Madam Speaker, I will delve immediately into the relevant part of my remarks. I was milliseconds away from doing so before I was pre-empted.
Having said that, I have a great deal of respect for the hon. member for Davenport and the valuable work he has done for many years both in the Chamber and in his previous incarnation in the provincial legislature. However I regret to inform him and the House that I am not able to support the bill before us.
The bill is quite accurately described as a none of the above addition to ballots in the Canadian electoral process. It would for all intents and purposes entrench into our system a non-choice. It would codify much of the cynicism of our current system by allowing individuals to go into a ballot booth and check off none of the above. As has been referred to by previous speakers, Canadians already have that ability. They can write it on their ballot. They can spoil their ballot.
What additional exercise of democracy would result from Bill C-319? Ballots must contain the names of candidates arranged alphabetically. The information is calculated from nominating papers. Having a choice on the ballot of declining to vote for any candidate would essentially encourage people not to participate. It would be an act of apathy.
As in regular voting, the names of individuals who wish to vote in this manner would not be disclosed so the statistic would be of little use. Bill C-319 would allow us to calculate the number of people who come out to vote to say they do not want to vote. I do not know what this would give us in terms of information or instruction.
Voting by special ballot allows electors to vote in writing in the designated area on a ballot. Voters may fill in the name of the candidate of their choice. They might spoil the ballot as a protest to signify they are not pleased with the candidates or as an expression of dismay at the overall system. Bill C-319 is not necessary. It would create a more complicated ballot and encourage complacency.
In discussing the bill with other members I thought of an anomaly. What if the none of the above choice won? What if the none of the above candidate received the most support? This would presumably necessitate a byelection or some form of recount that would add cost and cumbersome recounts to a system that is in some ways already too convoluted.
We should be encouraging Canadian citizens to participate. I know the hon. member for Davenport shares that view. Perhaps the intent behind his private member's bill is to somehow generate discussion and debate on the issue.
Bringing more people into the democratic process to exercise their democratic right to vote is a good thing and something we all want to embrace. However encouraging them to come out and signify on a ballot that they do not want to vote is a bit of an oxymoron.
The 2000 federal election saw the lowest voter turnout in 100 years. Perhaps this is some indication of the crisis. We can fairly deem it to be a crisis when such low turnout occurs that it directly impacts on Canadians. I am not in any way attaching motives to the hon. member in tabling his bill, but bolstering statistics by showing that individuals came out and voted even if they did not support any of the candidates would be somewhat misleading and counterproductive.
The old saying is that if we do not vote we do not have a right to complain. I do not completely ascribe to that. However younger people must be instilled with the importance of participating in the democratic process.
They must be encouraged to come out and make an informed decision. It is a cop out to say that one can go into a ballot box and simply not make a decision by checking the none of the above option.
I have listened to the remarks and I have done a little background work on the bill before us. Whatever is directly behind the initiative, I simply do not see that it would strengthen our process in any way. Lengthening the ballot which forces electoral officers to generate more activity and more effort to calculate statistics that really indicate nothing is counterproductive to the process. It would increase costs and confusion and give this outlet to individuals who simply are choosing not to participate.
I do not feel this is necessary as a public expression of disinterest because there are other ways to do so. Simply to stay home is sadly the option that most Canadians chose to exercise in the last general election.
Although I would not promote the right for Canadians to simply abstain from voting in an election, such action would be preferable to complicating this ballot with the choice of none of the above or declining any preference for the candidate.
I regret to say that I cannot support this proposal, but I thank the hon. member for Davenport for bringing the matter forward. Airing the issue in a public way is always a positive initiative. I simply would state that I wish the government would share his enthusiasm and honesty for debate, public commentary and discourse in the Chamber. It is very much a useful exercise to embark on the discussion of a process such as this one.
Regrettably I will not be supporting the motion, but I thank the hon. member again for bringing forward Bill C-319.