House of Commons Hansard #161 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was election.

Topics

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I ask that my colleague stay calm, listen to my speech and allow me to speak. I am talking about a democratic referendum. That is what we are talking about: democracy. I ask that my colleague show some respect and stay calm. His intolerance explains why the NDP does not have a foothold in Quebec.

I was saying that democracy is very important and that Quebec has its Referendum Act. This legislation was put into use in 1980 and in 1995. To our colleagues in the NDP, I would say that the Bloc Québécois is not convinced that the bill, as presented, will encourage voter participation. We do not think it is enough to increase the number of days of advance polling. It is political cynicism that is keeping people away from the polls. In this context of social disengagement, we have to do a little more than just increase the period set aside for advance polling.

I will give a few examples. Some positive measures were taken during the second-last election. In every one of our ridings, the Chief Electoral Officer hired people who canvassed youth. These people had to convince youth to add their name to the voters list. Young people tend to vote less than others. Not only would we have liked incentives like that to be included in the bill, but we think other measures could have been taken in Bill C-55 that would be more likely to promote voter participation. For example, would it not have been wiser to ask for more polling stations?

Earlier, the hon. member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel made an important point. In his riding, urban centres are quite spread out. Would it not be better to add more polling stations than increase the period designated for advance polling?

The Bloc Québécois is also concerned about the many errors in the register of electors. Quebec has already held a debate on mandatory voter cards. At the federal level, for some elections, it was even possible to register on voting day with two pieces of identification. All this encourages voter turnout. Obviously, there must be guarantees with respect to the potential for fraud. It is very important to question the integrity of the register of electors.

There must be a debate within society. We must ask ourselves why fewer citizens are casting their vote. Is it because they do not trust the leaders? Is it because it is not easy for them? Perhaps election day should be a statutory holiday. That way, people would have more time to vote. Is it because we should have fixed election dates? These are questions that come to mind. The Prime Minister has some very firm ideas about this. Personally, I tend to think that fixed election dates are an advantage. As a matter of fact, the Bloc Québécois, in its wisdom, supports the bill that would set fixed election dates. They would be an advantage, because they would shield us from partisan vagaries.

Twice, the Liberals called elections, called Canadians and Quebeckers to the ballot boxes, before the four-year term was up. In Jean Chrétien's case, it was three years.

He did it because he thought his party would win, because it was easier for his party.

This bill was drafted in response to concerns about voter participation. It would be better to bring in fixed election dates. It seems to me that in Canada—perhaps my colleagues can help me out here—there are already two provinces that have fixed election dates: Ontario and British Columbia, if I am not mistaken. There is no reason for the federal government not to have fixed election dates. I am trying to come up with relevant ways to improve voter turnout.

One day, I sat in for my party whip on a committee. I had the pleasure of speaking with the former Chief Electoral Officer, Mr. Kingsley. I went to a meeting of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to meet with him, and I asked him about the connection between poverty and voter turnout. It is clear that in Hochelaga, where I am from, voter participation is lower than the national average. The national average is 65%, but voter turnout in Hochelaga is only 55%. We have to consider the possibility that there is a correlation between the poverty index and voter turnout. I think there is. When people have trouble meeting their basic needs—food, clothing and shelter—they are much less likely to care about getting involved in our public institutions.

In the end, what does it mean to vote? To vote is to assert one's citizenship. This is why some people believe that, until Quebec achieves sovereignty, we cannot truly have Quebec citizenship. I must admit, I am pretty close to sharing that point of view. This does not mean that people cannot take an interest in the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, participate in the operations of the National Assembly, be familiar with Bill 101, and know the history of Quebec. But, clearly, true citizenship is conferred by the features of sovereignty. This is certainly one more reason to strive for sovereignty.

Indeed, there is a rather tenuous link between social disengagement and participation in democratic institutions, and this should make us reflect on how we can address poverty. I know, for example, that the hon. member for Sherbrooke—and I can never thank him enough—tabled a motion a few years ago to add a provision to the Canadian Human Rights Act to prohibit discrimination based on social condition. I was not surprised by his actions. I know how much the hon. member for Sherbrooke cares about such issues. He is an asset to the social democratic wing of the Bloc Québécois, and I would like to thank him once again.

In closing, we are not convinced that we will support the bill, nor are we convinced that it is enough. The bill lacks the measures and the vision needed to really increase voter turnout. We would have liked to see more polling stations and greater incentives, including a better register of electors and the ability to reach out to voters who are more likely to disengage socially.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

4:05 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, first, I want to congratulate the hon. member for Hochelaga on his presentation. I also congratulate him because, this past weekend, he was selected unanimously as our party's candidate in Hochelaga to run again at the next general election. The Bloc Québécois grassroots in Hochelaga have again put their faith in this member, whose competence and experience are unique.

My colleague presented a very nice picture of Hochelaga, and I would like to hear his thoughts on voter turnout, because this is what is most important.

In Quebec, we made changes to the advance voting process. Before the last provincial election, in March, Quebeckers who wanted to vote in advance had to give a reason to be allowed to do so. Now, they no longer have to give a reason to be able to vote in advance. This resulted in a higher advance poll turnout, but the turnout for the general election changed by a mere 0.1%. So, this measure did not have a significant impact in that regard.

I wonder if the hon. member for Hochelaga could give us his thoughts on how we could encourage more citizens to vote, including in Hochelaga, where, in some areas, people seem to be experiencing greater difficulties.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

4:10 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel. I would like to congratulate him on having been appointed our party's chief organizer. I know that he will do his very best to ensure that the Bloc Québécois not only keeps its seats, but also wins more seats in the next election.

Once again, I think that this is a timely issue. In places where the poverty rate is high, people disconnect from society for all kinds of reasons. These are people who have had a hard time professionally, people who have mobility issues, people who are illiterate, and so on. These are all factors that cause people to participate less in their democracy.

Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, which is located between downtown Montreal and the east end, includes five neighbourhoods. I represent part of Rosemont, which is wealthier, part of south central Montreal, which is poorer, and all of Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, which, from 1898 to 1918, was an independent city that merged with Montreal some time later. People's opinions on mergers in this part of Montreal are deeply rooted. In addition to Rosemont, south central Montreal and Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, I have part of Bourget, which is mostly upper middle class people. The Hochelaga-Maisonneuve neighbourhood is home to real, authentic, courageous people who participate in community life and have a reputation for getting involved in their community and recreation. My neighbourhood would be very different, the social fabric would be very different without recreation groups like Jeunes Sportifs Hochelaga, Notre-Dame-de-L'Assomption, Centre Communautaire Hochelaga, to name but a few, that liven up my neighbourhood.

Once again, we have to ensure that we are making it easy for people to do their civic duty and to come out when it is time to elect representatives to their legislative bodies.

Message from the Senate
Government Orders

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

I have the honour to inform the House that a message has been received from the Senate informing this House that the Senate has passed the following public bill to which the concurrence of this House is desired: Bill S-6, An Act to amend the First Nations Land Management Act.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-55, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (expanded voting opportunities) and to make a consequential amendment to the Referendum Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

4:10 p.m.

Bloc

Monique Guay Rivière-du-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would also like to commend my colleague on his speech. Since he is from Montreal, his situation is different than mine. My constituency is on the north shore in the Montreal area.

I have five municipalities to cover, including a regional capital, and the realities are truly different from one municipality to another. It is much easier to cover a regional capital than the small surrounding municipalities, because sometimes there are great distances to travel from one end of the municipality to the other. We therefore need more polling stations for people to get to.

The problem we often encounter is the absence of public transit, which is not an issue in Montreal. In our regions—except for the regional capital of Saint-Jérôme—there is no public transit to allow young people to travel to vote, if they want. It is extremely difficult to get a high voter turnout depending on where the polling station is located. This entire matter should be reviewed.

Reference was made to low voter turnout among our youth. Should we not consider having polling stations in CEGEPs, and allowing voting on more than one day? Should we not consider having polling stations in universities, where students could register? Students often come from other cities. If the fixed election date is in the fall, they are in school then. They do not necessarily go back home over the weekend, because they have homework to do. Also, if they got to register right at the university, that might act as an incentive to vote. The very low voter turnout among high school, college and university students is definitely a concern.

I have nothing against two additional voting days, but I do not think that will boost voter turnout. We know that, at the federal level, from the moment that a candidate's nomination paper has been filed with and approved by the Chief Electoral Officer, one may already vote at any time at the office of the Chief Electoral Officer. The name of the candidate may even be written by hand, if the ballots are not ready. It has been done, and it has been a common occurrence where I come from.

However, there is a single office of the Chief Electoral Officer and it is normally located downtown in the regional capital. People from outside that area are not likely to be able to easily get there to vote.

We also know that one can vote by mail. There are various ways one can vote. Many mechanisms are already in place at the federal level to allow people to vote.

Someone mentioned ID card and the voter cards earlier. There have been discussions for quite some time about the idea of a voter card for everyone. Voters would only have to show that card, instead of having to produce two pieces of identification.

I will give an example. I have an 18-year-old son who voted for the first time in my last election. However, he still does not have all the cards that we have, as adults. He still does not have a driver's licence, he has only his health insurance card. I had to identify him because I was asked to. He was asked for two cards at the polling station.

So this is a problem for young people. It is also a problem for some people who live below the poverty line and who may not have all these cards and all these tools to be able to go and vote. They will not take the trouble to go, either, because they will tell themselves that they would not be able to vote in any event.

When the bill is sent to committee, we may have to consider this possibility and examine it properly to be sure that we include it in Bill C-55 and improve the bill.

This bill is of some value, but it is very slight. It talks about adding only two days. There is not a lot in Bill C-55 that would prompt us to vote for it with any great enthusiasm because it is changing a lot of things.

On the contrary, it is not changing much. We said that we would vote for this bill at second reading to be able to study it further and in greater depth in committee. I hope that some ideas will come out of that committee for improving the bill.

There is also the whole question of the lack of interest in politics, as several of my colleagues have said. When it comes to federal politics, fewer people are voting. People have lost interest. Since 1993, I have taken part in five election campaigns. I have to say that I have been disappointed several times. There was even one time when the turnout fell to 52%, and that was disturbing because the percentage of people voting should be higher than 52%. This means that there is a lack of interest in politics, in representation in Parliament and in political parties. There is also a lack of interest in ideologies. This is disturbing. We have to find a way of restoring our fellow citizens' interest in voting.

The last campaign we had lasted almost 59 days. In the middle of that campaign we had Christmas and New Year. That made no sense. In my riding, during the holiday period, people had things planned for Christmas and New Year's Day. They had family and other people coming to visit. Of course people talk politics over Christmas, whether as a family or in other groups, but I have to say, sincerely, that the volunteers and people working on the ground needed a bit of time off to be able to celebrate with their families.

In my riding, we decided to take a break for those two periods. It made no sense to force volunteers to work on Christmas Day or New Year's Day. They are volunteers, they give their time, energy and enthusiasm to our election campaigns. We have to take all that into account too.

I am very happy with Bill C-16, which will give us fixed election dates so long as the government is not defeated because it is a minority government. Fixed election dates are a necessary and much less partisan approach. People might listen a bit more to what we have to say. People might have more confidence in us if the government cannot take advantage of being ahead in the polls to call an election and hand out goodies. We know how that works. As I said, I have been through five election campaigns.

I think that there will be some basic changes in this bill. I can well understand what my colleague from Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel goes through. He has a huge riding. Mine is a little smaller, but I still have to deal with five large municipalities. If we want to make services available and heighten people’s awareness, we have to provide them with more places to go and vote. I know that my colleague has to deal, just as I do, with a lack of public transit. People must have a car. But not everybody has one. Poor people do not have the means. Not all young people have access to one. For my part, I went to get my son so that he could go to an advance poll in the last election in Quebec. If I had not done that, he probably would not have gone to vote. It is very important, therefore, to raise the awareness of our youth and do so while they are still very young and in secondary school. They should be told what politics is all about. I am not saying they should be able to vote at a younger age, but they should be informed in school.

I have toured around some schools. I have been invited to speak about politics and tell young people what a day in Parliament is like and what an MP is. They do not really have any idea. It should be part of what we do and our responsibilities as MPs to go and talk to young people in secondary school—I do not mean grade 7 but students who are 14 or 15 years old—so that they can ask questions, get informed and understand. They should also be invited to come here and see what happens. A lot of schools send students. They visit Parliament and see question period. That is not always so great, however, because they see us get very excited. It is not necessarily a good example, but I believe that we can connect with our young people.

I was also invited to visit a political science class in a CEGEP to answer questions from the students and to tell them about the work of an MP, in their riding and also in Ottawa. So, it is important to discuss these matters and to find a way to connect with them.

There are also people who cannot get out and who must vote at home because they have a serious disability. My returning officer personally went to a house to allow someone to vote in her own home. That was a fine deed. People may vote as they please, but everyone has an absolute right to vote and I believe we have to maintain that.

However, I do not believe that simply adding two days, as the bill proposes, will be enough. A great many other changes are needed. There are things missing from this bill. We must also avoid scandals and observe the electoral laws. Spending limits must be enforced and there must not be any slush funds. That is extremely important. Our transparency must be crystal clear. That is, perhaps, what will lead people to take a greater interest in politics. They will then say that their politicians are much more honest than they thought. They will look at us in a new way. I believe that is how we should engage in politics. I have always practised politics in an honest manner and I believe it pays dividends.

There is a great deal of work to be done with the media in terms of awareness. Returning officers already do that work. However, on the media side—television, radio, etc.—even more information is needed, perhaps targeted at young people and specific age groups, with very precise messages to seize their attention and give them a desire to vote. In addition, there is all the work that we do. When people hear about things like the sponsorship scandal, that does not help us, and it leaves people disgusted with politics and politicians. We all felt that in the last election campaign. That kind of thing should never happen again. I hope it will not happen again and that, in future, the rules will be tightened up to avoid things like Option Canada and the endless list of scandals.

Scandal after scandal, people are disillusioned and fed up with politics. They say that politics are not necessary and, in any case, politicians are all the same. It is a bit disappointing to hear people say that. There is not much use trying to explain because that is often the answer we get. I think that politics have to be made more accessible insofar as what we do is concerned. We are making progress. We are doing it by means of the householders we send out to inform our people four times a year. What we do here has to be made known, though, in a much more general way so that people really understand. If I am talking with someone about Bill C-55, he has to be able to understand exactly what that is.

Not everyone is highly politicized, of course, but I think that we can connect with people more and get through to them.

I am looking forward to this bill going back to committee because I think it can be improved. All the parties in the House surely have important suggestions to make. We can make them in a harmonious atmosphere because they are intended to make it easier for our fellow citizens to go and vote.

What I have seen in some places did not make sense. Polling stations were chosen in inaccessible places, sometimes even churches or little chapels when it was bitterly cold outside. People could not even get inside to wait. They had to stay outside in the middle of the winter in a snowstorm or in temperatures of 30o C below zero. That is unacceptable. We need to review all that. We have to make sure places are found. I know that people cannot vote in schools in federal elections, but in Quebec they do. It is much easier that way. As a result, locations have to be found all over the place and sometimes they are very inaccessible. This is something that we really should review for Canadians. One result of all this is that people get angry. They go back home and say they will not vote because it does not make sense to be forced to wait outside for half an hour when it is 30o C below zero.

Then there is the whole issue of homeless people, to which my colleague referred earlier. It is important that these people also be allowed to vote. A voter's card would be the best means to allow them to vote in an election. We must reach out to these people, and we must also find an effective way to do so. They must have a say in the election of their government, which is going to develop policies that may save them, or help them move away from homelessness. There are associations that look after these people, but we must do more to encourage them to vote.

In conclusion, I personally think that Bill C-55 does not do much. I hope the government will be open to constructive amendments that will truly increase the chances of seeing these people vote in large numbers. We must fare better than we currently do in this regard. Indeed, it is rather disappointing to see that only 52% of the population voted. Even when we win, it is disappointing to see that people are turning away from politics.

So, as I said, I hope we can improve this bill by using everyone's input, and by using our experience both in Parliament and in the community, because we also work in the community.

I am currently working as the assistant to our new election campaign director. We talk to people and we hear what they think. They have good ideas. We must follow up on these ideas with concrete measures. Of course, we should not expect miracles. We will not achieve a 100% voter turnout. However, the more the voter turnout increases, the better we can do our work as representatives of the public, as elected people, as members of all the various parties and, in my case, as member of the Bloc Québécois.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

It is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Malpeque, Canadian Wheat Board; the hon. member for Madawaska—Restigouche, Summer Career Placements Program.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to begin by congratulating the hon. member for Rivière-du-Nord on her excellent presentation. I am currently touring Quebec with my hon. colleague, who is the associate senior organizer. I therefore have the pleasure of travelling around the province with her.

The objective of any politician should always be the same: to ensure that the largest possible number of citizens of voting age exercise their right to vote—it is so important in our democratic system. The only way to assess how a government or the parliamentary system is working is by using one's right to vote. All too often and for all sorts of reasons, lawmakers and the government forget the large geographic size of Quebec, among other provinces.

The bill seeks to add voting days. Everyone knows that one may vote in advance, on the weekend before a general election. This bill is not adding any polling divisions or making voting easier for people.

The riding of Rivière-du-Nord is not as widely spread out, but this rather large riding includes several municipalities. I would like my colleague to explain how advance polling works, how her riding is divided and what the government could do to improve the situation in the future.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

Bloc

Monique Guay Rivière-du-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his question. I might add that it is truly a pleasure to be touring Quebec. We are learning so many things, because people have much to say and, as I indicated, they have a lot of good ideas to suggest.

Advance polling poses a problem in terms of the limited number of sites. There is not a variety of sites like on election day. That poses a serious problem. Take a municipality like Saint-Colomban, which covers a huge area. There is only one place where people can vote. This makes it very difficult to vote in advance, especially for people who do not have cars. It might be a better idea to add advance polling sites instead of adding voting days. There is a serious problem due to the fact there is only one voting site, and this site can be located anywhere. As I said earlier, people cannot vote in schools, hence the need to try to find other sites or some small place where voting can take place.

With regard to advance polling, there would have to be provision for additional staff. Very few people work at advance polls. Those who truly wish to vote early are forced to wait a very long time in order to cast their ballot. Perhaps we should concentrate on the following points to increase voter turnout: have more polling stations and hire more staff. At the office of the chief electoral officer, people had to wait two hours to vote. That does not make sense. In Saint-Hyppolite, the polling station was a very small, unheated chapel. Voters waited outside and could not use the church pews. It is not pleasant to have to wait half an hour in -30 oC; some people did not go to vote. We need to take another look at that.

Bill C-55 is an opportunity to make some changes that would be much more worthwhile and enduring. This would be a greater incentive for our voters to go to the polls than just adding two extra days for voting. Adding two additional voting days is not the only solution. We could do that but I believe that other improvements are needed. There will definitely be some constructive suggestions to be made with regard to Bill C-55 when it goes to committee. In addition, witnesses such as the chief electoral officer of Quebec or of other provinces may have suggestions. We shall see. In any event, I believe we should improve the bill in order to reach out to as many voters as possible.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on Bill C-55, the title of which is An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (expanded voting opportunities) and to make a consequential amendment to the Referendum Act.

This bill comprises 14 pages, so I will settle for reading the summary.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Cardin Sherbrooke, QC

Fourteen pages, to add two days.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Indeed, it does take a lot of text. My colleague from Sherbrooke is right, there are 14 pages to add two more days. The summary reads as follows:

This enactment amends the Canada Elections Act to increase the number of days of advance polling from three to five, and to increase the number of advance polling stations open on the last day of advance polling. It also makes a consequential amendment to the Referendum Act.

So, we have understood the purpose of this bill. I will begin by saying that the Bloc Québécois will be in favour of this bill, but there are far too many pages considering the objectives. In relation to the principal objective intended by the Conservative government, though, hon. members will understand there are too few.

First of all, as the chief organizer of the Bloc Québécois, I will attempt to make my comments very constructive. I merely wish to say that, in the 75 Quebec ridings, the Bloc Québécois has a tough political machine, as our opponents are well aware. We are the best organized political party, and the one most aware of all the problems that everyone can run into on election day.

Since 1993, we have been the party, each and every time, that obtains the majority of the Quebec seats here in the House of Commons. We will continue to do so, precisely because we are a formidable organization, with exceptionally generous workers and supporters in the 75 ridings of Quebec. Some of those ridings cover a huge area. I would like this aspect to have particular attention paid to it.

It is true that it does seem worthwhile to have two more days, and to have an advance poll in each polling station on the Sunday preceding the Monday election day. Yes, at first glance, it seems worthwhile, and that is why we will be in favour of the bill and will attempt to make improvements to it.

I say it seems worthwhile, because the government's objective is to increase turnout. I believe—or at least I hope—that on this point all the parliamentarians in this House will have the full support of all the men and women of the Bloc Québécois deputation.

Our objective is precisely to ensure that as many persons as possible of voting age who are entitled to vote may make use of the only way we can pass judgment on the way democracy is being exercised in Canada or in Quebec: our right to vote.

The message today will be a constructive one. Obviously, the interests of the Bloc Québécois and of Quebeckers are at stake. Our objective is, therefore, a simple one. Yes, it is a good thing to have two more days, including the Sunday prior to election day, when advance polls will be held in each polling station to be used on election day. This is a positive step.

However, on the other days of advance polling, including the weekend before the election, we would like to see a larger number of advance polling stations. That weekend has traditionally been the advance polling weekend. This is ingrained in people's minds. They know that the weekend before an election—not the Saturday and Sunday that immediately precede the Monday of the election but, rather, the previous weekend, that is the eighth and ninth days before the election—is advance polling weekend.

So, we must be able to increase the number of advance polling stations and the number of polling stations. Indeed, if we want to try to increase voter turnout, we must not merely say that there are advance polling stations, we must not merely tell people that they have the option of voting eight or nine days—that is either the Saturday or the Sunday—before election day, because they may not be available that weekend.

The quality of the voting services must also be similar to the ones that we have on election day. This is what is lacking here. Indeed, during the four days allocated for the advance polling process—because we are adding two days—the number of polling stations will be limited.

Advance polling stations are often few and far between. For example, in my riding of Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, the advance polling station is located in Thurso. This means that the citizens of the eight municipalities surrounding the town of Thurso must sometimes travel over 70 or 80 kilometres to vote in advance. This does not make any sense in 2007, because people have to travel by car, which is a major drawback. Moreover, when an advance polling station is centralized, this means longer waits, because a larger number of voters use it.

Having to drive 80 kilometres and then wait for two hours to vote in advance is in and of itself a deterrent that sometimes seems deliberate. This has happened too often in the past, and I am tempted to say that it may not have been by accident. We can blame returning officers for not setting up enough advance polling stations, but the fact remains that it is the government that gives them their budgets.

Bill C-55 could have included a provision for more polling stations. Adding another polling day the Sunday before voting day in each polling station is a step forward. However, they could have increased the number of polling stations and polling divisions for the other four days of advance polling. The Bloc Québécois is seeking fairness so that all citizens, regardless of where they live in Quebec—and we are working for the rest of Canada too—can have the same opportunity to vote in advance at polling stations.

I want to highlight that because some of the numbers are worrisome. Since the 1980s, voter participation in federal elections has plummeted by 10%. Dropping from 75% to 63% or 64% is serious. That means that in 10 years, 10% of the population lost interest in politics. What is even more worrisome is the fact that people under 24 have the lowest participation rate.

We have to be able to tell our young citizens, the young men and women who are the future of our society, that we are giving them every possible opportunity to exercise their right to vote for the first time. This is important for all kinds of reasons: they go to university, they work and they have a lot of responsibilities. That is why we have to increase the number of voting days, but we also have to give them the opportunity to vote close to home because young people often do not have cars and have to find other ways to get around.

Students go to universities in major urban centres that have public transit. When they go back to the regions—regions like mine—there is no public transit, so they cannot get around. Giving them more opportunities to exercise their right to vote is one way to encourage them to vote. Once again, Bill C-55 does not touch on this, which is unfortunate because this would have been the perfect time to do something about it if the government had wanted to. The Bloc Québécois will certainly propose amendments when the bill goes to committee, amendments that will increase participation overall and especially among young people.

It is not enough to increase the number of polling days; you must also have a message to deliver. Increasing the number of polling stations or divisions or advance polling days will not necessarily guarantee an increase in voter turnout.

The best proof of this was the last election in Quebec, where there was a change in advance polling. In Quebec, prior to March 2007, you had to have a reason to vote in advance. You had to say why you could not vote on election day. That was changed and advance voting increased. However, in terms of overall voter turnout—the total number of ballots cast on election day and in advance polls—only increased by a few one hundredths of a per cent.

Once again, why do citizens not exercise their right to vote? This is due to the cynicism spawned by many situations. We saw an example this week in the House. Justice Grenier led an inquiry into the 1995 referendum expenses. $539,000 was spent illegally. That was the general conclusion of Justice Grenier's report.

Another conclusion is that one whole part of the investigation could not take place, because it had to do with federal government spending, which was beyond Judge Grenier's mandate. Everyone understands this. The press understands. The Bloc Québécois, a great defender of the interests and values of Quebeckers, is simply asking the government to investigate everything that was not covered by Judge Grenier. None of the parties, not the Conservatives, not the Liberals, not the New Democrats, no one except the Bloc Québécois asked for this investigation.

And then we wonder why citizens do not participate in elections. There was a denial of democracy. I am not talking about charges or anything. But as soon as we find that funds were spent illegally based on a law in a province, a big red light should come on here in Ottawa, especially when they participated in the event. But no, there is no red light here in Ottawa. They do not want an investigation. They do not want to know. They spent money illegally, but think what you will, it was for the cause, for Canadian unity or for anything else.

We should not encounter such situations in a democracy. Citizens should be able to make their own choices. Quite simply, the federal government denied citizens that opportunity in 1995. It did not allow the people of Quebec to make their choice freely. It bought ads, it spent money illegally on public opinion polls and other things. It tried to influence the vote and have its point of view adopted by not respecting Quebec's Referendum Act.

Regardless of whether I am a sovereignist or not, some things should not be acceptable in a democracy. A government cannot use money to try to influence democracy for any reason. Again, these are the situations that make people disengage. Maybe the Liberals, the Conservatives and the NDP want fewer people to vote. Maybe to them, the fewer the people who vote, the fewer they have to please and they can go on governing without having to satisfy the majority. That is what will happen. The way things are going, fewer people will vote in federal elections. This type of thing should never happen.

It is not true that this cynicism is disappearing because the Conservatives are in power. I would like to give a few examples and read a text, because it is worth mentioning. Please understand that these are not the sort of things that one would say without having verified the facts. Thus, the Conservative Party, contrary to what some people may think, is not the party of ethics and transparency. In a few months, the Conservative Party has accumulated a track record that attests to a lack of political will to respect the rules in place and to put an end to the culture of entitlement. As we all know, the current Prime Minister was the one who went on and on about the Liberals and their culture of entitlement during the election campaign.

This government appointed certain individuals to cabinet, and not just any individuals—talk about a culture of entitlement. It appointed a former lobbyist, now the Minister of National Defence, to the head of the Department of National Defence. As a lobbyist, this minister worked with the largest weapons dealers, including BAE Systems, Raytheon and General Dynamics, for over a decade. And now, this same Minister of National Defence is granting $20 billion in military contracts to the industries for which he recently worked as a lobbyist. That is how the government works today.

Another lobbyist, Sandra Buckler, is now the Prime Minister's director of communications. She worked for Royal LePage and the Harper government decided to maintain the contract with Royal LePage relocation services—

Canada Elections Act
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4:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

Order, please. The hon. member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, who is seated in the front row, has enough experience to know that when referring to members of this House, we use titles, not last names.

I do not scold new, inexperienced members for this kind of thing, but you know better. You used the Prime Minister's last name.

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Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I apologize. You are right.

Ms. Buckler, the Prime Minister's communications director, was hired in 2005 to meet with members of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, who were studying the possibility of referring this file to the Auditor General. One could be forgiven for thinking that Royal LePage was not paying Ms. Buckler to convince the members to refer the matter to the Auditor General. The Prime Minister's communications director worked on files that were connected to her former employer. This is the party that got itself elected on an ethics and transparency platform.

As I said, simply increasing the number of advance polling dates will not necessarily encourage people to vote. The government must set an example.

I have a few more things to say about contracts that have been handed out to friends. For years, the Conservatives complained that the Liberals were giving contracts to their friends. Yet they have done the same thing. This government awarded a communications contract to Marie-Josée Lapointe, who was part of the Prime Minister's transition team. The contract violated the spirit of the Federal Accountability Act because political staff are not eligible to receive government contracts for 12 months following their employment. They also used public funds for partisan purposes. In March 2006, the Conservative government awarded an $85,000 contract to measure public support for the five election priorities. In July 2006, the Conservative government awarded a contract to Strategic Counsel to poll citizens on various political issues. The very partisan report indicated that the environment was a high priority.

Thus, public funds were used for political purposes. The Conservative government criticized the Liberals for doing that very same thing. That is one of the reasons that so many people do not care about politics. That is one of the reasons for low voter turnout in federal elections. Once again, laws are being used and manipulated for partisan purposes. The Conservative government or the Liberal Party: it makes no difference.

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Bloc

Serge Cardin Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate and thank my colleague from Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel for his excellent speech.

In the opinion of my colleague, why is it that parties such as the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party cannot seem to entice people to vote? Is it simply because, once elected, these people are incapable of meeting the needs and aspirations of the public and therefore lose voter confidence completely?

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member said, and you have also said so yourself, that the Bloc Québécois has a remarkable campaign machine that sparks voter interest during an election campaign. The Bloc Québécois is a party with ideas and a party with definite power, which is what sparks the interest of voters. This is why voter turnout is so high, at least among people who vote Bloc Québécois. I would like to hear the member's comments on this.