Mr. Speaker, I will do my best to speak to the bill and talk about the issues related to the Canada Elections Act.
We are here to talk about Bill C-31, in case anyone who has tuned in may be mixed up given the debate we just heard. The object of Bill C-31, as I understand it in my reading, is to amend the Canada Elections Act to improve the integrity of the electoral process by reducing the opportunity for electoral fraud. At least that is one of the elements of Bill C-31.
To start from that basis we must be of the view that there is widespread fraud that justifies the introduction of this bill and justifies our being preoccupied with it today. When I used to negotiate collective agreements for the carpenters union I would sit down at the bargaining table and say that we wanted to change a clause in our agreement. The first question the employer would always ask was, “What has the experience been? Has this clause been a problem that warrants amending it?”
My colleague from Timmins—James Bay pointed out that the actual empirical evidence, the incidence of electoral fraud, at least the convicted cases, is so insignificant and minuscule that it makes me wonder why we would burn up our political energy, our political capital and House of Commons resources to address this particular issue. In the context of all of the things we could be talking about in terms of elections, how we conduct them and electoral reform, we have seized on this issue of fraud.
I would argue, as my colleague from Ottawa Centre has pointed out, that voter turnout is a far more compelling problem in this country than the almost insignificant incidence of convicted fraud. About 60% of all registered voters in the last election voted, but only 50% of all eligible people voted. I would think that would be a cause of grave concern to anyone who embraces democracy and espouses to want to use our time to enhance the process.
Even the Chief Electoral Officer when he testified before the committee testified that on electoral fraud he did not see the need for these measures, if I can paraphrase him.
My colleague from Timmins--James Bay went through the actual incidents. In the last federal election, of the 10 million people who voted, only one person was actually convicted of fraud. It turned out he was not yet a Canadian citizen. Perhaps he misunderstood the rules. He was a landed immigrant, but he did not have his citizenship. Somehow he did manage to cast a ballot. The system caught him. He was given an absolute discharge. I guess the Chief Electoral Officer determined this was not malicious. It was in fact erroneous. It was more in error. We are glad that the system was working such that the person got tripped up. I believe he received 30 days of community service and then it ultimately wound up in an absolute discharge.
The NDP is passionate about this issue for a number of good reasons. Anyone who heard the speech by the member for Vancouver East would have been moved. My colleague from Vancouver East has tried to address the issue of disenfranchisement and to enable more low income people to vote who otherwise may fall through the cracks. She has gone to enormous lengths. She has even set up voter registration tables with lawyers working pro bono to help people who may not have their requisite pieces of ID, or may for whatever reason not have been enumerated.
I could point out that one of the things that does deserve our attention is the appalling condition of the permanent voters list and the lack of enumeration that goes on in the current regime. As the member representing the riding of Winnipeg Centre where there is a high incidence of low income people and a transient population, the permanent voters list is of almost no value to us in certain neighbourhoods. When the door to door enumeration stopped, we lost track of tens of thousands of people. I say that with no fear of exaggeration or being accused of any contradiction.
The permanent voters list and the full door to door enumeration, those are areas we should be debating in the House of Commons today. I am not sure we should be debating this non-issue, this notion that there is widespread fraud.
As my colleague from Burnaby—Douglas pointed out, if we did want to write a new law about electoral fraud, we should have pulled together a committee of failed Conservative and Liberal candidates who may be authorities on the subject. Given the way some nominations we know of are run in this country, maybe there are people who have had personally frustrating experiences within their own parties but do not extrapolate that on to the population as a whole.
I am the spokesperson for my party for ethics, privacy and access to information. Under the privacy category, I am appalled that we are considering putting the date of birth on the voter's list. We will now have a voter's list with a name, address, phone number and date of birth. That is a recipe for identity theft. We might as well hand somebody a kit stating that this is all they need to steal somebody's identity and get credit cards, et cetera. This is appalling.
We are in the process at our committee of reviewing PIPA, the Personal Information Protecting Act. It is all about the obligation, the duty, to protect personal identities that we have in our possession. I know how voter's lists end up getting distributed within election campaigns. Sometimes a page gets torn out and given to a canvasser who is told to go canvass a couple of blocks. It gets circulated widely and freely. That alone would make this particular bill subject to a number of legal challenges.
I believe the stricter requirements about identification will have the net effect of disenfranchising people to the point where those barriers will be deemed to be in violation of the charter and the right to cast one's ballot. I believe there is enough in the bill that it will be challenged and probably will not survive that challenge.
The privacy issue alone is enough reason to condemn the bill. The idea is that we are throwing up barriers for low income people, marginalized people, and people with unstable addresses and a lack of ID to vote, which I believe could constitute a charter issue.
The third thing, the most frustrating thing, perhaps, is that in the context of this 39th Parliament it is unlikely that electoral reform will come back to us, although there is a private--