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Evidence of meeting #60 for Procedure and House Affairs in the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was election.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

David Anderson  Senior Policy Advisor, Legislation and House Planning, Privy Council Office
Marc Chénier  Counsel, Legislation and House Planning, Privy Council Office

11:35 a.m.

Bloc

Michel Guimond Bloc Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, QC

But you are here now. You are a government House leader and minister responsible for democratic reform. Can you undertake before this committee that, when the new session begins in the fall, you will amend the fixed-date elections bill and change next election's date to Sunday, October 18, 2009? You are the person now in a position to do that.

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

My intention would be to continue with the bill as we have it, creating the additional opportunities it does on a Sunday and to maintain the traditional federal election voting day on a Monday.

11:35 a.m.

Bloc

Michel Guimond Bloc Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, QC

I will once again make a suggestion that would once again increase the voter turnout in general, but thereby also increase advanced polling rates. Can you undertake to give Elections Canada the budget it needs to increase the number of advanced polling stations? In the city, for example for Ms. Robillard in the riding of Westmount-Ville-Marie, the polling station is on a street corner. In my riding—and Mr. Hill could well have said the same—a rural area, there are not enough advanced polling stations. Voters have to travel 70 km to cast a ballot early. So obviously, he'll go on the official voting day because he can cast a ballot on his street corner, but on that day if there's some impediment, like those the minister mentioned, like driving his kids to hockey, having some problem during the day, or having an argument with his boss, he'll forget to vote. I would therefore like to make a suggestion. Give Elections Canada the funding it needs to set up more advanced polling stations and reduce the distance people have to travel to vote. After all, Canada is not just Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary and Montreal. There are a great many rural ridings that are large, where people have to travel long distances to vote.

I'm in great shape today.

June 19th, 2007 / 11:40 a.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

A twofold response. First, I think most of us know that within the parameters that currently exist, most returning officers are, in their ridings, expanding the number of advance poll opportunities for the next election. Bill C-31 will give them further ambit to do that.

Now, here, of course, in our proposal under Bill C-55, the Sunday before election day, every polling station that would be open on election day will also be open on an advance polling day, which is the Sunday. So you will have significantly expanded opportunities exactly in the direction you're seeking.

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Gary Goodyear

Thank you.

Mr. Dewar, please. You have seven minutes.

11:40 a.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Thank you.

I want to thank our panel and of course the minister for being here today.

I have just a quick question to start things off. Where did this bill come from? Was this your idea, or was it a bill that came forward somewhere else?

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

Well, I introduced it. There was obviously work that was done among some of the folks in the democratic reform secretariat.

11:40 a.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

So it came from them or from you?

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

I think it would be more on the political side that the initiative occurred.

11:40 a.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

I ask you that because there are a number of bills that came forward. In fact, we had, and I recall well, the democratic reform week, and this was part of it. I believe it was on the Wednesday of that particular week that this one was announced.

I'm just trying to get a picture of where the government is going in terms of democratic reform. I say that because there are a number of pieces out there on democratic reform. I certainly am trying to figure out what this government's vision is, because it seems to me, and I might be wrong on this—I'm sure you'll suggest that I am—that we're kind of just throwing things out there, and Bill C-56 is an example of that, without really understanding where we're going.

I say that. We're in committee. We're just trying to probe here. We don't have an overall picture. I know the philosophy of the government is trying to get things done, and we'll do a little piece at a time. So fixed-date elections we supported; the loophole funding we supported. Those were initiatives we had claimed as a party. But when you look at this bill, at Bill C-56, and at the Senate bills, which seem to be contradicting each other, the fixed terms and then electing senators, and then not acknowledging that we have to go back to the Quebec Conference of 1865 and take a look at what the debate was, even with true Grits, not the kind like those here but the reformers of the time—Brown, etc.—there was a very definite idea, historically speaking, of the role of the Senate. I'm really concerned that we're on a collision course, not consciously, not intentionally, of course, where we're going to end up with a real mess by way of not having an understanding or vision.

I say that because this bill—and you've somewhat confirmed it for me—was brought up because we needed to be doing something on democratic reform, because there were some concerns about getting some of these bills through.

The bill in the Senate obviously isn't going well. The bill extending the distribution of seats after a census has obviously been pulled—and I can ask you a question about that after.

So we're trying to get these little pieces done to be seen to be doing things. I can say that.

So I'm pleading with you to do more than tell us about studies. I know some of these studies. I know some of these people. They weren't addressing this as being a direct expansion of voter opportunities, as you put it.

When you took social science I'm sure you dealt with statistics. This isn't a dependent variable here that would automatically provide....

Well, this will be my question to you. Do you believe that this expansion of voter opportunity will directly result in higher voter turnout?

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

First, I'll go to the big theme. The big theme is a pretty simple one, and it runs across our Senate reform, our election finance reform, and bills like this, and that is strengthening democracy. We want to see our democracy strengthened. Reversing voter turnout declines is part of that.

I believe it will increase voter turnout. If you ask me, will it reverse the decline in voter turnout, my answer would be a little bit different, in the sense that while there will be an initial bump, this goes again to work like my personal favourite, which is Putnam's work on declining community involvement, which shows that there has been in the post-war era, particularly since about 1950, a decline in community involvement of every type. That includes membership in political parties, participation in political parties, voting, and attending political events, as one of those groups, but it also includes involvement in civic organizations, running hockey leagues, and so on. It has been a consistent trend.

But the other thing Putnam identifies, and you can find it in some of this other work, is that this decline has not been one where somebody who used to be involved isn't anymore; it's a decline in successive age cohorts. If you were voting, if you were involved in Kinsmen when you were in your twenties and you're now in your sixties, you're probably still voting and you're probably still involved.

You can see that here in the Pammett and LeDuc study of 2003, where they look at voting and not voting in 2000 by age cohort.

Of those who were over 68—

11:45 a.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

I don't mean to interrupt. I have a certain amount of time.

I'm hearing from you that you're not going to put your reputation on the line to say that this bill will directly lead to higher rates of voter participation. It's maybe one of the things—

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

I believe it will result in higher voter participation, but after it goes back up, we have this broader problem of generational cohorts going through.

I'll just give you three cohorts as an example. If you were 68 or over, there was 83% participation rate. If you were 38 to 47, that dropped to 66%. If you were 18 to 20, it was 22%. I can go through each cohort; it's successively lower. It's the same thing Putnam's work finds for every kind of community involvement, and he puts it down—

11:45 a.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

But when was his study?

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

Putnam's work or this one?

This one is 2003. Putnam's is not primary work. It brings together a multitude of other works and synthesizes and analyzes that information.

11:45 a.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

When was it?

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

About 10 years ago.

11:45 a.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Yes, I know, and that's why I'm concerned. I'll get to another document later, where your reference is.

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

What we find from that, and I think it's the most significant part of it, is that he puts it down to the atomizing nature of television. That's why the cohorts after 1950 and subsequently are more and more involved. In 1950, if you wanted a sporting event, you'd go out and watch a baseball game at the local ballpark. Now you turn on the TV. If you wanted what was going on politically, you'd go out to a local meeting, you'd get to know your neighbours, you'd get more involved.

11:45 a.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

I know, sir. That's insightful prose. You're talking about a study from 10 years ago. It wasn't directly connected to voter participation or an extra day of voting. You're talking about participation in civic society. With respect, this is a great discussion we can have in a salon sometime, but I'm talking about a direct connection between this bill in front of us and what we're hearing the government say it will lead to.

I'll tell you something. I'm looking at a document that I'd like to get back to in a minute—maybe in my second round—that you have right now out there in our communities. It's on consultation, with the Frontier Institute. It talks about this, about volunteer and civic organizations, and it's actually—I'm reading verbatim what you said in your comments:

Paralleling a decline in trust and newspaper reading is a decline in participation in a wide array of voluntary and civic groups.

Now, this is supposedly your consultation on democratic reform. This is what you're putting forward in terms of this bill. I guess my question to you is—

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Gary Goodyear

I'm sorry, Mr. Dewar, I let you go way over there because I thought you were going to wrap it up.

11:45 a.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

I'll get to it on the second round.

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Gary Goodyear

We'll give you that opportunity on the second round.

Colleagues, we're into our second round now, five-minute questions.

Monsieur Bélanger, you are up for five minutes.

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Liberal Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Minister, I will go back to one of the aspects my colleague Ms. Robillard mentioned. I'm talking about the studies and research on which this bill is based. If she understood correctly—and I understood the same thing—the government and the Secretariat have done no specific research to prepare this bill.

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

We're relying on a couple of studies. One of them was—