An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Public Service Employment Act

This bill was last introduced in the 39th Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in October 2007.

Sponsor

Rob Nicholson  Conservative

Status

This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Canada Elections Act to improve the integrity of the electoral process by reducing the opportunity for electoral fraud or error. It requires that electors, before voting, provide one piece of government-issued photo identification showing their name and address or two pieces of identification authorized by the Chief Electoral Officer showing their name and address, or take an oath and be vouched for by another elector.

It also amends the Canada Elections Act to, among other things, make operational changes to improve the accuracy of the National Register of Electors, facilitate voting and enhance communications with the electorate.

It amends the Public Service Employment Act to permit the Public Service Commission to make regulations to extend the maximum term of employment of casual workers.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Votes

June 18, 2007 Passed That a message be sent to the Senate to acquaint their Honours that this House agrees with amendments numbered 1 to 11 made by the Senate to Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Public Service Employment Act; And that this House agrees with the principles set out in amendment 12 but would propose the following amendment: Senate amendment 12 be amended as follows: Clause 42, page 17: (a) Replace line 23 with the following: "17 to 19 and 34 come into force 10 months" (b) Add after line 31 the following: "(3) Paragraphs 162( i.1) and (i.2) of the Canada Elections Act, as enacted by section 28, come into force six months after the day on which this Act receives royal assent unless, before that day, the Chief Electoral Officer publishes a notice in the Canada Gazette that the necessary preparations have been made for the bringing into operation of the provisions set out in the notice and that they may come into force on the day set out in the notice.".
Feb. 20, 2007 Passed That the Bill be now read a third time and do pass.
Feb. 20, 2007 Passed That this question be now put.
Feb. 6, 2007 Passed That Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Public Service Employment Act, as amended, be concurred in at report stage.
Feb. 6, 2007 Failed That Bill C-31 be amended by deleting Clause 21.
Feb. 6, 2007 Failed That Bill C-31 be amended by deleting Clause 18.

May 8th, 2014 / 8:45 a.m.
See context

Annette Ryan Director General, Employment Insurance Policy, Department of Employment and Social Development

Thank you very much.

Mr. Chair, honourable members of the committee, good morning.

I am pleased to appear here today to speak to you about division 17 of part 6 of Bill C-31, which provides enhanced flexibility for Canadians taking care of ill family members to access employment insurance sickness benefits.

To provide context for the amendments proposed in Bill C-31, I'll briefly start by reviewing the Helping Families in Need Act, which was tabled in September 2012 and which did three important things to improve special benefits and support the families that are relevant for the section reviewed this morning.

First, the Helping Families in Need Act established a new benefit for parents of critically ill children, who are referred to as PCIC, of up to 35 weeks to support parents who are taking time away from work to provide care to support a critically ill child of less than 18 years of age.

Second, it provided a new flexibility to Canadians receiving parental benefits, allowing them to suspend those benefits and to access sickness benefits, if they are ill or injured themselves, and subsequently to reactivate their remaining parental benefits, if applicable.

Third, the act that was tabled in 2012 amended the Canada Labour Code to protect the jobs of parents who were taking leave of absence to care for these children, or also for children who were murdered or missing, which was another grant introduced at the time outside of the EI program.

With the coming into force of the provisions of the Helping Families in Need Act on March 24, 2013, the government effectively changed the rules for Canadians receiving EI parental benefits so that they can now qualify for sickness benefits if they fall ill and then can subsequently draw the parental benefits. The government, then, was essentially bringing new flexibility and responsiveness to the EI program for parents caring for children.

The new measures under discussion this morning in division 17 of BIll C-31 further extend this type of flexibility to access sickness benefits for EI claimants who are receiving the parents of critically ill children, PCIC, benefits, or compassionate care benefits, CCB, which are benefits that are extended for up to six weeks for Canadians who are taking care of an ill family member, whether parents, spouse, or members of the extended family—sisters, siblings, that type of thing. These benefits are similar in nature to parental benefits in that the claimant receives temporary income support to take care of vulnerable family members.

The proposed change would allow parents in receipt of PCIC or compassionate care benefits to interrupt their claim and draw up to 15 additional weeks of sickness benefits under the EI program. Based on our estimates, this change might benefit approximately 300 claimants per year. It's a bit difficult to put a firm number on it with the new flexibility, but we cost it at roughly $1.2 million per year. There are administrative costs on the order of $109,000 per year that will be absorbed within existing reference levels of the department. The proposed legislative amendments would not cost a lot of money but would provide additional income support and flexibility during essentially very difficult periods of family life.

I will note this morning that women receiving EI maternity benefits cannot suspend benefits in the same way. Maternity benefits provide income support for a 15-week period surrounding childbirth to allow recovery from physical or emotional effects of the pregnancy and childbirth. The logic is that because sickness and maternity benefits both essentially provide income support related to physical or emotional recovery, there is not that same logic to allow women who are receiving maternity benefits to suspend and to go on sickness. That is a core logic to table for you.

That said, the Helping Families in Need Act was structured so that, should a new mother's illness continue beyond the 15 weeks of her maternity benefits, she can now switch to sickness benefits when she starts parental benefits, which gives her the possibility of collecting up to 65 weeks in total of special benefits—15 weeks of maternity, 15 weeks of sickness, and 35 weeks of parental benefits—if that's the amount of time she wishes to take. This ability to combine benefits for maternity claimants was not available to birth mothers prior to the Helping Families in Need Act.

Finally, in addition to the changes to the Employment Insurance Act, amendments to part III of the Canada Labour Code are also being proposed in order to fully align existing leave provisions, particularly those regarding compassionate care leave and leave related to critical illness, with the associated EI special benefits. Changing the benefit policy means changing the Labour Code.

More specifically, these amendments would clarify that compassionate care leave and leave related to critical illness can be interrupted to allow employees to take sick leave and work-related illness and injury leave and then return to work.

I'll also mention that these legislative amendments, once approved, will need to be followed by changes to the EI regulations and the EI fishing regulations, so that we can ensure equal treatment among claimants across economic regions and types of claimants. All legislative and regulatory amendments would come into force on the same day, which has been targeted for the fall of 2014.

Finally, I will note that in division 17, a very limited technical amendment is also proposed to the Employment Insurance Act. This amendment adds a reference to the PCIC benefit in an instance where it was inadvertently overlooked when the EI legislation was first introduced to bring in this bill.

Let me conclude by thanking you again for the opportunity to contribute to your study. This brings an enhanced flexibility to accessing the EI sickness benefit, which is essentially targeted to enhancing the fairness of the program and strengthening the support provided to Canadians who are away from work taking care of family members when those people giving the care become ill or injured themselves. That's the core of the measure before you.

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

Opposition Motion—Proposed Changes to the Elections ActBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

March 24th, 2014 / 4:25 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Blake Richards Conservative Wild Rose, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise in the House today to express my views regarding the New Democratic Party's opposition day motion concerning various reforms the fair elections act would bring to voter identification procedures under the Canada Elections Act.

The motion before the House also deals with the effects of these important reforms for specific groups in Canadian society. My remarks today will focus on this dimension of the issue and will demonstrate why the fair elections act would have beneficial effects on the voting rights of the groups listed in the motion.

I welcome this debate today, because it gives me an opportunity not only to contribute my perspective on what the real impacts of the voter identification reforms and the fair election act would be for the groups specified in the motion before us today but also because it will be an opportunity to provide colleagues with some of my thoughts on the multiple and significant advantages the fair elections act would bring to Canada's electoral system. In particular, I would like to highlight the importance of upholding the integrity of our elections and of protecting Canadians' right to vote.

I would like to make it clear to the House from the outset, however, that I disagree with the motion put forward by the New Democratic Party today regarding the bill.

The motion would have the House pronounce an opinion against the needed reforms the fair election act would bring to the current voter identification procedures set out in the Canada Elections Act. Furthermore, the motion would have Canadians believe that the fair elections act would have negative effects on the voting rights of the groups specified in today's motion, but I am pleased to say that nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the fair elections act would have just the opposite purpose, that of protecting all Canadians' electoral rights from the risks of fraudulent voting and high rates of administrative errors, factors that can undermine confidence in the integrity of elections.

I would like to begin my remarks today with a few preliminary observations regarding the important enhancements the fair elections act would bring to our electoral system. The fair elections act proposes comprehensive changes to the Canada Elections Act. It is unquestionably important legislation that will reinforce the integrity of Canada's elections and will revitalize our democracy.

An element of particular relevance in today's debate is that the fair elections act would provide better customer service for voters by focusing Elections Canada's advertising on the basics of voting: where and when and what identification to bring. This measure will benefit all Canadians, including by facilitating the voting processes for all the specific groups referenced in today's motion.

For example, Elections Canada concluded in its evaluation report on the 41st general election that a top priority to increase youth turnout would be, and I quote, “increasing awareness about when, where and how to vote, by providing information in formats suitable for youth”. The fair elections act would ensure that Elections Canada would focus its communications messages on this crucial information for our electors.

I would like to add that the act would also establish an extra day of advance polling. The proposed change would give Canadians access to four advance polling days: the 10th, 9th, 8th, and the 7th days before election day. This important measure would also benefit all Canadians, including, again, those specific groups in society that are the subject of our debate today.

This would be an appropriate point to note that among the most important initiatives included in the act are measures to combat voter fraud and increase the confidence of Canadians in the electoral process. I think all members can agree that the prevention of electoral fraud is a very worthwhile goal and that every fraudulent vote not only undermines confidence in our elections but also, in effect, cancels out the legitimate vote of a Canadian.

In light of the fact that the motion before the House today refers specifically to the prohibitions in the fair elections act on the use of the vouching procedure and the voter information cards as replacements for acceptable identification, I would at this point like to take a few additional minutes to outline for the House precisely why it is imperative that those practices be prohibited.

I will first provide a little background information to explain precisely how the use of the vouching mechanism and the voter information cards for identification purposes relate to the current voter identification procedures under the Canada Elections Act.

With the passage of Bill C-31 in 2007, a mechanism was introduced for verifying the identity of electors and their residence upon registration at the polls and for voting. This was a significant advancement that our government brought to voter identification for federal elections in Canada. It helped bring us closer to restoring the confidence of Canadians in the electoral process.

As a result of those legislative changes, an elector voting in a federal election at an ordinary polling station must prove his or her identity in one of three ways. The first is by presenting one piece of identification issued by a government that includes a photograph of the elector and his or her name and address. The second is by presenting two pieces of identification, each of which establishes the elector's name and one of which establishes the elector's address. The third is by taking an oath, if accompanied by another elector whose name appears on the list of electors and who, after providing the piece or pieces of identification referred to, vouches for the elector on an oath. That is what is known as the vouching process.

There are certain safeguards in place that are intended to make the vouching process more reliable and accurate. For example, the voucher must have the required pieces of identification. He or she cannot previously have been vouched for. The voucher must reside in the same polling division as the elector. The voucher can only vouch for one elector; multiple vouching is prohibited. Most importantly, there is also supposed to be a record of who the voucher is and who he or she vouched for. This ought to create an effective deterrent to anybody who gives thought to vouching for an unqualified elector. However, in practice, those safeguards are undermined by the fact that there are high levels of irregularities being reported at the polls regarding the use of vouching.

Studies commissioned by Elections Canada demonstrate mass irregularities in the use of vouching. According to the Neufeld report relating to administrative deficiencies at the polls in the 2011 election, vouching procedures are complex, and there were irregularities in 42% of cases where vouching was used.The report indicates that even with increased quality assurance, the problem would not be remedied. The report found that in 38% of the cases where vouching was required, there was no record in the poll book that clearly indicated both who the voters and the vouchers were. This clearly does not mean that all of these cases were instances of voter fraud. However, it does mean that polling day irregularities by elections officers regularly undermine an essential safeguard in the vouching mechanism, which is to have a record of who vouched for whom.

While Elections Canada has estimated that as many as 120,000 voters chose to use the vouching procedure on election day, those voters could have proven their identity and their residence by other means. The fair elections act will require in law that Elections Canada communicate what forms of identification would be acceptable at polling locations. This important measure would provide voters with the basic information they need about what identification to bring to the polls before they go to the polls.

I would also add a few words about the measures in the fair elections act regarding voter information cards, which play an important role in informing Canadians about where and when they need to vote. It is important to recognize that voter information cards are not currently authorized forms of identification and cannot be used as proof of identification and residency. Since the voter identification requirements were established in 2007, we have had one general election when voter information cards were permitted to be used on an exceptional basis and one general election when they were not authorized forms of identification at all.

Potentially serious problems could arise if those cards were used as replacements for acceptable identification, since there is evidence that the use of voter information cards as identification presents the risk of voter fraud. For instance, studies commissioned by Elections Canada showed a one-in-six error rate on voter information cards. Such inaccuracies could allow those attempting to subvert election laws to use them to vote more than once or to vote in the wrong riding.

I would like to take a few moments to outline the current situation regarding the various forms of identification available to voters and to address the question of whether the reforms in the fair elections act would have any effect on their availability. This will illustrate quite clearly that the important voter identification measures contained in the fair elections act would not in any way disenfranchise the groups mentioned in today's motion: first-time voters, such as young people and new Canadians; aboriginal Canadians; and seniors living in residences.

I would also like to emphasize that the flexibility of the Canada Elections Act would not change. Rather, the goal of the fair elections act is, as I mentioned earlier, to prohibit only those specific administrative procedures that are risky and counterproductive, in particular the use of vouching and voter information cards as replacements for acceptable identification. In this way, it would minimize the risks of fraud and error in the voting process.

Nevertheless, even with the new protections introduced by the fair elections act, voters would still be able to choose from among 39 forms of authorized identification to prove their identity and residence, including a lease, bank statements, library cards, hunting licenses, Canadian Forces identity cards, and many more. In fact, the current authorized list includes not only about two dozen different kinds of identity cards but also a wide variety of original documents that contain a name and an address.

I would like to emphasize that this latter point is of particular importance with respect to certain groups in society that for various reasons may face challenges in proving their identity and residence. I would like to take a moment to elaborate on this point.

The kinds of original documents with a name and address that are among the 39 forms of authorized identification include a statement of government benefits, which would be employment insurance, old age security, social assistance, disability support, or a child tax benefit. It is unquestionable that this option would facilitate the identification process, for example, for seniors who live in a residence. They would be able to use their old age security statements to provide identification at the polls.

Moreover, the list of original documents considered to be suitable identification for the purposes of voting would also include letters from a public curator, a public guardian, or a public trustee. It could be documentation, such as a letter of stay or an admission form, issued by the responsible authority of a shelter, a soup kitchen, a students residence, a seniors residence, or a long-term care facility.

Clearly the option of presenting a letter from the responsible authority of a student or seniors residence could be quite useful for seniors who live in a residence or for young first-time voters who may be students living away from home while they attend an educational institution. Students would also have the ability to use correspondence issued by a school, college, or university to provide their identification. All of this would be in addition to the fact that student identification cards and old age security cards are both authorized forms of identification.

I have not yet mentioned the forms of authorized identification that would be of specific benefit to aboriginal Canadians. Specifically, the forms of identification authorized by the Chief Electoral Officer would include certificates of Indian status, also known as status cards. This is in addition to attestations of residence issued by the responsible authority of a first nations band or reserve.

I would also like to emphasize at this point that the Chief Electoral Officer would continue to authorize acceptable forms of identification at the polls. Furthermore, the Chief Electoral Officer would be encouraged to continue his efforts to ensure that the list of authorized identification contains documents to allow those with particular challenges in proving their identity and their residence to be able to do so. In fact, this is the central message of my remarks here today in the House.

The fair elections act would do nothing to detract from the flexibility and adaptability that is inherent in the current system of voter identification under the Canada Elections Act.

The government recognizes that these are key strengths of our electoral system, and as a consequence, the reforms in the fair elections act would serve to enhance those positive elements in the current system while minimizing the very real risks of electoral fraud.

With specific regard to new Canadians, those who are eligible electors would have been resident in Canada for some time prior to obtaining their citizenship and being able to vote in their first election, and so would not face greater challenges than any other Canadian in obtaining one or more of the 39 forms of authorized identification I have just talked about.

Additionally, I would like to note that Elections Canada has produced, in 27 languages in addition to English and French, a document concerning voter identification at the polls, which is intended to make this important information more easily accessible to voters from ethnocultural communities.

The fair elections act would do nothing to impede such important and fundamental advertising on the basics of voting: where, when, and what identification to bring. In fact, the fair elections act would ensure that Elections Canada focuses its advertising on this crucial information.

The reforms that the fair elections act would bring to the voter identification procedures under the Canada Elections Act are important and much needed measures that would help to ensure that our electoral system operates with the integrity that all Canadians expect and deserve.

In particular, the prohibitions in the fair elections act on vouching and the use of voter information cards as replacements for acceptable identification are designed to protect the vote of Canadians. This certainly includes the specific groups that are mentioned in today's motion: first time voters like youth and new Canadians, aboriginal Canadians, and seniors living in residences.

As I mentioned in my earlier remarks, the fair elections act actually has just the opposite purpose, that of protecting all Canadians' voting rights. With the fair elections act, our government continues to respond to emerging challenges in order to ensure fair elections in which the voice of every voter is counted.

I will bring my remarks to a close today by reiterating my opposition to the motion that has been put forward by the New Democratic Party today concerning the important reforms the fair elections act would bring to Canada's voter identification procedures.

I certainly hope hon. members will join me in opposing this motion and supporting the important changes in the fair elections act.

Fair Elections ActGovernment Orders

February 6th, 2014 / 5:50 p.m.
See context

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, we might come to that. I think voter suppression is the key aspect of the bill. Bill C-31 started that, and we saw that in the United States. People were joking about voter suppression. I pointed out that it started here, when they were referencing some of the United States in the last election where voter suppression methods were used. We just had to look here where we are restricting people's access to their franchise.

Again, if the government really believes in universal suffrage, then universal enumeration should follow. I have to say that curtailing the Chief Electoral Officer is clearly a play to suppress elections, generally, by the government, to have more control. I know the government does not like it, and it is a matter fact. If we do not give resources and powers to the Chief Electoral Officer, then the government is being very transparent in one way, that is, it wants to, and is trying to, suppress votes even more.

Fair Elections ActGovernment Orders

February 6th, 2014 / 5:35 p.m.
See context

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today determined to outline our party's perspective on the difference between making changes to the Canada Elections Act to allow more people to vote and increasing the franchise for people.

Bill C-23 is really about the Conservative Party and about the problems it has had over the last number of years. We outlined some of them earlier.

I want to speak about our vision of a fair voting system and how we could improve voter turnout, not just for young people but for those individuals who find it difficult to vote. I want to speak about how we might do a better job.

I have previously quoted Alfred E. Smith, a former well-known governor of New York and a populist. He was a reformer in the area of child labour. He believed deeply in the idea of democratic development and was very passionate about it. He was a passionate advocate for the poor. He pushed for more democracy. One of my favourite quotes is, “All the ills of democracy can be cured by more democracy”. I believe in that.

We feel that we can address these issues in a better way than what we see in this legislation. The bill contains layer upon layer of technical aspects.

The Conservatives had a lot of problems. I will not go over all of them, because they are well known.

We hear from the government that this would open up opportunities for more people to vote. It would increase voter turnout. The problem is that the legislation would take away the very powers required by Elections Canada and its agents to encourage more people to vote.

In 2006-07, I was the NDP critic for democratic reform. I was responsible for providing our party's critique on Bill C-31. That was the last time we looked at changing some of the provisions in the Canada Elections Act. Photo ID was one of the provisions.

One of the provisions in that bill at the time, which we fought vehemently, was the addition to the voters list of birth dates. My colleagues and I had to enlist the support of the Privacy Commissioner to kill that provision. The other parties thought it was a great idea. They thought it was okay to have one's date of birth on the voters list. At the time, I called it a voter ID theft kit, brought to Canadians by their government. As we know, all that is needed for fraud is having someone's date of birth, address, and some other information. That is what the government wanted to provide. Thankfully, that was taken out of the bill after a lot of persuasion.

Another part of that bill was also interesting to me. When we were pushing the government on the issue of the introduction of photo ID, it had to acknowledge that many people do not have access to that kind of information. There was a huge hue and cry from people on low incomes, from seniors, and from transient people.

The government suggested that the provisions being put forward would be okay. One of those provisions was on vouching. The government changed the vouching system so that not just anyone could vouch for someone. It would have to be someone within the riding, and only one person could vouch. We came up with a suggestion we thought made sense. We suggested having a vouching system whereby the citizen could vouch for who he or she was and the ballot would be put aside if there was any concern and could be tracked.

The most disconcerting part of that legislation was that the Conservatives decided to continue what the Liberals had done in 1997, and that was to end universal enumeration.

I have listened carefully to the speeches. There is a lot of rhetoric from the other side about young people who are not voting. They said that with this legislation and by promoting the idea of voting, and the minister talked about telling people where to vote and how to vote, they will vote.

All of that has been done in the past. We have seen it. What has not been done and has not been acknowledged by the government, and which the minister and one of his colleagues acknowledged was a good idea, is having universal enumeration, meaning going out and making sure that every single person who is eligible to vote in every election is given that opportunity. We do not have that anymore.

Growing up, Mr. Speaker, you and I looked forward to when we would turn 18. A person would come to our door and enumerate us for the election. Our names would go on the voters list. We would know for certain that our names would be on the voters list, because we were enumerated.

We are asking that this provision be brought in. Let us go over what the government has said this bill will do. It has said that it will bring more people to the voting stations, because they will know where the voting stations are, and that more people, such as young people and others who are typically under-represented, will participate because of more publicity.

One thing is missing in that equation, and that is giving people the opportunity to vote because they have actually been enumerated. The sad thing is we put that idea forward previously, when I was the critic in 2006-07 when we debated Bill C-31, and the government rejected it.

Everyday people, as the government likes to call citizens, think it is common sense. It makes sense for everyone to have the opportunity to have his or her name on the voters list. What would that do for people who are students? I have a couple of universities in my riding. In the last election, they were caught between voting here, where they were at school, or where they reside in the summer. Their names did not show up on either list. If we had a dedicated process for universal enumeration, and not just in certain areas, as we do now, we would actually deal with that.

Seniors who might be moving from their residences into care homes or who have been in the hospital and have moved back home are another huge demographic that is left off the voters list.

For first nations, what we found out last time was that the requirement to have a photo ID also meant that people had to have an address. Well, when we look at addresses for people living on some of the reserves and in first nations communities, that was not the case. They did not have the address provisions. Tweaking was needed there. If people were there to do the actual enumeration, that would take care of it.

Those are what I would call common sense ideas, along with doing some other things that we have seen the Government of Manitoba do. It provides voting in places where we see actual activity, such as having young people voting in shopping malls. I think that makes sense. We could extended the opportunity to vote by extending the number of days for early balloting.

If we did those things, we could also promote. However, what the government has done in this bill is say that it would take the tools and the power away from Elections Canada. The idea of putting it in the Office of the Prosecutor is an interesting parlour trick. We saw what the government did with the Parliamentary Budget Officer. The government tried to put the Parliamentary Budget Officer away so that no one could actually get the accountability we needed. Despite that, the PBO was able to do the job.

The government would try to shut those things down. Make no mistake, at the end of the day, this bill is not about opening the franchise to more people or increasing the opportunity for more people to vote. In fact, what this bill is about is the Conservative Party trying to deal with all of the challenges it has had in the last number of years. I will not go through the list with the in-and-out and the other issues around how its databases were abused for nefarious purposes.

At the end of the day, the NDP is saying a couple of clear things: Give Elections Canada the power it needs; give Elections Canada the resources it needs; and, finally, let us make sure every single Canadian who is eligible to vote has an opportunity to vote by bringing in and re-establishing universal enumeration for all Canadians.

Fair Elections ActGovernment Orders

February 6th, 2014 / 4:15 p.m.
See context

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened to my colleague's speech, which covered a lot of terrain. One of the things she was concerned about was young people voting.

Having just had a youth forum in my constituency, one of the things that came up was that they wanted to be able to access their franchise through enumeration.

In parliament in 2006-08, Bill C-31 came forward. The member would remember that it was the bill where the government wanted to put birth dates on the register. That was incredible, and I do not have to tell the member that we opposed that, but that the Conservatives were supportive of it. We finally got the Privacy Commissioner to get rid of it, and I am sure she applauded us for doing so.

My question is this. To get more people to vote, we have a very simple solution. I put it to the minister and he nodded just minutes ago and said it was a good idea. Why do we not have universal enumeration for universal suffrage? It is something we have proposed. I wonder if the member would support that.

Strengthening Aviation Security ActGovernment Orders

March 1st, 2011 / 5:15 p.m.
See context

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to join my colleagues in opposition to Bill C-42. It is clearly an important bill when we look at what is at stake.

There used to be a solid core of supporters and even members within the Conservative Party who prided themselves on the issue of privacy protection. That seems to have been lost recently. It has been pawned off at times, and I give the example of the bizarre and unusual case of the census conundrum.

The government has said that it wants to make sure that the privacy of citizens is protected. It has said that citizens should not feel obligated to tell the government how many bathrooms they have in their domain and other personal information. When asked how many people had actually complained about this, the government said one was enough. We are still not sure who that one person is. Some people think it might have been someone in the minister's backyard.

The point is this is not about the census and people know that. We in this Parliament are bound by the provisions for protection. We have the oversight. The problem with this bill is that we would be handing over Canadians' right to privacy to another government.

The government has talked about not being able to pony up the money for the database for the collection of this information. Not only will information be handed over to another government but that information will be held by that government and we will not be able to get to it.

I really want to underline the importance of the intervention made by my colleague from Windsor. I have had case after case right here in the nation's capital involving people who have been denied entry into the United States. When our government is asked what can be done, we are pointed to homeland security in the United States.

I do not know if the same situation exists in Saskatchewan, but I do know that people right across this country have been faced with it. If a constituent is on a no-fly list, his or her member of Parliament will probably talk to the minister or someone in his department. They are told that this is something that the department cannot handle. This is under the oversight of homeland security in the United States. After a very long route through voice mail, we can bring forward the case but that is the end of it. We will not be heard again.

Right now we have problems with regard to Canadians being able to freely travel abroad, particularly south of the border, and we have not figured that out yet. The government has been very silent on this during this debate. The government is going to oblige the United States when asked for this information, but we have not even figured out how to get someone's name off a no-fly list.

Constituents are scratching their heads and wondering why they cannot cross the border into the United States. They cannot figure out a way to get their name off the no-fly list. The government is about to open this up even further by sharing data through Bill C-42. It does not make sense.

Where is the consistency within the Conservative Party that used to stand up for privacy? This is not about the census. This is not about how many bathrooms there are in somebody's house. This is about a person's ability to travel abroad without the fear of being put on a no-fly list or without the sharing of personal information. That is what we are talking about here. We are talking about providing credit card information. We are talking about providing the date of birth of a Canadian citizen.

This reminds me of the debate in the House on Bill C-31 to reform the Canada Elections Act, when Liberals and the Bloc wanted to support an amendment to that bill and to streamline electoral practices by putting birth dates on the list.

Members may remember this. There was a strong debate in committee. I asked Ms. Stoddart, the Privacy Commissioner, to come before committee to get her opinion on whether she thought having birth date information on an electoral list was a good idea. At the time I was not supported by the Liberals, Conservatives and the Bloc, who said that we had already heard from Ms. Stoddart. The problem was we had heard from Ms. Stoddart before the amendment was put forward.

I wrote to Ms. Stoddart and asked her opinion, as Privacy Commissioner, about having one's birth date on the electoral list.

Mr. Speaker, you will know, having been in a couple of campaigns, that the electoral list is shared widely. To have that kind of private information, with people's dates of birth, on a list that is circulated so widely is asking for trouble. Allowing others to take people's information from the electoral list to apply for a credit card or to do the other things that data miners do opens up many doors.

At the time, Ms. Stoddart got back to me and the House and said she had grave concerns about this compromising Canadians' privacy. Eventually, thankfully, that bill was dropped, but it was about to go through the House. It is the NDP Party that stood against that flagrant abuse of Canadians' privacy.

Again, I go back to the Conservatives and ask what happened. They used to be the ones who talked about protecting privacy. Now it is only about whether people have to say how many bathrooms they have in their homes. That is the line in the sand now.

What about when someone travels abroad? What about when someone's data is collected and captured by another country? Does that not matter any more to the Conservatives? Is it simply a matter of shrugging and saying this is the way we do things now? I want to underline that because this is a government bill.

To my friends in the Bloc and the Liberal Party, reviewing things after five years is not going to do what is needed, or even within two years or a year. If it is bad legislation now, do not pass it. When they vote for this bill, they are blessing this process. It is too late a year later, when a constituent asks how his or her information got into a database in the United States, to say we were told that it would not happen, that we trusted this would be a process our officials would keep their eye on. That is not good enough.

Today opposition members have an opportunity to say no to this bill. It is not about saying we do not want to negotiate with our friends south of the border. It is in fact saying that we should negotiate with our friends south of the border, which we did not do.

I am surprised that both the Liberals and the Bloc have decided this bill is okay. I say this because I know many of them and know that their constituents will be concerned about privacy. I am sure many of their constituents have been on the no-fly list and have not been able to get their names off it. I am sure many members have had to deal with those cases.

At the end of the day, I return to the issue of whether this is a good deal for Canadians. I say it is not: it puts our privacy in peril. If that is the case, then we as New Democrats say no to this bill. We need a better deal and we say no to Bill C-42.

Strengthening Aviation Security ActGovernment Orders

February 3rd, 2011 / 12:25 p.m.
See context

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, our party's concern with Bill C-42 is not news to other members. I should correct the record. I mentioned a moment ago that other parties had not put forward amendments. They have. I would consider them minor. A review of a process that is flawed should be addressed at the beginning, not after three years.

I want to go back to a debate we had in the House on Bill C-31. It addressed concerns around the electoral process in our country. I remember well the debates around the bill at the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs The bill looked at how we could streamline the electoral process in this country. Our party was the only one to push against the provision for the government to allow birthdates of Canadians to be put on the voters' list. It had never been utilized before. It was fascinating to watch. People I thought were libertarians, people who believed in the protection of Canadians' privacy, simply caved on the issue of whether or not birthdates should be on the electoral list. It was the two other opposition parties at committee who welcomed this change.

Their colleagues were not aware that we would have birthdates on the electoral list. Thankfully, the Privacy Commissioner intervened, at my request, which was not initially allowed at committee. The committee thought we had heard enough from Ms. Stoddart, however, she had not been able to intervene on this new provision for electoral lists. She provided her opinion that this was a sellout of privacy of Canadians, that they should not have their birthdate on the electoral list.

It was astonishing to see the two other opposition parties allow this to go through. The provision was killed but not because of opposition from the government or the other two opposition parties. Our party fought against it. Why? It is a very basic principle that the privacy of Canadians is paramount. There are times when there is a need for authorities to have information on Canadians, but imagine having one's birthdate and address on a list for all to see.

At the time, we called it a theft kit for identification fraud brought about by the Government of Canada. That is really what it was. For those who want to steal an identity, whether it be for false credit cards or whatever, all that is needed is a birthdate and an address.

We fought against it. Thankfully, we were able to get a clear opinion from the Privacy Commissioner. That made a huge difference, to the point where that provision was eventually dropped. We relied on her office and her opinion to do that. The government fought against having her evidence brought forward at committee. Members sitting on that committee know of what I speak.

Here we are again looking at a bill that would compromise Canadians' privacy. I am astonished that instead of getting this right to ensure that Canadians' privacy will not be compromised, we are going ahead full bore.

The government has recycled countless bills through prorogation, elections, et cetera, simply so it can reintroduce them and claim it is moving ahead, usually on crime legislation. It is all politics, all the time. A bill as important as this gets very little debate, very little attention from the government and not a lot from my friends down the way in the opposition. In one case an opposition party thinks the bill is great and would push it through as quickly as possible.

Someone has to stand up for privacy in this country and in this Parliament. If we do not do that, we have to go to our constituents when the bill is passed and tell them we looked at this in Parliament and we are sorry their names were compromised and ended up on a no-fly list. We were told it would not happen on flights from Windsor to Vancouver.

It is not good enough. We have to be thorough. We have to be careful when we are talking about issues of privacy. This is very different from the Canada Elections Act. The elections act was an abuse of privacy. Ms. Stoddart talked about it in her testimony and we debated that in the House and at committee. This is about another government having access. It is one thing to have Parliament acquiesce and provide that information to Elections Canada that ends up being in the hands of anyone who has access to those lists, but it is another thing to provide that information to another government. With all due respect, it matters not which government. This is a question about our sovereignty. This is a question about who gets to decide the privacy of Canadians.

As mentioned by my colleague from the north, we are putting into law provisions that would allow, in this case, the United States, access to information that normally would not be given to it when a flight is just going from A to B within our own country. It is astonishing that we would go through the process so quickly with a government that makes no bones about the politics of keeping bills going for Parliament after Parliament. When it comes to an issue as important as the sovereignty of Canadians, it wants to get it through as quickly as possible.

We need to understand what is at stake here. We are not talking about being “soft” on terrorism. That should be thrown out immediately. If we are going to talk about provisions around security, let us look at where investments are being made. Let us look at border security. Let us look at shared information with regard to law enforcement. We have been very critical of the lack of investment in that area. Let us look at cargo inspection. If we really want to get at the issue of security, then we should put our investments in the right place. This is the veneer of security, at a cost. The cost is the vulnerability of Canadians' privacy.

In the first part of Bill C-42 the government did not do its usual play on language and nomenclature. I usually do not read the exact text because it sometimes is not as engaging as one might want to have in debate, but this is important. Proposed subsection 4.83(1) states:

Despite section 5 of the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, to the extent that that section relates to obligations set out in Schedule 1 to that Act relating to the disclosure of information, and despite subsection 7(3) of that Act, an operator of an aircraft departing from Canada that is due to land in a foreign state or fly over a foreign state and land outside Canada or of a Canadian aircraft departing from any place outside Canada that is due to land in or fly over a foreign state may, in accordance with the regulations, provide to a competent authority--

Those are the other guys.

--in that foreign state any information that is in the operator’s control....

Let me be clear about the first part. It means that we have to amend our privacy rights for the bill to go through and it compromises Canadians. That is wrong.

October 8th, 2009 / 12:50 p.m.
See context

Chief Electoral Officer, Office of the Chief Electoral Officer

Marc Mayrand

It did not take into consideration the Bill C-31 new responsibilities that they have.

October 8th, 2009 / 12:50 p.m.
See context

Chief Electoral Officer, Office of the Chief Electoral Officer

Marc Mayrand

It didn't reflect the additional responsibilities that were given under Bill C-31.

October 8th, 2009 / 12:35 p.m.
See context

Chief Electoral Officer, Office of the Chief Electoral Officer

Marc Mayrand

A number of things have been done that I can explain without providing all the details.

First, information is received more quickly from the vital statistics centres—the offices that report on deaths. Amendments made to Bill C-31 now enable those that make declarations for deceased persons to authorize the Canada Revenue Agency to transmit the information to us, which should somewhat offset the fact that certain deceased persons sometimes wind up on the lists.

Second, we have the phenomenon of business addresses that is being monitored very closely. Targeted address revisions are made, for example, when it is felt that the address given in the information that we receive may be a business address.

There's the “pile-up” phenomenon, or— how to say it, pardon me—the multiplicity of voters at a single address. That's also being reviewed systematically. As soon as we realize that more than five voters are at the same address, we ask the returning officer to go to the address in question to confirm that five voters are there, since it may happen that these are people who have already moved. This is systematically done on the occasion of an election, and we will be doing it as well, under Bill C-31, between elections. Now we can use the returning officers to improve the electoral list.

That said, you will be receiving the annual list in November with a quality study. You'll be able to see that nearly 94% of voters are registered on the list and that the accuracy of the information for all electors, including those who are not on it, reaches approximately 85%. I know it means nothing to you when a specific case is cited. On that subject, I invite you to inform us of incidents that you witness and of inaccuracies that you see on the list. It is important that the errors be brought to our attention so that we can take action and continue to improve the list.

July 15th, 2008 / 10:05 a.m.
See context

Marc Mayrand Chief Electoral Officer, Elections Canada

Thank you.

Good morning, Mr. Chair and members of the committee.

I am accompanied today, as the chair indicated, by Mr. François Bernier, the legal services director at Elections Canada.

I was requested by the chair of this committee to assist members in the study of the review and treatment of election financial returns and the key considerations involved in the review of these returns. In discussions prior to my appearance, the chair requested that I provide a detailed explanation of the aspects of the legislative and administrative framework that relate to political financing under the Canada Elections Act and, more specifically, of the treatment of election expenses.

This will be the subject of the first part of the presentation. I hope it will provide the committee with a better understanding of the operating context in which decisions are made regarding reimbursement of electoral expenses. I will then turn to the subject of particular decisions of interest to the committee and explain how they relate to the legislative and administrative framework.

The mandate of Elections Canada is to administer the Canada Elections Act in a fair, consistent, transparent and impartial manner. As an officer of Parliament, my first duty is to serve Parliament and Canadians. While the committee is reviewing the activities of public office holders, I trust it will understand that in my capacity as Chief Electoral Officer of Canada, I can only speak to electoral matters. I will not comment on ongoing investigations of the Commissioner of Elections Canada, or the specifics of the case currently before the Federal Court. As well, I will not deal with any individual cases.

Mr. Chairman, with your concurrence, I will now proceed with the first part of my presentation. The committee has already received a presentation that extends to a number of pages—42 pages, I believe. So I won't read each of those pages, but I will simply make the main comments on the essential aspects of the presentation.

The presentation will contain four parts: first, the objective itself, as well as a part dealing with the key principles underlying the legislation and the administration of that legislation, the key aspects of the legislation, and, lastly, the aspects of the administration of that legislation. I will also provide a brief conclusion.

I think it's fair to say that the first hundred years of federal democracy in Canada have been focused almost exclusively on the conduct of elections and on progressively expanding the franchise--the right to vote--to all Canadian citizens. In fact, the right to vote became a fundamental right protected by the Constitution and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982.

This focus continues today, as the agenda of the 39th Parliament attests. For example, Bill C-2, the Federal Accountability Act, dealt with the appointment of returning officers, who are now the responsibility of the Chief Electoral Officer. It also dealt, under Bill C-31, with the integrity of voting. It also dealt with the issue of proof of residence, under Bill C-18. And it is considering, currently, Bill C-6, which deals with visual ID; Bill C-16, which deals with advanced polling; and Bill C-20, an important piece of legislation that deals with the appointment of senators. This is all to show that there is still a focus on the electoral process and the conduct of elections.

However, over the last 40 years, growing concerns have been expressed with regard to the influence of money in the electoral process. These concerns have led Parliament to incrementally design a regulatory regime to govern the use of money during electoral campaigns. We are now at the point at which Canada is at the forefront among mature democracies in how it regulates the influence of money in election campaigns. This regulatory regime of political financing was initially built in the seventies, and it has since witnessed repeated legislative reform that continues today. Again, this Parliament passed Bill C-2, which deals with contributions and gifts and which banned contributions from corporations and unions. It is also considering another important aspect of the financial regime, under Bill C-29, with regard to loans.

My purpose today will be to deal with a particular and key aspect of our political financing regime, that of election expenses and their treatment by Elections Canada under the Canada Elections Act. More specifically, I will touch on the legislative framework, the administrative framework, and the compliance and enforcement program.

There are certain principles underlying the legislative and administrative framework. First, to maintain public trust, are transparency and fairness. These principles are expressed through various provisions in the act that deal with public disclosure, expense limits, public funding, compliance and enforcement, and, something that is often forgotten, the distinctiveness of political entities. Each has its own regime, with distinct rights and obligations.

Transparency is about disclosure. It's about providing information to electors on candidates, parties, and other entities. It involves, with regard to financial matters, reporting revenues and expenses and the sources of those.

Fairness is the key principle of a healthy democracy. In our democracy, fairness is about allowing political parties' candidates to have an opportunity to present their visions, their policies, and their values to electors. What those are and how they are communicated to electors is the exclusive domain of political parties and candidates. However, legislation seeks to ensure that the competition among political parties and candidates to secure the vote of electors be conducted within certain rules designed to create and maintain a level playing field. One area of legislation, again, over the last 40 years, has been the adoption of rules that will foster this level playing field. These rules deal specifically with how money can be raised and how it can be spent in order for them to present ideas and reach out to electors.

The Canada Elections Act passed it to the CEO to administer these complex rules, with a view to ensuring that key principles are maintained at all times. In doing so, Elections Canada must act fairly and impartially and exercise due diligence at all times. When it finds evidence of non-compliance and possible offences, it must exercise the authorities provided by the legislation in accordance with all the requirements of fairness and due process, within the strict limits of the law. To do otherwise would undermine not only Elections Canada as an institution but also the democratic process itself.

Let me turn now to the key aspect of the legislative framework as it relates to the treatment of election expenses and the role these key principles play in the electoral law.

The relevant aspects of the legislative framework involve key definitions, a brief discussion of duties of official agents, the notion and concept of election expense limits, the concept of transfers among political entities, reporting requirements for those political entities, entitlement to reimbursement, and key differences between parties and candidates. Note that some misunderstand the system and tend to view parties and their candidates as a single entity, yet the law makes clear distinctions and establishes distinct responsibilities, benefits, and obligations for parties and candidates. For the most part, these are treated independently of one another. This is particularly true in disclosure and reporting requirements, which are different for parties and candidates. Access to public funding is different. Spending limits are set differently for candidates and parties. To some extent, rules governing the raising of contributions are different for candidates and parties.

Let's first look at key definitions. Under candidate electoral campaign expenses, there are three key definitions that need to be considered: candidate electoral campaign expenses; candidate election expenses; and candidate personal expenses.

Electoral campaign expenses are expenses reasonably incurred in the election and include election expenses themselves and personal expenses. There are electoral campaign expenses that are neither election expenses nor personal expenses. An example is the audit expense in excess of the subsidy. It is an electoral expense, but it is not an election expense. There is also the rent of an office outside the rent period. For example, when a candidate rents an office before the writ is dropped or carries the office after the polling date, these are electoral campaign expenses, but they are not election expenses.

An election expense includes any cost incurred or non-monetary contribution received to the extent that the property or service for which the cost was incurred or non-money contribution received is used to directly promote or oppose a candidate during an election period. The expression “directly promote” does not refer only to expenses incurred to expressly urge voters to vote for or against a particular candidate. It has a much broader meaning that encompasses all expenses that directly assist in getting a candidate elected. For example, it includes the rental of office space, equipment in that office, the computers, the supplies, and the remuneration of campaign workers during the election period. All such expenses directly promote the candidate and are thus election expenses for the purpose of the act.

The third definition has to do with personal expenses. Personal expenses of a candidate are his or her electoral campaign expenses other than election expenses reasonably incurred in relation to his or her campaign. Personal expenses include travel and living expenses, child care, and similar expenses.

It's important to note that there are three categories of expenses, each with its own definition and standards. Election expenses must generally be disclosed. They are subject to a reimbursement, and they are subject to spending limits. Personal expenses must be disclosed, and they are subject to a reimbursement. Residual expenses that are neither personal nor for an election must be disclosed, but they are not subject to a reimbursement. Again, I mentioned previously the subsidy for audit.

Another key concept in looking at election expenses is the notion of transfer. The act allows specific political entities of the same political affiliation to move resources amongst themselves without being subject to the restriction on the source and amounts of contributions set out in the act. A contribution is the amount of money received that is not repayable; otherwise it would be a loan. It is the amount of money received that is not repayable, or the commercial value of a service or a property, or the use of property or money to the extent that it is provided without charge or at less than commercial value.

Again, this is a new, essential concept--commercial value. How is commercial value defined? It's the lowest amount charged for a property or service by the person who is in the business of providing that good or service. Alternatively, it's what another commercial provider charges for the property or service who is not in that business.

At the end of the electoral campaign, candidates must file an electoral campaign return. That return is an account of all financial transactions for an election. It consists of a form that has 15 pages and is divided into four parts. It's a bit longer than even a tax return, so there's a level of complexity attached to filing those returns.

Let me give you an example of how these concepts can come together. Let's assume that a party pools the purchase of lawn signs for its candidates and offers those lawn signs to candidates. They have the option of accepting the package or turning it down. Let's say one candidate agrees to purchase 1,000 signs for his campaign and that those signs have a value of $10,000; however, the candidate can only afford $2,000. Provided the signs are used during the campaign to promote the candidate, the return will have to show the transaction as follows. First of all, the election expense will be $10,000 for the candidate, because he received those 1,000 signs and used them during the campaign. That's the amount shown as the expense. Within that he will show the paid expense as $2,000. He will show a non-monetary transfer of $8,000, which is the commercial value of the signs that were transferred from the party to the candidate. The amount shown as the expense will be counted against the spending limit and it will be eligible for reimbursement. The amount shown as non-monetary will count against the spending limit, but it will not be reimbursed since nothing was paid for that amount.

This is a very simple example of how those transactions have to be reflected in the return.

To emphasize the critical role of money and the need to rigorously control inflows and outflows and ensure that financial activities are strictly within the constraints of the legislation, the legislation provides or requires that each candidate appoint an official agent. In fact, a candidate cannot officially run as a candidate without having appointed an official agent. This is a must under the legislation.

An official agent is much more than a bookkeeper. In fact, if we can do an analogy, he or she could be seen as a treasurer or a financial comptroller. You have on slide 9 the key duties of an official agent.

Generally, the official agent is responsible for controlling all electoral campaign expenses; that is, for a candidate's campaign, only the official agent or the candidate or someone authorized in writing can incur an electoral campaign expense. So you will understand that to fulfill his or her duties, the official agent must of course be familiar with all the concepts and the definitions I mentioned earlier and must develop a good understanding of the underlying principles of the legislation.

Let me talk briefly about expense limits. The first point to note is that there are separate limits for parties and candidates and that those limits apply to election expenses, whether paid or unpaid, and include the commercial value of non-monetary contributions or transfers.

Elections Canada calculates those limits for each in accordance with a formula set out in the act. I will not go through the specifics of the formula, except to say that, for candidates, that formula takes account of the number of electors, the population density in the riding, and the geography of the riding, and provides an adjustment for inflation.

Spending limits for parties are a little bit simpler to calculate. It's the number of electors in the ridings for which candidates are presented by the party.

For the 39th election—that's slide 13—the average expense limit for candidates per electoral district was a bit over $81,000, and for a registered party that endorsed a candidate in all 308 ridings, the limit was set at a bit over $18 million. What does that mean? One may be tempted to say that in total a party having 308 candidates could spend altogether up to $18 million for the party and up to $24 million, almost $25 million, given the limits of each and every candidate, for a total of $43 million. However, to look at it in this manner would be mistaken, as the law does not consider the political family as one entity but rather, in this case and this example, as 308 distinct, separate entities with their own rights and obligations.

Let me talk briefly about transfers. The Canada Elections Act recognizes the organic link that exists in the family of political entities, allowing them to move funds, goods, and services among themselves without treating those movements of resources as contributions. The provision of resources from one political party to another, which is not specifically provided for under the act, constitutes a contribution and is subject to the eligibility and limits set out in the act.

Transfer of expenses is not permitted, as this would render the distinct limit of parties and candidates meaningless. As you can see, it is absolutely essential to keep all those definitions and concepts as we look through various returns provided at the end of electoral campaigns.

You will find on slide 15 a table showing the transfers, what is allowed and what is not allowed. Clearly, you will see that transfers between parties and candidates are perfectly allowed by the Canada Elections Act. It has some standards, but they can move resources freely between entities.

You will note that for candidates, these movements of resources can start only after they've been officially declared candidates, meaning that their candidacy has been registered with the returning officer. You will also note that transfers to candidates after polling day are allowed only to pay for unpaid claims and for nothing else.

You will find again at slide 16 another way of looking at it. There is a triangle on that slide that shows the relationship between the party, the candidates, and the EDAs, and the respective rights and obligations for each. You will see clearly that the transfer of money, goods, and services among all three entities is allowed. You will also note that the transfer of expenses is not allowed, and you will see that Elections Canada is overseeing, through various programs, how the money flows among entities.

I should point out that for the 39th election, Elections Canada dealt with 15 registered parties that had over 1,200 electoral district associations, and with over 1,600 candidates, each with their respective agents.

On page 17 you will find a table of the transfers reported in Canada through returns for the 39th election. You will see that all parties represented in the House have transferred resources with their affiliated entities. These have taken place between candidates and parties, between candidates and EDAs, and between parties and EDAs.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2007 / 1:30 p.m.
See context

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Timmins—James Bay for the incredible work that he did at the committee in trying to correct the serious flaws in the bill.

Bill C-18 has a bad history. It started with Bill C-31 when the government moved on legislation that was supposedly based on incidents of voter fraud. I was at some of those committee meetings where we asked questions on whether there was voter fraud going on across the country. Elections Canada told us that there were only isolated incidents and yet that original bill was brought in to a crushing effect. Hundreds of thousands of people, including in my own community of East Vancouver, are now disenfranchised as a result of the original bill and would still be disenfranchised as a result of Bill C-18 that is before us today.

I want to thank the hon. member for the valiant efforts that he made in committee to ensure that some witnesses were allowed to point out the serious flaws in this process and in this bill. However, it seems that this has fallen on deaf ears. Not only has the government been in denial about the impact of this bill, but so has the official opposition and the BQ.

It is quite stunning to see that other parties in this House have refused to acknowledge the disastrous impact of this bill and the impact it will have on people in urban areas, as well as rural areas, but because the issue in urban areas was never addressed we are now disenfranchising people.

I would like to ask the hon. member to comment from the point of view of what he heard from the witnesses and what he will see as the impact of this bill on people in urban areas.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2007 / 12:40 p.m.
See context

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I normally preface all my speeches by saying that I am very proud to rise in the House and speak to a bill; however, I am not very proud to rise and speak to this bill, because we are speaking about the increasingly dismal trade of politics as it is practised in Ottawa.

When someone does a job badly, and it is found out that the person has done it badly, it is incumbent upon the person to fix it. I have done many different jobs over the years and I have been proud of all of them.

When I was a dishwasher, if the cook did not like the way I washed the dishes, they came back to me right away and I would do them again, otherwise I was not going to hold that job.

A house builder would not get away with putting up a wall wrong. The foreman would come in and determine whether the wall was built right or wrong. If it was built wrong, it would be torn down and rebuilt.

As a musician, boy oh boy, musicians know what would happen if they did not satisfy the crowd on a Saturday night. They would hear about it right then and there and if they were going to keep those gigs, they had to improve.

What is our job here in Ottawa? Our job is to bring forth legislation. We have to do due diligence on legislation. It is incumbent upon all of us at a certain point to check our partisan hats. We need to examine proposed legislation and bring perspectives from our regions. Each of us represents different areas of the country. There are many different political and cultural points of view. We have to look at legislation and determine its efficacy, because at the end of the day, it will become the law of the land. That is our foremost job in the House, and it has to be undertaken with the utmost seriousness.

When we deliver a law that has failed badly, it is incumbent upon all of us in the House to see what went wrong, to step back and see how the mistake happened in order that we can rectify it and take pride in our work.

Unfortunately, as I said, this is becoming an increasingly dismal trade because it seems that when a mistake is made, we do not look at what went wrong. We turn it over to our spin-meisters and our wedge issue people to try to re-write history and what happened. The path to understand how the mistake was made becomes deliberately obscured. When it becomes deliberately obscured, we are doing a disservice, because our fundamental job is to represent the best interests of this country in terms of bringing forward legislation that is applicable, that is just, and that in the field will actually help our citizens.

With respect to Bill C-18, I set out with some high hopes that we would rectify the problems of a badly flawed bill, BillC-31. My colleagues from the Bloc say that Bill C-31 was brought in to escape issues of widespread fraud. The committee examined issues of fraud because fraud is a very serious threat to the health of democracy. Fraud has to be sought out wherever it exists. It cannot be sought out with vague old wives' tales or writing on the bathroom wall. It has to be proven. It is incumbent upon the Chief Electoral Officer to hunt down any cases of fraud.

The committee looked at the issue of fraud and found one case which occurred in 2006. There were no cases in 2004. There were three cases in 2000. That is not to make light of electoral fraud. We trusted the Chief Electoral Officer to investigate and study any allegations out there. We came back with Bill C-31.

At the time, New Democrats were concerned that people would be disenfranchised. At the end of the day, regardless of what my colleagues in the Bloc say, the right to vote is an inalienable right in Canada. It is enshrined in the charter as one of our fundamental rights. We have to ensure that when people have the right to vote, they are not blocked from voting.

When Bill C-31 came out, lo and behold, we found there were not one but two major problems with it. A million rural residents were not going to be able to vote, thanks to a lack of due diligence in the committee's work. Then there was the issue of the wearing of veils when voting. Now we have Bill C-6. We have a bill that became law and within a few months we already have to have two other band-aid laws to repair the fundamental flaws in the first bill. When we look at Bill C-18, we have to ask ourselves whether it will fix the problem and if it will do it right. That is our obligation at the end of the day.

As referred to many times, the discussion on Bill C-18, is to fix a problem for rural residents. When anyone raises the issue of homeless people, there seems to be a fundamental balancing act. Do we worry about a few thousand homeless people in Vancouver or do we worry about a million residents in rural Canada?

However, nowhere in Bill C-18 does it speak to the issue of rural residents. It speaks to an act to amend the Canada Elections Act, the verification of residents. The verification of residents is the key element that leads to the potential disenfranchisement, as the electoral officer said in one case, of a million rural Canadians, including urban Canadians, first nations Canadians and then homeless people.

I will not to focus too much on Bill C-31, but we need to know where we came from in order to know why we still have a fundamental problem. I know members of the House who were on the committee voted for it, but after questioned how this happened, that they must have missed a translation at third reading.

They did not miss it. They were not interested. We spoke about it. We brought forward witnesses who said that there would be problems with the ability of people to meet the onerous requirements of Bill C-31.

I spoke to Bill C-31. I am not patting myself on the back, but perhaps I was just too lazy to get the records of what everyone else said. However, I know what I said, so I will bring it up, and it is fairly straightforward.

When we discussed Bill C-31, I spoke of the problems we had in the rural parts of my riding and in other communities with mailboxes and the difficulties people would have in voting. That was on the record for many people. I spoke of the issues of photo IDs and the fact that on the James Bay coast, an area I represent, up to 30% of the communities did not even have health cards.

We help them fill out the health cards. The Ontario government does not even bother to do photographs for first nations people. It sends them little trillium stickers because it is cheaper than getting photo IDs. Therefore, we had raised the issue of the problems of identification in these isolated areas.

I had said at that time that I would invite anybody to go into Fort Albany and ask people their addresses. People do not have street addresses and that is how they get by. We find in many of our communities, they simply do not even have the most basic registration that is being required.

We were bringing forward the perspective of our regions and our constituents to bring a sense of reality to the debate. At the time, I remember it was ignored and overlooked. In fact, there was a fair amount of snickering. The old NDP was standing in the way of progress again.

I will refer to evidence at committee at the time from the Nishnawbe-Aski Nation, which was ignored. Witnesses said that the voting changes to Bill C-31 were:

—based on the assumption that the majority of Canadian electors live in urban centres. Until government services are made available in an equitable manner to our people living in remote communities and the amendments to the act reflect the realities of the lives of our people...I suggest that the committee, if possible, visit some of our communities to better understand the challenges we face in our role as Canadian citizens.

They were ignored.

Suddenly now we have a situation where there is an embarrassment that the bill has failed. Therefore, we were all called together to try to fix it. The issue of fixing it is paramount, but again we have to do due diligence. How do we do due diligence? We have to bring forward witnesses. This is not stalling. This is ensuring that we do not fall into the same mistakes that were made.

The process we went through with the bill was a very dismal, petty process. The Liberal whip tried to push the vote through without any witnesses. How can we go through with no witnesses when 80% of the people in Nunavut have been told they are not enfranchised to vote? Would we not think it would be incumbent upon us in the House, after having made such a colossal error, to at least have a witness who can speak to the bill and say whether or not it addresses the problem? However, no, it was a desire to get this thing done and out of the road by Christmas.

I brought forward four witnesses to speak to the bill because I felt the issue was whether the vouching system would work with what we had to address. There is no problem with the rest of the amendments to Bill C-18. We support the need to get this thing fixed, but the issue is whether vouching, in the way it is laid out, will be a practical, realistic solution to the problem.

We had four credible witnesses. There was a fifth witness, and I do not know where he had come from, but he was allowed to speak as well. They were given two minutes each to give their perspective on the bill. They were interrupted many times. They were cut off at the end. At the end of the day the chair basically told them they did not know what they were talking about.

I found that quite a shocking and sad testimony. Whether we agree with witnesses in committee or not, they come forward so they can given us a perspective and we can test their points of view. We are legislators, so when a witnesses come, whether they represent what we think is the most far out solution, our role is to test them, to ask them the fundamental questions to see if what they have brought forward to us stands the test of reason. That is how we make legislation.

Ian Boyko, from the Canadian Federation of Students, came forward. In his testimony, he said that to have only two minutes to address the problems with the bill and the vouching for ten of thousands of students who would be disenfranchised, he could not even begin to do it. He said that he would take questions, but nobody asked him a one.

I have never seen anything like this. I have never seen such a lack of interest. The head of the Canadian Federal of Students came to a committee and stated that tens of thousands of university students would be ineligible to vote because Bill C-18 would not address the issues they faced and nobody asked questions.

It is a funny situation when we sit in our committee and talk about encouraging young people to vote and how we can find ways to do that. Yet when they came to speak to us, nobody even had a question for them. They wanted it through.

Another astounding statement was from Jim Quail from the British Columbia Public Interest Advocacy Centre. He said that even if the changes went in, the changes that will address some of the issues we face, 700,000 urban residents would still not possibly meet the test. This is based on what the electoral officer had provided previously, and this does not include the other million people. That is based on 5% who would not meet those requirements because they have moved or whatever.

We heard in our committee on a previous bill that 12% to 15% of the voters in Australia now voted by declaration because of the continual movement in urban areas of people moving in and out or people who do not know anyone. Anyone who has an urban riding is well used to this. Even in the urban part of some of my communities, when I go into a neighbourhood six months after an election, it is almost like a completely different group of people in there. Sometimes I wonder if I am walking down the wrong street. However, a major mobility is happening across the western world.

Australia has identified that 15% of the people now vote by declaration. In declaration voting they swear and oath. There is no way to get them on the voters list. We do not have the old style days when we went out and updated the voting list so we ensured people were on there.

Even when we have the voting list, it is not up to date. Some people have tried to do a mail-out and have received calls from people, cranky as all heck, because the person no longer lives at that address or they have been divorced for years so why would a Christmas card be sent that address. We know the problems with the electoral list.

I saw that recently in Ontario. My wife and I went to vote and, lo and behold, she was not on the electoral list, and the house is in her name. I do not know how that happened, but people who trusts the computers that generate the Elections Canada lists put themselves in much higher hands than I would.

What we see is a problem of people who go to vote and are suddenly not on the list, or people who have moved to places where they do not know people. At the end of the day, they have a right to vote.

Jim Quail said that there would be 700,000 based on what the Elections Canada officer said. He could have been blowing smoke with these claims, but our job as legislators is to test him, question him and engage him. If we think these numbers are wrong, we have to test them. That is the only way we can bring forward legislation. Nobody was interested in what he had to say because members wanted the vote to be over.

This is the same pattern that happened with the previous bill. We end up in a situation where we have not done the due diligence, where we have not answered the fundamental question of whether this will work. That is what the legislation has to be able to prove. It has to prove it will work and ensure that the people, who have a right to vote, are able to vote. If we have not answered those questions satisfactorily, then we have failed in our jobs.

We certainly failed the job on Bill C-31. The problem with Bill C-18 is this. Having not answered the questions of why students will be disenfranchised, or will 700,000 urban residents be affected and how many of the 150,000 homeless people may not be able to vote, we have a serious problem.

The solution being offered is a one voucher system. At face value, it seems a reasonable solution to have someone vouch for another person. I do not have a problem with the concept, but when we make legislation, we have to establish laws that are applicable in the field.

They always say that the camel was a horse designed by a committee. We have had three and four hump camels coming out of our committees because there is such a distinct lack of reality between what we talk about in committee, which is the reality of politics, and what we see in the field. We are all in this business of politics, so we know what the reality is when we go to the voting booths and how the individual poll clerks identify what is acceptable and what is not.

I know a man in Ontario who has lived in the same rural route his whole life. When he went to vote, he was told he was not on the list. He produced his passport and was told a passport was not an acceptable piece of identification. It would get him into Saudi Arabia, but it would not allow him to vote in Ontario. Is this part of the Ontario elections act or is this how they interpret the act? We see the problems in each of these areas.

At the end of the day, the question is whether it works as a piece of legislation. Say I am a student who leaves Timmins—James Bay to go school at the University of Ottawa. After arriving there, I want to vote because the election is on September 15. When I go to vote, I am told I have to have a person vouch for me. What if my neighbour is not there that day or has already voted, then I have to wait on him or I cannot vote.

The example in a rural area is what if I know two people who moved in, but I am only allowed to vouch for one of them? Vouching, at the end of the day, is not practical so we have to go back to the issue of a declaration. Otherwise, people will continue to be disenfranchised. That is why I believe we have failed to do our job with this bill.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2007 / 12:10 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak to Bill C-18 on behalf of the Bloc Québécois. The Bloc supports the principle underlying the bill. The House of Commons passed Bill C-31, which modified the Canada Elections Act. The bill was needed to try to address all questions that Quebeckers and Canadians might have about eligibility to vote.

For the past several years, the federal government's way of holding elections made it practically impossible to guarantee beyond a reasonable doubt that voters were who they claimed to be. That is why we needed Bill C-31, which was passed in February 2007. I will summarize the bill because that is what gave rise to Bill C-18. Sometimes, the government comes up with solutions to problems that have been around for decades. Sometimes there are little problems with those solutions. The problem we are trying to fix with Bill C-18 is one of the little problems caused by Bill C-31.

Why did we want to adopt Bill C-31, and what was its purpose? From now on, people wishing to vote in a federal election will have to show government-issued photo identification, such as a driver's license, that shows their name and home address. Voters who do not have photo identification will have to provide two acceptable pieces of identification to establish their identity and their home address. The Chief Electoral Officer is responsible for publishing a list of acceptable pieces of identification that voters can show at the polling station.

I will read that list out shortly. The Chief Electoral Officer released it for the byelections that took place this fall in a number of places, including Quebec. Several types of identification may be used by individuals who do not have government-issued photo identification, such as a driver's license. As I said, voters can present two pieces of identification that appear on the published list.

Potential voters who do not have two acceptable pieces of identification will be required to declare under oath that they are the person they claim to be. They must also be vouched for by a registered elector. The objective of Bill C-31 was simple. It required a government-issued piece of photo ID, such as a driver's licence. Failing that, it required two pieces of ID from the list supplied by the chief electoral officer—I discussed this earlier—which was published during the byelections in Quebec this fall. If a person could not establish his identity, he had to take an oath in the presence of a person who was eligible to vote, who had a piece of ID and who knew the potential voter.

We thought this seemed appropriate and perfectly enforceable. We did not see a problem with doing things this way. Once again, I will provide the list of original pieces of identification that could be presented:

Health card, social insurance number card, birth certificate, driver’s licence, Canadian passport, certificate of Indian status, certificate of Canadian citizenship or citizenship card, credit/debit card with elector name, Canadian Forces identity card, Veterans Affairs Canada health card, employee card issued by employer, old age security identification card, public transportation card, student ID card, library card, liquor identification card, Canadian Blood Services/Héma-Québec card, hospital card, fishing licence, wildlife identification card, hunting licence, firearm acquisition card/firearm possession card, outdoors card and licences, provincial/territorial identification card, Local Community Service Centre card (CLSC).

Other original documents can also be produced, for example, a credit card statement or bank statement, a utility bill such as a residential telephone or cable television bill or an electricity, gas or water bill, a local property tax assessment, a school, college or university report card or transcript, a residential lease, a residential mortgage statement or agreement, a Canada Child Tax Benefit statement, an income statement or income tax assessment notice, an insurance policy, a government cheque or government cheque stub with the elector’s name, a T4E statement of employment insurance benefits, a Canada Pension Plan statement of contributions or old age security statement, a statement of benefits from a provincial workplace health and safety board, a statement of direct deposit for a provincial occupational injury or disability support program, a vehicle ownership or vehicle insurance card, or an attestation of residence issued by the responsible authorities such as shelters, soup kitchens, student or senior residences, long-term care facilities, aboriginal reserves or work camps.

The list of pieces of identification is very long, therefore, and a person must produce two of them if he does not have a government-issued piece of photo ID. It enables electors to find supporting documents almost anywhere, but if they still cannot, they can go to a polling station and take an oath in the presence of someone who knows the person, has met the requirements and already voted.

We thought, therefore, that we had covered everything when Bill C-31 passed. However, there was one little problem. The pieces of identification had to contain the elector’s residential address, and that was the problem. Almost all of us have addresses with a street name and number. However, there is still one situation that I myself saw when I was the mayor of a small town. It was only in the late 1990s that my town, Notre-Dame-de-la-Paix, got street names in order to have numbers. This was a requirement of the Government of Quebec, which was forcing most of the towns and small communities to have street names. It was expensive because we had to get names through the Commission de toponymie, prepare announcements, make poles and signs and so forth. That is why it had never been done.

So the municipalities of Quebec all entered the modern age. However, in a few of them and in some other regions of Canada, there are still no street names. As a result, the residential address of some people is just Rural Route 1, for example, without any street number or anything because there is none.

It was at the time of the byelections in Quebec, if not before, that we noticed that some electors had this kind of address. Although there were not very many, there could be a problem because they did not have a residential address in the prescribed form.

The purpose of Bill C-18, which we are debating today, is simply to allow a person to vote if he or she has two pieces of identification with the same information on them, such as Rural Route 1 or Rural Route 2. The purpose of the bill is simply to take this reality in a number of communities all across Canada into account.

I have some figures here. Elections Canada tells us that there are about 1,012,989 electors who do not have a residential address that meets the requirements of the Canada Elections Act as set forth in Bill C-31.

The list of electors is compiled by the Chief Electoral Officer, who is certainly well aware that some people have always provided an address that consists of a rural route. When the census is taken, people provide addresses which indicate “rural route 1” or “rural route 2,” and the name of municipality. The chief electoral officer has reported that some 1,012,989 electors have such an address.

In Nunavut, for example, 80% of residents do not have a personal address that conforms to the provisions of Bill C-31 that was adopted in February 2007. In Saskatchewan, some 189,000 electors are in that position, which is 27% of all electors; a significant proportion. In Ontario, this condition affects about 150,000 electors. In Newfoundland and Labrador, it amounts to 23% of the electors. In Quebec, the number is 15,836 electors, or 0.27% of the population, who could be faced with this same problem.

When the chief electoral officer recognized this problem, he drew it to attention of the various political parties. The purpose of Bill C-18 is to correct this anomaly. In doing so, those people who live on rural routes or who only have access to postal boxes—whose address might be “post office box 36” or “post office box 267” and the name of the municipality—which is not a residential address under the requirements of Bill C-31, that is to say, including a street number and street name and the rest, may in future present to Elections Canada workers two pieces of identification that prove their address is the same as the address that appears on the list of electors.

That will finally correct the situation of those 1,012,989 electors and it will conform to the new Bill C-31.

What is difficult to understand is the position of the other parties. I say the other parties but there is one party that is opposed to Bill C-18, the New Democratic Party, which was also opposed to Bill C-31. The argument advanced by the NDP is that we should preserve the traditional practice where there was practically no requirement for any piece of identification. In fact, a person did not need any identification in order to vote. It was enough to make a declaration under oath.

Obviously, there have been complaints for decades. Among others, in Quebec, for a long time there has been an angry outcry over this manner of voting in federal elections. In Quebec—I am referring to the province—a bill almost identical in every detail to Bill C-31 was introduced in the National Assembly in February 2007. Quebec had already decided to deal with this voting issue in order to ensure that the people who vote are the people who are entitled to vote. That is simply what it amounts to. It is a case of avoiding electoral fraud and underhanded practices.

It is difficult to understand how the parties of this House did not see this. Indeed, it is possible some people might have some minor problems. We talked about homeless people. We would like to work with all parties to resolve the problem facing people with no address. This is one way of proceeding. One way of resolving this for such individuals involves having them go to vote with another eligible voter, someone who knows them and can vouch for them. We would like to work to resolve this problem, but we cannot throw away an entire system that has been established to prevent fraud, toss it all away and return to archaic voting procedures that made it nearly impossible to confirm the identity of most voters.

Why not tackle a specific problem that affects perhaps a few thousand voters, without returning to the previous system, which, after all, does not guarantee any security, provides many opportunities for fraud against a vast majority of voters, and focus instead on solving a problem that affects a small number of voters?

Today, with Bill C-31, we are resolving a problem that affects a million voters. That is a significant number. We do not understand why the NDP will not support this.

When Bill C-31 was drafted, no one, not even the legislative staff who prepared it for the government, saw the problem posed by rural addresses and post office boxes. It only became apparent in practice. At that time, a bill was introduced to resolve the problem facing people who do not have a residential address that complies with the provisions of Bill C-31.

First of all, I would like those citizens listening to us to realize that their address is not the issue. They all have a residential address, whether it is a post office box, rural route or other, even though they may not have a street number. In Bill C-31, for the purposes of the Election Act, the residential address had to indicate a street number with a street name, rural route, or concession for it to be recognized as a personal address. When we refer to number 2 or 200 or 2250 on a street or concession, we are speaking of a personal address. When we refer to rural route 2 or a post office box, then it is much more difficult to locate the individual. It is not a personal address. In the case of a post office box, the mail is addressed directly to the post office or to a post office box, which is not necessarily located at the property address. The purpose of Bill C-18 was to correct that.

The Bloc Québécois will support this bill. We are on the eve of a federal election, which will probably take place in the spring. We do not want citizens to be denied the right to vote. When voters arrive with their identification, election workers may not allow them to vote because the address on their identification—even if the same as the address recorded on the electoral lists—would not be recognized as a personal address since it does not contain a street number. They could be refused the right to vote under the pretext that the election workers are not sure that they are who they say they are and they would be asked to swear an oath.

There is a problem, however, and the Chief Electoral Officer has pointed it out very clearly. It is all very well that someone who has a residential address can vouch for them. However, when someone lives in an area, such as Nunavut, where 80% of the territory has no addresses in the required format, even our neighbour cannot vouch for us, because our neighbour also cannot vote because his or her address does not meet the requirements of Bill C-31.

This is a fairly significant problem for part of Quebec, where It affects 15,836 electors, but even more so, for 1,019,000 electors across Canada. That is quite a large number. We hope that this bill will pass as quickly as possible. That should be done before the end of this session, if possible, so that the Senate can give it royal assent. That will allow the bill to come into force for the next federal election, which, as I was saying, will not be called much later than the spring budget, in my opinion.

Obviously, given that situation, there is some real urgency. Our electors should not have to face problems when they go to vote. We saw this to a very small extent, and forgive me for repeating myself, in the byelections in Quebec. As I said, those 15,000 electors throughout Quebec who were affected in the byelections held in Quebec this fall, do not amount to very many people. In a general election, however, the problem would affect a million electors, or nearly 4% of the population. That could cause a bit of anxiety in some communities.

We would not want things to be difficult for election workers. It is already not easy to find election workers. They are often people who are donating their time. Although the government may view the remuneration as generous, when we look at the number of hours they spend getting training and working on election day, the money the Chief Electoral Officer pays does not amount to a lot.

As well, if the voters are putting additional pressure on the election workers because they are unhappy that their address, the one they have always had and use every day, does not let them vote because it does not comply with Bill C-31, their wrath is going to be directed at the entire voting system and the entire electoral system, but in particular the election workers. Those workers do not deserve to have problems with electors who might—quite justifiably—complain. They have all their pieces of identification and their bills. We heard the list that I read out earlier. They have always received their hydro bills, their public utility bills or whatever at that address. But when an elector goes to the polling station, they are told that they do not have a individual street number, no personal address, and that, therefore, they have to find some other way of proving that they are in fact the right person. Everyone understands the issue and can probably imagine what this will look like on the ground. I would not want election workers to be put into this situation.

Consequently, I hope that all the parties, including the NDP, will appreciate the urgency, given that a federal election could be triggered as soon as the next budget is brought down. We need to act fast and call on Parliament to pass this bill by the end of the session, so that the Senate can give it royal assent. Then, this bill will be in effect when the next election campaign takes place.

To those who may be wondering whether the Chief Electoral Officer will have enough time to act, I say that there will be no problem, because the addresses are already on the voters lists. These addresses consist of a post office box number in a municipality or a rural route without a house number. Consequently, the Chief Electoral Officer simply has to tell election officials that when someone provides photo identification or two other pieces of identification with an address that matches the address on the voters list, the officials can assume it is the right person.

This will prevent 1,019,000 voters from having problems, causing congestion at some polling stations and making scenes for election officials. I repeat, these election officials are not paid well enough for what they do. Some will say people are never paid well enough. We have to consider the number of hours they put in, all the time they spend on site. They have to arrive early, before the polls open. Now, the polls are open for 12 hours. When the polls close, they have to put in as much time as is needed, because in some places, the election results are close.

Obviously, this will not be the case in Quebec, because the Bloc Québécois is going to sweep the province. But I hope the other areas of Canada do not have to deal with close results.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2007 / 11:55 a.m.
See context

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to stand in the House and speak to this bill at the third reading stage.

Bill C-18, quite frankly, fixes a problem incurred with voting. To provide a bit of context and a brief history of the reason for Bill C-18 coming before the House, it was because the House originally passed Bill C-31 which basically dealt with voter identification.

The intent of Bill C-31 was so that individuals who wished to cast ballots in federal elections would be required to produce identification showing their name and residency. This seemed to me to be a common sense provision because, as we all know, though Canadians have the right to vote, they have to be, number one, Canadian citizens and, number two, reside in the riding in which they wish to cast their ballot.

We wanted to put provisions in place that required individuals to produce identification, verifying that they lived in the ridings in which they wished to cast ballots. That was the genesis of Bill C-31. However, there was a problem. Bill C-31 stated that in determining proof of residency, voters had to prove their residential addresses.

This, of course, was debated in committee. The Chief Electoral Officer of Canada came before committee to analyze the bill. No one in the committee nor the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada recognized the fact that the term “residential address” or “civic address” would in fact exclude a great many Canadians.

Approximately one million Canadians, in fact, do not have residential or civic addresses. These are primarily rural Canadians living in ridings in Canada who would normally be allowed to vote, but instead of having residential addresses have post office boxes or rural route numbers or a land description, which would be their identification of residency.

Bill C-31 inadvertently excluded everyone who did not have a residential address. As I said just a few moments ago, approximately one million rural Canadians were in that category. If people lived in rural Canada, whether it be Saskatchewan, Ontario, British Columbia or Quebec, and had rural route numbers or post office box numbers instead of street addresses, with the passage of Bill C-31 they would be denied their right or ability to vote.

This flaw in Bill C-31 was first discovered in late September, early October, by the office of the Chief Electoral Officer. Following three byelections held in September in Quebec, the Chief Electoral Officer did a review of the voting practices in Quebec during those three byelections and during that examination discovered this flaw in Bill C-31 dealing with residential addresses.

He immediately informed the government, which, in turn, immediately took corrective action and the result is what we have before us today, Bill C-18. It very simply remedies the glitch found in Bill C-31 by stating that any individual who produces proper identification and whose residency information on that identification is consistent with the information on the electoral lists will then be eligible to vote.

In other words, to put it very clearly and graphically, if an individual has a driver's licence that says he or she resides at post office box 123 anywhere in Canada and the electoral list confirms that this individual resides at post office box 123 anywhere in Canada, or to put it another way, if the driver's licence information and the information on the electoral list are consistent, that individual can then vote and that remedied the situation.

That is why we introduced the bill, that is why the bill is before us today and that is why we wish, as a government, to ensure the bill passes and is delivered to the Senate today. We hope then that our friends in the Senate will pass it quickly and give it royal assent before the end of this calendar year.

The urgency is that there may be byelections or a general election very soon in the new year. No one knows the certainty of a general election, but we do know byelections will have to be called before the end of this month. We want to ensure that all Canadians in rural Canada, who had been disenfranchised inadvertently, are now back on the voters list, that they have the eligibility requirements correct and that they will be able to cast ballots.

I know almost all parties in the House, almost all members in the House, support this legislation. The exception being some members of the New Democratic Party. I find it interesting that their opposition is not really with Bill C-18, but with Bill C-31.

During debate and during committee examination of Bill C-31, the NDP primarily was concerned that many Canadians could potentially be disenfranchised because of the identification requirements contained in the bill. Specifically, the NDP was concerned because of the homeless. Many homeless people, perhaps the vast majority of them, do not possess identification. This was a legitimate concern raised by the members of the NDP. Their solution to that was quite simply that identification requirements contained in Bill C-31 should be eliminated, that people who did not possess proper identification as to proof of identity and residence should still be allowed to vote if they signed an oath or some kind of a declaration at a various polling station on voting day.

While I recognize there will be some individuals in the category of the homeless or maybe other transient individuals who do not have proper identification, the committee determined in its wisdom, and I supported this decision, that the public interest was best served if individuals were required to produce identification.

I believe it is a common sense approach. After all, if people cannot identify themselves, if they cannot prove they actually live in a particular riding, why then should they be allowed to vote? We were concerned about voter fraud. In fact, Bill C-31 was called the voter integrity bill. It was merely intended to ensure the integrity of the voting system, so everyone who wished to vote in a particular riding across Canada would have to demonstrate they actually resided in that riding. I think that is a reasonable approach to take. Hence, Bill C-31 was passed.

The opposition to Bill C-18 from my colleagues in the NDP has really nothing to do with Bill C-18. It goes back to their opposition to Bill C-31. Up to this point, they have been trying to, in my opinion, unduly delay passage of Bill C-18 because of their opposition to the provisions contained in Bill C-31.

However, I am very pleased to see Bill C-18 before us today. I believe we will see passage of this very important bill later today. I also hope, as I mentioned a few moments ago, that our friends and colleagues in the Senate, in their wisdom, will give speedy passage to Bill C-18.

I will reiterate that the bill was brought forward as a corrective measure to ensure that rural Canadians, who had been inadvertently disenfranchised by the provisions contained in Bill C-31, were dealt with in an appropriate manner to ensure they would have the ability to vote in the next general election.

There is nothing more complicated than that. There is nothing more detailed than that. It is merely a simple bill designed to correct an inequity that occurred.

In dealing with the bill in an expeditious manner, as we have, we have demonstrated that Parliament and the committee system within Parliament can work when all members determine that partisan interests should be set aside and the greater good be addressed. Even though there have been disagreements at committee, and I am sure we will still see disagreements to some extent in the debate today, at the end of the day objections will have been duly noted but the bill will pass and for good reason.

I do not want to stand in the House and say that a wrong was not corrected. We have the ability to correct, but we chose not to for whatever reasons. I believe most Canadians would vehemently disagree with that.

While Bill C-18 perhaps should not have been necessary, it was done so to correct an unintended consequence as a result of the passage of Bill C-31.