Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak today to the amendments proposed at the report stage of Bill C-31.
This is a bill that provides real, tangible results for Canadians. Without a well-functioning electoral machinery, of course, our democracy simply will not work. All hon. members will agree that the machinery must be regularly maintained, updated and renewed. That is what Bill C-31 seeks to do. It is in fact an ideal example of how to go about doing that.
The genesis of the bill was a parliamentary committee report to which the government responded with legislative action. We have worked with the other parties in fine-tuning the bill after hearing from a number of witnesses at the committee.
I point out that while we opposed certain changes that occurred to the bill at committee, that is, our Conservative members opposed them, we are now prepared to support Bill C-31 in its current form. A big reason behind this is that we think this bill has benefited from a multi-party degree of support, which is important in a bill of this nature. For that reason, Conservatives are not going to support the proposed NDP amendments that are before us today.
Before elaborating on some of the benefits of the bill, I want to express my thanks and gratitude to my predecessor, the member for Niagara Falls, the Minister of Justice. Through his work as the former government House leader and Minister for Democratic Reform, we are now in a position to advance this important bill, which was, I repeat, the product of cooperation and collaboration in this Parliament.
Bill C-31 is just one part of our very robust democratic reform agenda, an agenda based on bringing accountability and integrity to the institutions and processes of governance.
We of course know about Senate Bill S-4, which remains mired in the Senate. Again today the Liberal senators refused to debate it. It has been almost a year since they have gone about refusing to debate it and have filibustered. Their own leader says he supports term limits for senators, yet that bill remains mired there. I cannot understand why Liberals want to make their leader look so weak, but I am not surprised that it is happening.
That is just one part of our agenda. At least on Bill C-31 we think we can see results very soon.
With regard to some of the amendments before us, it is important to note that the bill implemented virtually all of the parliamentary committee's recommendations in its report. In particular, it took up the committee's call to do more to combat voter fraud. That is really the core of Bill C-31: to protect the integrity of our electoral system.
The two major recommendations made by the committee—and included in Bill C-31—were as follows: to confirm the identity of voters, record their date of birth on the new official lists; establish a standard process for identifying voters.
This same committee reported, on December 13, 2006, on Bill C-31 to which some amendments were also made. Once again, the committee emphasized the importance of these two specific aspects of the bill. Motions in amendment moved by the member for Ottawa Centre attempt to reverse the committee's decision in this regard.
I urge all other members to join me in opposing these amendments so that we can avoid further delays to this very important bill. Let us address them.
First is the date of birth on the list of electors: The first amendment proposed by the member for Ottawa Centre proposes to remove that provision. At committee, we opposed that as well. However, it is now there in the bill and, as I said, in the spirit of cooperation, we are prepared to support it at this stage so that the bill may move forward. Also, we do agree that it can go some distance to assisting in combating voter fraud and ensuring that people's identification is what they say it is.
Second is voter identification. The balance of the NDP amendments aim to gut the provisions of the bill that require the provision of identification for someone to vote and, in so doing, effectively undermine the central objective of the bill, which is to ensure the integrity of the electoral process.
Let us take, for example, Motions Nos. 2, 4 and 9. On the requirement for voter identification and the ability for polling officials to challenge voters for identification, both of those provisions were part of the key recommendations of the thirteenth report of the procedure and House affairs committee, aimed specifically at dealing with the potential for voter fraud. There were no dissenting opinions to that report, so now we are hearing from the NDP a new position compared to what took place in the original report.
Second, as I said, addressing voter fraud is the core reason for Bill C-31. If we were to remove those provisions, we would weaken it. In terms of requiring identification, the Canada Elections Act already requires voters to provide identification if they wish to register. However, there are no guidelines on what kind of identification is acceptable. Bill C-31 establishes what constitutes acceptable identification by implementing the recommendations of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs on this matter.
Bill C-31 will require voters to show one piece of government-issued photo identification with name and address, or two pieces of identification establishing identity and residence. If the voter does not have identification, Bill C-31 allows the voter to take an oath and be vouched for.
These motions for amendment being proposed today will take us back to a realm of uncertainty and uneven practice as to the types of identification that can be used. The government strongly opposes these motions.
Simply put, we have ample opportunity for anyone who seeks to vote legitimately to do so. The net effect of the amendments being proposed by the New Democratic Party here--and I am surprised after the positive experience of the NDP in supporting the federal Accountability Act that the NDP would propose such amendments--would be to open up loopholes for those who wish to take advantage and those who wish to commit voter fraud.
That is what the effect of these amendments would be. That is why I am surprised that they come from the New Democratic Party, which I thought was concerned with seeing some preservation of the integrity of the process. That is what we are trying to do with the bill.
In conclusion, the potential for voter fraud hurts the integrity of our electoral system and undermines public confidence in the voting process. In fact, every time someone votes fraudulently, it undermines the legitimate say of every other voter. We all lose a little when that fraud takes place. That is why we cannot support amendments that create the opportunity for such fraud.
This bill provides better tools to poll officials to confirm the identity and eligibility of voters. One way is through the addition of the date of birth, which is in that amendment.
Another way, which came out of the committee, is to require voters to show identification or be vouched for before voting, and to systemize the identification required before registering at polls so there is certainty, no ambiguity and no opportunity for fraud and cheating.
The third way is to allow poll officials or candidates to challenge the eligibility of potential voters and require them to affirm their eligibility in writing: to say who they are and prove who they are. I think most Canadians actually think that is what we have to do now when we vote. I do not think many people are offended by the fact that when they say their name is X they must actually prove they are X. I think that is what Canadians expect. I think that is what Canadians hope for.
There are many who come to me after voting in an election and say they are amazed by the fact that anybody could have walked up and said they were Jane Doe, or by the fact that their vote could have been taken away because nobody actually asked them for ID. That troubles people. That is why we need to have those voter identification provisions.
Each of these tools would be removed from the bill under the proposed amendments from the New Democratic Party. Bill C-31 and these features in particular were the result of a non-partisan, multi-party recommendation of a parliamentary committee of the House that was seeking to improve the integrity of the electoral process.
These motions for amendment would reverse that work and I hope members will join me in opposing them.