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House of Commons Hansard #79 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was cmhc.

Topics

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, Question No. 95 will be answered today.

Question No. 95Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

With regard to the $5 million funding cuts to Status of Women Canada, SWC, over the next two years, announced in September 2006: (a) from specifically where within SWC does the government plan on cutting this funding; (b) when will these cuts take place; and (c) will the government provide a detailed timeline for these cuts?

Question No. 95Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

Durham Ontario

Conservative

Bev Oda ConservativeMinister of Canadian Heritage and Status of Women

Mr. Speaker, in response to (a), Status of Women Canada will be implementing the $5 million in savings from expenditure review through streamlining and finding efficiencies within its operational budget. In response to (b), the savings will be effective as of April 1, 2007. In response to (c), see the response to (b).

Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Furthermore, Mr. Speaker, if Question No. 93 could be made an order for return, this return would be tabled immediately.

Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

Is that agreed?

Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Question No. 93Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

NDP

Alexa McDonough NDP Halifax, NS

With respect to the current and future status of Canada’s missions abroad: (a) how many embassies, high commissions, consulates and permanent missions does Canada currently have worldwide, by country, and what is the current staffing level at each of these missions; (b) how many and in what countries and cities are embassies, high commissions, consulates and permanent missions scheduled for expansion during the period 2006 – 2010; (c) how many and in what countries and cities are new embassies, high commissions, consulates and permanent missions scheduled for opening during the period 2006 – 2010; (d) with respect to the announcement of consolidation of foreign missions as part of the program spending cuts identified on September 25, 2006, which embassies, high commissions, consulates and permanent missions, by country and city, are targeted for closure or for reduction of staffing levels and what is the total number of personnel cuts in each of the affected missions; and (e) at the conclusion of these consolidations, what will the overseas/Canada staffing ratio be at Foreign Affairs Canada?

(Return tabled)

Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all remaining questions be allowed to stand.

Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

Is that agreed?

Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Motions for PapersRoutine Proceedings

November 8th, 2006 / 3:35 p.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all notices of motions for the production of papers be allowed to stand.

Motions for PapersRoutine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

Is that agreed?

Motions for PapersRoutine Proceedings

3:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed from November 7 consideration of the motion that Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Public Service Employment Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, there have been discussions and I believe that if you seek it you would find unanimous consent to split my time with the member for Ottawa Centre.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

Is that agreed?

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, we heard the discussion yesterday by other parties that spoke to Bill C-31, the voter integrity bill, and now the NDP is here to put forward its issues and concerns about the bill.

I want to say at the outset that the member for Acadie—Bathurst, who is a member of the procedure and House affairs committee, was a member of the committee when the report was done, a report that was based on the bill before us. However, I should make it clear that the bill only deals with a few of the matters that came from the report. I was at committee when the Chief Electoral Officer, Mr. Kingsley, responded to the issues in the report.

The bill deals with a voter identification system based on the premise that fraud and serial voting take place and therefore we need a voter identification system in our national registry and in our voting system.

The NDP is very supportive of the need to take measures to ensure fraud does not take place within the voting system. It is very important that we protect the integrity of the system. We are talking about a time honoured, democratic process where eligible voters have a proper place to vote and we have integrity in our system. From that point of view, we support the need to review the system and ensure measures are in place to lower the risk of fraud. I am sure it cannot be eliminated 100%, but measures should be in place to offer that protection.

What is being offered as the main solution to this problem is a voter identification system. In looking at the bill and knowing where this came from at committee, we want to express some of our concerns about what may be the unintended consequences of the ID system on voters. In particular, we are concerned about how this would impact low income people, people who live in small remote communities and aboriginal people who do not have the necessary ID outlined in the bill.

I represent the riding of Vancouver East where, in one community, the downtown east side, regrettably and unfortunately, many people do not have IDs through no fault of their own. These people are often homeless and often transient and they have difficulty getting government ID. They certainly do not have photo ID.

One of the problems with the bill is that it would require one piece of photo ID from any level of government or two pieces of ID that are authorized by the Chief Electoral Officer. A further provision in the bill says that an elector who is not registered can take a statutory oath if he or she is accompanied by an elector with ID whose name appears on the list of electors for the same polling division.

On the surface this may sound like a reasonable measure in that it would allow people with no ID to have some mechanism to vote. However, I have looked at this carefully and have talked to lawyers in my community who have been involved in providing assistance around statutory declarations for voters with no ID, and they are very concerned, as I am, about what this provision will mean.

At present, it is acceptable for a voter to make a statutory declaration along with a person in the community who can identify the voter. In the downtown east side, it has often been a street worker, someone who knows many of the people in the community, who vouches for the individual. Under the new bill this would no longer be allowed.

We are very concerned that this provision may have a very negative consequence and may disenfranchise potentially thousands and thousands of people who will now, through no fault of their own, not be able to vote.

We are prepared to see this bill go to committee. The government has said that it is willing to look at amendments that would correct this to ensure that by dealing with voter fraud, we are not at the same time unintentionally disenfranchising people who have a right to vote, who want to vote and who are voting legitimately, but would be precluded from doing so by these new provisions.

When the bill goes to committee, it is our intention to see substantive improvements and changes made to this bill to address what are very fundamental democratic issues. One of the provisions in the bill is that a person vouching for another can only do it for one person. This would set up a very complicated system where people who are not registered and who do not have ID would be running around trying to find somebody else who is registered, is on the list and does have the proper ID, and then getting that one person to vouch for one person. It would create a very complex situation and could mean that a lot of people would not get to vote.

It may also impact more middle class voters who go to the polls thinking that because they are registered they are okay. They have the voter cards and some ID, only to find that when they get there they do not have the proper ID. We may actually be frustrating those people.

I would also point out that this has been an issue in the U.S. elections and in fact there have been some court challenges. A similar provision was struck down in Georgia and there is currently a challenge going on in Ohio. In the United States, there is no centralized voter registration or election apparatus. It is contingent upon each state, and varies from each state, but a similar provision has been used in the U.S. and it actually has caused immense problems in the current elections that were just held yesterday. Challenges are underway and some of the provisions in some states have already been struck down. We should learn from this.

In terms of the principle of dealing with fraud, we support that but we do want to ensure we are not setting up a system that creates a two tier system where it becomes increasingly difficult for marginalized, low income people to actually exercise their franchise, which would be a travesty.

I do not think that is what anyone intended in this bill, at least I hope not. However, it will be up to us in committee to hear from experts, especially the lawyers who are very familiar, as are those in my community, with the statutory declaration process. They will be able to offer some insight into how this process works and may be able to tell us what we need to not only protect the system but protect people's right to vote.

With those kinds of concerns and reservations that we have, we are prepared to see this bill go to committee where I hope we can sit down and work on some amendments to make sure people who legitimately have the right to vote are not disenfranchised.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have to admit that I gave a tiny shudder when the reference was made to the American parallel simply because, although things are far better and have been for a number of decades in the United States, there was a time when electoral laws in some states were designed for the purpose of selectively disenfranchising certain people. I always worry that someone will misunderstand.

I want to make it clear that the model that was used in designing the ID requirement was based on a precedent that is Canadian. It is the electoral law in Quebec and modifications were made to that law in 1999. In saying that, I think my hon. colleague who just spoke would agree that the logical thing to do in committee is to seek out information as to how well this has worked out in Quebec. My understanding is that it has been a positive experience in Quebec, but obviously we could summon, as witnesses, electoral officials from that province and enquire about problems that have occurred, and also advocates for the homeless. Obviously there are homelessness issues in some Quebec cities as well as there are in Vancouver and elsewhere. We could probably deal in a businesslike manner with that problem.

One thought that I do have as well is that the fundamental problem, when it comes to homeless people voting, is in addition to the issue of identification, and that is the fact that one's identity is normally linked in the electoral rolls to an address. It seems to me that there is a general need anyway for us to work on those whose addresses have recently changed. Young people going off to school tend to fall into this category, as do homeless people, obviously.

I think a good case can be made for enhanced enumerations shortly before an election in areas where there are high levels of homelessness. This is obviously easier with fixed date elections.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the member's comments and I will respond to them as quickly as I can.

In actual fact, my information is that the new language in the bill would bring our system federally in line with what we have in B.C. as well. Actually, under the B.C. system there are problems in terms of people without identification who vote. We can look at the Quebec system, but I know it is a problem. What we can do federally now cannot be done provincially in B.C. in terms of homeless people who are not on the list being able to vote if they do not have ID. That is something to pay attention to.

In terms of the address, I am not sure that it is so much of a problem. A change took place, I believe in the 2000 election, such that homeless persons actually could state that their address was the shelter where they resided. But the issue we are dealing with here is the actual ID that is required. The homeless may have an address that is a shelter or they may say it is located in a particular area. I am not sure that is so much the problem. It is not having the ID or a photograph ID that is the problem.

I think there is an important issue about enumeration. If we had what we used to have, which was a full enumeration, we would not have this problem. I remember the days when enumerators went door to door and registered voters at the door. It was a very fine system. Now it is completely gone. I wish we could bring that back. I think it would be a lot more accessible and a lot more democratic.

We now have very limited enumeration, and again, I think it is a system that discriminates against people who do not own property, who do not necessarily fill out income tax forms every year, or who are not on the registered list, the permanent list. There are people who get disenfranchised as a result of the system we have. We have to pay attention to that. I believe it is very important. We will work very hard for amendments to make sure that there are not groups of people who are left out simply because they are poor or do not have the proper ID.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I think my colleague and I have the same philosophy. We know that the Bloc Québécois is a staunch defender of Quebeckers.

In Quebec, voters commonly use identification in provincial and municipal elections. Of course, the bill that is before us can always be improved in committee. And that is what the Bloc Québécois proposes to do.

My question for my colleague is simple. Does she recognize that it is time the federal government exercised better control over the voting process and used what is now in our power, that is, the identification required or provided by the provincial governments or, as the bill suggests, identification authorized by the chief electoral officer?

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, there are some issues with the bill. The idea of a voter identification sounds very good, but the devil is in the details. To make sure it is equitable, we will have to look at its actual implementation and how it will affect different groups of people. That is our concern.

Whether or not it is in time for the next election, I do not know. I am not so concerned about that. I am concerned that we get this bill right if we are adopting a fairly major change. We have never had voter identification in our national elections so this is something quite substantially new. If we are going to do that, we have to do it properly. That is what we will be focusing on. I look forward to the Bloc assisting us with it to make sure that we are not leaving out people who otherwise will be forfeiting their right to vote.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Public Service Employment Act.

I would like to begin my comments by quoting Alfred E. Smith, a very well-known governor of New York, a populist, a reformer in child labour and some other areas, and a solid advocate for the poor and for democracy. Many years ago, he said, “All the ills of democracy can be cured by more democracy”.

I agree with Mr. Smith. Those words are a prescription and should guide us in our deliberations. If, as some have claimed, there are ills in the system, the only way to cure the system is to open things up and have more democracy. I believe that what Mr. Smith was really referring to was the importance of opening up the process of government and of believing that democracy is not a static concept. In fact, democracy is fluid and evolves, and it can always be improved.

On the fundamental idea of improving the process of voting, or of democracy, let us make no mistake about it: my party and I support the concept and we believe that much more can be done to improve our system. To be clear, we support the principle and the spirit of Bill C-31. In fact, for many years we have called for improvements to the voting system.

But let me also be clear in saying that I have major problems with this bill. I believe it needs not just fine tuning but a major overhaul. To be clear, this bill is not the democratic remedy that will cure the body politic and what ails it right now. In fact, there is an argument to be made that the bill could make it worse.

Let us examine the origins of this bill. I think that is important. The bill started with an examination by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, just after the last election, on how to improve the integrity of the electoral system and the electoral process. In June 2006 the committee report was tabled. The government responded on October 20. The government then proposed this bill that is in front of us.

Just as a side comment on that, there is something that I find interesting. Yesterday the government said there was all party support for the report and there was a sense that we had a consensus on what is in the bill. We have to clarify that this was not the case. I think most people who were on the committee would acknowledge that. This bill and its contents are not what the committee asked for.

In fact, there was a committee report and the government response to the report, and then, I would submit, there was cherry-picking in terms of what was in the report and what is in this bill. Those are the origins of the bill. I will be cautionary here. As I said, we support the spirit and the principle, but we are being cautionary because of the way in which the government has decided to improve the democratic process.

We have concerns about some of the points in the bill. As my colleague from Vancouver East has already mentioned, one of our concerns is about requiring people to have photo ID. This is possible disenfranchisement for some people. Not everyone has photo identification. Those on the government side will say, as others have said, that it is not a problem because they can then have someone vouch for them and they can swear an oath. There are problems with that. As my colleague said, the devil is in the details.

There are many concerns around people's ability to find someone to vouch for them and concerns around having supports for that, be it because of language issues or lack of knowledge on how to have people to advocate for them. There may be unintended effects of this bill that would marginalize and shut out some of our most vulnerable citizens. I know that this is certainly not the intent of anyone in this House, but that unfortunately could be the outcome.

The way the bill is written might also leave it open to a charter challenge, for some of the reasons I have mentioned. Of course this is something that will come out in committee. It is very important to understand this. We saw, as was referred to by another member, that in the United States the electoral laws in the 1950s and 1960s were structured in a way that intended to disenfranchise people. It was part of the clarion call of the civil rights movement to change that in the United States.

I would hate to see unintended consequences that would do the same here. I do not think that is hyperbole. We have seen laws in this country that have done that. I refer to B.C. and its so-called section 80, whereby people were not able to get on the voters list until the actual day of the election simply because of a flawed enumeration system. It is important to acknowledge, with the way the bill is presently written, that a charter challenge could happen.

It is also important to note that there are other ways to deal with the concerns MPs and people in general have with the integrity of the system. It is always important to note that when we have a piece of legislation in front of us we have to look at what the problem is. Here, the problem being put forward to us is that there is possible fraud occurring. How do we change that? The government is proposing a bill that talks about photo ID, vouching, swearing oaths, et cetera. Perhaps there are other ways and I think we have proposed some.

One way to change that, as my colleague said, is a proper enumeration. We have just had two bills passed in Parliament that would affect enumeration and the electoral process. I am referring to the clauses in Bill C-2 about the appointment of district returning officers based on merit. That is a good thing. My party supported it. We supported it before the election and we certainly supported it in Bill C-2.

The bill now before us gives the district returning officer a new purview. The bill talks about who shall be given an oath and who shall be questioned, et cetera. We do not have the other piece in place, sadly, because of what is going on in the Senate. That process needs to happen. The Senate needs to pass the bill.

Before that happens, I note that I have concerns about how these people will be trained and what merit we will be basing our decisions on. How are we going to train them so that the people we have employed are going to know the intricacies of their jobs? In this bill, we are giving them the authority to question people's legitimacy and whether they should be given a ballot or not.

Another concern of mine has to do with fixed date elections. Recently in this House in that regard I supported more resources being put into enumeration. That is what we heard about from witnesses who spoke on Bill C-16. I would like to see more emphasis put on a viable and sound enumeration process. That would be a better way of dealing with the problem, rather than simply asking for more ID, for referrals or for vouching for people when they might not have access to photo ID or to someone who could vouch for them.

I believe the intent of the bill is important. Quite frankly, I believe the bill was rushed in the way it came from committee and has been put before the House. I think the bill needs an overhaul, not just fine tuning. We look forward to making major amendments to the bill when it comes to committee and we look forward to hearing from Canadians on how this will affect them.

My last point is that I began my comments by saying that the ills of democracy can be cured by more democracy, and if we are not careful, we will not be following that prescription. In fact, we will be doing the opposite with some of the unintended consequences of this bill.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member indicated that he was quite satisfied with the basic principles of the bill. He gave it approval in principle and said let us get it to committee to make these changes, but he also said that the bill needs a major overhaul. That may be a little bit of a contradiction in terms. Perhaps the example he has given may provide some questions for consideration, which I think is the purpose of getting bills to committee.

The issue about disenfranchising people from almost anything to do with services that are available to people has come up often. Quite frankly, it surprises me, whether it is the federal government or the provincial governments, that government cannot come up with an arrangement for those who have no other access to photo ID, whether it be a driver's licence or some security card. It just seems to make so much sense in today's world where security issues are so important.

I would also remind the member, though, that I believe the bill also says that in lieu of the photo ID and someone vouching for the person, the Chief Electoral Officer also can designate that two other authorized pieces of non-photo ID would be required. I suspect that anyone, except maybe those living in a shelter, may have ready access to that.

Does the member agree that we should try to address the global situation of how many people out there really cannot have reasonable access to photo ID that can be updated on an as needed basis? How many people are we talking about? Are the alternatives provided within the bill in fact sufficient?