Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak to Bill C-18 on behalf of the Bloc Québécois. The Bloc supports the principle underlying the bill. The House of Commons passed Bill C-31, which modified the Canada Elections Act. The bill was needed to try to address all questions that Quebeckers and Canadians might have about eligibility to vote.
For the past several years, the federal government's way of holding elections made it practically impossible to guarantee beyond a reasonable doubt that voters were who they claimed to be. That is why we needed Bill C-31, which was passed in February 2007. I will summarize the bill because that is what gave rise to Bill C-18. Sometimes, the government comes up with solutions to problems that have been around for decades. Sometimes there are little problems with those solutions. The problem we are trying to fix with Bill C-18 is one of the little problems caused by Bill C-31.
Why did we want to adopt Bill C-31, and what was its purpose? From now on, people wishing to vote in a federal election will have to show government-issued photo identification, such as a driver's license, that shows their name and home address. Voters who do not have photo identification will have to provide two acceptable pieces of identification to establish their identity and their home address. The Chief Electoral Officer is responsible for publishing a list of acceptable pieces of identification that voters can show at the polling station.
I will read that list out shortly. The Chief Electoral Officer released it for the byelections that took place this fall in a number of places, including Quebec. Several types of identification may be used by individuals who do not have government-issued photo identification, such as a driver's license. As I said, voters can present two pieces of identification that appear on the published list.
Potential voters who do not have two acceptable pieces of identification will be required to declare under oath that they are the person they claim to be. They must also be vouched for by a registered elector. The objective of Bill C-31 was simple. It required a government-issued piece of photo ID, such as a driver's licence. Failing that, it required two pieces of ID from the list supplied by the chief electoral officer—I discussed this earlier—which was published during the byelections in Quebec this fall. If a person could not establish his identity, he had to take an oath in the presence of a person who was eligible to vote, who had a piece of ID and who knew the potential voter.
We thought this seemed appropriate and perfectly enforceable. We did not see a problem with doing things this way. Once again, I will provide the list of original pieces of identification that could be presented:
Health card, social insurance number card, birth certificate, driver’s licence, Canadian passport, certificate of Indian status, certificate of Canadian citizenship or citizenship card, credit/debit card with elector name, Canadian Forces identity card, Veterans Affairs Canada health card, employee card issued by employer, old age security identification card, public transportation card, student ID card, library card, liquor identification card, Canadian Blood Services/Héma-Québec card, hospital card, fishing licence, wildlife identification card, hunting licence, firearm acquisition card/firearm possession card, outdoors card and licences, provincial/territorial identification card, Local Community Service Centre card (CLSC).
Other original documents can also be produced, for example, a credit card statement or bank statement, a utility bill such as a residential telephone or cable television bill or an electricity, gas or water bill, a local property tax assessment, a school, college or university report card or transcript, a residential lease, a residential mortgage statement or agreement, a Canada Child Tax Benefit statement, an income statement or income tax assessment notice, an insurance policy, a government cheque or government cheque stub with the elector’s name, a T4E statement of employment insurance benefits, a Canada Pension Plan statement of contributions or old age security statement, a statement of benefits from a provincial workplace health and safety board, a statement of direct deposit for a provincial occupational injury or disability support program, a vehicle ownership or vehicle insurance card, or an attestation of residence issued by the responsible authorities such as shelters, soup kitchens, student or senior residences, long-term care facilities, aboriginal reserves or work camps.
The list of pieces of identification is very long, therefore, and a person must produce two of them if he does not have a government-issued piece of photo ID. It enables electors to find supporting documents almost anywhere, but if they still cannot, they can go to a polling station and take an oath in the presence of someone who knows the person, has met the requirements and already voted.
We thought, therefore, that we had covered everything when Bill C-31 passed. However, there was one little problem. The pieces of identification had to contain the elector’s residential address, and that was the problem. Almost all of us have addresses with a street name and number. However, there is still one situation that I myself saw when I was the mayor of a small town. It was only in the late 1990s that my town, Notre-Dame-de-la-Paix, got street names in order to have numbers. This was a requirement of the Government of Quebec, which was forcing most of the towns and small communities to have street names. It was expensive because we had to get names through the Commission de toponymie, prepare announcements, make poles and signs and so forth. That is why it had never been done.
So the municipalities of Quebec all entered the modern age. However, in a few of them and in some other regions of Canada, there are still no street names. As a result, the residential address of some people is just Rural Route 1, for example, without any street number or anything because there is none.
It was at the time of the byelections in Quebec, if not before, that we noticed that some electors had this kind of address. Although there were not very many, there could be a problem because they did not have a residential address in the prescribed form.
The purpose of Bill C-18, which we are debating today, is simply to allow a person to vote if he or she has two pieces of identification with the same information on them, such as Rural Route 1 or Rural Route 2. The purpose of the bill is simply to take this reality in a number of communities all across Canada into account.
I have some figures here. Elections Canada tells us that there are about 1,012,989 electors who do not have a residential address that meets the requirements of the Canada Elections Act as set forth in Bill C-31.
The list of electors is compiled by the Chief Electoral Officer, who is certainly well aware that some people have always provided an address that consists of a rural route. When the census is taken, people provide addresses which indicate “rural route 1” or “rural route 2,” and the name of municipality. The chief electoral officer has reported that some 1,012,989 electors have such an address.
In Nunavut, for example, 80% of residents do not have a personal address that conforms to the provisions of Bill C-31 that was adopted in February 2007. In Saskatchewan, some 189,000 electors are in that position, which is 27% of all electors; a significant proportion. In Ontario, this condition affects about 150,000 electors. In Newfoundland and Labrador, it amounts to 23% of the electors. In Quebec, the number is 15,836 electors, or 0.27% of the population, who could be faced with this same problem.
When the chief electoral officer recognized this problem, he drew it to attention of the various political parties. The purpose of Bill C-18 is to correct this anomaly. In doing so, those people who live on rural routes or who only have access to postal boxes—whose address might be “post office box 36” or “post office box 267” and the name of the municipality—which is not a residential address under the requirements of Bill C-31, that is to say, including a street number and street name and the rest, may in future present to Elections Canada workers two pieces of identification that prove their address is the same as the address that appears on the list of electors.
That will finally correct the situation of those 1,012,989 electors and it will conform to the new Bill C-31.
What is difficult to understand is the position of the other parties. I say the other parties but there is one party that is opposed to Bill C-18, the New Democratic Party, which was also opposed to Bill C-31. The argument advanced by the NDP is that we should preserve the traditional practice where there was practically no requirement for any piece of identification. In fact, a person did not need any identification in order to vote. It was enough to make a declaration under oath.
Obviously, there have been complaints for decades. Among others, in Quebec, for a long time there has been an angry outcry over this manner of voting in federal elections. In Quebec—I am referring to the province—a bill almost identical in every detail to Bill C-31 was introduced in the National Assembly in February 2007. Quebec had already decided to deal with this voting issue in order to ensure that the people who vote are the people who are entitled to vote. That is simply what it amounts to. It is a case of avoiding electoral fraud and underhanded practices.
It is difficult to understand how the parties of this House did not see this. Indeed, it is possible some people might have some minor problems. We talked about homeless people. We would like to work with all parties to resolve the problem facing people with no address. This is one way of proceeding. One way of resolving this for such individuals involves having them go to vote with another eligible voter, someone who knows them and can vouch for them. We would like to work to resolve this problem, but we cannot throw away an entire system that has been established to prevent fraud, toss it all away and return to archaic voting procedures that made it nearly impossible to confirm the identity of most voters.
Why not tackle a specific problem that affects perhaps a few thousand voters, without returning to the previous system, which, after all, does not guarantee any security, provides many opportunities for fraud against a vast majority of voters, and focus instead on solving a problem that affects a small number of voters?
Today, with Bill C-31, we are resolving a problem that affects a million voters. That is a significant number. We do not understand why the NDP will not support this.
When Bill C-31 was drafted, no one, not even the legislative staff who prepared it for the government, saw the problem posed by rural addresses and post office boxes. It only became apparent in practice. At that time, a bill was introduced to resolve the problem facing people who do not have a residential address that complies with the provisions of Bill C-31.
First of all, I would like those citizens listening to us to realize that their address is not the issue. They all have a residential address, whether it is a post office box, rural route or other, even though they may not have a street number. In Bill C-31, for the purposes of the Election Act, the residential address had to indicate a street number with a street name, rural route, or concession for it to be recognized as a personal address. When we refer to number 2 or 200 or 2250 on a street or concession, we are speaking of a personal address. When we refer to rural route 2 or a post office box, then it is much more difficult to locate the individual. It is not a personal address. In the case of a post office box, the mail is addressed directly to the post office or to a post office box, which is not necessarily located at the property address. The purpose of Bill C-18 was to correct that.
The Bloc Québécois will support this bill. We are on the eve of a federal election, which will probably take place in the spring. We do not want citizens to be denied the right to vote. When voters arrive with their identification, election workers may not allow them to vote because the address on their identification—even if the same as the address recorded on the electoral lists—would not be recognized as a personal address since it does not contain a street number. They could be refused the right to vote under the pretext that the election workers are not sure that they are who they say they are and they would be asked to swear an oath.
There is a problem, however, and the Chief Electoral Officer has pointed it out very clearly. It is all very well that someone who has a residential address can vouch for them. However, when someone lives in an area, such as Nunavut, where 80% of the territory has no addresses in the required format, even our neighbour cannot vouch for us, because our neighbour also cannot vote because his or her address does not meet the requirements of Bill C-31.
This is a fairly significant problem for part of Quebec, where It affects 15,836 electors, but even more so, for 1,019,000 electors across Canada. That is quite a large number. We hope that this bill will pass as quickly as possible. That should be done before the end of this session, if possible, so that the Senate can give it royal assent. That will allow the bill to come into force for the next federal election, which, as I was saying, will not be called much later than the spring budget, in my opinion.
Obviously, given that situation, there is some real urgency. Our electors should not have to face problems when they go to vote. We saw this to a very small extent, and forgive me for repeating myself, in the byelections in Quebec. As I said, those 15,000 electors throughout Quebec who were affected in the byelections held in Quebec this fall, do not amount to very many people. In a general election, however, the problem would affect a million electors, or nearly 4% of the population. That could cause a bit of anxiety in some communities.
We would not want things to be difficult for election workers. It is already not easy to find election workers. They are often people who are donating their time. Although the government may view the remuneration as generous, when we look at the number of hours they spend getting training and working on election day, the money the Chief Electoral Officer pays does not amount to a lot.
As well, if the voters are putting additional pressure on the election workers because they are unhappy that their address, the one they have always had and use every day, does not let them vote because it does not comply with Bill C-31, their wrath is going to be directed at the entire voting system and the entire electoral system, but in particular the election workers. Those workers do not deserve to have problems with electors who might—quite justifiably—complain. They have all their pieces of identification and their bills. We heard the list that I read out earlier. They have always received their hydro bills, their public utility bills or whatever at that address. But when an elector goes to the polling station, they are told that they do not have a individual street number, no personal address, and that, therefore, they have to find some other way of proving that they are in fact the right person. Everyone understands the issue and can probably imagine what this will look like on the ground. I would not want election workers to be put into this situation.
Consequently, I hope that all the parties, including the NDP, will appreciate the urgency, given that a federal election could be triggered as soon as the next budget is brought down. We need to act fast and call on Parliament to pass this bill by the end of the session, so that the Senate can give it royal assent. Then, this bill will be in effect when the next election campaign takes place.
To those who may be wondering whether the Chief Electoral Officer will have enough time to act, I say that there will be no problem, because the addresses are already on the voters lists. These addresses consist of a post office box number in a municipality or a rural route without a house number. Consequently, the Chief Electoral Officer simply has to tell election officials that when someone provides photo identification or two other pieces of identification with an address that matches the address on the voters list, the officials can assume it is the right person.
This will prevent 1,019,000 voters from having problems, causing congestion at some polling stations and making scenes for election officials. I repeat, these election officials are not paid well enough for what they do. Some will say people are never paid well enough. We have to consider the number of hours they put in, all the time they spend on site. They have to arrive early, before the polls open. Now, the polls are open for 12 hours. When the polls close, they have to put in as much time as is needed, because in some places, the election results are close.
Obviously, this will not be the case in Quebec, because the Bloc Québécois is going to sweep the province. But I hope the other areas of Canada do not have to deal with close results.