Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-31. There are a number of concerns that we face on the front lines in my riding to which I would like to speak.
At the outset, I find it very interesting that in terms of electoral reform issues, this is the one issue that has been brought before the House. We are talking about the threat of fraud, yet we see very little evidence of actual fraud having occurred.
In 2006 there was one case of fraud in the entire country. In 2004 there were zero cases. In 2000 there were three cases. That is four out of the millions of people who voted in elections in the country. Yet we have a need for all parliamentarians to stand up and deal with this threat.
I raise the question that perhaps it is guilty minds. We have only to look at the leadership races of parties in the House, where questions of conduct have been much more egregious than what we see in people who try to exercise their democratic franchise. Certainly no one would suggest average citizens would be out patting down cadavers to see if they had party memberships to vote for the leadership, as happened to some very august members of the House. What are we thinking to impose on the honest law-abiding citizens of our country?
I suggest the bigger issue is disenfranchisement and cynicism about the electoral process. We need to be looking at that. There are number of problems that have to be addressed. I would have expected that they would have been addressed in a bill brought forward by the new government.
For example, on the need for electoral reform, people have been calling out for it. People are tuning out of the electoral process. They are tired of our old system and they feel that more voices have to be heard. Yet the two main parties certainly have no real interest in seeing this go forward, so this is not coming forward as a priority.
The other question is on how the actual electoral voting system works now that we do not have a proper voting list.
In the 2004 election people in my riding who went to vote were told that they were on a voter's list 40 kilometres away. I know people in the southern end of my riding were told they did not belong in their own riding because their mailbox was in the municipality. Elections Canada had actually run a line through the bottom of my riding so people who lived in my riding were told they had to vote in another riding.
These are problems. People get fed up when they try to vote. They go home and they say they are not going to vote. That is a serious threat to democracy. I would have thought that issue would have been brought forward with some sense of urgency, but no.
What we are dealing with is the potential that somewhere down the road Canadians are going to commit fraud in voting. Why would anyone go out of their way to defraud just to try to vote, when we are begging and encouraging people to come out? However, that is a larger philosophical question.
I would like to focus on a few areas that are very important in my region. I have very large isolated first nation communities. When we talk about getting a photo ID card, that makes sense, if we believe that every Canadian has a right to a photo ID card. However, on the James Bay coast up to 30% of our population is not eligible for health care status because the province of Ontario does not bother to go and deal with the Cree communities. It has fallen to my office and my provincial counterpart, Gilles Bisson. We go there and fill out these cards.
The interesting thing about this is how do they get a photograph on the ID when the provincial government is leaving it up to a federal member of Parliament and a provincial member of the legislature to fill out the forms for citizens? Guess what. The Ontario government has a special loophole. It does not bother giving a photograph, if one lives on the James Bay coast. It will simply fill out the form and send it there with a trillium logo.
It is amazing. I have thousands of wonderful looking Cree families and all their faces look like a trillium logo because the province of Ontario does not even both to ensure that these people have photo ID. This is something they are expected to have if they are going to be able to vote.
There is the issue of having an address. I invite anybody to go into Fort Albany and ask people their addresses. People do not have street addresses that they go by. We find that in all our communities. We have many of our communities where they simply do not have even the most basic registration.
In fact, if we are talking about administering an oath, I would like to see electoral officers come up and do the oath in Cree or Ojicree. Many elders, for example, do not speak English. Many elders have not birth certificates, but we are trying to get them.
There is the issue of these community members being unfairly penalized because somebody somewhere might some day decide to defraud the system. I find it is an outrageous thought. Imagine people in Attawapiskat going to the poll and claiming to be someone different when everybody knows who they are. I think they would get run out of town fairly quickly.
Unless the members of Parliament think I am making light of these issues, I would like to quote some of the testimony that was brought before the committee from Nishnawbe-Aski Nation, which represents the 70 communities across the northern Treaty 9 area, an area I represent.
We are also concerned that these amendments to the act could affect our elders. Most of these people do not have birth certificates; few of them have a driver's licence. Leaving their communities to acquire photo identification is a severe hardship and in some instances it will be neither feasible nor affordable.
—we suggest that the proposed amendments have failed to take into consideration the realities of the people in our remote communities. They are based on the assumption that the majority of Canadian electors live in urban centres. Until government services are made available in an equitable manner to our people living in remote communities and the amendments to the act reflect the realities of the lives of our people....I suggest that the committee, if possible, visit some of our communities to better understand the challenges we face in our role as Canadian citizens.
This is the message I hear from the leadership in Nishnawbe-Aski Nation and the Mishkeegogamang tribal areas, and it is a message I want to bring to Parliament. Our people on the James Bay coast are not committing fraud. The biggest issue we have is encouraging them to see themselves as participants in the electoral system. That has been a hard sell. We need to ensure that more and more Canadians are entitled and encouraged to vote and are made to feel that voting is something worthwhile.
I will go back to the original point that I started to make.
We have put this forward as the only bill so far of electoral reform in this Parliament, and it is to deal with fraud. We have had almost zero cases of fraud in the electoral system. Yet we know this bill would disenfranchise hundreds, if not thousands, across Canada. For the one person convicted of fraud in 2006, for the zero persons in 2004, for the three convicted in 2000, what we are setting out to do is to go after many people on the margins who right now we should be trying to encourage to vote.
I will conclude with this whole question of allowing political parties access to birth dates. Some people might say this is a minor issue, it is a way of ensuring fairness. I do not impugn any political parties here or any political regions in the country, but I suggest that is in there for the crassest political opportunism. The idea of outreach in certain parties is to get people's birth date and then phone them on their birthday and say, “Hi, it's Bob, your MP, phoning you on your birthday”, and that is supposed to suffice.
In fact, I first heard about this trick from a MLA from Quebec who said, “You know, this is the one thing I do all year, I make sure I phone everybody on their birthday, and they love it. And you know what? I don`t have to do much else”.
What we are saying is, in the interest of going after the fraudsters, we have to ensure that every political party can ensure that they can phone constituents on their birthdays just to secure their vote. That is the reason we are talking about this today.
Let us be honest. I know it is a sin as a politician, and I have to admit it, to give away trade secrets to the general public so they know how politicians really act. However, I feel incumbent at this moment to stand up and speak. The reason we want their birth date information is so we can hit them up on their birthday and secure a vote. I think that is fairly cynical, just as I feel a lot about this bill.
I would encourage the members to consider the bigger issue, which is that we need to find ways for people to have confidence in the democratic system and to feel as if they can become involved. I am concerned that what we are going after is a chimera because we have not seen the evidence of fraud to back up the need for this. If there were large areas, I would consider it, but at this point I cannot see further disenfranchising the communities in my riding, such as Ogoki, Kashechewan, Attawapiskat, Peawanuck, Moosonee and Moose Factory. I cannot see people from those communities, who have already been marginalized enough, feeling that they need to do anything more than to show up and say that they are citizens of this country.
As it says in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, every citizen of Canada has the right to vote in an election of members of the House of Commons or a legislative assembly and to be qualified for membership therein, end of story. There are no qualifications. It does not say anything about bringing ID. It does not say anything about people having to give out their birth date information. They have that right.