by the member's choice in coming to all parties and engaging people from all corners of the House to try to find a practical and real way to engage young Canadians in the political process, because by all the numbers and by all the studies we know that they are not. There are very few political scientists, politicians and policy makers who are able to convince anyone in this country that this trend is not going to simply continue down the slippery slope.

We often lament to the Americans that only 50% of Americans vote in their federal elections, decide who the next president, congressmen and senators will be. We are quickly matching them on these numbers. I fear to think about what kind of place we will eventually end up with and what percentage of Canadians will actually decide who sits in the House to pass such important laws, bills such as the one that was proposed by the government this morning, the same sex marriage legislation. How many people will decide this? If we are not encouraging young people to join in on the debate in a real, practical and empowered way, then how and when if not now?

I was speaking to a page yesterday, not on this particular bill but on her experience in the House of Commons to this point six months in. She was very professional in not presenting a partisan view, but she did express her level of engagement and interest in what was going on here, how enthusiastic she was about some of the debates. She said that her friends would return home at night and have discussions about these things. Oh, would that we had this problem in this country with young people, that there were young people at home right now saying, “Did you hear what happened in the House of Commons today? A bill was introduced. What do you think about it? What would you do? What will you be voting on in the next federal election whenever it comes?” We should have this interest level.

The consideration by some of the members present that someone at the age of 16 or 17 cannot be given the sincere and profound responsibility of voting their local representative into the House, yet at age 14 can vote in a potential prime minister through a leadership convention is absolutely absurd. If this is the case, then quickly we must change the way that our parties function, their constitutions and bylaws, to ensure that nobody below the age of 18 has any significant responsibility and decision making in choosing something as important as the leaders of our parties. Clearly we have to change all of our bylaws. If members of the House are looking to strike this bill down, then I look forward to their making presentations at their own conventions to make sure that everything else falls in line.

I had the sincere pleasure of living in Costa Rica for a while and I witnessed one of its federal elections. What a contrast. There were parties in the street and people engaging for months beforehand. The most incredible thing was watching families going together to the ballot box. In Costa Rica there are two ballot boxes, one for below the voting age and one for above. The young people cast their ballots. There is the same list of candidates, the same parties, and the results are released on television at the same time. What this created, and I witnessed this in the houses of Costa Rican friends, was a debate within the families.

A lot of people are concerned that parents will direct the young people. The most engaging all candidates debate I participated in during the last federal election was at a high school. It was a fascinating experiment. In the afternoon the high school classes came in, students who were 15, 16 and 17 years old. Their teachers had prepared them on the issues. The students had thought about and considered the issues for weeks before the debate. In the evening we had a debate in the same auditorium which was open to the community.

Out of the nine or ten all candidates debates we had throughout the course of the election, the candidates all agreed that the debate with young people in that high school that afternoon was the most informed and passionate one. It was difficult for the candidates because the young people knew their issues. They knew what they were talking about. They brought hard questions for the candidates because they cared.

As my hon. colleague mentioned, when we present the issues to young people in Canada, they have opinions lo and behold. They have intelligence. They have enough compassion and commitment to make decisions about the future direction of our country.

The cynical side of many of us would say that this is a strategic decision for parties, to find advantage or disadvantage in allowing young people to vote. I call upon members to have the courage to seek out a vision for this country. They must have the courage to go forth to young people and present their vision of this country, the courage to say that we care passionately about what the young people care about, and that we will enact legislation in this House that positively affects their lives and their future.

This is as opposed to what we do right now in understanding where the percentages are. If we are going to upset one group, is it going to be seniors or young people? Well, let us run the numbers. That is what the cynic wants to say.

I want to present to the House that in this tour that is going across the country, people should ask their constituents. Members should ask the families in their ridings whether they believe that the young people in their lives, be they their children or people in their community, have the intelligence and the capacity when presented with the issues of the day, when presented with the options, the parties and the candidates, to cast a vote in the best interests of their future and the future of their community and their country.

The young people that are engaged, and we have heard testimony here in the House today, clearly have the capacity and the ability to come into this process. The cigarette companies and the cola companies have figured it out. What we must do is engage people at a young age and create the culture of voting. I saw a culture of voting in Costa Rica with turnouts of 80% plus in its federal election. I saw a culture of voting and a culture of democracy which we are sadly lacking.

The last election was meant to be a ferocious debate. It was to be a debate on principles and one which would intimately engage Canadians and the numbers would skyrocket in participation. Sadly, after voting day we saw yet again that Canadians were not being engaged.

After the high school debate that I witnessed in Kitimat, B.C. I went knocking on doors. Many times the people who came to the door were informed. They said that they knew me, that their daughter or their son talked about seeing me. They said that it was the first time that their son or daughter had come home from high school bubbling and talking about the issues that they had been presented with. The young people wanted to engage their families in the upcoming federal election, letting them know when the date was, making sure that they would actually vote. They said that they did not have the ability to cast a vote and that their parents must vote.

The number of people who told me this was astonishing. I made a commitment to visit the schools not for partisan reasons, but for reasons to engage young people, to present the issues, same sex marriage, legalization of pot, all the big issues that the House will be facing in the coming weeks. Lo and behold, the young people have opinions. Lo and behold, they want to do research and they want to find something out.

I wish that were my experience with the so-called adult mature community of this country, that when I engage them they immediately want to go out and study the issues, that they want to find out something about the issues and come back with their opinions.

Recently at York University there was a very tragic scene. Young people were engaging in their right to protest a decision that had been made. During that protest the police came in and rude is the most mild word to use but it bordered on illegal and I hope that charges are pressed. I would encourage the dean of York University to withdraw the charges against the students.

I want to remind the House that in this minority government, in this Parliament that is bringing forth the values and interests from across this region, from across the parties herein lies an opportunity for us to redefine democracy and to re-engage our young people in the passion that we all feel for this great country.

Canada Elections Act
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Bonavista—Exploits, NL

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to stand today to talk about this serious issue, Bill C-261. I thank my colleague from Ajax--Pickering for bringing it forward because it is an issue that is very important to me.

I will start the debate by talking about a situation that happened to me in central Newfoundland. I am from a very rural riding. A 16 year old girl said that she wanted to talk to me about post-secondary education because she had a concern. I said that was fine and that we should talk about it. She brought forward not just some problems with the system for her and her family financially but she also presented some ideas.

She told me that she would never ever bring to the debate just problems. She said that she wanted to bring solutions as well. I listened to her and she made a very good debate. When the election was over, I saw her again and asked her how she felt. I told her that we would, hopefully, be able to move forward on it. What she asked me was whether it mattered and had I listened. Well I looked at her and admitted that I had not really listened because I knew she could not vote.

That is the problem that comes into this. When someone is 16 or 17 they are making life decisions, decisions about careers and family but we did not listen to them because they could not vote. To me, that was the ultimate crime. I want to give her that chance.

The charter states that every citizen of Canada has the right to vote in an election of members of the House of Commons or legislative assembly and to be qualified for membership therein. I cannot think of a better person than that young lady who talked to me so intelligently about her situation and who brought forward solutions. That is the type of debate we need to have.

I think engaging our youth is the issue in which our communities need to get involved. We need to engage the entire community, young and old, and the community consists of secondary schools.

My hon. colleague from the New Democratic Party talked about the debate that was going on in a school and how informed the students were. If we give them the right to vote, are we going to listen? Of course we will listen and we will take action this time because in the end we need their support.

Imagine sitting at the dinner table with a daughter, like the one I spoke about earlier, who says, “Dad, I don't like your thinking on post-secondary education, I don't like the way you are voting and I think you should vote another way”. The Dad may reply by saying that it was unfortunate she felt that way and then she might reply by saying that she would cancel his vote.

All of a sudden we have empowered our youth. These people are mature enough and engaged enough and we need to recognize that. That is why I am honoured to stand here to talk about Bill C-261.

It is nice to see that we have support from all parties in the House. It is one of those issues that tie us because we have children and we want to engage our children to do this. Voter turnout in my riding was pathetic. It was less than 50%. What a crime. To get 16 and 17 year olds to vote puts excitement into this debate. It allows them to have a say and it elevates them because now they would have an opinion and we as adults would finally listen. They are in grade 11 or grade 12, but when we speak to them, as we have done, we will listen. To me that would be the biggest benefit of this bill because they do believe in these issues. They do have opinions on same sex marriage and on ballistic missile defence. We just do not take the time to get another perspective, but the bill certainly would.

My hon. colleague quoted a fellow Newfoundlander, Rick Mercer. I will quote him again because he was doing one of his typical rants, as he likes to call them. He said, “If I were 16, I would write my member of Parliament, I would complain, except if I were 16 they wouldn't care what I had to say because I don't have the vote and that's the problem”.

My hon. colleague from Newmarket talked about the poll that was done recently of a thousand respondents. One of the questions was: Do you feel a sense of responsibility to inform yourself about public policy issues or is public policy an area that government should deal with on your behalf? Of the young respondents, 27% said that it was their personal responsibility, while 63% said that the government should decide for them. The reason I believe that is so is because we told them that is the way it is.

Now we have to tell them that their opinion does count and that they can take a personal interest in the rest of their lives. Even at 16 and 17 they can make the decisions for the rest of their lives.

Another question was: Would you be very likely, somewhat likely, somewhat unlikely or very unlikely to vote in the next election if allowed? The poll showed that 23% said unlikely, while 76% said likely. They say that no government works on their behalf and that they really do not have much say on the issue, but 73% said that if they were given the chance they would stand up. I think it is time we gave them the chance.

One of my hon. colleagues complained that we would be the first country to do this. Why can we not be the first country? Let us be the first country to tell our young people that they can vote, that they can have a say and have the power. I think that would be the greatest benefit of this particular situation.

The last point I want to make is about my home. I am from a rural riding where out-migration is at a terrible level. I was a victim of that out-migration. I was 17 years old when I left my hometown of Bishop's Falls in central Newfoundland, a town of less than 4,000 people.

The first time I ever voted in my life I was in a foreign land: New Brunswick, which is somewhat foreign, but it is foreign when one is from a small town in Newfoundland.

The thing is that I wanted to vote in my hometown. I wanted to get involved in my hometown. If we do not involve our youth in the little town of Bishop's Falls, then we are in trouble.

Let us imagine answering the door and a young lady is standing there. She says that her name is Jessica, that she is 16 years old, and that she is running for town council and wants our vote. Can anyone imagine a 16 year old candidate? I may not vote for her but I guarantee I will remember her. That young lady will inspire me and she will inspire her friends to vote as well. We are dealing with younger people who have opinions and well thought out ideas and now it is up to us to recognize that they have that voice.

I want to do this for rural Canada. I definitely want to do this for rural Newfoundland and Labrador because I believe in it. I believe that our children, 16 and 17 year olds, should have that voice.

Canada Elections Act
Private Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the Order Paper.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

Canada Elections Act
Adjournment Proceedings

6:25 p.m.

Conservative

Leon Benoit Vegreville—Wainwright, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is unfortunate that it is necessary for me to rise today. It results from a question I asked on November 5 on an issue which was and is extremely important to people in my constituency and right across the country. It is unfortunate because had an answer been given, of course, I would have no reason to be standing today. As is the case so often, there was absolutely no answer given to the question asked.

In the background to my question I pointed out a situation to do with Blue Mountain Packers in British Columbia. Some of my constituents have shares and are among the key players in this operation. They had complained to me, rightfully so, that they have been held up in reopening the plant by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. They made the point that the local people were very good, and I think that is the case with the CFIA, but once the decision gets to the brass in Ottawa, everything seems to be put on hold.

We desperately need these plants to open to deal with the BSE situation, especially cull cows and bulls. Instead of being helpful in getting these plants open as quickly as possible, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the brass here in Ottawa, seemed to be holding things up. I talked about that particular plant and that problem in my background to the question.

On Monday, lo and behold, something was done. Three people were sent from the CFIA to the plant. Finally, after we had been hammering on this for months and I had made that week a concerted effort to make this happen, the people were sent and the plant did open. Public pressure seemed to be necessary. However, that was not my question.

On November 5 I asked this question specifically:

--how many plants has the CFIA approved in western Canada in the 18 months since the BSE crisis hit?

I asked that question because of the painfully slow process that is going on within the CFIA. Again, the local people seem to be doing their jobs very well and they seem to be very cooperative for the most part. It is when they have to go to Ottawa for some approval that the situation is held up. It is completely unacceptable.

I asked that question and I received no answer at all. I hope the minister will answer it today.

In my constituency on the issue of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency I have had several people suggest to me that the CFIA may have been instructed by people in government, provincial or federal--I have heard both--to actually deliberately slow the process down so that some of the government backed plants, let us say, do not face new competition.

If there is a grain of truth to this, and I do not know whether there is or not, that is simply unacceptable and the government has to deal with it. It should have dealt with this an awful long time ago. In Alberta the two main plants were definitely backed by the Alberta government when they were built. I am looking desperately for explanations as to why the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is being so slow and why it seems to be deliberately slowing the process down; it seems to be, but it may not be. This would be one possible explanation.

I would like an answer from the minister to my actual question. How many plants have been approved by the CFIA in western Canada in the past 18 months? I would really appreciate an answer from the government for a change.

Canada Elections Act
Adjournment Proceedings

6:30 p.m.

Malpeque
P.E.I.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food (Rural Development)

Mr. Speaker, the member said that he did not get an answer on November 5. I just re-read Hansard and I think he received a very positive answer. In fact, I answered the question myself. I told him that I had talked to individual investors at the plants and that we would be moving ahead. He admits himself, and he says that lo and behold something was done.

Of course something was done. The minister announced on September 10 a policy and a program to increase beef slaughter capacity in the country, and we have been moving ahead doing that.

Regarding the question of how many plants have been approved in the last 18 months in western Canada, CFIA cannot approve plants unless investors have put in place an operation and want the federal inspection system.

I would answer this way. In the last 18 months the CFIA has had one request in western Canada for the registration of a beef slaughter house. Officials of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency worked very closely, and he admitted that himself, with the management of the establishment to facilitate the plant's registration.

On November 9, 2004, the CFIA informed the minister that the application for registration for the establishment was approved and that the plant was licensed and was eligible to begin operations as of November 10, 2004. While the details of the plant's application process cannot be discussed, it is important to note that all new meat establishments must provide the required information so that their application for registration can be properly evaluated by the CFIA for compliance with health and safety standards and requirements of our trading partner.

Currently for beef, there are 29 federally registered licensed slaughter house operations across Canada. One other plant has officially approached the CFIA for federal registration and that file is progressing quite well. We expect to see more requests. In fact, we hope to see more requests, and the CFIA is prepare to do its part as is the minister.

The requirements for federally registered meat establishments are fundamental to Canada's meat inspection program which is designed to ensure that Canadian meat products achieve the highest standards for food safety. These federal standards also allow Canadian meat products to be exported to markets around the world. Requirements vary significantly from country to country, and we are audited by foreign countries to ensure that requirements are met.

In conclusion, the CFIA has in place a well established and recognized process for application review. When the necessary information is returned from the plant ownership, an immediate review and evaluation occurs. That is what the CFIA is all about, to help those plants get registered, to see that our standards are met and to ensure that we are moving product that is safe for the consuming population and meets the requirements of the nations that we export to as well.