Mr. Speaker, here we go again trying to deal with the problems of Bill C-31. I know that might not be the kind of comment that the government wants to hear but it has to look reality in the face. The only reason this bill is in front of us is because of what I said Bill C-31 was from the beginning, which is a solution looking for a problem.
We have found a couple of bills to date. We have Bill C-18, which is what we are debating today, and we have Bill C-6. I suppose we will have a couple more bills before it is all over.
If we go through the bill, one clause states that when swearing an oath to prove someone's identity, the person who vouches for another individual does not necessarily need a civic address on his or her ID if the information on the voters list matches up with the information on the ID.
The committee heard from groups of advocates, people representing the homeless, people representing aboriginal people and people representing students. The people representing the aboriginal people were very clear on this issue of civic address and all members of the committee heard it. They said that we would have problems identifying voters because some people do not have a civic address. I invite all members of the House, including members who may have been on the committee, to look at the blues and read the witnesses' comments where they invited us to look at this concern.
What they were saying is that if we were to go ahead and do this, we would be disenfranchising people, and did we disenfranchise people. We disenfranchised not a couple of hundred or a couple of thousand, but probably millions of people. Why? It is because the House, in its infinite wisdom, passed a bill that was not sufficient. It was not sufficient because the committee, I would submit, did not do its homework.
I asked the committee for more time to hear from witnesses beyond the list that we had in front of us and I was told, in the instance of the privacy commissioner, no because it had already heard from her. I had to take it upon myself to write to her and obtain a response about the whole issue of privacy and birthdate information. She readily supplied me with an opinion of the bill contrary to what members of the committee had believed, which was that there were concerns about privacy in the bill.
I would submit that we have in front of us a bill that is trying to mop up the mess that was created by a bill from the government. I would like members, perhaps during questions and comments or to seek me out afterward, to provide me with an explanation or an instance where Parliament has passed a bill and, within months of it coming into force, has had to come up with further bills to deal with the problems in the initial bill. We are now up to two bills, and counting, based on the flaws and problems in Bill C-31.
I know members of the government will say that I did not raise these problems in committee and that I did not have the wisdom of knowing that these things would come up. I would suggest that I did not foresee all of the problems but I certainly saw the problem, which was the way Bill C-31 was crafted.
The crafting of the bill was taken from a committee report. What seems to be the Conservative Party playbook is that committees are used to put forward one's agenda. A fairly lengthy report was written by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, there was a government response and within a week a bill was in front of us called Bill C-31.
Bill C-31 was introduced because there was a concern about potential voter fraud, and I triple underline “potential”. When this was put in front of parliamentarians, they said that it had to be dealt with right away and cleaned up. In fact, that is what the committee did by way of hearing from a limited, in my opinion, number of witnesses.
It heard from witnesses like the Chief Electoral Officer who was asked if voter fraud was a major problem. They all heard quite clearly that it was not and that there had been approximately four cases of potential voter fraud in the last three elections.
We spent a large amount of time on it and we are spending more now trying to deal with this outrageous problem of voter fraud, but I have to give the government credit because it was clear in saying that it was potential voter fraud.
I have to submit that the concerns of my constituents are around cleaning up politics, ethics in politics, and integrity in the system. There is much more concern about candidate fraud, when candidates say they are with one party one day but wake up the next and lo and behold they are not a Liberal candidate anymore but rather a Conservative cabinet minister. Constituents are more concerned about how to deal with that kind of lack of integrity, where people can run for a party, cross the floor, and virtually within minutes it seems jump into government or into cabinet.
How about going from the backroom of the Conservative Party into the Senate and then vaulting into cabinet? Those are the concerns that my constituents have around the integrity of our electoral system. They are not concerned about potential voter fraud other than not to make matters worse.
Excluding my party, what Parliament has done is pass a bill that disenfranchised so many people. In committee we talk about this often and say we should always be vigilant for the unintended consequences of legislation. We all know this. We heard from people who were advocates of the homeless and from aboriginal people.
We are talking about people who are living in rural areas. We identified that what we have now in front of us is a concern about actual addresses. We heard from people who were representing students. The surprising fact is that when we were at committee they told us quite clearly this would be a problem.
What did we do? We did not consider it to be that big a problem and that it would all be fine because we knew better. Well, we did not know better and here we are with a bill to prove it. It is Bill C-18.
What we did not do is consult. I have said it before, that our job is to consult and after we have consulted, consult some more until we are absolutely sure we have done our homework. That is not the case in the instance of Bill C-31. We in fact had worse than that. It was not unintended consequences but some intended consequences with birth date information. It bears repeating that in Bill C-31 there were unintended consequences.
We did not hear this from witnesses and everyday people at all, this need to have birth dates on the voters list as an oversight requirement. However, what was really strange and quite disturbing was that we had intended consequences at committee. Not only would the bill have one's birth date information on the voters list but it would be shared with political parties.
In this instance it was not unintended consequences but very intentional. Our friends from the Bloc brought forward a motion at committee supported by the Liberals. The government joined me in opposing the amendment but lo and behold by the time it got to the House for third reading, it lost its courage to fight for the privacy of Canadians and it collapsed.
As my friend from Winnipeg Centre said the other day, the government folded like a cheap suit. It just said, oh well, for the interest of getting the bill through it needed to ensure that it let the amendment go through. My goodness, we had the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, in a letter that I gave to the committee, ask:
Is the problem of voter fraud so serious and sufficiently widespread to require the use of additional personal information? If it is a serious problem, is it necessary to provide polling clerks with the date of birth or can the same objective be achieved using less detailed information?
She was clear in saying that we should not, but again we had the government and the opposition parties saying that it was okay, that they would let date of birth information go through and share it with political parties.
This kind of information is analogous to giving people, who would like to use this information for fraud purposes, a little kit. I was calling it a government sponsored identity theft kit. That is what we are giving people.
Members know that there have been recent reports about concerns regarding credit card theft and people who are able to access bank accounts. What do they need? They need a date of birth and an address, and a lot of harm can be done. We were going to give this not only to poll clerks where, with all due respect to them, that information might get lost, but also to political parties.
I know the Liberal Party wanted it because it needed to do a little more in terms of fundraising. The Bloc said that is how it does it and that it had done it before in Quebec. I have no idea what the government was going to do with it. I guess one day it will tell me or it will be written in one of its member's memoirs.
In the meantime, what we have is a privacy problem within this bill. Then we have a problem with leaving hundreds of thousands of people off the voters lists, and now we have Bill C-18 in front of us. I submit that not only did the government not get the job done and did not do its homework on this bill but that we also opened it up to having the unintended consequence of invading people's privacy.
We really have to question why, at a time when all politicians and all parties are saying we want more people to vote and we want to get young people interested in politics, we put up these barriers.
I have to give the example of Ontario, where Ontario has made some changes to the requirements to vote. It did not do a very good job at all in telling people that when they go to the voting stations now they have to provide some ID. Voters have to tell the poll clerks their names, their postal codes, et cetera. Having taken part in the most recent provincial election, I know of a senior in my riding who, when I knocked on her door to ask her if she was going to vote, said “I tried to vote but they would not let me”.
That is exactly what is going to happen in the next federal election and I am not sure that this bill is going to solve that problem. The reason she said that is because she did not have the required ID and she had no one to vouch for her.
I can guarantee members that that will be the situation for hundreds and thousands, if not more, Canadians if we do not change the law. The law needs to be changed for people who do not have the requisite identification, in this case a senior who had lived in this particular domicile for more than a decade and did not have the requisite ID. We are going to see people disenfranchised like never before.
In fact, what we will see unless we change the law, with something like a statutory declaration, is people who are disenfranchised in the rural areas, in the north, in the urban areas, as well as homeless and transient people.
What we need to do is take a good look at this bill and at what the poison pills are in this bill. We saw the poison pills in Bill C-31. Are there any in here? I would submit there are a couple and I would just ask the government to do a very simple thing and look at enumeration. Why in heaven's name is it not going to engage in universal enumeration at every election for the universal suffrage of all of our citizens that we so obviously respect?
The other thing is not only to have universal enumeration and spend money there, but to make sure we train people properly. Those are nuts and bolts things, common sense things that we put forward at committee. The statutory declaration was another thing.
Finally, regarding the voting cards that everyone is so concerned about, and I am one of them, that are ubiquitous in some of these lobbies, put them in envelopes for goodness' sakes, address them to the voters, and if the voters are not present at those domiciles, they would be returned.
Presently, these cards are left around and open to potential voter fraud, I agree, but for goodness' sake, use this terrific new technology called an envelope, address it to the elector, and if the person does not live there anymore, it will be returned to sender, in this case to Elections Canada.
That is yet another way we can improve the system. It is another suggestion the NDP had. We should clean up the voters list, make sure we have actual human beings going door to door to clean it up, put the voters cards in envelopes, and ensure that there is a safety gap with the statutory declaration.
I must say that some of the critiques about statutory declarations are ridiculous. It suggests to me that there is mistrust among some members of everyday people, of citizens of Canada. As I said, there should be more scrutiny of people who cross the floor than citizens who are trying to engage in their franchise.
We will have to go to committee and try to fix yet another government bill, a mess that was made with the mélange of the three parties to ensure that Canadians will not be left out.
Members should read the blues of the committee. We were told by the Chief Electoral Officer that the way Bill C-31 was written and the way this bill is written now, goodness knows the way this bill was put through without us trying to fix it, people will show up at polling stations and will be sent away. They will not return.
That is what will happen at five minutes to eight or five minutes to nine, just before the poll closes, if people have to go get more ID because they do not have sufficient ID or they have to find another person to vouch for them. I can guarantee that people who have been voting all their lives, particularly people like the senior referenced in the Ontario election who had voted all her life, will just plain give up, and that is pathetic. It says that we have not done our job here.
I am not willing to do that, to allow our government to provide legislation that will disenfranchise. My party will not and I will not. We will make sure this bill, from our perspective, will make sure that Canadians, every day people, will not be disenfranchised. Then we will have some semblance of common sense in our electoral system.
I sincerely hope that the government will engage us this time in some of the ideas I have put forward, three straightforward ideas, and that it will take a look at it with honesty and sincerity, and say that maybe this is not a bad idea.
When we are talking about our democracy, the foundation and the franchise, people fought for it, as we just celebrated on Remembrance Day. To just let it fray away, to watch it be torn apart because of either ill-conceived notions or worse, as I said before, conceived notions, is not something we in this party will stand by and see happen.
I will just wrap up with a couple of comments about what can be done to ensure, through witnesses at committee, that we not have the fiasco and the mess we had with Bill C-31 yet again.
I would ask that parliamentarians go to their ridings. I have done this already. I have talked to people about the proposition of not only Bill C-31, but further to Bill C-31, Bill C-6 and Bill C-18. I am not sure as many people were engaged with Bill C-31. There has been a wake-up call, clearly, because of the mess of Bill C-31, and the fact that we have disenfranchised in a blink hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Canadians.
However, hon. members should talk to everyday people in their constituencies and ask them what would happen tomorrow if they had to follow the requirements of the present legislation before us. Would they be able to vote? Would they have a problem finding someone to vouch for them? Would they have the requisite ID? Hon. members should go to a seniors residence, go to a homeless shelter, talk to some students, and then find out from them if there are problems, because that is the business of consultation.
That is what I did last week vis-à-vis Bill C-6, and I heard a lot of concerns. I would plead, almost beg, with members of Parliament to talk to their constituents on this bill because we did not consult enough last time. Let that not happen again.
Let us engage our citizens on this. It is their right. We are making up the rules here for them. We made a mess of it with Bill C-31. We need not do that again. Hon. members should talk to their constituents and then bring witnesses forward to committee through their respective representatives on committee, so we can hear from everyday people about how this would affect them. That did not happen last time.
The people who did come forward warned us that there would be problems, but sadly, members did not listen to them. Our party did. That is why we voted against Bill C-31.
We now have two bills which are trying to clean up Bill C-31. I am not sure if this is a record. I will have to look it up. We need to clean this up.