Madam Speaker, it is an honour to rise tonight to speak on the bill, which would provide that every ballot would include a category for voting for “none of the above” candidates. I would like to thank the hon. member for Davenport for his ongoing interest in electoral issues and for his many contributions in this area.
Today's discussion relates to the fundamental matter of how Canadians choose their representatives in government. The right to vote is of course a fundamental right in our system of parliamentary democracy. Indeed, few responsibilities of democratic citizenship are more important than the exercising of that right. Through the exercising of this responsibility, Canadians send members to parliament to sit in the House and choose a government.
The government has been very active in improving our electoral laws in recent years. These changes have in large part sought to facilitate Canadians in exercising their democratic responsibility to choose members of parliament.
In 1996 parliament passed Bill C-63, which created the National Register of Electors. Bill C-63 also changed the polling hours so that the polls would close at the same time in the western provinces as in Ontario and Quebec. In 1999 parliament debated and passed Bill C-2 ,which thoroughly overhauled and modernized the electoral law of our country. The bill updated the tax credits for individual political contributions and made it easier for people to run as candidates by making the candidate deposit fully refundable on the filing of financial statements. Earlier this year parliament passed Bill C-9, which made it much easier for parties to qualify to have their party names on the ballot.
Under the bill before us today every ballot printed by Elections Canada would include the line “none of the above”. It seems to me that this would be at odds with the very purpose of elections, that is, to send members of parliament to the House. My concern is that the bill could be seen by Canadians as saying that they should have the option of avoiding their democratic responsibilities.
Democracy is not easy. In fact, Sir Winston Churchill, as many or perhaps all members in the House would know, said, as we recall, that democracy is the worst system there is except for all the others. That is clear. In other words, it is not a perfect system. It is a difficult system. It requires citizens to take an interest in what is going on and make difficult choices sometimes, but that is what voting is all about and that is our responsibility. We do not get to choose the exact person and party we might ideally like to have as our candidate or as a government. We have to choose among the alternatives. We choose among people who are doing the best they can as individual human beings and that is what democracy is all about.
The bill could also lead to cynicism about democracy and about our parliamentary institutions. I would like to point out to the hon. member for Davenport that Canadians already have ways to avoid participation in choosing their government and representatives. Canadians can avoid participating in the electoral process by spoiling their ballots. In every election Elections Canada records the number of voters in each riding who choose to spoil their ballots, so there is in fact a record kept of those people. Canadians can also simply choose to stay at home on election day, as we all know. This is unlike the situation in many countries around the world, such as Australia, where all citizens are required by law to vote. The bill, then, would present a third route of non-participation.
The bill is also unnecessary because our system ensures that Canadians have many alternatives from which to choose in elections. As we know, there are five political parties currently represented in the House and in the last election there were 11 political parties with candidates on the ballot. In total, 1,808 candidates ran for office across this great country.
These candidates and parties spanned the ideological spectrum and took different views on all kinds of issues. Advocates of the right to vote for none of the above may suggest that it is a way to give people an outlet where they are starved for choice, but we Canadians are not starved for choice as we are given a wide range of visions of the future at election time.
In any event, it is now even easier for parties to be recognized so that they can get their names on the ballot during an election campaign. There was a time when a party had to have 50 candidates to have its name on the ballot. Now, thanks to the changes introduced earlier this year in Bill C-9, that number is 12. To get official recognition as a party and to have its name on the ballot, a party needs only 12 candidates across the country. As a result, we can expect that in future elections Canadians will have even more choice on their ballots. I also point out that the proposal would be inconsistent with our own traditions and I am not aware of any other country providing this option in national elections.
I note that last year the people of California considered a measure similar to the one presented in this bill and in a referendum 64% of them voted against including a category of none of the above on ballots in that state. I am not suggesting that what the people in California do should determine what we should do here, but it is interesting that California, which is often considered to be avant-garde in many ways, was not supportive of this measure.
In conclusion, I believe that our current system encourages Canadians to exercise the right to vote and provides a range of possibilities for doing so. The option of adding a new category to our election ballots seems to me unnecessary, potentially harmful to our parliamentary institutions, not in keeping with our electoral traditions and not shared by other major countries for national elections.
I applaud the hon. member for his commitment and efforts at pursuing electoral reform, although in this case I feel that there may be alternatives that would be more in keeping with our traditions and practices.