House of Commons Hansard #102 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was identification.

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(Bill S-1001. On the Order: Private Members' Bills:)

December 7, 2006--Second reading and reference to a legislative committee of Bill S-1001, An Act respecting Scouts Canada--Mr. Ken Boshcoff.

Scouts Canada
Private Members' Business

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Ken Boshcoff Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. There have been discussions among the parties and I believe that you will find unanimous consent for the following motion. I move:

That Bill S-1001, An Act respecting Scouts Canada, be deemed to have been read a second time, referred to a committee and reported to the House without amendment, concurred in at the report stage, read a third time and passed.

Scouts Canada
Private Members' Business

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Does the hon. member for Thunder Bay—Rainy River have the unanimous consent of the House to propose this motion?

Scouts Canada
Private Members' Business

10:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Scouts Canada
Private Members' Business

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Scouts Canada
Private Members' Business

10:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Scouts Canada
Private Members' Business

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

(Motion agreed to, bill read the second time, referred to a committee and reported without amendment, concurred in and, by unanimous consent, read the third time and passed)

The House resumed from January 31 consideration of Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Public Service Employment Act, as reported (with amendment) from the committee, and of the motions in Group No. 1.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Mark Eyking Sydney—Victoria, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-31, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Public Service Employment Act.

On June 22 the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs tabled a report in the House entitled, “Improving the Integrity of the Electoral Process: Recommendations for Legislative Change”. The report was based in part on the recommendations that we had received from the Chief Electoral Officer. While there have been discussions about fundamental changes to our entire electoral system, these should not detract from the efforts that have been made to improve our existing system.

The government tabled a response to the committee's report on October 20 and agreed with a vast majority of the recommendations that were made by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. Bill C-31 was subsequently introduced on October 24 of last year.

The proposed bill would amend the Canada Elections Act to improve the integrity of the electoral process by reducing the opportunity for electoral fraud or for error. It would require electors before voting to provide one piece of government issued photo identification that shows their names and addresses or two pieces of identification authorized by the Chief Electoral Officer that show their names and addresses, or they can also take an oath or they might be vouched for by an elector who does have photo identification.

The proposed bill would amend the Canada Elections Act to, among other things, make operational changes to improve the accuracy of the national register of electors. It will facilitate voting and enhance communications with the electorate. It amends the Public Service Employment Act to permit the Public Service Commission to make regulations that will now extend to the maximum term of employment of casual workers. We see this as an improvement.

While the government did not incorporate the committee's recommendations in Bill C-31, it stated that when it did not accept these recommendations, it had a fundamental disagreement in principle, or the items required further study, or we had received inadequate testimony and had been unable to reach a definitive decision during the committee proceedings.

A key concern of the Liberal committee members was to ensure that the bill allowed aboriginal status identification to be deemed acceptable proof for voting purposes. Government officials have clarified that the text of the bill requires government issued photo ID with an address or government issued photo ID without an address. This would include band status cards, but they would have to be accompanied by a letter from the band council or something like a phone bill that would have the person's number, name and address to corroborate the claim that he or she was indeed an eligible voter in that specific riding.

A second concern that the Liberal committee members have is ensuring that the enumeration process is strengthened on the reserve communities. The government has suggested, rather than send the bill to committee, that the committee simply pass a motion calling on the Chief Electoral Officer to strengthen enumeration in reserve communities.

My riding of Sydney—Victoria is in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. It has the highest population of aboriginals in Atlantic Canada. There are three communities: Wagmatcook, Membertou and Eskasoni. Eskasoni is the largest aboriginal community east of Montreal. These communities are overcoming some major challenges and it is very important that as they are taking charge of their destiny, they get involved in our electoral process.

These communities contain 4,000 status aboriginals. Voter turnout in these areas has been historically lower than in the rest of the communities in my riding. I would hope this measure could help increase the voter turnout.

According to the 2001 census, 4.5% of the riding is aboriginal and I think this measure will go a long way to bring voter turnout up to match the portion of the population. Indeed, Eskasoni is probably the fastest growing community in my riding. It deserves representation so that its infrastructure and social needs can be addressed.

As the bill has emerged from the work of the all-party committee, sending it back to the committee would somehow be redundant, given that the government has assured the opposition that the aboriginal ID concerns are addressed in the text of the current bill.

On this side of the House we support changes to the Canada Elections Act that protect against the likelihood of voter fraud and misrepresentation. We need to be assured that the aboriginal photo identification is acceptable. We also support strengthening the enumeration process, particularly on the reserve communities and in other areas where there is low voter turnout.

Before I became a member of Parliament I did work in underdeveloped countries. As a member of the trade committee and the foreign affairs committee we visited many countries with my colleagues. Many of these countries were just embarking on a democratic process.They use us as an example.

It is not only important for Canadian citizens to be encouraged to vote, but it is also important that we encourage other citizens of the world to fully participate in democracy. I encourage all my colleagues in both the House and the Senate to support this legislation.

Voter turnout continues to be low. I never thought I would see a 60% turnout from an area that used to have some of the highest participation rates in the country. Even in my riding where people are generally more engaged politically there continues to be a lower turnout. There is nothing more frustrating for voters when their name does not appear on the list.

The ID provision in this bill actually will make it easier for voters to engage in the political process. I am sure all my colleagues have seen that problem and will agree with that.

My riding is on the north shore of Cape Breton Island. It stretches from Bras d'Or Lake in the southwest to Cabot Strait in the northwest all the way to St. Paul Island in the northeast. Sydney is our largest centre, along with North Sydney, Sydney Mines and New Waterford. They are all communities in my riding.

As I stated before, there are also three Mi'kmaq reserves: Membertou, Eskasoni and Wagmatcook. They want their voices heard. I believe this bill will bring greater confidence to the system.

A government issued ID photo is a small requirement to protect our precious right to vote. Indeed, even without an ID a voter still may be sworn in. That makes Canada by far one of the easiest jurisdictions in which one can exercise one's franchise.

There are other components to our system that make Canada a model for the world, including our system of professional returning officers. In my riding of Sydney—Victoria we have always been blessed with competent returning officers and our electoral staff. They undergo more training than ever before and this adds to the credibility of our system.

I believe the bill in a small way helps keep faith in the integrity of our system and that is why I am support the bill.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

10:10 a.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I was interested in a couple of points that the member made, particularly concerning first nation people being able to vote. I think we are all well aware of the fact that on many reserves the voter turnout is low and partly that has been a lack of responsiveness around appropriate polling stations for example.

I know in the advance poll in one of the reserves in my riding that there was a lack of understanding that people actually lived on an island and that they would have to travel from their island to a voting station that was actually on another island. There are a great many difficulties in having first nations turn out for voting.

One of the things that the member talked about was the fact that the status card would be one option, of presenting a status card and that would be acceptable identification. However, it needed a supplementary piece of identification or a letter from the band.

In my riding, using an example like telephone bills is a bit of a problem because many people actually do not have telephones. I wonder if the member could make some suggestions around what other kinds of things, particularly in these impoverished communities, might be acceptable. It is a real struggle to have voters turn out and it is an important democratic right that we would like to encourage.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

Mark Eyking Sydney—Victoria, NS

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the member's question, as many MPs have aboriginal communities in their ridings and it is very difficult for them. Many times, their communities are remote and polling stations are out of reach. We have to make it as easy as possible for those people to vote.

The other point the member brought up was about the telephone bill and the address. I am sure it is not just a telephone bill that would be accepted. I think we are looking at any piece of identification that shows the name and address on it as being acceptable.

This is not going to be perfect when we are done, but I believe that some of these steps are big steps and are going to make it a lot easier not only for aboriginal communities but for many communities that have low voter turnout. These steps are going to make it easier for people to vote and to not be embarrassed when they go to the polling stations.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

Joy Smith Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Mr. Speaker, the speech of the hon. member opposite had a lot of credible information in it. I have one question.

This bill is long overdue in Parliament. Could the member expand a little on voter identification? I know that there have been incidents across Canada in which people have given identification but were not actually the person carrying the identification, so I understand that they voted under false pretences. What are the safeguards against this kind of thing?

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

Mark Eyking Sydney—Victoria, NS

Mr. Speaker, as I said in my speech, people at the polling station are going to be able to identify most of the people coming in and out, but if someone really wants to do something wrong, it is hard. As for someone who comes in with someone else's identification and says he or she is that person and votes, it is really a disappointment. We hope that is minimized. We hope that is eliminated.

I think the gist of this bill is to encourage more people to get out and vote, to encourage them in areas where there is low turnout, where people feel intimidated when they go there and their names are not on the list. Also, of course, its purpose is to encourage the aboriginal communities. There is never going to be a foolproof system for someone going in with someone else's ID, but we are hoping that the people at the polling station will recognize that someone is using the wrong information.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

10:15 a.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak about this piece of legislation before the House. It is an important consideration when we are talking about our democratic process. One of the fundamentals of our democratic process is how people actually get to vote.

The legislation before us is a bill to amend the Canada Elections Act. Part of the reasoning that has been put forward for the bill is the alleged cases of fraud throughout the country, cases of voters being able to vote who are either not part of that riding or who perhaps are misrepresenting themselves.

Yet when the Chief Electoral Officer was asked about this very situation, what he indicated was that there were a very few isolated incidents of voter fraud. This notion that there is massive voter fraud throughout the country is bogus. If our Chief Electoral Officer says that there are isolated incidents, surely we should be able to accept his word for it.

The other thing that has been talked about around the bill is that it will be used as a mechanism to encourage voter turnout. I would argue that in fact what it will do is discourage voter turnout.

Members have talked about the fact that people would show up and their names would be on the list. I fail to see how asking for more identification actually ensures that people's names are on the list. If we really want to talk about getting people's names on the list and getting an accurate list, then what we would do is universal enumeration. The NDP certainly has called for that.

There is another thing people are talking about. I might just back this up a little by again referencing the fact that we would like to see increased voter turnout. That is a major concern, I am sure, for each and every Canadian. We need to have voters engaged in that democratic process. What we are seeing is a continuing decline in voter turnout.

In the last federal election, it was in the low sixties. When we start doing the math on that, we can see that we can end up having somebody with 30% or 35% of the vote, which is 30% or 35% of 60%, actually governing the country, and then we have a very small minority who supported a particular political party making decisions that affect all of us.

I would argue that what we need to do is look for mechanisms that encourage, rather than discourage, voter turnout. There are some aspects of the bill that will discourage voter turnout and disenfranchise the most vulnerable in the country, potentially including seniors, homeless people, students and first nations.

Part of the requirements in this bill are around voter identification. One of the very troubling elements of the bill is the fact that when a voter turns up at a poll and does not have the appropriate identification, the bill allows for somebody to vouch for that person. The unfortunate part of it is that once somebody has vouched for a person once, he or she cannot vouch for anyone else.

For example, we will have situations in which workers in a homeless shelter or a transition house who could vouch for a number of people, who are eligible voters in that situation, will not be able to do so. In the past, people have been able to vouch for more than one person. That would seem to be a reasonable thing to do. This is one situation that is going to cause some difficulties for people who have been able to vote in the past.

There is another situation. The member opposite talked about the fact that there has been some agreement around the use of status cards as a mechanism to allow first nations people on reserve to vote and suggested that perhaps phone bills are one mechanism. This requirement for other kinds of identification like phone bills demonstrates a lack of understanding about what people's lives are like in many communities. I would argue that what we really need to do is work closely with first nations on reserve to find out what would work for them in their communities around encouraging voter turnout and participation in the voting process.

I have heard of some very disturbing situations in my own riding. People have turned out to vote and have been turned away for reasons that, it turned out later, were not legitimate. Their identification was not recognized even though there were people there to vouch for them. It is very problematic.

The other thing we find in this legislation is the date of birth. There is a clause in this legislation that would require voters to provide their date of birth to Elections Canada. That information would then be provided to political parties. If we were to ask voters in this country if they wanted political parties to have their date of birth, I would suggest that many Canadians would be vehemently opposed to that.

I do not think Canadians want political parties to have their dates of birth. I do not think political parties would always be responsible about how that information would be used. We have certainly heard rumours around how, when political parties have access to that information, they use it for their own political ends by sending out birthday cards and greetings and all those kinds of things.

I am sure that voters would not appreciate political parties using their dates of birth on a voters list for those ends. I would encourage political parties, if they want to send birthday greetings, to find other means to do that. I would suggest that the voters list is not the appropriate mechanism.

One of the other elements of this bill that is troubling, and I did speak briefly about it, is about people who are homeless. This is a rising problem in this country. We know that in cities from coast to coast to coast we are seeing more people living on the street. I would argue that even enumeration in high homelessness areas will not give us an answer to that problem.

In my own riding of Nanaimo--Cowichan, the city of Nanaimo, along with a number of groups, did a social status update for Nanaimo. In that social status update, they talked about the fact that residents cited the increasing costs of housing, both owned and rental. They also cited the increasing incidents of homelessness and raised concerns about the declining stock of market rental housing. They also talked about the fact that the housing vacancy rate had dropped from 3.4% in 2002 to 1.4% in 2004.

We are seeing increasing pressure on people, either from losing their homes or from being forced out of rental accommodation, in my riding anyway, because of rising rental rates. Thus, we have a couple of things.

First, we have people ending up on the streets more frequently and therefore having no fixed address. If there is an election, we see them having more difficulty in terms of turning up at polls with appropriate identification that demonstrates where they live.

On the other hand, we also have people who are moving more frequently and who may not necessarily have identification with their current address when they turn up to vote.

These are important issues that we need to consider when we are encouraging voter turnout.

A couple of other things came up in this particular study that are directly related to voters being able to identify who they are. Again, the study talks about multiple moves, saying that the lack of affordable housing leads to multiple moves, which creates instability for children and causes difficulty for service providers trying to stay connected.

It is the service provider piece of it that is also important, because we say that people who know us can vouch for us when we are voting, yet when we have people disconnecting from the very service providers who could provide that voucher process, we are seeing that disconnect here as well.

The study also talks about how there is a need to develop appropriate housing and support systems to enable seniors to live independently for as long as possible, saying that if this occurred, it would relieve demand for more costly facility care arrangements. Seniors are also in this crunch. We know that seniors think it is a really important part of the democratic process to exercise their right to vote. We know that seniors vote in higher numbers. We want to make sure that seniors continue to have that right to vote.

A number of amendments have been put forward by the New Democrats. Certainly one of the things we have suggested is that the government look at a system currently in place in British Columbia. In the current system in British Columbia, there is an opportunity for people to swear to the fact that they said who they were. This system has worked well in British Columbia and has allowed people in places like Vancouver East, for example, to exercise their right to vote.

Unless the amendments that we have put forward are supported by members in the House, it will be difficult for the New Democrats to support the legislation as it stands.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

Joy Smith Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Mr. Speaker, after listening to the speech this morning, I certainly do have some questions. The purpose of the bill is to ensure that voting is done fairly and in such a way that identification can be secure so a fair and equitable voting process in a democratic society can take place.

I was quite interested to hear the member's presentation this morning. It seemed that the member discouraged putting these safeguards in the bill for a number of reasons. It was also interesting to hear her comments about seniors and that the bill would discourage seniors from voting.

Quite the opposite will happen because, as we know right now, seniors do vote and are very careful to give their identification and to get out to vote. I have heard from seniors in my riding who are pleased the bill is before the House of Commons.

The member said that we were just overstating everything and that there was not massive fraud in Canada. I do not think we are talking about massive fraud. We are saying that fraudulent incidents do occur and we need to address that, which is exactly what the bill is trying to accomplish.

What are the reasons the member thinks that seniors would be discouraged from turning out to vote if the bill passes in the House? I would like to know the reason why the statement was made.