House of Commons Hansard #37 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was c-31.

Topics

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

11:55 a.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

11:55 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

All those opposed will please say nay.

In my opinion the motion is carried unanimously.

When shall the bill be read the third time? By leave, now?

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

11:55 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan York—Simcoe, ON

moved that the bill be read the third time and passed.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

11:55 a.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to stand in the House and speak to this bill at the third reading stage.

Bill C-18, quite frankly, fixes a problem incurred with voting. To provide a bit of context and a brief history of the reason for Bill C-18 coming before the House, it was because the House originally passed Bill C-31 which basically dealt with voter identification.

The intent of Bill C-31 was so that individuals who wished to cast ballots in federal elections would be required to produce identification showing their name and residency. This seemed to me to be a common sense provision because, as we all know, though Canadians have the right to vote, they have to be, number one, Canadian citizens and, number two, reside in the riding in which they wish to cast their ballot.

We wanted to put provisions in place that required individuals to produce identification, verifying that they lived in the ridings in which they wished to cast ballots. That was the genesis of Bill C-31. However, there was a problem. Bill C-31 stated that in determining proof of residency, voters had to prove their residential addresses.

This, of course, was debated in committee. The Chief Electoral Officer of Canada came before committee to analyze the bill. No one in the committee nor the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada recognized the fact that the term “residential address” or “civic address” would in fact exclude a great many Canadians.

Approximately one million Canadians, in fact, do not have residential or civic addresses. These are primarily rural Canadians living in ridings in Canada who would normally be allowed to vote, but instead of having residential addresses have post office boxes or rural route numbers or a land description, which would be their identification of residency.

Bill C-31 inadvertently excluded everyone who did not have a residential address. As I said just a few moments ago, approximately one million rural Canadians were in that category. If people lived in rural Canada, whether it be Saskatchewan, Ontario, British Columbia or Quebec, and had rural route numbers or post office box numbers instead of street addresses, with the passage of Bill C-31 they would be denied their right or ability to vote.

This flaw in Bill C-31 was first discovered in late September, early October, by the office of the Chief Electoral Officer. Following three byelections held in September in Quebec, the Chief Electoral Officer did a review of the voting practices in Quebec during those three byelections and during that examination discovered this flaw in Bill C-31 dealing with residential addresses.

He immediately informed the government, which, in turn, immediately took corrective action and the result is what we have before us today, Bill C-18. It very simply remedies the glitch found in Bill C-31 by stating that any individual who produces proper identification and whose residency information on that identification is consistent with the information on the electoral lists will then be eligible to vote.

In other words, to put it very clearly and graphically, if an individual has a driver's licence that says he or she resides at post office box 123 anywhere in Canada and the electoral list confirms that this individual resides at post office box 123 anywhere in Canada, or to put it another way, if the driver's licence information and the information on the electoral list are consistent, that individual can then vote and that remedied the situation.

That is why we introduced the bill, that is why the bill is before us today and that is why we wish, as a government, to ensure the bill passes and is delivered to the Senate today. We hope then that our friends in the Senate will pass it quickly and give it royal assent before the end of this calendar year.

The urgency is that there may be byelections or a general election very soon in the new year. No one knows the certainty of a general election, but we do know byelections will have to be called before the end of this month. We want to ensure that all Canadians in rural Canada, who had been disenfranchised inadvertently, are now back on the voters list, that they have the eligibility requirements correct and that they will be able to cast ballots.

I know almost all parties in the House, almost all members in the House, support this legislation. The exception being some members of the New Democratic Party. I find it interesting that their opposition is not really with Bill C-18, but with Bill C-31.

During debate and during committee examination of Bill C-31, the NDP primarily was concerned that many Canadians could potentially be disenfranchised because of the identification requirements contained in the bill. Specifically, the NDP was concerned because of the homeless. Many homeless people, perhaps the vast majority of them, do not possess identification. This was a legitimate concern raised by the members of the NDP. Their solution to that was quite simply that identification requirements contained in Bill C-31 should be eliminated, that people who did not possess proper identification as to proof of identity and residence should still be allowed to vote if they signed an oath or some kind of a declaration at a various polling station on voting day.

While I recognize there will be some individuals in the category of the homeless or maybe other transient individuals who do not have proper identification, the committee determined in its wisdom, and I supported this decision, that the public interest was best served if individuals were required to produce identification.

I believe it is a common sense approach. After all, if people cannot identify themselves, if they cannot prove they actually live in a particular riding, why then should they be allowed to vote? We were concerned about voter fraud. In fact, Bill C-31 was called the voter integrity bill. It was merely intended to ensure the integrity of the voting system, so everyone who wished to vote in a particular riding across Canada would have to demonstrate they actually resided in that riding. I think that is a reasonable approach to take. Hence, Bill C-31 was passed.

The opposition to Bill C-18 from my colleagues in the NDP has really nothing to do with Bill C-18. It goes back to their opposition to Bill C-31. Up to this point, they have been trying to, in my opinion, unduly delay passage of Bill C-18 because of their opposition to the provisions contained in Bill C-31.

However, I am very pleased to see Bill C-18 before us today. I believe we will see passage of this very important bill later today. I also hope, as I mentioned a few moments ago, that our friends and colleagues in the Senate, in their wisdom, will give speedy passage to Bill C-18.

I will reiterate that the bill was brought forward as a corrective measure to ensure that rural Canadians, who had been inadvertently disenfranchised by the provisions contained in Bill C-31, were dealt with in an appropriate manner to ensure they would have the ability to vote in the next general election.

There is nothing more complicated than that. There is nothing more detailed than that. It is merely a simple bill designed to correct an inequity that occurred.

In dealing with the bill in an expeditious manner, as we have, we have demonstrated that Parliament and the committee system within Parliament can work when all members determine that partisan interests should be set aside and the greater good be addressed. Even though there have been disagreements at committee, and I am sure we will still see disagreements to some extent in the debate today, at the end of the day objections will have been duly noted but the bill will pass and for good reason.

I do not want to stand in the House and say that a wrong was not corrected. We have the ability to correct, but we chose not to for whatever reasons. I believe most Canadians would vehemently disagree with that.

While Bill C-18 perhaps should not have been necessary, it was done so to correct an unintended consequence as a result of the passage of Bill C-31.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am always amazed at how the NDP handles these matters.

If my colleague had bothered to inform herself of the identification allowed by the Chief Electoral Officer, she would know that the list includes, among other things, an attestation of residence issued by the responsible authorities, such as shelters, soup kitchens, student or senior residences, long-term care facilities, aboriginal reserves, work camps, and so forth.

This is not rocket science. Out of the 150,000 people the hon. member is referring to, most have some form of documentation that they present at soup kitchens. As for the rest, I agree with her, they will need someone to vouch for them. One thing is certain, for anyone, homeless or not, living in a remote area, there are not as many polling stations as there are in Montreal, where there are thousands. If the person votes at the polling station nearest to where they usually live, there will be someone who knows them who would be more than happy to vouch for them.

The NDP wants us to go back to the way things were before, when, in order to vote, one simply had to swear their identity under oath. That was the whole point of Bill C-31 and everything Quebec has done in the past decade or so to deal with electoral fraud. If the NDP wants to go back to the days of electoral fraud, that is up to them.

I think we should do something about the 150,000 people for whom this causes a problem. We have to have a more thorough look at how we can get them to vote. They all should have a chance to vote. The fact remains that a person without identification, whether they are homeless or not and living near a polling station, can still swear an oath in front of someone who knows them. I am sure that many people know those who stay in a certain sector, even if they are homeless.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

Bloc

France Bonsant Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened to my colleague talk about Bill C-31 on the right to vote. Fraud is a huge issue. In Quebec, many dead people voted in the 1995 referendum.

I would therefore like to know the opinion of the member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel. What does he think about using voter cards to avoid all that? No, I am not joking. What does he think about voter cards, which the Bloc Québécois and the Parti Québécois have been demanding for years?

Canada Elections Act
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12:35 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-31 represents change. My colleague will understand that 10 years ago, Quebec adopted a bill to avoid voter fraud that is similar to the bill before us. We are therefore one step closer to the day when, we hope, there will be voter cards. Voter cards would allow voters in any province or territory to vote even if they move. With voter cards, voting would be much simpler and easier. In Quebec, the voter card could be used for school board elections as well as municipal, provincial and federal elections. It would prevent voter fraud.

That is the goal of any democracy: to make sure no one manipulates the democratic process or uses it for other purposes. That is the goal Quebec is trying to achieve.

Gradually, we are evolving. The legislation that has been in effect in Quebec for 10 years is being put in place here in Ottawa. We are helping our democracy move forward.

I thank my colleague for her question.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

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

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

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

Canada Elections Act
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12:40 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, earlier my colleague from Compton—Stanstead gave the example of the 1995 referendum in Quebec, which led to many complaints to the Chief Electoral Officer. If only because of this one instance in the life of the democracy that is Quebec, all the great democrats of this world should make sure no one ever tries to manipulate the democratic process by allowing people to usurp other people's right to vote. Quite simply, for the good of democracy, we must make sure that never happens.

Once again, I am having trouble understanding why the NDP does not support these measures. Perhaps this is how the NDP conducts elections. It will have to live with that. That did not do the NDP much good in the last election, but we will see what the future holds. We will keep a closer eye on the NDP and how it conducts elections.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus Timmins—James Bay, ON

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They were ignored.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

1 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

If members have questions and comments, they can do so after the recorded division.