House of Commons Hansard #17 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was vote.

Topics

Presence in Gallery
Oral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I would like to draw to the attention of hon. members the presence in the Ladies Gallery of the recipients of the 2008 National Aboriginal Achievement Awards.

They are as follows: Norval Morrisseau, Boyd Wesley Benjamin, Shirley Cheechoo, Jim Boucher, Hubert Skye, Marie Battiste, Elizabeth Penashue, Jeff Redaing, David Hahwegahbow, Paul Andrew, Joe Handley, Sylvia Maracle, Reggie Leach and Bernard McCue.

Presence in Gallery
Oral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Hear, hear!

Presence in Gallery
Oral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I invite all hon. members to meet the recipients at a reception at 3:15 p.m. in room 216.

It being Thursday, I believe the opposition House leader, the member for Wascana, has a question.

Business of the House
Oral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Wascana, SK

Mr. Speaker, I wonder if the government House leader would indicate his proposed work program through to the end of next week.

He has indicated informally to House leaders what he intends to pursue on Monday and Tuesday of next week, but he has not provided any further detail beyond that. I wonder if he could inform the House of his intentions.

Business of the House
Oral Questions

3:05 p.m.

York—Simcoe
Ontario

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, as you know, this week is strengthening the federation through democratic reform week.

We began the week by debating the bill on visual identification of electors and we hope to examine the bill on rural electors without a municipal address shortly.

Today we have concluded debate at second reading on the first bill to enhance the electoral process and improve the integrity of the electoral system and we hope to conclude debate on the second bill as well.

Next, I am pleased to say that we will begin debate on our bills to make the Senate more democratic and accountable. We will begin with the debate on the future of the Senate by discussing our bill to limit the terms of senators. Our bill will put an end to the comfortable 45 year terms for senators, limiting those terms to eight years.

I hope the Liberals in the House do not follow the lead of their colleagues in the Senate who did everything they could to block this bill, especially since the Liberal leader is on the record numerous times supporting term limits for senators.

After concluding debate on our term limits bill, we will start debate on our bill to ask Canadians who should represent them in the Senate. For the first time ever, Canadians across Canada will have a direct say in who should represent them in the Senate.

In a serious effort to work with the opposition, we will be seeking to send this bill to committee before second reading. This will allow a wider consideration of the bill and amendments at committee.

Next week will be safer communities through tackling crime week. We will start on Monday by debating our security certificates bill. While we expect vigorous debate on this bill, we hope that all parties will act in a responsible, reasonable way, mindful of the advice that the Supreme Court has given in this matter.

In addition, we will also be welcoming back to the House our bill to make our streets and communities safer by tackling violent crime. Pursuant to a special order, our tackling violent crime bill will be reported back to the House by Friday of next week.

Other bills addressing important changes needed to make our streets and communities safer will be introduced next week.

Finally, the Minister of Finance will continue to ensure effective economic leadership by presenting a bill to implement the measures in budget 2007. This bill will seek to implement the $60 billion tax cuts promised in the economic statement, which also proposes reducing the GST to 5%. We will begin debate on this important bill on Wednesday.

Business of the House
Oral Questions

3:05 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, as part of the Thursday question, I would like an assurance from the government House leader that there will be adequate time for the committees to study the estimates, and the estimates will not be brought back to the House that will preclude the committees from doing that work, because there has been some suggestion that might happen.

The supply cycle goes to December 10, but we would like an assurance that the committees will be able to go through the estimates before the main supplementary estimates are brought back to the House.

Business of the House
Oral Questions

3:10 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan York—Simcoe, ON

Mr. Speaker, the supply period is set out clearly in the Standing Orders. The last supply day will be sometime between December 3 and December 10. It is our intention to proceed sometime in accordance with the Standing Orders with the last supply day in that period.

Business of the House
Oral Questions

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Wascana, SK

Mr. Speaker, in view of the designation which the government House leader has just made that next week will be a resumption of its tackling crime initiative and will designate the week as a week to tackle crime, I wonder if the government would consider a take note debate at some point next week with respect to the Mulroney-Schreiber matter?

Business of the House
Oral Questions

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I think that discussions about such debates are normally held between the House leaders and done by agreement. I am sure the House leaders, when they have their weekly meeting, will discuss whether they want to have this kind of debate and will settle the matter. It does not need to be the subject of questions in the House, I suspect.

I have not been to a House leaders meeting in years. I am not an expert on this matter, but I believe those things are frequently settled there and that is just as well.

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

Canada Elections Act
Oral Questions

3:10 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Guimond Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this bill to amend the Canada Elections Act with regard to verification of residence.

Here is the problem, more or less. Elections Canada recently revealed that 1 million Canadians do not have a proper residential address under the terms of the original legislation. In other words, they do not have an address with a street number and a street name.

This is a reality both in Quebec and Canada. We have big cities, but we also have, numerically speaking, a large number of rural communities. Rural addresses quite often consist of post office box numbers or rural route numbers. For example, an address might include the name of the person, “Rural Route 1”, and the name of the municipality. We know that in most cases in rural areas, mail carriers deliver the mail to mailboxes along the roadside. Such is the case in my riding on Île d'Orléans, in Côte-de-Beaupré and in Charlevoix, where farms are very large. This makes mail delivery quite challenging.

In addition, Elections Canada realized that the addresses of residents of aboriginal reserves often consist of nothing but the name of the reserve. In my riding, there is a very dynamic aboriginal community, the Innu of Essipit. I am proud to salute the leadership of grand chief Denis Ross, as well as all of the band council and the negotiating team. In some aboriginal communities, then, the address consists solely of the name of the person and the name of the reserve. We can imagine that makes the process of identification somewhat complicated.

Worse still, those people could not appeal to another voter in the same polling division to vouch for them because most of the voters would not have the documents required to prove the address of their residence.

The problem is as follows. If you live in a township and your address is just “Rural Route 1”, it is very likely that the people who know you best or most intimately are your neighbours, and it could well be that those neighbours are your relatives. So, if your sister, your brother or sister-in-law lives on the same rural route as you, they have the same problem of identification. Their own address is incomplete for the purposes of Elections Canada. This measure has the same goal of improving the conditions for identification of voters.

According to Elections Canada, there are 1,012,989 voters, that is 4.4% of eligible voters in Canada, who do not have a residential address that meets the requirements of the Elections Act as amended. The situation is very disquieting. What is more, Elections Canada tells us that 80% of the residents of an area such as Nunavut do not have a personal address.

There are statistics for Saskatchewan, Ontario and for Newfoundland and Labrador. In Quebec, it is a matter of 15,836 voters or 27/100 of 1%, or more than 0.25% who could be facing the same problem.

Through Bill C-18, which are now debating, the government is amending the Canada Elections Act to provide more flexibility in the regulations concerning the verification of residence in the case of voters who live in areas where the municipal address appearing on a piece of identification consists of a postal box, general delivery or rural route.

This bill provides that where the address indicated on the items of identification presented does not establish the residence of the voter but is consistent with the corresponding information on the voters list, the residence of the voter is deemed to have been established.

For example, a voter whose piece of identity contains an address consisting only of the rural route could establish his residence if that postal address matches the information recorded on the voters list.

The bill also provides that in case of doubt the deputy returning officer, the poll clerk, a candidate or candidate's representative could ask the voter to take the prescribed oath if there is any doubt in the opinion of the election officials.

The Bloc Québécois supports the principle of the bill because we believe it is necessary to correct the law to avoid having 1 million Canadians deprived of their right to vote. Even though, numerically speaking, we are talking about a smaller number compared to other communities and other provinces, I believe that those 15,836 voters in Quebec also have the right to exercise their right to vote. Not amending the act would amount to depriving them of their right to vote, and voting is a democratic exercise in which we elect the representatives who will speak for us in Ottawa.

We are of the opinion that the NDP proposal to grant the right to vote to every voter who swears an oath is unacceptable. This proposal was already rejected by the three other political parties when Bill C-31 was studied in the previous session of this Parliament.

We believe that it is reasonable to require at least one piece of photo ID, if available, to verify the identity of voters and to ensure the integrity of the electoral system. There must not be any ambiguity: the NDP proposal could result in some fraud. The NDP proposal runs counter to the principles of identification required to vote in a general election or a byelection.

We know that the NDP is criticizing this bill because it believes it will not resolve all the problems created last spring by Bill C-31. We recall the discussions of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs where the NDP pointed out the situation of homeless people. I wish to reiterate what I said at that time: our party is not oblivious to the situation of the homeless. On the contrary, it is proof that despite economic prosperity, despite the fact that the dollar has reached its highest value in 30 years, there is the reality that there are poor people and homeless people in Canada and Quebec.

The problem for the homeless is that they do not always have an identification card. Yet, they must be able find someone to vouch for them and prove their identity. To adopt the NDP position would be to ensure that anyone at all could vote. We cannot support that position.

On the Liberal side, the member for Wascana, also the House leader of the official opposition, a Liberal member from Saskatchewan, is calling for this problem to be solved as quickly as possible.

In closing, I want to reiterate that the Bloc Québécois is in favour of this bill and that this problem is not new to us, even though it has received a lot of media attention lately. On December 7, 2006, Jean-Pierre Kingsley, former Chief Electoral Officer of Canada, appeared before our Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs and warned parliamentarians about the address problem.

I will close my presentation by citing Mr. Kingsley:

The requirement to prove residence presents a significant challenge. It is worth noting that in Quebec, which is the only province requiring ID at the polls, electors only need to prove their identity, not their residence. ... As well, the chief electoral officers of other Canadian jurisdictions have pointed out that in many rural and northern areas of the country, especially west of Ontario, the address on the driver's licence is not the residential address but the postal address.

In closing, we believe that this bill will be carefully examined by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. I will say again that the Bloc Québécois is in favour of the principle of this bill.

Canada Elections Act
Oral Questions

3:20 p.m.

NDP

Catherine Bell Vancouver Island North, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure today to speak to Bill C-18 recently introduced into the House of Commons in an effort to fix a hastily adopted bill, Bill C-31, from the last session of Parliament.

I say hastily because I know the committee heard from many witnesses. They heard from Elections Canada, first nations, students, homeless advocates and the members of the committee, including the NDP member for Ottawa Centre, who was the critic at the time.

I know a lot of issues were raised on Bill C-31. Unfortunately, some of the flaws that were pointed out were not addressed. They were overruled by the members of the committee.

Today we are trying to fix a problem created by the Conservative government. The problem is the new stringent regulations, as set out in Bill C-31, on the cards to prove one's identity ultimately will lead to the disenfranchisement of over a million voters, as we have heard. This was pointed out by Elections Canada after the fact. Basically that has forced the government to come up with this new bill to try to undo the damage.

Under the new regulations of Bill C-18 being considered today, voting will still be more difficult for many cross-sections of Canadians, including people with rural addresses.

That is why I am here today to speak to the bill. I represent a riding that is probably 50% rural. We have a lot of small towns and a couple of large centres that get home delivery, but most of our communities get rural mail delivery. It is for them that I am worried.

I also have to include myself in that group of people because I live in a small town. I have a box number. Fortunately for me, my residential address is also on my driver's licence, as well as my box number. If that were not the case, I might find myself on election day unable to vote, or having to prove who I am.

In areas of Courtenay, where there is rural mail delivery, many people living on small farms and on lots outside of the city limits. They do not have home delivery. These people get their mail at the side of the road in a box, and it is an RR number. It has been like that for many years and a lot of the people have lived there for many years. This includes the area of Royston, which is just south of Courtenay where my aunt lives.

She has been in that place for over 50 years. She just turned 80 years old. She has always lived in the same place. She may find herself at the polling station unable to vote because she does not drive. She does not have a driver's licence with a picture ID on it and probably could not prove who she was. All her neighbours and the people who she knows would be unable to vouch for her because they might find themselves in the same predicament without the ability to verify who they are.

Also areas of Comox and outer areas of that town do not get home delivery. Up in the Lazo area, many people living in the little communities of Merville, Black Creek and Oyster River may be disenfranchised from their vote. Again, these people do not get their mail delivered to a box in a central post office. Because of what happened with Canada Post over a number of years, we have found that our mail is delivered to small community grocery stores, gas stations or other places where people have to pick up their mail. The mail does not come to their residences, so they usually have a rural mail delivery address or a box number in those places. Many people are going to find they have a problem.

I spoke a little about box numbers. Most of the communities in my riding, for example, Cumberland, Gold River, Sayward, Tahsis, Port McNeil, Port Hardy and Port Alice, Zeballos, have very small post offices. They are a long way from Ottawa and the larger geographical centres of British Columbia. People in these small towns rely on the post offices as the place to get their mail. Pretty well everyone's mail is delivered to a post office box. Many people live on roads that may not even have a name or a sign and their residence address would not be listed.

The other interesting thing is that there are a lot of little islands, Hornby, Denman, Quadra, Cortes, Alert Bay and Sointula, all those little islands we travel to and from. The people who live on those islands also get their mail delivered to a box at the local post office which in many instances is in the local community grocery store. These people may also find themselves disenfranchised.

That is a lot of communities, in fact most of the communities in my riding. There are only two main communities where people would get their mail delivered to their home and their home address would be on their card. We are concerned about what might happen with the people in the small communities.

The other thing I have to highlight is all the first nations communities in my riding and there are a lot of them, including places like Owikeno, Kingcome Inlet and up in Simoom Sound. These places are very remote. People do not get their mail delivered to a post office box or to their home. Their addresses are bag number such and such in the closest town and the mail is flown in on small airplanes or taken in by boat whenever the weather is good. That is how they get their mail. If they were issued a card that said bag number such and such, or whatever, obviously they do not live in a bag, they live in a beautiful community up the coast, but they could find themselves disenfranchised.

It is already hard enough for some people in our smaller communities and especially first nations because until recently they did not even have polling places on reserve, so they were feeling disenfranchised that way as well.

We are trying to find more opportunities to increase the vote among first nations people in our communities. I know in the last election we worked very hard with Elections Canada to make sure that there were polls on reserves so that people would have an opportunity to vote where they live. That is so important.

Some people in our rural communities have to travel quite a distance to exercise their franchise. We take it for granted when we live in a larger centre, in that we can just take a few minutes to go to our polling station and vote. We need to make sure there are more opportunities to do that, not less.

Also, I talked about homeless people and transient populations. My colleague, the member for Vancouver East, spoke passionately about how we would be disenfranchising many of those people in the inner cities who live in shelters or who are homeless. There were some provisions made to identify them and to make sure that they were not left out.

In my community we do not have big shelters. We have a couple of small ones, but we also have many homeless people in my riding. Many of these people are couch surfing. They are living in cars. There are families who are living at campsites. There are people who are double bunking, a couple of different families living together trying to make ends meet, trying to find suitable housing.

I do not know what will happen to those people if they have no address at all and they cannot prove where they are living. It is going to be really difficult for them at voting time. It is something that we should have addressed before.

At committee we also heard from students who were living away from home. Aboriginal representatives who came to committee brought up some of the flaws that were ignored at the time. As I said, here we are debating a bill that fixes another bill that was rushed through the House.

The NDP critic at the time who worked on the committee made presentations to our caucus. We understood the problems. We were the only party to vote against Bill C-31 at the time.

It is very unfair that all the groups that I just mentioned, aboriginals, students, rural residents, people who live in small towns, will have to jump through hoops in order to carry out their democratic right and civic duty to cast a ballot.

Constituents have called me to ask what is going on with respect to paragraph 3, proof of identity, in Bill C-18. They will have to provide proof of identity and residence. If a person cannot prove his or her residence, then the person may lose his or her franchise to vote. That is a problem. That is basically what brings us here today.

The provisions were introduced in order to combat voter fraud that allegedly was taking place in Canada. However, no meaningful evidence has been put forth to prove that fraud was occurring in any systematic or widespread way.

My colleague from Ottawa Centre mentioned that candidate fraud is a bigger problem than voter fraud, with the floor crossing that goes on. A candidate representing a certain party will get elected. People commit to a certain candidate. They work hard for that candidate to make sure that the candidate is elected and when that person gets to the House of Commons, that person might cross the floor to another party. That act in itself is what turns off a lot of voters. It is a shame that these things are allowed to happen in this House.

I also believe that the objective of stamping out voter fraud is an honourable one, but unfortunately, it is being pursued at too high a price under these bills. It basically alienates many honest Canadians and disenfranchises them from their opportunity to vote. It is too high a price to pay for something that really is not a huge problem in the first place. The most important thing is for Canadians to have easy and open access to the ballot.

I put forward a motion on electoral reform because I wanted to hear from more Canadians. More Canadians deserve an opportunity to vote and their vote should count. I wanted to hear from Canadians to find out how we could change and enhance our electoral system with proportional representation, but unfortunately that motion was hijacked by the procedure and House affairs committee. It basically turned into a process where the government could hear about Senate reform. I heard from people who attended the focus groups that came out of that procedure. The whole agenda was pretty much taken up with talk about Senate reform. There was very little talk about electoral reform.

That is sad because I know that in the province of British Columbia where I come from, electoral reform is something that a lot of people wanted. When we had our referendum in 2005, it did not pass, but it did not lose by much either. We had over 50%. Unfortunately, the way it was set out it had to have 60%, but 57% is more than 50% plus one. That is what we need to have a majority in this House. I think a majority of British Columbians did want some sort of change in our electoral process.

Back to the bill at hand, the NDP critic for democratic reform, the member for Timmins—James Bay, is taking an active role at the committee. Other NDP MPs are rising in this House to ensure that the rights of all Canadians are protected at the ballot box.

My colleague from Timmins—James Bay also is in jeopardy of losing his vote. There was an article a number of weeks ago in the paper about that. His driver's licence has a very strange address. That is how things are done in his riding. It does not list his residence, but only lists the number of a road. He is willing, as I and others are, to jump through the procedural hoops that the government has placed before us to make sure that we get to vote on election day.

I do not have to ask how many of my constituents would be willing to find someone to go to the polling station with them to declare that they are who they say they are. Seniors, people with disabilities, young people who are voting for the first time, are they going to show up at the ballot box with the people necessary to prove who they are, or will they walk away? I think most people would say, “Forget it. This is too much trouble. Why bother”. Such a procedure is going to turn people away from the voting process. This is something that we ought not to do. We should be encouraging people to get out and vote, not making it more difficult for them. We should not be setting up roadblocks.

Already voter turnout is too low. I think that voter turnout hovers at around 65%. That is quite shameful. It means that members were elected to the House with the support of 65% of the population, and the percentage of the vote that we received makes it even smaller. That is something we need to address in this country. Again, that could be addressed through changing our electoral system.

I am proud to say that only the NDP caucus stood up in opposition to the original bill when it was being expedited through the House last spring. The Conservative Party introduced this troubling legislation and both the Bloc and the Liberals got on board on the condition that all voters' birthdates would be included in the voters list that is provided to the political parties. My colleague from Ottawa Centre fought hard against these provisions, but he was ultimately outnumbered at the committee where these amendments were made.

It is unfortunate that we are here speaking to Bill C-18. Both it and Bill C-31 threaten the very foundation of democracy and the rights of citizens that Canadians hold so dear.

I know that the NDP democratic reform critic will do all he can to ensure that fair amendments to this bill are adopted so that the right of all Canadians on election day will be protected.

I thank the House for the opportunity to speak to Bill C-18 and to put my party's point of view forward.

Canada Elections Act
Oral Questions

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Gary Goodyear Cambridge, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate that not all members can attend all committees, as there are many committees. I know the hon. member has her own committees and is not on the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. I would request that she check the minutes because at no time did the NDP raise the issue of these riding addresses.

In fact, the NDP brought forward a number of witnesses from a number of organizations who were concerned, as they should have been, with how homeless people would have the right to vote. The committee grappled with the issue at great lengths.

No one, including the folks from Elections Canada, the witnesses, the members of Parliament who were at the committee or the Senate, saw the rural address issue, and here it is. Nobody from the NDP raised this issue. They missed it completely, as did everybody else.

I want the member to be correct on her facts, and perhaps I could lend her some research assistance for her next speech.

The committee grappled with fraud and the integrity of the system. We heard stories from witnesses, and again I can help the member get the research, where people would phone in to radio stations to register their votes. We heard situations where dead people voted. We heard situations where there was a 150% turnout at some of the polls. Therefore, the fact that nobody has been charged by Elections Canada does not, in itself, preclude that there may have been fraud. It is balancing the integrity of the Canadian voting system.

Here we have a rural address problem for which we have come up with a solution. I just want to point out that the NDP provided no solution.

However, we did grapple very hard and very long to ensure homeless people were able to exercise their right to vote, despite the fact that evidence showed that in one area where there were an estimated 600 homeless people, 1,800 votes were cast by those homeless people. Therefore, the suggestion is that they voted three times.

Recently we have had comments from the NDP that to add extra voting days and give Canadians more choice when they vote would ultimately, questionably, cost a little bit of money. It has been suggested that it would increase it moderately. The NDP's comments now are that it would not be worth the expense.

Could the member tell us at what point we balance the integrity of the system, making sure that people who have a right to vote do vote and nobody else, not people who are vacationing in Canada and not my in-laws who perhaps are not citizens of the country? How do we protect that? How does she answer the question that we must do everything for the homeless, and I agree we must, but not anybody else because it is too expensive?

Canada Elections Act
Oral Questions

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Catherine Bell Vancouver Island North, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am not quite sure what the hon. member was suggesting with his last comment but I will try to answer some of his questions. If he had listened carefully to my remarks, he would not have heard me say that the NDP raised the issue of rural addresses.

I mentioned that because, from what I understand, it was the first nations people who raised that issue at the committee. However, it does not really matter at the end of the day who raised it. I do not know why we need to play a blame game. We are raising it now and it is before this House. Suffice it to say that the NDP voted against Bill C-31 and we were the only party to do so, for many reasons.

The NDP did provide solutions, such as providing a statutory declaration for voters so that they could declare themselves when voting.

With regard to the member's point on more voting days, I do not hear too many people asking for more days to vote. We have advance polls that have been extended over the years, and that is great.

I do hear from a lot of my constituents and Canadians all across this country, through petitions and other things, that they want their vote to actually count at the end of the day. They are looking for changes to our electoral system and what they really want is for their vote to count at the end of the day.

Canada Elections Act
Oral Questions

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from Vancouver Island North for her intervention in the debate today and pointing out the great irony of Bill C-31, a bill that purportedly was intended to deal with the question of voter fraud, even though there is not a high level of voter fraud. No one claimed that voter fraud was rampant in Canada. Again, it seemed like an issue that was not really high on the list of issues.

Although we all want a voting system that has integrity, the question of voter fraud was not something that seemed to be rampant in Canada. We had this legislation in the last session of Parliament to purportedly deal with this problem. What it did cause was the disenfranchisement of almost a million Canadians. I really appreciate that she has taken the time to outline how that affects people, particularly in the small and rural communities in her riding on the north part of Vancouver Island.

I know this has been an area of particular concern to my colleague because she has been very active on the whole question of democratic reform and proposing significant measures. While I appreciate her comments directly on this legislation, I wonder if she could elaborate on some of her broader concerns about democratic and electoral reform in Canada, those which are not dealt with in this legislation but would be important issues for Parliament to deal with and look at in the future.