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

1:05 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Public Service Employment Act.

I speak strongly in support of the amendments at report stage put forward by my colleagues from Ottawa Centre and Vancouver East. I thank both of them for their long term work on the issue of full participation in elections in Canada in terms of both democratic reform and fair elections. Both the member for Ottawa Centre and the member for Vancouver East have been long-time and strong advocates for the participation of all Canadians in the electoral process, particularly marginalized Canadians, to ensure they do not lose their franchise in Canada. I know the amendments that they have put forward, which we are debating at this point, have come out of that experience and work.

New Democrats have very serious concerns about the bill. As has been heard over the course of several days of debate on it, we are very concerned about what this does to the electoral process in Canada and how this affects the most marginalized people in our communities. We want to ensure that we have a fair electoral system and one of which we can be proud and in which we have confidence.

There has been constant talk from the government, and from the Liberals and the Bloc, that the bill is about stopping opportunities for voter fraud. It is not about stopping voter fraud. It is about stopping the opportunities for voter fraud, and that is because it is hard to point to exactly where the problem is with the current situation. Where exactly is the problem with the current voting process and with presenting oneself on election day to vote?

The Chief Electoral Officer was asked that question directly at the committee when he was testifying in relation to the bill. What he said was very interesting. He said that there had been a few isolated incidents of attempted voter fraud, but nothing systemic or large scale. He said that there were some investigations underway, but there were no current charges. Over the course of the last few days, we have constantly heard about the need for this, but we have never really heard very many specifics about the record of charges or convictions around voter or electoral fraud in Canada. That is because there have been very few, if any, convictions for voter fraud in Canada.

We keep hearing about anecdotal evidence. The previous speaker from West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country talked about anecdotal reports. That is all well and good, but I do not think we develop legislation based on anecdotal reports. We need to develop legislation out of real experience and real problems that exist in our communities and with legislation and law in Canada.

Anecdotal reports just do not cut it. We have all heard those kinds of reports. Sometimes I think they are stimulated by partisan competition between electoral parties and scurrilous charges that have nothing to do with the reality of the process at the time of an election.

I really believe the bill sets out to try to solve a problem that does not really exist. It is a phantom problem of the opportunity for electoral voter fraud. It is kind of like the need for the big foot rabies protection act. It may exist, but it may not and we had better get to work solving it right away. I do not think that is a way in which we should be proceeding in the House.

Other issues are far more important in terms of electoral reform, but we have not spend any time on them in the House. Nor did the committee spend any time on them.

The whole question of proportional representation is something that Canadians know goes to the heart of the problems with our electoral system. It goes to the heart of improving our electoral system. Yet we have not been spending time on figuring out a way to implement that in Canada to ensure that all political ideas in Canada, all political ideas that Canadians hold, are represented in Parliament and that groups are represented, all ethnic minorities and racial minorities, and that women are represented in numbers representative of their place in our communities.

We need a system that takes those kinds of considerations into account and we do not have that now in the first past the post system. We need to ensure new approaches to government rather than the winner takes all approach that we have now. I think there would be spinoff benefits for that.

Some people say that we will be in an endless minority government situation. I do not fear that. I believe we will learn new ways of doing politics that stress cooperation and coalition building. I also do not fear the models of other countries where there is a proportional representation system. People sometimes say, “Do we want a Parliament like Italy?” It does not seem to me that Italy has collapsed as a country because of the wide representation in the Parliament of Italy.

People do not seem to recognize that Israel has a very fine tuned proportional representation system. Yet the Parliament of Israel, The Knesset, has never failed to act in the national interest of Israel when push comes to shove.

Those are good examples to remember. There are different ways of doing politics than the one where a party does not receive a majority of votes cast by Canadians, but it gets a majority in the House and then runs roughshod over all the other political ideas that are of importance to Canadians.

We should have spent more time on this legislation, ensuring that there was universal enumeration at each election. We all know, those of us who have run in campaigns or who have organized political campaigns, that there are huge flaws in the permanent voters list. An NDP suggestion to go back to a universal enumeration at each election was defeated as Bill C-31 was being considered in committee.

That is the crux of the matter. We have heard about huge numbers of voters being left off the list at elections and the problems that those have caused on election day. We need to go back to a system that ensures that each time we have an election in the country we seek out all the potential voters and ensure they are on the list, so they can exercise their franchise.

Some simple measures, which do not need legislation, would go further to deal with potential voter fraud. We could have done, and I think we could still do under the current provisions of the current electoral law, measures such as putting voter cards in sealed and addressed envelopes, so the information on a voter postcard or voter card could not be viewed or copied by other people. A measure such as that would be a significant step toward preventing the opportunity for voter fraud, one that does not require this legislation nor new legislation.

I also want to talk about the provision of the bill that was added on an amendment, I believe, by the Bloc and supported by the Liberals. Now it seems the Conservatives have caved in and are supporting it as well. It is the birthdate information that will be collected as part of the building of the voter list and it will be distributed and shared with political parties.

I am not at all concerned that Elections Canada officials and employees have access to that information as part of ensuring a fair electoral process. However, huge difficulties with an amendment that would see this information provided to all the parties. It is a huge invasion of privacy. It is an invitation to identity theft.

There is no need and no justification for political parties to receive this information. There has been chatter in the hallways of Parliament that MPs are looking forward to having birthdate information so they can call constituents on their birthday and wish them a happy birthday, or so political parties can more finely tune their polling or their distribution of political information in constituencies. There is absolutely no need for that kind of invasion of privacy. It is a huge grab of private information by the political parties.

The restrictions around vouching are unacceptable. We heard a criticism of serial vouching. In many neighbourhoods and communities that will disenfranchise many people. The fact that there will have to be a person who is on the voters list in that poll to vouch for another person and that this person can only vouch for one person will limit the access of many people to the voters list and to exercise their franchise. There is no excuse for that kind of limitation.

We should be doing what we can to encourage people. If there is a person who is working in that area and who knows people and where they live, there is no reason why they should not be able to vouch for more than one person.

We see a steady decline in voter turnout. We need to take measures that work toward increasing the turnout. The legislation goes in the opposite direction. It increases unfairness and reduces the ability of people to participate in the electoral process. For that reason I cannot support the bill.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Bloc

Thierry St-Cyr Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to put a question to my colleague from the NDP. He spoke about the fact that no one was ever prosecuted in Canada for voting illegally, spinning that as a sign that all is well. What that shows, in my opinion, is that there is a problem. It would be rather unrealistic, and perhaps naive, to think that there has never been anyone anywhere in Canada who voted illegally. In Quebec, “Infoman” Jean-René Dufort has reported that it was actually possible to vote more than once.

The reason no one was ever prosecuted is simply that it could not be proven that an individual voted more than once because that individual did not identify himself or herself. In the event that a voter is listed twice on the voters list and this list shows that an individual by that name came out to vote, it is impossible to prove that this individual did come out and vote twice. All that can be established is that two individuals voted under the same name.

Does my hon. colleague not think that, on the contrary, ID should be required, as provided in the legislation, so that people who vote illegally can be prosecuted? How can it be established beyond a reasonable doubt that an individual voted twice if that individual was never required to show any proof of identity?

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I believe we would go farther if we did a proper enumeration and had a good voter's list. We would go farther if we had a voter's list that was created at every election rather than the permanent voter's list that we have now that we know is deeply flawed.

I also believe that we need to ensure that we have the resources available to pursue issues of electoral fraud when they crop up. There are lots of people in all of the polling places such as representatives of Elections Canada and representatives of political parties. Not all political parties take the opportunity to scrutinize the process seriously. During my years as an election volunteer, I was the only representative of a political party at a polling place scrutinizing the process. All of us have an obligation to watch the system more carefully and scrutinize the process. We have the resources in the current law to deal with any of the problems that crop up.

The measures in this legislation disenfranchise people and seek to address a problem that we have not identified clearly as a problem. I just do not think that is the way to go.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

Prince George—Peace River
B.C.

Conservative

Jay Hill Secretary of State

Mr. Speaker, the New Democratic Party seems so concerned about disenfranchising voters. We want to ensure that everyone possible has the opportunity to vote. I think that is clear. It is not just the NDP that is concerned about that.

As we travel around the world encouraging other countries to become more democratic, we have to ensure that our system is beyond reproach. We have to ensure that our system has the highest possible voter integrity. I believe, and I think most Canadians would believe, that some responsibility rests with the citizen.

I find it a bit ironic when we strongly advocate that other nations ensure their voters are identifiable, that they are citizens of that country when they cast their ballot to ensure there is absolutely no opportunity for voter fraud, yet somehow in Canada we shy away from that. We think that is unacceptable. That would appear to be a discrepancy. I would ask the member to comment on that.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

The hon. member should know that he has 40 seconds to reply.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I do not think anybody is shying away from that responsibility. Legislation currently exists in Canada that guarantees a fair process and guarantees to punish those who would seek to manipulate the system unfairly.

The Chief Electoral Officer in his own testimony said that there were very few investigations and hardly any convictions. He said there were no current charges concerning electoral fraud in Canada. The systemic problems in our system are not as serious as others would have us believe. I think we are talking about a phantom problem. We are removing people from their franchise by--

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

Resuming debate. The hon. member for Skeena--Bulkley Valley.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague, the hon. member for Burnaby—Douglas, for his passionate defence of trying to strike some balance in the approach whereby the government seeks to allow citizens to participate fully in electoral processes and vote with a clear conscience.

It seems to me that in many of the decisions we take in this place, we are constantly trying to strike a balance, personal liberties versus security, questions of economy and the environment. Here we are trying to strike a balancing point between allowing true voter participation, allowing people their charter rights. That is one of the basic rights, the third right in our charter. It has been very clear and upheld continuously by the Supreme Court of Canada: the right to vote, the right to participate as a free engaged citizen.

We tend to take some of these freedoms for granted and yet over the course of human history and human governance, the right of each and every individual citizen to vote is a relatively recent phenomenon.

I can remember when I first started campaigning in 2003, I would visit first nations communities in my riding. They would recall the name of Frank Howard, an MP that stood in this place and represented Skeena for many years. It was Mr. Howard who along with a Liberal colleague and with some support from the then Progressive Conservatives filibustered for almost three years, every Friday afternoon, to ensure that first nations in our country had the right to vote, because at that time they did not.

At the time, the first nations people, particularly those living on reserve, were deemed to be less than other citizens. Clearly, there is no one in this place, none of the candidates who run for any of these parties or any parties not represented here, who would suggest that we would return to that. The fight was a long fight. The fight was a struggle. There were many so-called wise and ancient experts in this place who debated against Mr. Howard's proposal and said first nations should not have the right to vote; as there were, years before, those who argued against the women's movement and their right to vote.

It seems to me that we have come to a certain enlightened place. We know that every person who is a citizen of this country deserves the right to vote and should be respected for that right.

I think a lot of us, as elected officials, are thinking back to our own election processes and whether we saw discrepancies or challenges.

I am reminded of the recent provincial election. There are five provincial ridings that go into my federal riding. There was one in particular where we had a fellow running for the New Democrats provincially. We won two out of three main ones. His was unsuccessful in electoral terms, but was extremely successful in another term, and this was a condition that they set out for themselves at the beginning of their campaign.

There is a strong first nations presence in the Bulkley Valley: the Gitksan and the Moricetown Bands of the Wet'suwet'en. Yet, the voter turnouts have been just absolutely abysmal for many years. This fellow, whose name is Doug Donaldson, was a candidate for the New Democrats. He has been adopted into the Gitksan community. He made as one of his campaign efforts to go door to door and help people register to vote.

As I was chatting with some of my Liberal colleagues and I have talked to some in the Conservatives as well, particularly on first nations reserves, the connections of an address and photo identification are very difficult to come by at times. There can be more than one family living in a household. So, if the phone bill comes, it will identify one person who is paying that bill, but not another.

So, when a first nations person shows up at the office to vote and is required to show a proof of a phone bill, that might not be forthcoming, and the identification given out by Indian Affairs shows a photo, but does not show an address.

Then in rural Canada, as in my own case, we use box numbers for a lot of the identification. We have seen that when there is more than one voting office in a community, a box number does not suffice. It does not tell the Elections Canada person where the people actually live. Are they at the right polling station? Should they be at another one? Under this bill, these people are not able to vote.

It seems to me that in our efforts at striking a balance between fairness and allowing people to access our democracy, we want to remove the barriers from people who have traditionally not participated in a democratic process. That seems like an intention I would hope all my colleagues would agree with.

The reason I bring up the case of Mr. Donaldson in the Bulkley Valley is because they were starting to run out of ballots at some of their voting offices. Their signup campaign of going out door to door and saying, “Please make sure you register to vote”, was so successful that Elections Canada had almost been lulled to sleep. It had gotten so used to first nations people in that part of the world voting 10% or 20% of the time that it just simply did not expect a 50% or 70% turnout at the polls. This was an encouraging thing. This was an encouraging thing for every party that was participating in that race, particularly for fist nations people. If people do not vote, politicians do not tend to pay much attention to them.

The currency of our fare is in the voting process and knowing that people will support our positions. But we can also look at those who are economically constrained. We know the statistics, they are not in dispute. They do not tend to participate. Therefore, the decisions that get made in this place do not tend to reflect the interests of those who are not participating in our democratic elections.

There has been a constant allusion to the massive electoral fraud some of my colleagues have talked about. Yet when the Chief Electoral Officer of this place testified before the committee, a fellow who is charged with working on behalf of Parliament, who is non-partisan and does not work for any party, when he was asked about fraud, he said it was not a leading concern. When his officers come back from the field, are briefed on the last election, are asked about what went wrong, whether there were enough polling stations and if they were in the right place, the people who are actually at the polls overseeing our democratic process are not referring to these massive cases of fraud.

I do not know how members can stand up in this place and keep referring to fraud when in 2000 there were three charges, in the 2004 election there were none, and in 2006 there was one. The Chief Electoral Officer and the people working for him are telling us as witnesses that this is not a problem. Yet we are tipping the balance too far in the direction to catch these four people in the last three elections. One has to question whether the balance is being struck. For the first nations people in particular, those of lower income, those with greater mobility who are moving between houses, and who do not own their houses, it seems that we have gone out of bounds.

The NDP proposed what we thought were reasonable amendments based on witness testimony and we were consistently voted down 11 to 1. We must reconsider this bill. We must establish something that strikes a better balance, more fairness, and allows first nations people, people of lower income, people who traditionally have not voted to be part of the voting system, so they can influence our decisions here and make for a better country.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

It being 1:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on the order paper.

When Bill C-31 returns to the House, the hon. member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley will have two minutes left for his speech and also five minutes of questions and comments.

The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill C-288, An Act to ensure Canada meets its global climate change obligations under the Kyoto Protocol, as reported (with amendment) from the committee.

Speaker's Ruling
Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act
Private Members' Business

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

There are three motions in amendment standing on the notice paper for the report stage of Bill C-288. Motions Nos. 1 to 3 will be grouped for debate and voted upon according to the voting pattern available at the table.

I will now put Motions Nos. 1 through 3 to the House.

Motions in Amendment
Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act
Private Members' Business

1:30 p.m.

Liberal

Pablo Rodriguez Honoré-Mercier, QC

moved:

Motion No. 1

That Bill C-288, in Clause 5, be amended by replacing, in the English version, line 11 on page 4 with the following:

“(iii.1) a just”

Motion No. 2

That Bill C-288, in Clause 10, be amended

(a) by replacing, in the French version, line 30 on page 8 with the following:

“(i) sur la probabilité que chacun des règle-”

(b) by replacing, in the French version, line 34 on page 8 with the following:

“(ii) sur la probabilité que l'ensemble des”

(c) by replacing, in the French version, line 39 on page 8 with the following:

“(iii) sur toute autre question qu'elle estime”

Motion No. 3

That Bill C-288, in Clause 10, be amended by replacing, in the French version, lines 4 and 5 on page 9 with the following:

“de la Chambre des communes, lesquels les déposent devant leur chambre respective”

Motions in Amendment
Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act
Private Members' Business

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

Earlier today, the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons raised a point of order with respect to some provisions of the bill now before the House.

A number of other members have also made submissions. The Speaker has taken the matter under advisement and will be coming back to the House with a comprehensive ruling. In the meantime, debate may proceed.

The hon. member for Honoré-Mercier.

Motions in Amendment
Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act
Private Members' Business

1:30 p.m.

Liberal

Pablo Rodriguez Honoré-Mercier, QC

Mr. Speaker, first, allow me to say how pleased I am to have the opportunity to join in the debate on this important bill. Allow me also to thank my seconder, the hon. member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, and all those who worked directly or indirectly on this important bill.

I have said from the start that this bill is about the future. Its purpose is to take concrete action immediately, action to improve the living conditions of future generations.

This bill is necessary for one simple reason: because the Conservatives refuse to take such action.

First they renounced Kyoto and then they introduced a bill on clean air, which clearly reflected their unspoken intentions to give up on combating climate change without even having the courage to try.

The government's bill, criticized by all the opposition parties, scientists, environmental groups and even by the media, did not contain and still does not contain a short-term schedule. There are no reduction targets for the short term. There is nothing in the bill. It includes no measure that would allow us to achieve our Kyoto objectives.

Seeing that Canadians are furious with the way the government has managed the environment and with government incompetence, especially with regard to climate change, the Prime Minister decided to fire his environment minister and tried to shine up his image on the environment. Canadians are no fools. They know that the government does not believe in what it is doing.

Canadians are not going to believe the Conservatives just because the Prime Minister appointed a new Minister of the Environment, or because the Minister of the Environment came in wearing a green tie the day Parliament resumed sitting or because they have decided to recycle old Liberal programs. Canadians will not believe them.

The Conservatives make a show of taking an interest in the environment, but they actually could not care less about it. They continue to reject Kyoto, and they do not comply with international law. They could not care less about what Canadians want.

When a government flouts international law and what its own citizens want, and when it does not shoulder its responsibilities in the face of one of the biggest challenges to our planet, Parliament has the ability and the moral duty to force the government to do so.

Over the last few weeks we have heard a lot of rhetoric in the House about climate change and the environment. I would like to take this opportunity to remind members and Canadians of what is really at stake here.

Earlier today—and my colleagues are no doubt aware of this—the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its latest report on the science of climate change. I would remind this House that this panel's mandate is to advise governments around the world on the scientific and economic aspects of climate change, as well as its impacts.

This report states unequivocally what we already know, at least on this side of the House: climate change is one of the main challenges, if not the main challenge, facing humanity, not only because of how it affects the environment, but also because of how it affects health, public health, food safety, quality of life and economic prosperity. This report clearly shows that atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases are at their highest levels in 650,000 years. This is bad news for the Conservative government, but it is true. The government will have to face facts.

By the way, if ever there was a plane ticket worth buying, it was the one that took the Minister of the Environment to Paris so that he could finally grasp that climate change is caused by human activity. The money that went for his plane ticket yesterday was money well spent.

The report also indicates that average Arctic temperatures are increasing at almost twice the global average rate. Scientists have also discovered that Arctic sea ice is melting faster than their models—which were already quite alarming—predicted. This indicates something we already knew: greenhouse gas concentrations are rising rapidly. Without a considerable reduction in the pollution caused by these gases, the world is headed for a climate-related catastrophe.

If we do not act together on a global scale, if countries fail to agree on ways to dramatically lower greenhouse gas emissions, the planet's average temperature could rise by at least two degrees centigrade, which would be catastrophic.

Let us look at what we can do. We could try to be more positive, more optimistic; we could try to work together to make a difference. For example, we could heat our homes with renewable energy, sell our state-of-the-art green technology around the world and protect the natural heritage Canadians hold so dear. The purpose of this bill is to get us working together, to get us doing something tangible and positive for the future.

We must ensure that Canada chooses the right path for the good of our children and grandchildren, but also for our own good. We know, we are perfectly aware—and Canadians are too—that climate change is real. We can already see its effects. The Kyoto protocol is the tool the international community is using to begin fighting climate change. It may not be perfect, but at least it is getting over 160 countries involved and calling on their ingenuity and good intentions to fight climate change.

Canada ratified the Kyoto protocol after a majority vote in the House. It came into effect in 2005 and now it is international law. However, one of the Conservative government's first acts in office was to walk away from Kyoto. The Prime Minister said that Canada's Kyoto target was too tough, so he decided to abandon the target without even trying to meet it. That is a fact. A few green photo ops with his brand new environment minister will not change that.

The truth is that the Conservative government has embarrassed Canada at every international Kyoto meeting since taking office. That is the truth.

Why is the Kyoto protocol important? It is because no country can fight climate change alone. The pollution that is causing global warming is a worldwide phenomenon that affects each and every country. From a climate perspective, it matters little whether that pollution comes from Toronto or Nairobi.

Canada will not be able to avoid the consequences that I mentioned earlier, unless it agrees to cooperate with the rest of the planet, which it refuses to do. The only way to work together is through the Kyoto protocol.

My bill, namely Bill C-288, will ensure that Canada fulfills its Kyoto commitments. The protocol requires the government to achieve its objectives and to implement this plan through real environmental regulations.

The government can choose the means that it wants, and it can spend money or not. It can do it without spending any money, and it is very aware of that. That is the government's prerogative. Its bill provides options, and it is up to the government alone to choose which ones it wants to implement. The government alone will decide whether or not to spend money.

I will conclude with a message of hope, because we, on this side of the House, are optimistic. We believe in the future, and we want to work together. Bill C-288 reflects our hope that Canada will choose the right path, while listening to climate experts, playing a leadership role with the international community and transforming its economy to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

In fact, this is what all the polls are saying. Canadians across the country want to work together to act and do something about climate change. It is still time to follow that path, but we must act quickly, because the Kyoto target date is very close. Scientists are saying that we only have about 10 years left before all the damage caused to climate by humans' actions becomes irreversible.

I am urging all members of all parties to show courage and boldness so that, together, we can meet this challenge. Let us stand in solidarity with the rest of the world in the fight against climate change, through the Kyoto protocol. Let us work together for our future. More importantly, let us work together for the future of our children and grandchildren.

Motions in Amendment
Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act
Private Members' Business

1:40 p.m.

Langley
B.C.

Conservative

Mark Warawa Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, we are here today to debate the amended version of Bill C-288, and I wonder, where has the member been for the last 10 years? Unfortunately, the Liberals were strangely silent and inactive on the environment file, so I am glad they have finally woken up.

The fundamental premise of this bill is that Canada should simply push harder and make it our mission to meet Canada's emission reduction targets under the Kyoto protocol. This does sound good, but unfortunately, when our government took office a year ago, we found out that Canada was 35% above the Kyoto targets with only two years remaining before we would need to start meeting those targets.

We found out that the previous Liberal government had left us with an environmental mess. We are now finding out as Canadians and as a--