Evidence of meeting #82 for Procedure and House Affairs in the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was abroad.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Jean-Pierre Kingsley  Former Chief Electoral Officer, As an Individual

11 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Joe Preston

We will proceed. We're here at our 82nd meeting of the procedure and House affairs committee, pursuant to an order of reference of Monday, May 4, on Bill C-50. We have with us today—I won't say an “old” friend—a long-time friend.

Mr. Kingsley, it's great to have you back. We've always enjoyed it when you've visited our committee, and we think we'll enjoy it today.

If you have an opening statement, please go ahead. I know the members will be happy to ask you some very hard questions.

11 a.m.

Jean-Pierre Kingsley Former Chief Electoral Officer, As an Individual

Mr. Chair, honourable members, it's a privilege to appear before the committee once again. Thank you.

I believe that I understand the objectives set out in the bill, in light of the court's decision in Frank. I have read the presentation of the Chief Electoral Officer and reviewed members' input, all of which I appreciate.

Consequently, I would like to propose alternatives aimed at achieving the same ends as the bill, all the while unburdening the process in light of the right of Canadians to vote.

The first one would be that a further advantage of the fixed election date would allow the start of the registration process 30 days before the issuance of the writs, therefore allowing reasonable time to process the required documentation and to overcome difficulties, if there are any. In the case of a minority government, the Chief Electoral Officer could initiate the process, and if no election is called within three or four months, let's say, it would have to start again. Registrants would be advised that this had happened.

Second, under Bill C-50, the passport would now be required, as has been the practice until now. That's how people got on the list, essentially. It will serve automatically as proof of ID, as it has your picture and your name. For proof of a last address in Canada, should it coincide with the data in the register of electors, no other proof would have to be required.

Driver's licence data, I remind you, is provided every two or three months for updates to the register, thus making it essentially the same information, and we're asking people to provide proof of a driver's licence amongst one of the documents. If you're already on the register at the address that you're claiming to be your last address, that would be it. If the address differs, the alternatives in the bill will then prevail. You must provide proof of address, as the bill requires. I noted that the register will be purged of non-Canadians, and I think this helps the acceptance of the measure that I've just mentioned.

With respect to the third proposal, the list of those electors would be kept for the subsequent election and not incorporated in the register. Canadians still living abroad would need to reapply, which is what the bill asks for, and would be verified against this list. It would be used by the CEO for registry quality control purposes as well, something that we all aspire to.

I wanted to make a comment as well with respect to military personnel. It's important to remember that they may change their address in Canada annually. That's their right. Spouses and elector dependants do not have that right. Military personnel will receive their voting package automatically. Spouses and dependants will not. They have to reapply one way or the other.

There's a fifth point that I wish to make with respect to proofs of ID and address. A further measure would be to recognize the VIC as proof of address. Another proof of ID would still be required.

I will add as well, as a personal comment, that it is completely incongruent to me that the Canada Elections Act, which is a federal statute, does not recognize the VIC as proof of both when it is the only federally issued document that contains both. A federal law says that you must have these two things, but no federal agency except the Chief Electoral Officer has it, and Parliament says to the Chief Electoral Officer, “You can't use that.”

By the way, my comments are for both proofs, but my recommendation is that it be used as proof of address at this stage, in order to make the recommendation somewhat acceptable. Any resulting confusion with the new terminology on acceptable documents—and I saw the debate on this—should in my view result in a provisional ballot, to be resolved before the official results are announced. We have seven days after polling day for official results.

If a deputy returning officer is not satisfied that the proof of ID or address that's been provided to him is acceptable, he could not reject that elector if the elector said, “I want you to provisionally put that aside and check with the Chief Electoral Officer.” There would not be that many, and therefore, they could be easily controlled after the event.

That also raises, though, the interesting phenomenon of electors not having sufficient ID and proof of address, if we introduce the concept of provisional ballots; and that is that they could vote provisionally, go home and bring the proof that is missing, not having understood what was required when they went to the polls initially and therefore adding to the substitute for vouching, which was introduced in Bill C-23, I think.

Mr. Chairman, those are the comments I had to make with respect to what I considered to be concrete proposals on how to build upon the objectives of the proposed statute and at the same time facilitate this for Canadian electors, and not change the basic tenet, which is that electors living abroad must exercise initiative to get on the list to be approved for that election, and they then must vote. All of that requires initiative beyond what is required here.

Thank you.

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Joe Preston

Thank you very much, Mr. Kingsley.

We will go to the seven-minute round. Mr. Lukiwski, you'll start it off.

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Thank you, Chair, and thank you very much, Mr. Kingsley, for being here again.

I have a couple of housekeeping questions. First, sir, remind us, if you will, for how many federal elections have you been Chief Electoral Officer.

11:05 a.m.

Former Chief Electoral Officer, As an Individual

Jean-Pierre Kingsley

I forget, I think it was five, sir, and one federal referendum. I'm the only living Chief Electoral Officer who's run a federal referendum.

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

That's correct.

11:05 a.m.

Former Chief Electoral Officer, As an Individual

Jean-Pierre Kingsley

The other one was 1898—oh, and 1942, I think.

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

No comment on age coming from me.

Some of the main criticisms of Bill C-50, at least some of the ones we've heard in committee, have been from those who suggest that the requirements for producing identification for non-residents is too onerous. You mentioned that in your opening remarks, so I'd like to get a bit of an expansion on that. Do you think it is overly taxing on non-residents to have to produce identification that actually proves that they're a citizen of this country? If so, then why would they be treated any differently from Canadians who reside in Canada who have to produce certain forms of identification?

11:05 a.m.

Former Chief Electoral Officer, As an Individual

Jean-Pierre Kingsley

The form of ID is not a concern. They've already produced their passport, so that's not the issue. It's proof of address that becomes the issue, and on the proof of address, as I've said, the only federal document is the VIC and I'm proposing that it be accepted for that purpose for subsequent.... I tried to put myself in the head and physical presence of someone who's abroad, a Canadian living abroad, and I was one of those when I was in Washington for a few years. You don't carry your driver's licence any more. You junked that because you knew you would be gone beyond the two or three years that it had been extended. You don't carry bills that have a Canadian address on them, because you're getting your bills in Washington, D.C., or wherever you are.

I'll answer your question a little more thoroughly. That's why I view that as being too onerous in terms of the right of Canadians to vote. That's why I'm proposing the add-on that if you're already on the register, you're looking for the last address. This is what the minister is looking for. “Stop shopping,” he says, “Go for the last address.” Well, we have that on the register of electors. That is most probably your last address and if that coincides, take it. You have the proof you wanted. You wanted proof. A person has to exercise initiative. He was not thrown on the list against his will. He was not sent something without having asked for it, and that's why I think the process needs to be unburdened with what I've said. If the two don't match, then you go into other proofs.

When I was thinking of my remarks, I was thinking that maybe the electors should authorize the Chief Electoral Officer to have access to income tax data for address verification—not for anything else—to facilitate the process. I did not want to go that far in these remarks, but I think it would be another way, because that is something that's in a federal file as well. It's a little unnerving to see this requirement for an address not being met by any federally issued document. I think a constitutional challenge would succeed on that, despite the court case that exists, because vouching has been eliminated as the fall-back.

That's my view.

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

I appreciate that.

I know that over the past number of elections evidence has come forward that there have actually been non-eligible voters included in the National Register of Electors. I think in the 2006 election evidence came forward that there were over 40,000 people, due to administrative errors, who were actually placed on the National Register of Electors who weren't actually eligible to be on that registry.

What safeguards do you think are required to try to ensure compliance, not just with residents in Canada but more specifically with Bill C-50 with non-residents?

11:10 a.m.

Former Chief Electoral Officer, As an Individual

Jean-Pierre Kingsley

Bill C-50 does it by having the Chief Electoral Officer gain access to information with the ministries of Employment and Immigration so that he can access the names of non-citizens.

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Monsieur Mayrand was quite laudatory in his comments about that provision contained in Bill C-50. I assume you agree with that and that you think that's a positive move.

11:10 a.m.

Former Chief Electoral Officer, As an Individual

Jean-Pierre Kingsley

Yes, it is. I don't view that as an intrusion in the private lives of people when they're seeking.... I will remind the committee, though, of something that was instituted because of concerns that were brought to this committee when I was Chief Electoral Officer. In every polling station that you go into there's a big sign that says you must be a Canadian citizen, you must be 18 years of age or over. It's a big sign just as you walk in. This committee asked me to put that requirement into place, and I did that, and to this day that prevails. So there may have been 40,000 names, and I think that is the statistic, but that doesn't mean that they voted.

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

I would like to get your personal comments on something I've always wondered about. Do you think there should be any cap on the number of years a non-resident has lived in Canada before they are ineligible to vote in a federal election? I don't know this to be true, but I believe if we checked every single non-resident who has cast ballots in Canadian elections, we may find some who have lived abroad for a decade or two, and perhaps even those who have no intention of ever coming back to live in Canada. What are your comments on the length of time a non-resident is eligible to vote in a Canadian election?

11:10 a.m.

Former Chief Electoral Officer, As an Individual

Jean-Pierre Kingsley

I produced a report to you, to Parliament, saying that the five-year ceiling should be lifted entirely. I also swore an affidavit to that effect in the case that went before the courts, where the courts upheld that at this stage. It's under appeal. Leave was not granted to withhold the judgment at this stage, and I maintain that is the thing.

The reason that I do that is very simple. To keep abreast of what's going on anywhere in the world now, anywhere there's an advanced democracy like Canada, you just need to go on the web. You get all the media that produce stuff, you get all the political parties that produce stuff, and you still rely on the initiative of that Canadian to be so interested as to make a request. That's why we only have, on average, 8,000 or 9,000 Canadians who are abroad now, with the five-year limit, who actually vote in federal elections.

I heard the minister say there are 1.4 million other Canadians out there. There may well be. I would expect that we will get 2,000 or 3,000, maximum—if that number—who will care enough. The constitutional right to vote doesn't say anything about the timeframe, and you still have to exercise initiative. You still must be aware that this is going on. You still must apply to have it done. You will have to provide proof of who you are as a Canadian and have proof of address as well, hopefully with the changes I've proposed. That's why I felt there's no issue here with removing the barrier. This committee, or one of its emanations actually said the same thing at a moment in time.

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Joe Preston

Thank you.

Madame Latendresse, go ahead for seven minutes, if you would, please.

11:15 a.m.

NDP

Alexandrine Latendresse NDP Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Mr. Kingsley, thank you kindly for joining us today.

I'd like to follow up on something you said to make sure I understand you correctly. You said you weren't in favour of doing away with the International Register of Electors.

11:15 a.m.

Former Chief Electoral Officer, As an Individual

Jean-Pierre Kingsley

What I said was that a separate list should be prepared for voters abroad in order to meet the department's objectives, given that that seemed to be a concern.

I figured there was no point in objecting to it, even though I couldn't see what the purpose of it was. Let's put together a list and use it so that people can re-register the next time. The list also helps the chief electoral officer verify the quality of the information on the register. If the same name appears for a given address, the chief electoral officer can check exactly who the person is. Are there two people or just one by the name of Jean-Pierre Kingsley? Do you know what I mean?

11:15 a.m.

NDP

Alexandrine Latendresse NDP Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Yes, I do.

11:15 a.m.

Former Chief Electoral Officer, As an Individual

Jean-Pierre Kingsley

Those would be the two objectives I see for that separate list.

11:15 a.m.

NDP

Alexandrine Latendresse NDP Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

How would that differ from the current International Register of Electors?

11:15 a.m.

Former Chief Electoral Officer, As an Individual

Jean-Pierre Kingsley

Certainly, the terminology is different.

Once a person's name is removed from the list, that person has to go through the whole process to re-register all over again, instead of having their name stay on the list.

I support the idea of having to re-register as a way to control the ballot issued by Elections Canada, which goes to an existing address or a Canadian voter who is still in the country but living at a different address. That person's ballot doesn't just disappear into thin air. That's what worried me, and that's why I think that having to re-register isn't a bad idea. If the person intends to vote, they will show up. They will stay informed, because they have already done so.

That way, instead of the ballot going out automatically, it would go out only after the person had re-registered.

May 12th, 2015 / 11:15 a.m.

NDP

Alexandrine Latendresse NDP Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Still, I can see the benefit of doing that. In fact, it ties into what Mr. Mayrand told the committee when he was here. He said the biggest problem was that people would have to re-register every time the writ was issued. The person would have to provide proof of their address every time. I like your solution of not making the person provide proof of address again if it is still the same. The view taken would simply be that if the person had lived at an address in Canada for 20 years, the same address would still be applied. I think that approach could certainly fix the problem.

There something we haven't talked about yet, and I'd like to hear your thoughts on it. You said you had heard Mr. Mayrand's remarks to the committee, so you'll know what I'm referring to. Under the new rules, pieces of identification to prove an elector's identity and address must be issued by an entity incorporated or formed by or under an Act of Parliament or a provincial legislature or that is otherwise formed in Canada.

Mr. Mayrand told the committee that the rule was extremely vague and could prove problematic because it also changes the rules for all voters in Canada. In fact, problems could arise when it wasn't possible to ascertain whether a document was issued by an entity formed in Canada or otherwise. It's very vague.

Where do you stand on that? Do you think it should be changed?

11:15 a.m.

Former Chief Electoral Officer, As an Individual

Jean-Pierre Kingsley

Personally, I'm not familiar with that. But my sense is that the minister will likely want to review the definition to make it clearer.

What's more, I was interested in the fact that certain pieces of identification used to prove an elector's identity and address could be problematic. That's why, in my remarks, I suggested allowing the person to vote, setting that person's ballot aside and, the day after the election, verifying whether it was acceptable or not. If it was, the person's ballot would be accepted and counted.

When a Canadian goes to the trouble of voting, that person's right to vote shouldn't be easily denied. I know everyone won't agree, but I also suggested that a person who is missing a piece of identification be allowed to vote. That ballot would then be set aside, considered a provisional ballot, and the person would have up to two to three days after the election to provide the appropriate documentation. At that point, the person's ballot would be accepted.

I believe that, in Opitz, the Supreme Court of Canada found that errors committed during an election don't carry enough weight to reject a ballot when they are being counted, thus introducing the concept of reconstructing the election after the fact. I found that quite fascinating. I'm not sure that was the intent, but it is a consideration. I think that provisional balloting will one day be recognized in Canada because of that ruling.

11:15 a.m.

NDP

Alexandrine Latendresse NDP Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Thank you, Mr. Kingsley. That was very interesting.

How much time do I have left, Mr. Chair?