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Crucial Fact

Liberal MP for Kingston and the Islands (Ontario)

Won his last election, in 2011, with 39.30% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Business of Supply April 10th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, the minister came up and brought a motion imposing time allocation after only three speakers. I think we could have had more than three speakers.

Regarding the other things, I would say that there are some bills we have to pass through to fix the Conservatives' mistake and get the grain to ports on the west coast. That is something we undoubtedly have to speed through.

However, when we are talking about the foundational institutions of our democracy, in how we run elections, surely we could let more members of Parliament speak.

Business of Supply April 10th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, during this debate today, we have heard from the members for Western Arctic and Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor. They are from far-flung regions of the country. That is why we have debate and why we should allow all members of Parliament to speak when we are discussing issues related to the foundations of our democracy, as in how to run elections.

The last two questioners are excellent examples of why it is important to hear members of Parliament from all parts of Canada.

When we ask questions about Bill C-23 in question period, we hear pretty much uniquely from the Minister of State for Democratic Reform, who represents a suburb of Ottawa. We keep hearing from him over and over again. That is not as good as hearing from members who represent all parts of Canada.

Business of Supply April 10th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I will give the House another fine example of what the member for Western Arctic is talking about.

The health card belonging to the sponsor of this motion, the member for Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, does not have his address. His driver's licence has a P.O. box. If when he went to vote the officials were to follow the rules, they would say, “Sorry, you do not have something that proves where you live”. There would be 20 people there saying, “This is my member of Parliament. I know that person lives here and is my member of Parliament. You have got to let him vote”. This is the sort of thing that Bill C-23 overlooks. It is a fine example of how even a member of Parliament does not have the identification to officially prove his residence. Therefore, there has to be some sort of allowance for vouching.

Business of Supply April 10th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, one thing we discovered in talking to people in the last election is that it is hard for students to prove where they live. It is easy for people to prove their identity. Lots of people have pieces of ID with their picture and their name. It is quite a bit harder to prove where one lives. We discovered that a lot of students and young people do not have easy access to that identification. That example is an excellent one.

The member may or may not know that when it comes to the commissioner of elections, I have mentioned it a number of times and it has been mentioned in the press as well, we know that one of the problems with Bill C-23 is that the commissioner does not have the ability to compel witnesses. For example, when we found out that somebody impersonated my campaign manager in my riding, even with those pieces of information we had it was hard for the commissioner to force somebody to testify. We know that voters were misled and told to go to a different poll very far away from where they lived. The commissioner does not have the power to compel witnesses to figure out who did that.

Business of Supply April 10th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by making a point about the importance of the legitimacy of government. We trust government with our security, our rights, our tax dollars, and many of our important interests. Even the Conservatives would agree with this point.

Let me give an example. On April 3, when we were debating the last omnibus budget implementation bill, I stood up and asked the Conservative speaker why the omnibus bill had corrections to the previous omnibus bill, which had corrections to the previous omnibus bill, which had corrections to the previous omnibus bill. I said that perhaps we should not be limiting debate but instead taking our time and getting it right for once.

The answer the parliamentary secretary provided was simply that they were right because they won the elections in 2006, 2008, and 2011. That is what the Conservative member said. They are relying on the legitimacy of their own election when they are cornered and do not have a good argument in debate. Therefore, even the Conservatives must believe in the importance of the legitimacy of the people's government, and as far as we know, fair and democratic elections are the most legitimate way of choosing a government.

If we want to have fair, legitimate elections, we have to have a consensus among MPs from different parties if we want to change the rules or the laws surrounding how elections work or how Parliament works under the statutes. Elections and elections law serve the people of our country, not the parties. Parliament serves the people of our country, not political parties.

If we really believe this, then we must accept that all Canadians must have a voice through their members of Parliament when changes are considered in the structure of elections or in the structure of the people's Parliament. These are two of the fundamental institutions of our democracy. During debate, there have to be real answers. There has to be solid evidence that is presented, poked, tested, and confronted. Through debate, questions have to be answered. We have to have real questions, and real debate has to occur.

For example, under Bill C-23, 120,000 Canadians who relied on vouching to vote in the last federal election would no longer have that ability. Why get rid of vouching and risk disenfranchising them or other Canadians who want to vote?

It is not good enough for me to just ask that question here in the chamber on behalf of Canadians. It is necessary for me to demand and insist on a real answer to that question for Canadians over and over again, because so far all I have heard are deflections on that point. We need time to insist over and over again on real answers from the government. At some point, even the Conservatives will become embarrassed by how they are not answering the real, tough questions that are being posed by MPs.

Time is needed for all MPs from all over the diverse parts of our country to be heard. Every Canadian, through their MP, needs to be heard on questions involving the fundamental parts of our democracy. Elections and Parliament are too important to be changed by a partisan bill that a majority pushes through.

Canadians perhaps want to be governed by a majority. Sometimes they will say they want to give another party a chance to govern. What they really mean is they want to hand the ball to the other team, not change the rules of the game. If we try to change the rules of the game, as Bill C-23 proposes to do, we cannot just have one team deciding, especially when Parliament and the clash between political parties is not just a game. It is an adversarial system, and in order to make the best laws and to spend money in the wisest way for Canadians, it ensures that no stone is left unturned.

With Bill C-23, it certainly appears that the Conservatives are changing the rules for elections to help themselves. They would make it harder for students and seniors and aboriginals to vote. Wealthy donors would be able to donate more. Central poll supervisors would come from a list provided by the incumbent party, which in most ridings is the Conservative Party, instead of through the simple option of letting all recognized parties in the House of Commons provide a list from which Elections Canada could choose central poll supervisors.

We have also seen the government try to intimidate the Chief Electoral Officer with some procedural manoeuvres, such as trying to cause votes in order to break up his testimony at committee. Not only do the Conservatives want to change the rules; the Minister of State for Democratic Reform also personally attacked the Chief Electoral Officer and was even publicly reprimanded by former auditor general Sheila Fraser for doing that. To put it in simpler language and draw a picture, the Conservatives want to change the rules of the game to favour themselves, and if the referee protests, they punch out the referee.

In changing the law around elections or Parliament, it is important to do it right, and it is more important to do it right than to do it quickly. There is a case for expediency when managing a fast-moving economy; for example, we have a bill to encourage rail companies to move grain to ports, so there are certain advantages for our country when it is governed by a majority government and majority powers are used judicially. However, when amending the Canada Elections Act and the Parliament of Canada Act, we should be acting as representatives of all of our constituents, not just the ones who voted for us or our parties. Every constituency should get to speak, but with time allocation, not all MPs get a chance to speak. Every MP should get a chance to speak if he or she wants to, and that is why we should pass this motion today.

To conclude, I want to call on all Canadians. I understand that the vote on this motion will take place in a couple of weeks, on Monday, April 28, after Easter. MPs will return to their constituencies and will be interacting with the people who live in their ridings. I am calling on all Canadians to contact their MPs and tell them that they want all Canadians to have a say on laws that change how elections are run. Election law is not made to serve parties that are fighting each other; it is made to serve the people, by ensuring that the vote is as fair as possible and the government that is elected is as legitimate as possible.

To all Canadians I say that if they believe that MPs work in Ottawa to represent the people back home, then their MPs must support this motion. If Conservative and NDP members believe when they go home that they are only the representatives for the Conservative Party or the NDP, then they should go ahead and vote against this motion. I think a lot of Conservative MPs do not believe that, and I encourage them to follow their beliefs and to vote for this motion.

I believe I represent Kingston and the Islands in the Parliament of Canada and I chose to be in the Liberal Party not because I want to represent the Liberal Party but because I believe the Liberal Party is best for Canada. I represent the people of Kingston and the Islands in Ottawa and I challenge the member for Calgary Southwest, who is the Prime Minister, to stand on guard for Canadian democracy and to forswear closure when debating changes to the Canada Elections Act or the Parliament of Canada Act.

Finally, I repeat, I ask all Canadians to contact their MPs over the next two weeks and tell them that they want all Canadians to speak through their MPs if laws about elections or Parliament are being changed.

Business of Supply April 10th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague said that many Conservative members have never given speeches in the House on a single government bill. I wonder why that is.

Is it possible that it is not because they are afraid of speaking in the House, but rather because they are afraid of answering questions?

If I had to answer for some of the things that the current Conservative government has done—and there are some good things, but there are a lot of bad things—or answer for a piece of government legislation, I would be embarrassed. I would feel that I might embarrass my family if I had to answer questions. Maybe that is why so many Conservative members have not stood up to give speeches on government bills.

Business of Supply April 10th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I believe that elections and election legislation must serve the people. Parliament must serve the people. If the laws concerning these two institutions of Canadian democracy are changed, Canadians must have a voice in their MP.

I would like my colleague to comment on that.

Democratic Reform April 9th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I feel very fortunate to have a parliamentary secretary from the government who can actually debate without notes here. I want to thank him very much.

I think the parliamentary secretary just gave me the best argument to counter his own arguments. He just said that Elections Canada goes and asks all the parties for additional names, so why not ask all the parties for potential central poll supervisors?

That is the perfect answer to my colleague's argument. There is no reason and nothing in anything that the parliamentary secretary said that argues against the idea of letting all the recognized parties in the House of Commons recommend central poll supervisors in all the ridings, and not having the simply limited to the incumbent party or the incumbent candidate.

That would be my answer, and I cannot believe that my hon. colleague from the government side has an answer to that argument.

Democratic Reform April 9th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to be able to revisit my question on Bill C-23, the so-called fair elections act. I want to thank the parliamentary secretary for being here tonight to answer the question. I invite him to deviate from the prepared script and we will have a nice debate here this evening.

My question is about the fact that under this bill, the central poll supervisor would be chosen from a list provided by the candidate or the party that won the previous election in that riding. The problem is that there is no particular reason for making the central poll supervisor another partisan person. I know that there are already officers at each poll who are selected from lists provided by the party that finished first and the party that finished second. They are the deputy returning officers and the poll clerks. The idea is to make sure that at each poll there is someone representing each side of the fight so that at least there is someone from each side to make sure that things are fair. However, we do not need to make the situation more partisan.

Let me explain a little bit about what the central poll supervisor does. In my riding of Kingston and the Islands, there are a couple of places I can mention, Portsmouth Olympic Harbour and Winston Churchill Public School. They have a large room with a number of poll stations. When that is the case, there is a central poll supervisor, who is selected by Elections Canada at the moment. That supervisor's job is to interpret rules, to make calls, and to adjudicate. In short, the supervisor is something like an umpire. If the umpire is partisan or is perceived to be partisan, I think that can hurt public faith in the elections process. It can erode trust and reduce the legitimacy of the government.

I know that the current government likes to talk about how it won the last election, so I think it should be interested in the legitimacy of its own election. If people are feeling that the political system is going to become more stacked against them, people who are already under stress economically, who are wondering if the economy is stacked against them, if the systems and the institutions we have in this country that make it a strong country are stacked against them, I think that is not good for the country. It is not good for the economy and the long-term health of this country.

Let me close with another analogy. Imagine a hockey playoff series, and the team that wins one game in the match gets to appoint the referee for the next game. This is kind of like what is happening.

What is even worse in this case is that the referee has no whistle. The reason for that, of course, in this analogy, is that under Bill C-23, another reason it is a bad bill, Elections Canada and the people who work to make sure elections are fair do not have the power to compel witnesses to testify. For example, in Kingston and the Islands, when someone impersonated my campaign manager, something that was documented, Elections Canada could not compel a witness to testify. When someone told a voter to go from one part of the city to a totally different part of the city to vote, we got some documentation, but Elections Canada could not compel people to testify.

This is like a referee with no whistle. That is why I think Bill C-23 is a bad bill.

Petitions April 9th, 2014

Mr. Speaker, I present a petition today from residents of the city of Kingston and the surrounding rural areas. It concerns Bill C-18.

The petitioners are asking Parliament to refrain from making changes to the Seeds Act and the Plant Breeders' Rights Act, and they are asking Parliament to legislate the rights of Canadians to save, reuse, select, exchange, and sell seeds.