Citizen Voting Act

An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act

This bill was last introduced in the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in August 2015.

Sponsor

Pierre Poilievre  Conservative

Status

In committee (House), as of May 4, 2015
(This bill did not become 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

(a) eliminate the international register of electors and incorporate all of the information contained in it into the Register of Electors;

(b) require electors who are resident outside Canada to make an application for registration and special ballot after the issue of the writs at each election;

(c) stipulate that electors who are resident outside Canada may only receive a special ballot for the address at which they last resided in Canada;

(d) require that electors who are applying for a special ballot under Division 3 or 4 of Part 11 include in their application for registration and special ballot proof of identity and residence and, if they apply from outside Canada, proof of Canadian citizenship;

(e) require that an external auditor perform an audit and report on election workers’ compliance with special ballot voting procedures and requirements for every election;

(f) authorize the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration to provide the Chief Electoral Officer with information for the purpose of assisting the Chief Electoral Officer to, among other things, delete from the Register of Electors the names of persons who are not Canadian citizens; and

(g) add the offence of voting or attempting to vote by special ballot under Division 3 or 4 of Part 11 while knowing that one is not qualified as an elector and add offences under those Divisions of attesting to the residence of more than one elector and of acting as an attestor when one’s own residence has already been attested to.

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

May 4, 2015 Passed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.
April 30, 2015 Passed That, in relation to Bill C-50, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act, not more than one further sitting day shall be allotted to the consideration at second reading stage of the Bill; and That, 15 minutes before the expiry of the time provided for Government Orders on the day allotted to the consideration at second reading stage of the said Bill, any proceedings before the House shall be interrupted, if required for the purpose of this Order, and, in turn, every question necessary for the disposal of the said stage of the Bill shall be put forthwith and successively, without further debate or amendment.

Citizen Voting ActGovernment Orders

May 1st, 2015 / 10:05 a.m.
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Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley Nova Scotia

Conservative

Scott Armstrong ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Employment and Social Development and Minister of Labour

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to participate in the debate on the second reading of Bill C-50, the citizen voting act.

Bill C-50 proposes important reforms to Canada's election act. These reforms would reinforce the integrity of a special ballot voting system while at the same time showing fairness for resident and non-resident voters alike.

In doing so, the citizen voting act would follow in the footsteps of the Fair Elections Act. In particular, Bill C-50 would ensure fairness by providing that non-resident voting procedures are consistent with the procedures for resident voters that were brought in with the Fair Elections Act.

Among these key provision, the citizen voting act would require that electors applying for a special ballot must include within their application for registration proof of identity and residence, and, if they apply from outside Canada, proof of Canadian citizenship. Electors who are resident outside of Canada would only receive a special ballot for the address at which they last resided within Canada.

In the debate thus far, some concerns have been raised about the potential negative impacts that could arise as a result of the new identification requirements for non-resident voters. I would like to demonstrate that these concerns are unfounded. Accordingly, I will focus my comments today on the voter identification requirements in the Canada Elections Act and what is proposed in Bill C-50 for special ballot voters.

Before addressing any specific concerns, I think it is worthwhile to again briefly review the voter identification requirements in Bill C-50. The voter identification provisions would require that electors voting by special ballot, non-residents and residents, must include within their application for a special ballot proof of identity and residence, similar to that set out in the Fair Elections Act. Further, Canadians living abroad would be required to prove the place of residence in the riding in which they would be voting, using the same documentation that voters living within Canada must also provide. The same general identification scheme that was established in the Fair Elections Act would apply to applicants wishing to vote by special ballot.

Under the first option, a voter may provide one piece of government-issued identification with the voter's photo, name, and address. An example would be a driver's licence or a provincial or territorial ID card. Under the second option, a voter may show two pieces of ID authorized by the Chief Electoral Officer, one with the voter's name, and one with the voter's name and their address. An example would be a health card and a phone bill, or a debit card and a bank statement. Under the third option, a voter would provide two pieces of ID with the voter's name, and an oath or declaration of residence that is attested to by a properly identified voter from the same riding.

For non-residents, the attestation process would enable them to provide proof of their last residence in Canada by means of an oath or written declaration. A person providing the attestation could be either a resident of Canada or another non-resident who is qualified to vote in the same electoral district as the person applying for the special ballot. In either case, both the applicant and the person attesting for their residence would have to provide either an oath or a written declaration. An oath would have to be administered by a qualified official, either in Canada or abroad. On the other hand, a written declaration could be completed by the applicant abroad, and it would not require that an official be present in order to administer it.

To sum up, the provisions of Bill C-50 would ensure that Canadians living abroad follow the same rules as those living in Canada. It is only fair that non-resident Canadians be required to comply with the same rules that are followed by other Canadian voters.

I would now like to address the concern that has been raised about potentially disenfranchising voters as a result of the new identification rules set out in Bill C-50. The amendments contained in Bill C-50 would simply ensure that the same clear identification rules that apply to voting in person would apply to voting by special ballot.

I understand that there are now 47 approved identification documents listed on the Elections Canada website, some of which were added recently. The website lists 28 pieces of approved identification providing a voter's name, including, to name a few, a health card, a Canadian passport, a birth certificate, an Indian status card, a Veteran's Affairs health card, a student identity card, and an identity bracelet issued by a hospital or long-term care facility.

The list of pieces of identification providing both name and address currently includes 19 items. Examples on that list are a utility bill; a bank statement; a credit card statement; a residential lease or sublease; an income tax assessment; a letter from a public curator, public guardian, or a public trustee; a letter of confirmation of residence from a first nations band, reserve, or Inuit local authority; a letter of confirmation of residence from one of several designated establishments, including a student residence, a seniors residence, a long-term care facility, a homeless shelter, or a soup kitchen, and the list goes on. This demonstrates the sheer number of pieces of identification that may be used as voter identification, and the breadth of options which are captured by this list. The Chief Electoral Officer is always at liberty to authorize further pieces of identification for the purpose of voting as he sees fit.

I recall an empirical study, conducted by Professor Ian Lee of Carleton University last year, in which he examined the numbers and types of identification that are accessible by Canadians. He concluded that there are identity cards well in excess of 200 million for 18 million voters, and that excluded millions of monthly utility bills. Apart from these sheer numbers, the list that has been approved demonstrates that a lack of identification should not be a barrier to voting in Canada. None of these would change because of the provisions of the citizen voting act.

To conclude, the citizen voting act is designed to reinforce the integrity and fairness of the electoral system for all voters, resident and non-resident voters alike. The new measures will help ensure that non-resident voters have a direct connection to Canada and are subject to similar voter identification rules that all other voters must also follow.

The right to vote is at the very foundation of our democracy. It embodies a responsibility and duty on all of us to familiarize ourselves with the voting process. In that spirit, I encourage all Canadians to become familiar with the identification rules and to ensure that they have the proper ID to vote, whether at the polling station or through a special ballot. It is incumbent upon all of us to support integrity measures aimed at ensuring that ballots are legitimately cast by eligible voters.

Citizen Voting ActGovernment Orders

May 1st, 2015 / 10:10 a.m.
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NDP

Anne-Marie Day NDP Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Mr. Speaker, this new way of doing things will cause people a lot of problems.

Having worked at polling stations myself, I know that lots of seniors, among others, come with just their voter card. They do not bring anything else. They are asked to go get some ID because their home is usually right in the same building, and they go get a bill or something. However, their health insurance card does not have a photo. They need photo ID, and many of those people do not have any. They do not drive, so they no longer have a driver's licence.

How can the government justify excluding those thousands of people from voting in the next election?

Citizen Voting ActGovernment Orders

May 1st, 2015 / 10:10 a.m.
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Conservative

Scott Armstrong Conservative Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, NS

Mr. Speaker, as we know, it is incumbent upon all of us to ensure that we have integrity within our democratic system. During an election, we must ensure that people are rightfully and dutifully casting a ballot, and that they have the integrity to cast that ballot in a fair and democratic manner. That means that Canadians in Canada who come to vote must be able to prove their residence and identity. That is the very fabric of a democratic system. Literally millions of Canadians have voted in subsequent elections, both provincially and federally, and have produced the appropriate ID to do so.

We continue to expand the list of authorized identification so that seniors, young people, middle-income Canadians, low-income Canadians, and Canadians from all walks of life, are able to cast their ballot. To do so, they must be able to demonstrate that they are rightfully on the voters list and live in the electoral district where they are casting their ballot. That is the integrity of the system.

A number of lists and the flexibility have been provided by the Fair Elections Act, and now, through Bill C-50, we will ensure we have an equal and level playing field for Canadians voting in Canada and Canadians voting abroad. We must ensure that there is integrity in both systems, domestically and internationally.

Citizen Voting ActGovernment Orders

May 1st, 2015 / 10:15 a.m.
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Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, I have a quick question for my colleague. One of the fundamentals is that the international voters list has been eliminated, which was something that was updated on an ongoing basis. It served the international community well for Canadians living abroad. I wonder if he could give the logic as to why that particular item was eliminated. To get rid of it seems to be a solution looking for a problem that did not exist.

Citizen Voting ActGovernment Orders

May 1st, 2015 / 10:15 a.m.
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Conservative

Scott Armstrong Conservative Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, NS

Mr. Speaker, the process being put in place is to ensure that people who are voting abroad through a special ballot will have their vote count in the electoral district where they last resided in Canada. That requires some proof of when they actually emigrated to another country to reside in a different place internationally.

By providing identification which shows their previous address, that makes sure that their ballot and vote is being counted in the right electoral district. This stops anyone from trying to game the system by collecting a lot of international votes from many citizens abroad and putting them all in one single or a very few electoral districts.

This way, if an individual left a certain electoral district in Canada, went abroad and cast a ballot, which they are rightfully able to do, it will count in the same electoral district where they used to reside.

Citizen Voting ActGovernment Orders

May 1st, 2015 / 10:15 a.m.
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NDP

Mike Sullivan NDP York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, my friend opposite refers to the notion that people will somehow have an ability to change the electoral district from which they came. I have two questions.

One, does he have any evidence that this is actually happening anywhere in the world? Two, he stated in his speech that the Chief Electoral Officer would have the discretion to determine what pieces of identification would be necessary, and yet the bill does the exact opposite; it limits the type of information that the Chief Electoral Officer can use to determine someone's identity. How is it that he can say on the one hand that we are giving him discretion, but on the other hand the bill does something completely opposite?

Citizen Voting ActGovernment Orders

May 1st, 2015 / 10:15 a.m.
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Conservative

Scott Armstrong Conservative Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, NS

Mr. Speaker, as I said in my remarks, it is an extensive list of identification that can be used by Canadians, both domestically and internationally, to make sure they can prove who they are and where they live, or where they used to live when it concerns citizens abroad, so that their vote will be counted in the electoral district where it rightfully deserves to be counted.

In addition to the extensive amounts of different identification, attestations, oaths, and also declarations that can be written and sent in, the Chief Electoral Officer does have the flexibility to add other pieces of identification he sees as necessary to ensure that all Canadians, both domestic and abroad, would have the ability to vote in the election.

We also need to have integrity in the system. As I mentioned, the way that the rules are now, there is the ability for people who are casting their votes internationally through a special ballot to name the district where that vote should count. That would open up the opportunity for an abuse of the system. That is a loophole that this legislation seeks to close.

Citizen Voting ActGovernment Orders

May 1st, 2015 / 10:15 a.m.
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NDP

Alexandrine Latendresse NDP Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his speech. He was a long-time member of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

The way our government handles various bills that amend the Canada Elections Act is problematic. Most of the problems with this particular bill boil down to the same things we have seen in other bills. The changes the Conservatives make are never motivated by anything other than their own interests. In this particular case, the court was very clear. I can go into more detail in a little while, but the point is that we have no idea what the real reasons driving these changes are, other than the fact that the Conservatives are not really interested in increasing voter turnout and helping people cast their vote. They are more interested in making the process as complicated as possible.

When this bill goes to committee, which will probably be soon, does the member think the government will be open to considering the amendments proposed by the opposition and amending parts of the bill that need amending?

Citizen Voting ActGovernment Orders

May 1st, 2015 / 10:20 a.m.
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Conservative

Scott Armstrong Conservative Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, NS

Mr. Speaker, committees are masters of their own destiny, so when the report goes to committee and comes back to the House, we will have to see what the committee suggests and recommends.

It is incumbent on the Government of Canada, and all Canadians, to ensure we have integrity within our democratic system of elections. The way the legislation is currently worded, it does open up loopholes where people could attempt to game the system, and we are closing that loophole to stop that potential.

I was asked what the intent of the government is and why we are doing this. We are doing these changes to make sure that all Canadians have the right and ability to cast a democratic ballot in all federal elections, whether they reside within Canada or they currently reside outside of Canada.

We also have to ensure the integrity of that vote. That is the very basis of our democratic system. That makes sure that the elections can be reflected as being democratic, fair, and also having the integrity that all Canadians deserve.

Citizen Voting ActGovernment Orders

May 1st, 2015 / 10:20 a.m.
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Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, my question is fairly straightforward. Does the member believe that the government has a responsibility to work with other political entities, particularly opposition parties, on the best manner in which to proceed in making changes to election laws?

Election laws are one of the fundamental issues we deal with in terms of our democratic principles. Would he not agree that there is an obligation for governments to work with opposition parties when they want to change institutions or things like our election laws?

Citizen Voting ActGovernment Orders

May 1st, 2015 / 10:20 a.m.
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Conservative

Scott Armstrong Conservative Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, NS

Mr. Speaker, all pieces of legislation take input from anyone in the House of Commons. Legislation is brought forward, either by the government or by private members in this institution. If it is passed by the House of Commons, it goes to committee, where all recognized parties have the ability to put forward amendments that can be debated there. When it returns to the House, it is once again open to debate by all members of the House.

There is a set process for legislation. It is a long and gruelling process to make laws in Canada, as we all know in the House of Commons and in the other place.

However, to say that there are is no option or opportunity for opposition members to comment on legislation is false. They have every opportunity in the House, in the Senate, and at committee to comment on and make recommendations and possible amendments to legislation.

Citizen Voting ActGovernment Orders

May 1st, 2015 / 10:20 a.m.
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NDP

Alexandrine Latendresse NDP Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, before I begin, I want to say that I find it very unfortunate that this is the 95th time the Conservatives have imposed a time allocation motion. I think it is positively shameful that in our democracy, in 2015, the Conservatives will not let us have an honest discussion in the House of Commons on something like closure motions and time allocation motions.

Many of the solutions proposed could help us create a more vibrant democracy. The Conservatives have always rejected the solution proposed by the NDP to have limits on when time allocation motions can be used. I find that unfortunate. Ironically, when the Liberals imposed too many time allocation motions, the Conservatives were the first to denounce it, saying how wrong it was and how limiting debate was an affront to democracy.

Now the Conservatives have set a new record. I think there is an explanation for this. The Conservatives have realized that this is no longer making headlines. Early on, when they began moving closure and time allocation motions, that got a reaction out of people. People wondered why the Conservatives were doing that, and they were not happy about it. Now, 95 time allocation motions later, people are sick of it. There is a certain point where people stop talking about it, because it becomes redundant and there is nothing more to say on the matter. Saying that the Conservatives are attacking our democracy elicits responses like “Yes, but that is the way it is and the way it has always been”. This is nothing new, and people eventually ignore the situation. However, the reality is that we are once again faced with closure on debate. I truly believe that the Conservatives must have some sort of goal to move 100 time allocation motions before the end of the 41st Parliament. It is really unfortunate, but that is just the way it is.

Today I will be sharing my thoughts on Bill C-50. It is yet another bill to amend the Canada Elections Act. This time the amendment has to do with voting from abroad.

Bill C-50 is the solution the Conservative government is proposing in response to the legal problem caused by the Ontario Superior Court ruling in Frank et al. v. Attorney General of Canada.

I would like to take a bit of time to go over the events that brought us here in order to help those watching at home who may not have all the facts they need to properly understand our discussion today.

Summing things up like that will make it easier for me to explain why I refuse to support this bill. At the same time, I will have the opportunity to share with my hon. colleagues a few suggestions for improving this bill.

First, as I was saying, the impetus for introducing this bill last December was the decision by Justice Michael Penny of the Ontario Superior Court to nullify a part of the Canada Elections Act, specifically paragraph 11(d) regarding certain restrictions on voting applicable to Canadians living abroad.

Up until that verdict was handed down a year ago tomorrow, Canadian citizens living abroad for more than five years would lose their right to vote. Justice Penny held that this loss of the right to vote violated a constitutional right guaranteed by section 3 of the charter, which states that “Every citizen of Canada has the right to vote in an election of members of the House of Commons or of a legislative assembly and to be qualified for membership therein.”

This prescribed time limit was contrary to the spirit of the charter because it could not be justified under section 1, which guarantees the right to vote in a free and democratic society. Justice Penny further held that voting is an inalienable right under the charter. That is what is at the heart of the discussion we are having today, and it is this key point that informs my entire understanding of the problem.

We must say it over and over again: every Canadian citizen has the sovereign right to cast a ballot during an election. It is simple. However, this statement has two logical consequences. First, anyone who would attempt to hinder or prevent a Canadian citizen from voting is guilty of very serious wrongdoing. Furthermore, and this is the impetus for the bill, as a moral entity, Canada must do everything in its power to ensure that its citizens can exercise their right to vote during an election. In other words, the state administration must adjust to its citizens and not the opposite. Best efforts must be made to facilitate, encourage and honour the citizens' democratic exercise.

This view of the right to vote that I just explained will be upheld by all the courts in the land, no matter what happens.

I do not believe that I am mistaken when I say that, in addition to the courts, the people themselves will confirm this interpretation of our constitutional rights and defend it. It would seem that the only person who has not understood this is the Minister for Democratic Reform. However, I am not here to argue with and insult the government. I would like all of us to work together to find a solution to this problem.

A consideration related to what I said earlier should be addressed here. We agree that the right to vote is an inalienable constitutional guarantee. The right to vote is also a civil responsibility. A citizen has the right and the duty to vote. However, he or she does not have an obligation to vote. Refusing to exercise one's democratic right is, in my humble opinion, also guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms because abstaining from voting or spoiling one's vote constitutes a valid democratic gesture. A vote does not have any qualitative aspect. A spoiled ballot is still a ballot. I am dwelling on these details, these facts, because I want to be clear and I want to properly identify the essential nature of the right to vote. I would like my colleagues to correct me if they believe that my definitions are incorrect.

I would like to come back to the judge's verdict. This Superior Court decision took effect immediately and struck down the five-year limit set out in paragraph 11(d). After all—and I am asking those who are listening this question—why five years? What was the rationale for that timeframe? Why not 6, 10 or 20 years? I am sure that some thought went into that decision when the Canada Elections Act was reviewed in the 1990s, but this number still seems rather random to me. I am not sure when this provision was added to the Canada Elections Act, but perhaps migration was less common or more permanent at that time. When a person left for more than five years, it was only logical to assume that they were never coming back. After all, international travel was not always as easy and common as it is now.

I think that this is one of the shortcomings of the decision to quantify the loss of the right to vote at five years, a flaw that remains in the bill despite the fact that the bill is supposed to fix it. Everything I am about to say now should be taken with a grain of salt. I am going to try to describe the perception that Canadians have of themselves when they take shortcuts. In their minds, Canadians are not the sort of people who tend to emigrate. People leave for a year or two, but then they come back. They may go to the United States or Great Britain to go to school, or they may move for a diplomatic post or because they are in the military and they are stationed abroad. Otherwise, being an expat is not very serious and is more an act of social rebellion than anything else. That is basically the stereotype we have about ourselves. However, it is quite close to the reality of many Canadians. Some Canadians do a lot of travelling. Many of them have dual citizenship and share their time between two countries. These people follow Canadian politics, talk about Canada in their second country and keep up with current events in Canada. These people are full citizens and they have the same constitutional guarantee to the right to vote as every other Canadian.

This was confirmed by Justice Penny in his ruling. If a rose is a rose is a rose, then a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian. No matter where a Canadian may be—even on Mars—they have a right to vote. The Office of the Chief Electoral Officer quickly responded to this Ontario Superior Court ruling, and it announced that it would no longer apply the parts of the Canada Elections Act that had been invalidated. In theory, the right to vote was thus expanded to a pool of about 1.5 million newly enfranchised voters. This was a historic decision. An entire group of people had once again been vested with the most fundamental right in our Constitution. It was anachronistic, but still exciting. Just last week we celebrated the anniversary of women obtaining the right to vote in Quebec. Need I remind members that aboriginal people just obtained the right to vote in their own country in 1960?

The five-year period set out in the Canada Elections Act was a remnant of an bygone era, and this ruling appears to have completely eliminated this exclusion.

Although this speech will soon take a more negative tone, I am very happy that the last restriction on enfranchisement in Canada has been eliminated.

With respect to selective inclusion, I would like to share a quote from David Smith of the University of Saskatchewan:

Voting is the hallmark of citizenship, both symbolically and practically....

....at different times, the House of Commons admitted and the House of Commons excluded, but in each instance, the House of Commons defined Canada.

The value of the right to vote as a guarantee of the legitimacy of this House demands absolute respect on our part.

However, this decision creates a big problem. These 1.5 million citizens who will now be able to exercise their right to vote will be added to the approximately 2.8 million other expats who were already eligible to vote.

Electoral logistics need to be properly set up so that these millions of people can vote. After all, as I said, the state is responsible for facilitating the process and collecting ballots everywhere in Canada.

This is where things get a little less fun because we are getting right into the frustrating world of political calculation.

Let us start with the good ideas and the brilliant initiatives. In February, my colleague from Halifax introduced Bill C-575, which presaged Justice Penny's decision and attempted to ensure that absolutely all Canadian citizens residing abroad would have the right to vote.

The thinking behind Bill C-575 is self-evident. In the interconnected and instantaneous world of globalization, it a good thing for Canadians to live and work around the world. The House must take immediate action to confirm these citizens' right to vote.

I would imagine that everyone agrees with the member for Halifax's ideas on this, but of course, such a historic and generous initiative from the opposition could not be tolerated, much less endorsed, by the government. The Conservatives would rather die than take the lead and accept a perfectly acceptable opposition proposal.

Hubert Aquin wrote:

Political partisanship is a means of action, not a mode of thinking.

A year and a half later, the Conservatives are finally taking action. Bill C-50 is the Conservative proposal for dealing with the consequences of Justice Penny's ruling.

However, the minister's response goes much further. In response to a clear legal decision regarding an even clearer problem, we have a vague proposal that is like a reflection dimly seen in a mirror, as St. Paul put it.

When you take a closer look at the proposals in Bill C-50, it becomes very clear very quickly that this bill is not about empowering citizens.

This bill accepts the basic premise that Canadians abroad have the right to vote, but it does so in a backwards way. Expanding the constitutional right that is the very essence of the bill and should be showcased does not actually appear in the bill and can only be read between the lines. It is an odd masterpiece of inversion, like a photographic negative.

In his speech introducing the bill, the minister showed no signs of excitement. This bill is not about the right to vote, nor is it about righting a historical wrong, far from it. Rather, it is about tyring to combat electoral fraud.

The minister said, and I quote:

The citizen voting act has three principal objectives: the first is to help prevent non-citizens from voting in federal elections; the second is to require voters living abroad to provide proof of identity, past residence, and citizenship; the third is to create one set of rules for all Canadians voting from outside the country.

The main focus of the bill is the fear of these so-called collateral misdeeds, which are presented as going hand in hand with the privilege that the government is taking such great risk to provide to Canadians living abroad.

From the outset, the government makes it clear that there is the risk of serious abuses, which are listed and may be impossible to prevent. The government's message is that it is full of goodwill, but the electorate abroad is asking for the impossible and, accordingly, the privilege to vote will come with very strict measures.

It is as though the government were saying that it was giving us the right, but in order to exercise that right, we would have to jump backwards through rings of fire in a hoop skirt. We might go so far as to say that the government is completely disregarding Justice Penny's ruling and not really giving Canadians who live abroad for more than five years the right to vote.

The government did not welcome the decision with great enthusiasm and appealed the Frank ruling. Let us not forget that it also tried to impose a moratorium on the coming into force of the ruling. Clearly, the Conservatives were hoping the problem would go away.

Nonetheless, as I said earlier, no court in this country can justify restricting a Canadian citizen's right to vote. This is the new reality, and we must implement the necessary means to ensure that everything works as it should.

In my naivety, I thought this democratic progress would be heralded for what it says about the maturity of our country. However, I again forgot that I was living in one reality whereas the Conservatives were living in a world of Stalinist paranoia where having a passport is a betrayal.

Under the guise of harmonizing the procedure—creating one set of rules, according to the minister—the Conservatives are turning what they consider to be a reversal of legal fortune into a win. Not only are they not really giving the right to vote to Canadian citizens who live abroad for more than five years, but they are also taking it away from the other 2.8 million Canadians, with a few exceptions, such as people in diplomatic postings and members of the Canadian Armed Forces.

As my colleague from Toronto—Danforth wrote in an article published in the National Post on February 3:

In fact, Bill C-50 uses the court’s rights-expanding ruling as an excuse to actually undermine the voting rights of all Canadians abroad, regardless of how long they have resided outside of Canada. It does this by generating delays that could easily prevent voting in time for election day and that creates disincentives for voting by making it unreasonably difficult.

This is what Bill C-50 is proposing to do: Canadian citizens living abroad who want to exercise their right to vote during an election will have to prove two things. First, they will have to provide proof of citizenship, which goes without saying. Second, they will have to provide proof of address for the place where they last resided before leaving Canada.

To better understand all that, we can propose a hypothetical scenario. Suppose that in 2011, I decided not to stand as a candidate in the federal election, and I decided instead to live happily somewhere abroad. Had I done that, I would have remained the same citizen I was, with less contact with the political world than I have now, a normal citizen with concerns other than the legislative changes debated in the House of Commons. Furthermore, being abroad, I would work regularly to maintain my ties to Canada. I would make an effort to consult the Canadian media and keep abreast of what is happening.

Say I want to vote in the October 2015 election. I am sure that, if I have to go through a whole process to be able to vote, it is better to get started earlier rather than later, so I go online to see what that process involves. If I search for “voting from abroad, Canada”, the first hit takes me to a Government of Canada website. On that website, it says:

If you live abroad, you may apply to be added to the International Register of Electors and vote by special mail-in ballot in future federal elections at any time.

That is no longer true because of Bill C-50. It goes on to say:

To apply, complete an Application for registration and special ballot for Canadian citizens residing outside Canada, available online through Elections Canada, in person at any Canadian government office abroad, or by calling Elections Canada...

Send your completed application and copies of your supporting documents to Elections Canada in Ottawa. Once your completed application has been approved, your name will be added to the International Register of Electors. When a federal election, by-election or referendum is called, Elections Canada mails a special ballot voting kit to all eligible electors whose names appear in the International Register.

In order to remove inaccurate information from the register—according to the government, there are 40,000 non-Canadians on the list—voters who are living abroad are going to be asked to reconfirm their place of residence.

Canadians living abroad generally believe that they will be able to just pick a riding in which to vote, but in reality that is not how it works. Canadians who are living abroad and who have not lived in Canada for a number of years sometimes have difficulty obtaining tangible evidence that they lived at their last place of residence before moving abroad.

Seeing this measure in the bill gives me a feeling of déjà vu and reminds me of the discussions that we had about Bill C-23 last year. It is very simple. Under the guise of improving the accuracy of voter identification and combatting election fraud, the Conservatives are actually making the rules as complicated and as difficult to follow as possible. In a way, they are doing as much as they possibly can to interfere with Canadians' right to vote. As I said, it gives me a feeling of déjà vu and reminds me of Bill C-23.

I do not need to remind the House about all the bad provisions that were passed by the Conservative government in its reform of the Canada Elections Act in Bill C-23. There were so many measures aimed at simply lowering voter turnout, such as no longer allowing the voter information card or vouching as a means of identification, that we can no longer trust this government when it tells us that it is doing good things or that it wants to help Canadians; we know that the underlying philosophy of undermining Canadians' right to vote as much as possible is always there.

That is why I obviously cannot support Bill C-50. We will make a number of suggestions to amend and improve this bill. With Bill C-23, we barely had enough time to debate half of the amendments proposed by the NDP.

I hope that this time we will be allowed to carefully study this bill for real in the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs and that the government will be open to improving it as much as possible.

Citizen Voting ActGovernment Orders

May 1st, 2015 / 10:40 a.m.
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Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her great speech. It was a good summary and many of the aspects in her speech were well done, because these are the problems we are experiencing. I even had a slight chuckle over the Stalinist reference as well. However, I would like to talk about the issue of the bill coming into force.

We have an election coming very soon and we have heard from Elections Canada officials that they are not quite sure if they are going to be ready for this in addition to the Bill C-23 changes that took place.

Would the member like to comment on that ?

Citizen Voting ActGovernment Orders

May 1st, 2015 / 10:40 a.m.
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NDP

Alexandrine Latendresse NDP Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor for his question. He has been very involved with us on this issue and he spent a lot of time studying Bill C-23 with us. When we were studying the bill in the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, he proposed a number of amendments that ultimately could not be debated.

He asked an excellent question. We knew that was a problem with Bill C-23. The Chief Electoral Officer told us many times that these were massive changes.

There are the changes from Bill C-23, the changes to electoral boundaries, the addition of 30 new members to Parliament and some very complicated voting restrictions for millions of Canadians living abroad. In addition to all of that, Elections Canada is not receiving any kind of additional assistance to implement all these measures.

Indeed, the fact that the government is introducing bills to amend the Canada Elections Act less than six months before an election causes major logistical problems. I think we will notice an extreme drop in voter turnout as a result of these rules.

This is a serious issue that we need to look at. I hope that this will come up in committee and that we will be able to discuss it in depth.

Citizen Voting ActGovernment Orders

May 1st, 2015 / 10:45 a.m.
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NDP

Tarik Brahmi NDP Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened to my colleague from Louis-Saint-Laurent's speech. I would like to ask her two questions. I hope that she will have time to answer both of them.

First, can she share her thoughts on the fact that Canada has not recognized extraterritorial constituencies since 2008? Canada forbids other countries from conducting elections in embassies and consulates even though they are territories that are supposed to be independent.

Second, it looks like this bill would end up erasing the names of the voters currently on the international register of electors. Another register, an ad hoc register, would be created. Voters will have a relatively short period of time to get their names on the list of voters once the writ is dropped.

This is a double standard. Some Canadian citizens will have rights and will not have to re-register for every election because they live in Canada, but others, who live abroad, will have to re-register for the same list they have been on for years.