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.

Topics

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I did not say that seniors would be discouraged. I said that we wanted to ensure there were no difficulties presented for them. Seniors could be discouraged if, for example, they are faced with constant moving because of increased problems with access to accommodation that could make it more challenging for them to have the appropriate identification.

Anyone who recognizes that seniors are increasingly struggling with poverty and their housing situation will recognize that they may run into some difficulties if an election is called before all the appropriate mechanisms are in place.

I will talk a little about the fraud. When we asked the Chief Electoral Officer if he felt there had been huge instances of fraud, he basically said that there were a few isolated incidents but that no political party had brought to his attention any systemic things going on. He said that as far as he was concerned this was not a big issue.

I would argue that if there are some isolated incidents, we need to find mechanisms to deal with those. However, we know that universal enumeration has been very effective in the past. Many people would support that. It would make sense to ensure the voter lists are accurate, are up to date and they reflect the true availability of voters in the riding.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Stephen Owen Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, one of the things that Canada has become best known for in terms of taking its international responsibility is providing assistance to countries that are newly democratizing or re-democratizing after civil war. In the last year alone we have assisted the Ukraine and the Palestinian Authority, even training people in Jordan to assist with elections in Iraq, and now in Bangladesh, although it has been delayed for some period of time and, regrettably, we have had election monitors there. The standards that we advise newly democratizing countries to meet are even more stringent than the bill is suggesting. We are looked to for our expertise in that.

I wonder if the member would comment on the reasonableness, perhaps, if she thinks it is, that we should be seen as experts on the international stage but we should be applying standards lower in Canada than we are advising and training people to apply in other countries.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, New Democrats are very conscious of the fact that we want our electoral system to be as free from fraud as possible. To that end, we have suggested a number of amendments that would not only protect the legitimacy of our system but also ensure that people wanting to vote actually can do that.

Some of the things around having someone vouch for more than one person would be a legitimate way to protect the integrity of the system as well as having people exercise their right to vote.

We put forward a number of other amendments that would ensure we were meeting those high standards, both nationally and internationally.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Ken Boshcoff Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to express my support for Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Public Service Employment Act. The bill would make many positive changes to the Elections Act that would protect against voter fraud and misrepresentation.

One issue that the bill addresses is the current practice of using federal income tax returns to update the Elections Canada register. Certainly tax returns are an excellent tool to obtain current information on our citizens. However, I have had numerous experiences where an individual is listed on the electors list who is not a Canadian citizen.

As we know, only Canadian citizens over 18 years of age are qualified to vote. The bill adds proposed section 46.1 to the Canada Elections Act authorizing the Minister of National Revenue to amend tax return forms so that individuals may indicate whether they are Canadian citizens. I believe this is a very positive step and will reduce significant confusion among foreign citizens who reside in our communities. I will have an anecdote toward the end of my speech on this very issue.

The bill would also implement new requirements for proof of identity to be shown at the voter's booth. I am sure we have all heard stories of voter cards being stolen. Until now there has been no requirement to show any proof of identity, which meant that anyone who had a voter's card could cast a vote, regardless of whether he or she were actually the citizen whose name was on the card.

Clearly, under the former system there was a very big loophole and any person or group with dishonest intentions could steal voter cards and use them for their own purposes. This deficiency put the entire election process in a bad light and had the potential to cause significant damage to the rights of Canadian citizens. Often, the perception of wrongdoing is just as harmful as the actual immoral act. As such, just having such a deficit in the system can add to the distrust felt by voters.

I am pleased that this new process will be implemented to ensure that all Canadian citizens who are eligible to vote cannot have that right stolen from them by the dishonesty of another.

Under this process, a voter would be required to provide identification at the voter's booth. That identification consists of: one piece of ID issued by any level of government that contains a photo and the name and address of the voter; or, two pieces of identification with the name and address that have been authorized by the Chief Electoral Officer. The Chief Electoral Officer would be required to publish a list of what will be acceptable identification; or, alternatively, if the elector does not have suitable identification, he or she can take an oath as long as he or she can be vouched for by another person who is listed on the list of electors.

I am very pleased with this third alternative being added to the bill. There are many people, whether seniors or disabled individuals, who do not have the above identification items. Through this option to take an oath, these Canadian citizens would still be able to vote as granted by the Canadian Charter of Rights.

The bill also addresses the practice of serial vouching by limiting each elector to be able to vouch for only one person. In addition, it bans vouching by electors who have been vouched for by another. That is a good rule. I am confident that this new provision to require proof of identity will be an excellent deterrent to fraud.

As the member of Parliament for Thunder Bay—Rainy River, there are 11 first nations in my riding: Fort William, Lac Des Mille Lacs, Lac La Croix, Seine River First Nation, Nicickousemenecaning, Couchiching First Nation, Naicatchewenin, Manitou Mounds, Rainy River First Nations, Stanjikoming First Nation, Big Island and Big Grassy.

The residents in first nations such as those often share one joint community postal box. As such, door to door enumeration in those areas is vital to ensuring that all eligible first nations people are included on the voters list.

One can imagine the difficulties when fathers, sons and uncles or mothers, aunts and daughters have the same name and surname. This can create terrific problems. It has in the past and I believe it has led to considerable discouragement of the voting process.

I am pleased with the committee motion calling on the Chief Electoral Officer to strengthen enumeration in reserve communities and areas of low enumeration. I believe this extra effort will go a long way to help the disenfranchisement of our first nations people in federal elections.

We have all heard of the horror stories in the big urban ridings of people being bused in by the dozens or the hundreds, voter cards missing from apartment buildings and those kinds of things. This amendment would certainly correct that. It is important to instill that last vestige of security that we need for our democratic process.

As elected representatives, we are all familiar with the process of volunteers calling people who have received voter cards and then being asked whether they can vote with their card. The volunteer must ask whether they are 18 and whether they are Canadian citizens. From a campaign standpoint, we can give them the best advice but they still have the card sent to them.

I believe that with this type of identification we should be able to eliminate those last vestiges of people taking advantage of the system.

In the last round of municipal elections in Ontario there was yet another decrease in voter participation. In my previous life I was the mayor of the city of Thunder Bay. Although I did not run in the last municipal election, many people actually congratulated me and advised me that they had voted for me. We know there is considerable confusion in the democratic process. It is flattering, but then I know for sure these people did not vote for me.

If we want to set an international example, when we go to other nations that ask us to consult and be the model on which they establish their democratic process, it comes down to presenting them with our great rules and our great process. However, I only hope that they have not watched question period when they ask for an example of how a democratic nation should behave. Indeed, our own decorum is probably where we should be starting to set an example, not only for ourselves but for the young people in the galleries. They know that if they behaved and used some of the language that they hear, they would rapidly be in detention or out of class.

If we can restore that decorum part, it will let people know that if we think they are important, then they will realize that they are important and that their vote has much more value and importance. By knowing that they count, that actually means our country counts for more. In this way, we would actually increase the value or the significance of someone's vote. People would not feel that their vote has been wasted. People would feel that they were all pretty much the same.

Standards of respect and recognition in decorum, in tandem with Bill C-31 on the technical side, would certainly restore voter confidence. We know as a nation, when we compare ourselves to nations such as Australia with compulsory voting or others with much higher voter participation, that we can do more.

I encourage all members to support Bill C-31 to increase voter participation.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

10:40 a.m.

Prince George—Peace River
B.C.

Conservative

Jay Hill Secretary of State

Mr. Speaker, it has already been well stated by members of Parliament from all four political parties in the House how important is the integrity of our electoral system. I certainly would agree with that.

Even prior to the government bringing forward Bill C-31, I have been a very welcome participant in the debate that has ensued at the procedure and House affairs committee, so I welcome the remarks of my colleague from Thunder Bay—Rainy River, not Kenora—Rainy River, and agree with the thrust of the comments he was making.

I would like to draw attention to the comments of his colleague from Vancouver Quadra who on a number of occasions has made reference to the fact that if we as the nation Canada are going to be a beacon for democracy, and a model, as my colleague just referred to, to the developing nations in the world, then it is incumbent upon us as parliamentarians and indeed all Canadians to ensure that our electoral system is of the highest possible standard. That is the concern of all of us. It certainly was expressed by members of Parliament at the procedure and House affairs committee.

I could not agree with my colleague from Vancouver Quadra more about that fundamental point, that it is up to us to ensure that we safeguard the integrity of our system. If there is any possibility of fraud, we must make adjustments to our system to ensure that we can stand up or as he said, when we suggest to other nations how they could model their systems on ours, that we have every confidence that we are holding ours up as the standard to aspire to. I would agree with the member on that.

The NDP has brought up this whole issue of vouching. The difficulty I have with that is if we have multiple vouching where one individual says, “Yes, I know Joe and Sam and Lou”, et cetera, there is an obvious opportunity for fraud, and that is what we are trying to prevent.

I recently had the opportunity to be in South Africa, a nation that has been developing its electoral system. A specific voter ID card is required there. In addition, it is required that the thumb be actually inked on the day of the election. These are the extremes that some countries are going to, to ensure there is absolutely no fraud in their systems and yet we seem to be balking at even having fundamental rules about voter identification.

As the member for Vancouver Quadra indicated, it is very difficult for us to maintain our defence of our system if we cannot ensure when we say this to other countries that ours is an example.

I wonder if my colleague from Thunder Bay—Rainy River would comment on this whole business of vouching specifically and of the importance of ensuring that when a person actually casts his or her ballot that at a minimum the person is a citizen and he or she does at least even temporarily reside in the riding where he or she is marking his or her X.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

Liberal

Ken Boshcoff Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would have to say that in communities such as mine, the experience is that this type of issue does not come up as much as it would in intensely urban areas. It may be the nature of proximity to large populations and their density, meaning the number of people per square mile, that there would be that opportunity to be led into temptation, to take advantage of a situation. Perhaps in a high-rise apartment building there may be several hundred voter cards sitting there or subject to borrowing or temporary use, and those kinds of things could happen.

The rule of one person, one voucher and not being able to reverse that is a very solid step forward. Again, as the hon. member mentioned, if Canada is going to be used as an example, we would really want to show that we really have covered the bases, that we have a model that protects people. I view it strictly as protection. People should be really glad to go there and be proud to know that they are voting--

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I am afraid the time allotted for questions and comments has expired so we will call for resuming debate. The hon. member for British Columbia Southern Interior.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

NDP

Alex Atamanenko British Columbia Southern Interior, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to talk about this bill.

There are a couple of problems with the bill, although the intent is good. Overall there are people all of us are trying to target in the election who do not vote, people who have never voted, or for one reason or another find it difficult or complicated to vote. I personally feel that by introducing more constraints we may lose these people. Somehow we have to find a compromise between what is proposed and people who are cheating the system.

This bill will result in thousands of individuals who lack proper identification, maybe due to poverty, illness, disability or having no stable address, not being able to exercise their right to vote because of the identification requirements in the bill. People who are homeless or who are temporarily housed often do not have identification that reflects their address or their stay in a shelter. How would we get them out to exercise their democratic right?

We put forward recommendations at committee that would have addressed these concerns. These include the use of statutory declarations as an alternate means of identification for an elector to prove his or her identity. We also proposed an amendment to allow for a representative of a recognized agency to be authorized to vouch for the agency's clientele as authorized by the local returning officer and that someone, not necessarily residing in the same poll, be allowed to vouch for more than one elector at a time.

These are amendments that can be looked at and tightened up, but the idea is that we have to somehow allow people who often do not vote, or who may not have a home at some point in time, to exercise their democratic right. These amendments unfortunately were defeated by members of each of the other parties.

We will want to propose amendments at report stage to address the concerns of the Public Service Alliance of Canada and the Professional Institute of the Public Service dealing with provisions in the bill for casual employment. As the Professional Institute of the Public Service pointed out, these two amendments are more or less buried in a bill devoted mainly to the Canada Elections Act. They may seem innocuous but they could potentially have a significant impact on employment patterns in the federal public service, particularly at a time when government has called for more flexibility in departmental hiring.

Having said that, I would like to take a few minutes to address the whole question of electoral reform, not only reforming the Canada Elections Act but electoral reform in general. As members of the House know, a former member of the House, Ed Broadbent, unveiled his ethics package. Part of one point in his ethics package called for serious electoral reform.

Most of us probably would agree that we have an antiquated first past the post system which requires major democratic reform. To achieve a degree of fairness for all people in our society, we need a mixed system of past the post plus proportional representation which would be necessary to erase the imbalance in the House of Commons.

The member for Vancouver Island North has tabled a motion which will be debated very soon. It offers public input on serious electoral reform relating to how members of Parliament are chosen. The motion calls for a special committee to be created to make further recommendations on strengthening and modernizing our democratic and electoral systems.

There already have been recommendations that were agreed to by all parties, including the Conservative Party. This all-party approach of working together would ultimately result in an electoral system where every vote cast by Canadians was reflected in the House of Commons.

It is interesting to look at the imbalance under our current system and what we call a broken voting system. In 2006 in Alberta there was a Conservative sweep of 100% of the Alberta seats with only 65% of the vote; 665,940 Green voters elected no MPs; while 475,114 Liberal voters in Atlantic Canada alone elected 22 Liberal MPs. It took 89,296 votes to elect each NDP member of Parliament, but just 43,339 votes for each Conservative, 43,490 for each Liberal, and 30,455 for each Bloc MP. Some would say it is a good thing; some would say it is not a good thing.

Let us look at some other low points in Canadian elections. In the 1990s Canada ranked 109th among 163 nations in voter turnout, slightly behind Lebanon, in a dead heat with Benin and just ahead of Fiji. In 1984 the Progressive Conservatives won 50% of the votes but gained nearly 75% of the seats, close to an all-time record for the largest percentage of unearned seats in any federal election.

Obviously we need some kind of a system of reform to reflect how people vote in Canada. In 2004 more than 500,000 Green voters failed to elect a single MP anywhere, while fewer than 500,000 Liberal voters in Atlantic Canada alone elected 22 Liberal MPs. In 2000, 22 candidates became MPs despite winning less than 40% of the votes in their ridings. In 2004, the election produced a House with only 21% of women MPs, with Canada ranking 36th among nations in percentage of women MPs, well behind most western European counties.

In 1993 the newly formed Bloc Québécois came in fourth in the popular vote but formed the official opposition by gaining more seats than the second place Reform Party and the third place Tories. In 2000, 2.3 million Liberal voters in Ontario elected 100 Liberal MPs while the other 2.2 million Ontario voters elected only three MPs from other parties. In 1993 more than two million votes for Kim Campbell's Progressive Conservatives translated into two seats, or one seat for every one million voters. Meanwhile the voting system gave the Liberal Party one seat for every 32,000 votes.

Finally, in 1984, when competing for the Liberal leadership Jean Chrétien told reporters in Brandon, Manitoba that he would introduce proportional representation right after the next election if he became Prime Minister. In 1993 Jean Chrétien won the election and began his 10 year reign as Prime Minister. In three elections he never won more than 42% of the popular vote but still formed majority governments, thanks to the current voting system. And of course, he never got around to introducing proportional representation.

It is important at this point in our history, and I think we have the will to do it here in Parliament, to bring something forward that eventually and hopefully soon will reflect the voting patterns of all the voters in Canada.

I hope that we will be able to work together to develop a voting system that represents all Canadians proportionally. That way, we will bring a fairer system to Canada's Parliament.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

There will be five minutes for questions or comments on the hon. member's speech when debate on this bill is resumed.

Official Languages
Statements By Members

10:55 a.m.

Conservative

Sylvie Boucher Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the Minister for la Francophonie and Official Languages, the member for Edmonton—Strathcona recently announced a $750,000 investment to build community spaces in Edmonton's Saint-Thomas Community Health Centre.

I would like to remind the members that two Liberal ministers made empty promises they could not keep.

This announcement is the latest in a series of initiatives that are making a tangible contribution to the development of official language minority communities across the country at places like the Centre scolaire communautaire Samuel-de-Champlain in St. John, New Brunswick, the École canadienne-française in Saskatoon, which is being expanded and renovated, the École Allain-St-Cyr in Yellowknife, which is being expanded, and the Dawson College community theatre in Montreal, which is being renovated.

When it comes to official languages, our government is all about action and we are bringing in concrete measures to support communities.

Government Programs
Statements By Members

11 a.m.

Liberal

John Maloney Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, today I would like to stand with post-secondary students not only in my riding, from Brock University and Niagara College, but from across the country.

The Conservative government has cut the $55.4 million summer career placement program. This program was designed so students could gain the work experience required to obtain full time employment after they completed their post-secondary education, while providing non-profit and charitable organizations, municipalities and the private sector with clever and industrious youth employees.

On average, 50,000 students across Canada are hired every year through the summer career placement program. The loss of this program means that students will graduate with less work experience, but will also be saddled with more student debt. In the short term it will make it very difficult for students to find jobs this summer.

It is not clear why the Conservative government has decided to gamble with the future of the youth in our country. I call on all members of the House to join with me and our college and university students in opposing these cuts. To gamble with the future of Canada's youth is to jeopardize the future of Canada.

Canadian Television Fund
Statements By Members

February 2nd, 2007 / 11 a.m.

Bloc

Diane Bourgeois Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Canadian Television Fund is in crisis. The minister's meeting with broadcasters this week resulted in a great deal of dissatisfaction because no solutions seem to be forthcoming. Cable companies feel that the minister wants to let the fund die.

The Canadian Television Fund was established to promote the production of Canadian and Quebec content. Producers and artists who are creating, writing and filming series here have the right to know what is going on. Telling them would at least show a modicum of respect for them.

When will the minister have the decency to tell us what is happening and how she plans to deal with this crisis?

The survival of our television culture and thousands of jobs depend on it.

The Environment
Statements By Members

11 a.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, the effects of dangerous greenhouse gases are being felt in every region of Canada, and my riding in the northwestern corner of British Columbia is no exception. The devastation of the pine beetle is possibly the most tangible example of how global warming is impacting our day to day lives.

The people of Skeena—Bulkley Valley are demanding action and they are demanding it immediately. Last week I had the opportunity to tour across my riding, showing An Inconvenient Truth. Over 500 people came out to watch this film, discuss the issues and stayed to find out from where the solutions were to come.

Time and again I heard them tell me that we, as national leaders, cannot sit idly by. They insisted that we act and act quickly. They are committed to doing their bit and making personal choices that will help, but they are also insisting that government and industry also pull their weight.

On a day in Europe, when the international community is gathered to release the most condemning report ever issued by the world scientists, we as leaders in this country must act. On a day when it is reported that the biggest oil company is earning more than $40 billion, regulations must come in to prevent the biggest polluters from continuing their harmful ways.

Black History Month
Statements By Members

11 a.m.

Conservative

Rahim Jaffer Edmonton—Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, every February we celebrate Black History Month. Yesterday the Secretary of State for Multiculturalism announced $77,000 in funding for the round table on Black History Month.

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade by the British Empire in 1807. Many African Canadians, including Black Loyalists, worked toward that historic step forward.

This is a time to celebrate many achievements and contributions of black Canadians who, throughout history, have done so much to make Canada the culturally diverse, compassionate and prosperous nation we know today. It is also an opportunity for the majority of Canadians to learn about the experiences of black Canadians in our society and the vital role this community has played throughout our shared history.

I would like to take this opportunity to invite all members to join the Secretary of State for Multiculturalism and I in a celebration on the Hill to mark this important occasion in the next few weeks.

Economic Development
Statements By Members

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

Lloyd St. Amand Brant, ON

Mr. speaker, I rise to bring attention to the lack of long term federal investment in rural southern Ontario.

Across Canada programs such as the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, the northern Ontario development program and the western diversification program are making a meaningful difference to the citizens of those areas.

Southern Ontario is the only part of Canada where rural economic development funding does not exist.

Despite what many policy makers believe, southern Ontario does face a significant amount of economic challenges. The declining farm, manufacturing and tourism industries are combining to cause financial distress to many communities.

In my riding of Brant, many families, businesses and individuals are finding it difficult to survive under these conditions.

I call on the government to recognize the need for a southern Ontario regional economic development initiative and to increase opportunities for citizens of Brant and all of rural southern Ontario.