House of Commons Hansard #92 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was elections.

Topics

Presence in Gallery
Oral Questions

3 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

I would like to draw the attention of hon. members to the presence in the gallery of the Hon. David Alward, Premier of New Brunswick.

Presence in Gallery
Oral Questions

3 p.m.

Some hon. members

Hear, hear!

Statements by Members
Points of Order
Oral Questions

March 8th, 2012 / 3 p.m.

Bramalea—Gore—Malton
Ontario

Conservative

Bal Gosal Minister of State (Sport)

Mr. Speaker, yesterday, before question period, the member for Guelph indicated that our Canadian women's alpine ski team had not won a gold medal since 1971.

I would like to remind the member for Guelph and my colleagues in the House that Canadian women have won 36 gold medals in alpine skiing since 1971. I would like to take this opportunity--

Statements by Members
Points of Order
Oral Questions

3 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

Order, please. I am sure the House appreciates the record being corrected. It may be a point of pride but it is not a point of order.

Oral Questions
Points of Order
Oral Questions

3 p.m.

Liberal

Ted Hsu Kingston and the Islands, ON

Mr. Speaker, during question period, the Minister of Health said that the opposition filibustered a motion made at the health committee this morning.

I was in that committee meeting and I believe that the committee business was discussed in camera. I believe the Minister of Health has violated a rule about talking about in camera proceedings. I would also like to ask the minister how she knew.

Oral Questions
Points of Order
Oral Questions

3 p.m.

Nunavut
Nunavut

Conservative

Leona Aglukkaq Minister of Health and Minister of the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency

Mr. Speaker, the committee meeting was not in camera. It was televised when the issue of the motion was raised. All of Canada could have watched the proceedings this morning.

Oral Questions
Points of Order
Oral Questions

3 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

I will go back to the hon. member for Kingston and the Islands but so far I am not sure that this is an actual point of order.

Oral Questions
Points of Order
Oral Questions

3 p.m.

Liberal

Ted Hsu Kingston and the Islands, ON

Mr. Speaker, in response to the Minister of Health, all the camera people left the room after the witnesses and before the business part of the meeting. I believe it is a violation of the rules to talk about what happened in camera.

Oral Questions
Points of Order
Oral Questions

3 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

I will take that under advisement and get back to the House if necessary.

Oral Questions
Points of Order
Oral Questions

3 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Strahl Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, BC

Mr. Speaker, as a member of the health committee, I was there this morning and the meeting never went in camera. We discussed the future business in public. It was clear in the room that it was a public meeting and therefore the point of order has no merit.

Oral Questions
Points of Order
Oral Questions

3 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

Order, please. I understand it is time for the Thursday Question. The hon. member for Windsor—Tecumseh.

Business of the House
Oral Questions

3:05 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, I stood here in the same place last week and acknowledged that the government had gone a whole five sitting days without moving a time allocation motion and I encouraged the House leader of the government to continue that practice. Therefore, I am quite disappointed standing here today.

They moved not just one time allocation motion on Tuesday, but they moved two such motions. What they are doing is truly undemocratic. I urge the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons once again to put an end to this practice immediately.

For the coming week, there are a number of issues that are outstanding and unclear so I will list them.

I understand that we have a confirmation that Bill C-10 will come before this House for debate tomorrow and that the vote on Bill C-10 will be put off until Monday evening.

I further understand that Bill C-31, the attack on refugees bill, will come before the House on Tuesday. I would ask the House leader if that is still the case and if it will be before the House for the balance of the week.

With regard to other legislation, I will repeat a question I had earlier for him but never got an answer to. Where is Bill C-30, the Internet snooping bill? When will that be back before the House? Will we ever see it again or is the government just going to dump it?

Finally, could I have a confirmation for the House that the final supply day, which was originally scheduled for Monday, has now been put over to Wednesday and all the votes that will flow subsequent to that will be Wednesday evening?

Business of the House
Oral Questions

3:05 p.m.

York—Simcoe
Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, with the encouragement and support of the opposition House leader, I will continue to try to engage all the House leaders and other parties in an effort to work on consensus approaches as to scheduling matters. I will make the observation that for a dance to work everyone has to be dancing. Therefore, I will continue to make my best efforts.

This afternoon, we will continue debating the opposition day motion from the hon. member for Hamilton Centre.

Tomorrow we will conclude debate on the amendments coming from the other place, on Bill C-10, the safe streets and communities act. We will have our final vote on this important legislation on Monday night. Bill C-10 will pass a number of important proposals that our government has put forward over the last five years that stand up for victims and for making our communities safer. I might add that Monday will be the 94th sitting day of the House, which means our government will have easily met our election commitment to make this bill law.

Also on Monday, the House will resume debate on Bill C-31, the Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act. We will return to this debate on Thursday and Friday.

Tuesday will begin with Bill S-4, the Safer Railways Act. This is an important bill that was nearly passed before the opposition forced an election last year. I hope we will see the debate conclude sometime Tuesday.

If we have extra time on Tuesday, the House will take up a second piece of legislation, Bill C-15, the Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada Act.

Wednesday shall be the seventh and final allotted day of the supply cycle. I might correct my friend that I do not think this has ever been designated in the House. We will debate a motion from the New Democratic Party and end the afternoon with two appropriations bills from the President of the Treasury Board.

The House resumed consideration of the motion, and of the amendment.

Opposition Motion—Elections Canada Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:05 p.m.

NDP

Kennedy Stewart Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to our opposition day motion. It is an extremely important motion and I am glad to hear it may have the support of all parties, although I am not so sure after hearing comments in question period.

If our motion is passed, it will give the Chief Electoral Officer the power he needs to get his job done. That is really what is at stake here, to ensure our most precious national institution is protected to the fullest extent possible. These tools are needed and have been requested and we believe our motion deserves firm support.

We need to get to the bottom of this so-called robofraud scandal, not just in this immediate instance but for a greater problem in Canada, which is citizen disengagement. Voter turnout is dropping in the country. In 1950 voter turnout was close to 80%. In the last election, it was just over 60%. That 20 percentage point drop should be a warning sign. All the bells should be going off that something is desperately wrong in Canada and it needs fixing.

At the current rate of decline, I can see voter turnout dropping below the 50% level some time in the near future. It was not too long ago that we used to poke fun at the United States for its low turnout levels. Now we are almost mimicking exactly the same levels of turnout. This is a huge problem and I propose that this is not due to apathy or disinterested citizens sitting on their hands. It is part of a large problem, which really has to do with the work of political parties. Currently, all parties contact supporters. That is the heart of this process and what we do throughout all campaigns, but there is a concerted effort often to discourage voters. Because resources are often so tight for campaigns, political parties tend to ignore non-voters.

This has a cumulative effect that was acknowledged by the Royal Commission on Electoral Reform back in the early 1990s. This cumulative effect means that our turnout will continue to drop lower and lower, and we have to do something to fix it. Unfortunately, very little from the very well-conducted Royal Commission on Electoral Reform was implemented. However, I have to compliment my colleagues across the room. They have done a couple of things that are worth noting. One is bringing in legislation for fixed election dates and tougher spending limits on political parties. Banning donations from organizations and unions was a good move, and I applaud that action.

In addition to the current problem of declining voter turnout in Canada, we have a new problem, one that has just emerged, and that is the possibility of fraudulent voter suppression. This is a huge problem. We can see parties ignoring voters, sometimes trying to discourage them with ugly pictures or harsh words, but fraudulent suppression is a much bigger problem. This is something new that has washed up on the beach of Canada and we need to give the Chief Electoral Officer sufficient powers to deal with it.

Included in the allegations that are being widely investigated by Elections Canada is the issue of robocalls and live calls telling voters that their polling districts have moved or that the hours have changed. I have had reports of both of these kinds of calls in my riding of Burnaby—Douglas. One voter wrote me an email and said that he had received a robocall telling him that the hours had changed at his polling station. I was knocking on doors last Saturday and another voter told me that he received a call saying his election station had moved when it clearly had not. These two voters were smart enough to disregard these robocalls and go on their merry way to exercise their democratic right.

These are serious allegations and they really need to be investigated to the deepest possible extent. That is why the Chief Electoral Officer needs new powers and the tools to do the job necessary to get to the bottom of this. The investigative capabilities need to be strengthened to give the Chief Electoral Officer the power to request all necessary documents from political parties to ensure compliance with the Canada Elections Acts.

Thousands of dollars were spent on the Royal Commission on Electoral Reform. The documents make a great Friday night read for anybody in the House and they are worth going through. A panel of experts said that we were risking a serious democratic decline in Canada and that giving more power to the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada would be one of the key things that would make our democracy more secure.

Millions of dollars are spent on sending soldiers abroad, on sending election observers abroad to monitor elections in other countries to bring democracy to those countries. I do not see how we can do that with a straight face if our own Canadian democracy is facing one of the biggest scandals, if substantiated, that we have ever had in Canadian history.

That is the trick here. The Chief Electoral Officer needs the power to get a handle on this so he can assure Canadians that things are either okay and this is some kind of mistake, or that there is a real problem that needs to be investigated and either substantiated or disproved. We could then amend the Elections Act to stop this kind of thing from happening.

These are not the only problems with our democratic system in Canada. Not only do we have declining voter turnout in elections, but citizen participation between elections is also declining. They are often closely related.

I am proud to say that I recently brought forward a motion that, if passed, will change the petitioning process in the House. Currently, we only have a paper-based petition system. I am proposing that the House move to e-petitions. I hope my motion will be adopted. If so, this will allow citizens to become more engaged between elections. It will bring those people into the process who would not normally be brought into it. Under this proposition, citizens will be able to submit signed petitions online. The Conservative government in the United Kingdom passed a law that if a petition received over 50,000 signatures, that issue would be debated in the House of Commons. It would be debated outside of regular business hours to ensure it would not interfere with the regular business of the House. This gives citizens direct access to the democratic process. Its time has come in Canada.

We have had all these problems with robofraud and calls that should not exist and all the questions around that matter. Then we are back and forth on whether to give the Chief Electoral Officer investigative powers. We need to bring forward something positive and proactive to encourage citizens to participate in their governance in their communities. The e-petitions idea is something that we should pursue.

The opposition day motion proposes that Elections Canada investigation capabilities be strengthened to include giving the Chief Electoral Officer the power to request all necessary documents from political parties to ensure compliance with the Elections Canada Act.

We are also proposing that telecommunication companies that provide voter contact services during a general election must register with Elections Canada. That is such a great idea. It is something I have been studying my whole life. I am very excited that this may happen in Canada.

Our third proposal is that all clients of telecommunication companies during a general election must have their identity registered and verified. Technology has moved on. It used to be door knocking, sending letters around to folks, gatherings, getting people out to vote. We now have massive constituencies and millions of Canadians to communicate with so of course we are going to use telecommunications. In the 21st century we need a 21st century Canada Elections Act to cover this new technology to ensure it is working to the benefit of voters, not to their detriment.

This motion is extremely important. Yesterday I was of the opinion from what the Prime Minister said that it would have support, but today it is looking a little different. We will have to wait and see what happens when we vote on the motion. This motion is something I wholeheartedly support.

The robo fraud problem is grabbing the headlines. Once it is investigated and people are either sent to jail or fined, it will go away, but it will pop up again. In order to protect our democratic system, the most important thing to do would be to ensure that the independent officers who oversee our election processes are given the powers they need to get the job done.