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House of Commons Hansard #37 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was c-31.

Topics

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to assure the member that I have read the list of required identification. I also know that many homeless people simply do not have identification, nor do they have a residence. The list is lovely, but if people do not have the identification, then they do not have it.

I want to come back to the member's statements around fraud. One of the things the New Democrats have talked about is that both bills, Bills C-31 and C-18, were using a sledgehammer on a problem that was virtually non-existent.

According to the Chief Electoral Officer, in 2006 there was one case of fraud in the entire country, in 2004 there were zero cases, and in 2000 there were three cases. If the member is aware of this apparently large amount of fraud happening, I wonder if he has brought it to the attention of the Chief Electoral Officer. According to the Chief Electoral Officer's records, there simply are not that many cases out there.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, earlier my colleague from Compton—Stanstead gave the example of the 1995 referendum in Quebec, which led to many complaints to the Chief Electoral Officer. If only because of this one instance in the life of the democracy that is Quebec, all the great democrats of this world should make sure no one ever tries to manipulate the democratic process by allowing people to usurp other people's right to vote. Quite simply, for the good of democracy, we must make sure that never happens.

Once again, I am having trouble understanding why the NDP does not support these measures. Perhaps this is how the NDP conducts elections. It will have to live with that. That did not do the NDP much good in the last election, but we will see what the future holds. We will keep a closer eye on the NDP and how it conducts elections.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I normally preface all my speeches by saying that I am very proud to rise in the House and speak to a bill; however, I am not very proud to rise and speak to this bill, because we are speaking about the increasingly dismal trade of politics as it is practised in Ottawa.

When someone does a job badly, and it is found out that the person has done it badly, it is incumbent upon the person to fix it. I have done many different jobs over the years and I have been proud of all of them.

When I was a dishwasher, if the cook did not like the way I washed the dishes, they came back to me right away and I would do them again, otherwise I was not going to hold that job.

A house builder would not get away with putting up a wall wrong. The foreman would come in and determine whether the wall was built right or wrong. If it was built wrong, it would be torn down and rebuilt.

As a musician, boy oh boy, musicians know what would happen if they did not satisfy the crowd on a Saturday night. They would hear about it right then and there and if they were going to keep those gigs, they had to improve.

What is our job here in Ottawa? Our job is to bring forth legislation. We have to do due diligence on legislation. It is incumbent upon all of us at a certain point to check our partisan hats. We need to examine proposed legislation and bring perspectives from our regions. Each of us represents different areas of the country. There are many different political and cultural points of view. We have to look at legislation and determine its efficacy, because at the end of the day, it will become the law of the land. That is our foremost job in the House, and it has to be undertaken with the utmost seriousness.

When we deliver a law that has failed badly, it is incumbent upon all of us in the House to see what went wrong, to step back and see how the mistake happened in order that we can rectify it and take pride in our work.

Unfortunately, as I said, this is becoming an increasingly dismal trade because it seems that when a mistake is made, we do not look at what went wrong. We turn it over to our spin-meisters and our wedge issue people to try to re-write history and what happened. The path to understand how the mistake was made becomes deliberately obscured. When it becomes deliberately obscured, we are doing a disservice, because our fundamental job is to represent the best interests of this country in terms of bringing forward legislation that is applicable, that is just, and that in the field will actually help our citizens.

With respect to Bill C-18, I set out with some high hopes that we would rectify the problems of a badly flawed bill, BillC-31. My colleagues from the Bloc say that Bill C-31 was brought in to escape issues of widespread fraud. The committee examined issues of fraud because fraud is a very serious threat to the health of democracy. Fraud has to be sought out wherever it exists. It cannot be sought out with vague old wives' tales or writing on the bathroom wall. It has to be proven. It is incumbent upon the Chief Electoral Officer to hunt down any cases of fraud.

The committee looked at the issue of fraud and found one case which occurred in 2006. There were no cases in 2004. There were three cases in 2000. That is not to make light of electoral fraud. We trusted the Chief Electoral Officer to investigate and study any allegations out there. We came back with Bill C-31.

At the time, New Democrats were concerned that people would be disenfranchised. At the end of the day, regardless of what my colleagues in the Bloc say, the right to vote is an inalienable right in Canada. It is enshrined in the charter as one of our fundamental rights. We have to ensure that when people have the right to vote, they are not blocked from voting.

When Bill C-31 came out, lo and behold, we found there were not one but two major problems with it. A million rural residents were not going to be able to vote, thanks to a lack of due diligence in the committee's work. Then there was the issue of the wearing of veils when voting. Now we have Bill C-6. We have a bill that became law and within a few months we already have to have two other band-aid laws to repair the fundamental flaws in the first bill. When we look at Bill C-18, we have to ask ourselves whether it will fix the problem and if it will do it right. That is our obligation at the end of the day.

As referred to many times, the discussion on Bill C-18, is to fix a problem for rural residents. When anyone raises the issue of homeless people, there seems to be a fundamental balancing act. Do we worry about a few thousand homeless people in Vancouver or do we worry about a million residents in rural Canada?

However, nowhere in Bill C-18 does it speak to the issue of rural residents. It speaks to an act to amend the Canada Elections Act, the verification of residents. The verification of residents is the key element that leads to the potential disenfranchisement, as the electoral officer said in one case, of a million rural Canadians, including urban Canadians, first nations Canadians and then homeless people.

I will not to focus too much on Bill C-31, but we need to know where we came from in order to know why we still have a fundamental problem. I know members of the House who were on the committee voted for it, but after questioned how this happened, that they must have missed a translation at third reading.

They did not miss it. They were not interested. We spoke about it. We brought forward witnesses who said that there would be problems with the ability of people to meet the onerous requirements of Bill C-31.

I spoke to Bill C-31. I am not patting myself on the back, but perhaps I was just too lazy to get the records of what everyone else said. However, I know what I said, so I will bring it up, and it is fairly straightforward.

When we discussed Bill C-31, I spoke of the problems we had in the rural parts of my riding and in other communities with mailboxes and the difficulties people would have in voting. That was on the record for many people. I spoke of the issues of photo IDs and the fact that on the James Bay coast, an area I represent, up to 30% of the communities did not even have health cards.

We help them fill out the health cards. The Ontario government does not even bother to do photographs for first nations people. It sends them little trillium stickers because it is cheaper than getting photo IDs. Therefore, we had raised the issue of the problems of identification in these isolated areas.

I had said at that time that I would invite anybody to go into Fort Albany and ask people their addresses. People do not have street addresses and that is how they get by. We find in many of our communities, they simply do not even have the most basic registration that is being required.

We were bringing forward the perspective of our regions and our constituents to bring a sense of reality to the debate. At the time, I remember it was ignored and overlooked. In fact, there was a fair amount of snickering. The old NDP was standing in the way of progress again.

I will refer to evidence at committee at the time from the Nishnawbe-Aski Nation, which was ignored. Witnesses said that the voting changes to Bill C-31 were:

—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.

They were ignored.

Suddenly now we have a situation where there is an embarrassment that the bill has failed. Therefore, we were all called together to try to fix it. The issue of fixing it is paramount, but again we have to do due diligence. How do we do due diligence? We have to bring forward witnesses. This is not stalling. This is ensuring that we do not fall into the same mistakes that were made.

The process we went through with the bill was a very dismal, petty process. The Liberal whip tried to push the vote through without any witnesses. How can we go through with no witnesses when 80% of the people in Nunavut have been told they are not enfranchised to vote? Would we not think it would be incumbent upon us in the House, after having made such a colossal error, to at least have a witness who can speak to the bill and say whether or not it addresses the problem? However, no, it was a desire to get this thing done and out of the road by Christmas.

I brought forward four witnesses to speak to the bill because I felt the issue was whether the vouching system would work with what we had to address. There is no problem with the rest of the amendments to Bill C-18. We support the need to get this thing fixed, but the issue is whether vouching, in the way it is laid out, will be a practical, realistic solution to the problem.

We had four credible witnesses. There was a fifth witness, and I do not know where he had come from, but he was allowed to speak as well. They were given two minutes each to give their perspective on the bill. They were interrupted many times. They were cut off at the end. At the end of the day the chair basically told them they did not know what they were talking about.

I found that quite a shocking and sad testimony. Whether we agree with witnesses in committee or not, they come forward so they can given us a perspective and we can test their points of view. We are legislators, so when a witnesses come, whether they represent what we think is the most far out solution, our role is to test them, to ask them the fundamental questions to see if what they have brought forward to us stands the test of reason. That is how we make legislation.

Ian Boyko, from the Canadian Federation of Students, came forward. In his testimony, he said that to have only two minutes to address the problems with the bill and the vouching for ten of thousands of students who would be disenfranchised, he could not even begin to do it. He said that he would take questions, but nobody asked him a one.

I have never seen anything like this. I have never seen such a lack of interest. The head of the Canadian Federal of Students came to a committee and stated that tens of thousands of university students would be ineligible to vote because Bill C-18 would not address the issues they faced and nobody asked questions.

It is a funny situation when we sit in our committee and talk about encouraging young people to vote and how we can find ways to do that. Yet when they came to speak to us, nobody even had a question for them. They wanted it through.

Another astounding statement was from Jim Quail from the British Columbia Public Interest Advocacy Centre. He said that even if the changes went in, the changes that will address some of the issues we face, 700,000 urban residents would still not possibly meet the test. This is based on what the electoral officer had provided previously, and this does not include the other million people. That is based on 5% who would not meet those requirements because they have moved or whatever.

We heard in our committee on a previous bill that 12% to 15% of the voters in Australia now voted by declaration because of the continual movement in urban areas of people moving in and out or people who do not know anyone. Anyone who has an urban riding is well used to this. Even in the urban part of some of my communities, when I go into a neighbourhood six months after an election, it is almost like a completely different group of people in there. Sometimes I wonder if I am walking down the wrong street. However, a major mobility is happening across the western world.

Australia has identified that 15% of the people now vote by declaration. In declaration voting they swear and oath. There is no way to get them on the voters list. We do not have the old style days when we went out and updated the voting list so we ensured people were on there.

Even when we have the voting list, it is not up to date. Some people have tried to do a mail-out and have received calls from people, cranky as all heck, because the person no longer lives at that address or they have been divorced for years so why would a Christmas card be sent that address. We know the problems with the electoral list.

I saw that recently in Ontario. My wife and I went to vote and, lo and behold, she was not on the electoral list, and the house is in her name. I do not know how that happened, but people who trusts the computers that generate the Elections Canada lists put themselves in much higher hands than I would.

What we see is a problem of people who go to vote and are suddenly not on the list, or people who have moved to places where they do not know people. At the end of the day, they have a right to vote.

Jim Quail said that there would be 700,000 based on what the Elections Canada officer said. He could have been blowing smoke with these claims, but our job as legislators is to test him, question him and engage him. If we think these numbers are wrong, we have to test them. That is the only way we can bring forward legislation. Nobody was interested in what he had to say because members wanted the vote to be over.

This is the same pattern that happened with the previous bill. We end up in a situation where we have not done the due diligence, where we have not answered the fundamental question of whether this will work. That is what the legislation has to be able to prove. It has to prove it will work and ensure that the people, who have a right to vote, are able to vote. If we have not answered those questions satisfactorily, then we have failed in our jobs.

We certainly failed the job on Bill C-31. The problem with Bill C-18 is this. Having not answered the questions of why students will be disenfranchised, or will 700,000 urban residents be affected and how many of the 150,000 homeless people may not be able to vote, we have a serious problem.

The solution being offered is a one voucher system. At face value, it seems a reasonable solution to have someone vouch for another person. I do not have a problem with the concept, but when we make legislation, we have to establish laws that are applicable in the field.

They always say that the camel was a horse designed by a committee. We have had three and four hump camels coming out of our committees because there is such a distinct lack of reality between what we talk about in committee, which is the reality of politics, and what we see in the field. We are all in this business of politics, so we know what the reality is when we go to the voting booths and how the individual poll clerks identify what is acceptable and what is not.

I know a man in Ontario who has lived in the same rural route his whole life. When he went to vote, he was told he was not on the list. He produced his passport and was told a passport was not an acceptable piece of identification. It would get him into Saudi Arabia, but it would not allow him to vote in Ontario. Is this part of the Ontario elections act or is this how they interpret the act? We see the problems in each of these areas.

At the end of the day, the question is whether it works as a piece of legislation. Say I am a student who leaves Timmins—James Bay to go school at the University of Ottawa. After arriving there, I want to vote because the election is on September 15. When I go to vote, I am told I have to have a person vouch for me. What if my neighbour is not there that day or has already voted, then I have to wait on him or I cannot vote.

The example in a rural area is what if I know two people who moved in, but I am only allowed to vouch for one of them? Vouching, at the end of the day, is not practical so we have to go back to the issue of a declaration. Otherwise, people will continue to be disenfranchised. That is why I believe we have failed to do our job with this bill.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

If members have questions and comments, they can do so after the recorded division.

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

1 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

It being 1 p.m. the House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at the third reading stage of Bill C-28.

Call in the members.

And the Clerk having announced the results of the vote:

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Liberal

Karen Redman Liberal Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Despite his best efforts, the member for West Nova did not make it to the chamber before the question was put. Despite the fact that he would love to be registered as voting against the bill, his vote should probably not be counted.

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, they are missing about another 100 members in the House.

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Conservative

Gerald Keddy Conservative South Shore—St. Margaret's, NS

Mr. Speaker, that would be one less vote against more money for Nova Scotia.

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Conservative

Stephen Harper Conservative Calgary Southwest, AB

Mr. Speaker, since the Liberal whip indicated that the member for West Nova was delayed, I wonder how much further delayed the other 100 members are? How far away are they?

(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Vote #30

Budget and Economic Statement Implementation Act, 2007Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Order, please. Obviously the Christmas spirit has gripped members in matters procedural.

I declare the motion carried.

(Bill read the third time and passed)

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-18, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (verification of residence), be read the third time and passed.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

When the recorded division was put, the hon. member for Timmins—James Bay had concluded his speech. There now remains 10 minutes for questions and comments.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Timmins—James Bay for the incredible work that he did at the committee in trying to correct the serious flaws in the bill.

Bill C-18 has a bad history. It started with Bill C-31 when the government moved on legislation that was supposedly based on incidents of voter fraud. I was at some of those committee meetings where we asked questions on whether there was voter fraud going on across the country. Elections Canada told us that there were only isolated incidents and yet that original bill was brought in to a crushing effect. Hundreds of thousands of people, including in my own community of East Vancouver, are now disenfranchised as a result of the original bill and would still be disenfranchised as a result of Bill C-18 that is before us today.

I want to thank the hon. member for the valiant efforts that he made in committee to ensure that some witnesses were allowed to point out the serious flaws in this process and in this bill. However, it seems that this has fallen on deaf ears. Not only has the government been in denial about the impact of this bill, but so has the official opposition and the BQ.

It is quite stunning to see that other parties in this House have refused to acknowledge the disastrous impact of this bill and the impact it will have on people in urban areas, as well as rural areas, but because the issue in urban areas was never addressed we are now disenfranchising people.

I would like to ask the hon. member to comment from the point of view of what he heard from the witnesses and what he will see as the impact of this bill on people in urban areas.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to go to the source itself. We had four witnesses give direct testimony to this and they were given two minutes to speak. This is actually what their instructions were. The chair said:

...I'm going to give each witness no more than two minutes to introduce yourselves, and, if you choose, to provide us with an opening statement. That will allow members more time to ask questions that are very specific....

Of course, the punchline was that the Bloc, the Liberals and the Conservatives were all lined up not to ask any questions. Therefore, our chair told our witnesses to introduce themselves and then to sit and wait for questions.

Mr. Ian Boyko, government relations coordinator with the Canadian Federation of Students, said:

I'm going to abandon my remarks today, because two minutes isn't enough to even touch on some of the things we have concerns with.

What I will flag for the committee is that my members are having great difficulty understanding the rush that was involved with Bill C-31 in the spring and now the rush that's involved with Bill C-18 today when there are so many flaws in the Elections Act that prevent students and those with transient addresses from registering to vote.

He went on to say that the bill “will ensure that tens of thousands of students won't be able to meet the Elections Act requirements in the upcoming federal election”.

He continued by saying:

Like I said, we have serious concerns about the way students are being alienated from this process, and why the rush on rural voters and not the rush on other very important voting populations that were ignored in Bill C-31 and that are also ignored in Bill C-18.

Not one member of the other parties asked Mr. Boyko a question. They were not interested in that testimony.

I could go on and on from this dismal day in committee that shows members were not doing due diligence. Our fundamental job is to ensure that due diligence is always done.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, I respect my colleague's intervention on this topic and his understanding of the issues here, and I share his concern. I have heard it time and again over the last number of elections about the preparation of voters lists and the departure from enumeration. We know that the last enumeration was in 1997.

I had an incident in my riding where one community was voting in the poll in the adjacent community and vice versa. There is always contention around this but I know positive steps have been made in advance polling.

The member brought forward some very significant issues. If he could fill me in on when Bill C-31 was passed, I believe the member for Timmins—James Bay was on that committee, would he or his party have had the opportunity to tender a dissenting report at that time?

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, my colleague, in representing an area like Cape Breton, will know the problems. I do not know where Elections Canada gets its maps from sometimes but I know that in my riding people are sent to polling stations 40 or 50 kilometres up the road. The result of that is that they simply do not vote or, if they do try to vote in their own town, they are told they cannot even though they have been in that town their whole life, and they end up not voting. That is a very serious issue.

When Bill C-31 was brought forward, our party brought forward a number of amendments to try to make the bill workable because at the end of the day, as I keep repeating, our job is to make legislation that works and that is practical.

When we found that there was not that much interest in addressing the issues we were raising, the fact that numerous people would not meet this new requirement and we needed to fix the problem, we ended up voting against that bill because we felt that it would come back to haunt us. It has already come back to haunt us twice.

The other astounding testimony that was given just the other day on Bill C-18 by Jim Quail was that this was now facing a charter challenge. It was going to court. Again, no one seemed interested in asking him any questions about the fact that we might get legislation that gets its rear-end kicked all over the courts. However, I asked him questions and there was a clear legal precedent about any interference in the right to vote.

Once again, if we are going to make laws, we need to ensure they stand up to scrutiny and the test of time. Unfortunately, Bill C-18 could have done it, and we were certainly willing to work at it, but at the end of the day I think we will be back to square one. We will still have problems with the way the vote has come down.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from northern Ontario for his work on this file having been the member for the New Democratic Party who was on the committee for Bill C-31. I understand his frustration when we have a bill that is supposed to encourage franchise, or at least the integrity and that is what the government would say and the other parties support it, and ends up doing the opposite. It is very frustrating.

We put forward amendments to make sure that every Canadian who is eligible could vote. We put forward the idea of universal suffrage. We believe fundamentally that there should be a universal commitment by any government to have door to door enumerations. We called it universal enumeration for universal suffrage.

We asked for a statutory declaration for voters. We asked for a change in how voter cards are distributed. They should be put in envelopes addressed to the voters, so that there would be no problem with cards lying around.

All of those ideas that we put forward were rejected. It is our submission that we do that first before we meddle with things like putting birth dates on voter's lists and sharing them with political parties so that they can use them for their own purposes.

My question is this. What is it that we can do to fix the bill, so that we do not come back in another couple months having to fix yet another flawed piece of legislation?

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, the answer should be fairly straightforward. Number one, when we bring forward legislation and we look to new laws, we have to bring forward witnesses, listen to witnesses, question witnesses on the veracity of their viewpoints, and we have to show basic respect for the fact that these witnesses have come forward.

I would like to speak about Ms. Tina Bradford who is a labour lawyer who tried to speak to the committee and she got all of 11 sentences in her statement. She was told by the chair that the committee was running out of time and that was the end of it. This is about whether or not someone should be allowed to vote and she was cut off after 11 sentences. This was an embarrassment. It was like a kangaroo court.

I asked her in questioning because I was the only one asking questions of witnesses who had taken the time to prepare briefs and the time to study. These were people who had come from the legal profession to provide the numbskulls that were looking at this legislation with answers. I cannot say it is anything else but numbskulls. If people are not going to do their homework, if they are not going to ask questions, then how can they say that they know what they are talking about?

I asked her specifically about the issue of voter fraud and enfranchisement. I asked, “Is what we're suggesting in Bill C-18 workable?” She told me that from her experience with working on enfranchising voters, that it was a ridiculous provision. That was her word. She said, “I've only been able to use this vouching system on one occasion and it's a ridiculous provision. It provides nothing to people who vote”.

I asked her again about the issue of voter fraud from her experience as a lawyer working on the street. She said, “In all my time volunteering at polling stations I've never experienced any voter fraud. What I do experience is that people are turned away voting for the first time in their lives, people who really want to vote and they are often being turned away”. That is what she gave us as testimony.

If people disagreed with it, they should have asked her questions. They should have had it on the record. To allow her 11 sentences, as a statement, shows that we simply are failing in this role in Parliament. As I said, I think it is a very dismal trade when such events are allowed to take place.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to rise to speak to this bill. I am actually delighted that we are getting it before the break because it is a bit disappointing in a way that, as the chair of rural caucus, it is an amendment that is specifically for rural Canadians and is coming so late in the game.

That being said, I am delighted that the entire House is cooperating to ensure that this important amendment gets through, so that rural Canadians are not disenfranchised through some administrative mistake. If not, then somehow we would all have been involved in making something that would have disenfranchised a majority of the voters in the next byelection in the prairies. A majority of voters north of 60 could easily not have been able to vote if we did not make this important amendment.

There are a number of other election provisions that I will speak to today, a few that should and could be made, but of course that is not the topic. The topic today is to primarily deal with these rural Canadians who otherwise could not have a vote.

Therefore, we have to make these administrative amendments. These provisions are to ensure that these Canadians will again be able to vote in a coming election, which could be soon, and certainly in the event of byelections.

I want to reassure rural Canadians that if for some reason this did not pass, they would still be able to vote because the Chief Electoral Officer has the authority to deal with such a crisis as this and to enfranchise people through whatever mechanisms are necessary. However, that is not really the way to run a navy, it is not the best way to solve this. We in Parliament who create these laws should, when we make an error, make these amendments even if it is an administrative error and fix the law so that all Canadians have the appropriate ability to vote.

That is why during the process of this bill I, too, as some others have mentioned, have urged the committee, Elections Canada and the department drafting the bill, to ensure that homeless people could vote. There are a number of homeless people across the country and we have to ensure that there are enough people who can vouch for them, and people working in the shelters who might know of their locations. There should not be a limit on the number who can sign for these people.

That is why the best solution is to get these people out of poverty. That is why I am very excited that a few weeks ago our leader made a great announcement for a first-ever comprehensive anti-poverty strategy in Canada that would take 30% of these people off the poverty list in the next five years. It would certainly reduce the problem.

We also have other efforts related to homelessness. We have one of the most successful social programs in history, I think, the SCPI program, which everyone I think in the House has eventually championed after seeing its results. It puts these homeless people in specific good shelters for a time until we solve the ultimate problem. Of course, we should be dealing with the root problems and hopefully getting them back into proper affordable housing, and regular housing, as they again get jobs et cetera.

However, until that time if they are in good shelters, we will have them with workers who can then enfranchise them and get them to vote. In particular in my area, I urge the government on this, we need a shelter for teenagers. We have one under that SCIPI program that we put in place for adults. There were none at all before that, particularly for men. We would want one for teenagers, so that we could segregate them. It would be much safer for them.

In the north homelessness is also a particular issue in that we do not want people lying in the streets at 60 below. They have to go somewhere and unfortunately, they are going into places where they should not be, where they have to offer sexual favours for shelter or they are crowded in, impugning on children where they should not necessarily be crowded in. All these things could be solved and hopefully some of it will be solved with this anti-poverty strategy that we have announced.

Today we are talking about the disenfranchisement of rural voters. I cannot imagine anyone in the House being against a provision that would ensure all rural Canadians are not stuck with this mistake. It should be fixed, so they can vote under the normal process as they did before.

I am talking particularly about individuals with no street address. Those of us who live in rural areas know many people who do not have a street address. We also know that there are entire communities without street addresses. When I lived in the north I did not have a specific street address. It was R.R. #1, Site 2, Comp 3. Some people live near the highway.

Provinces, territories and municipalities are trying to legislate an end to this problem because street addresses are needed for the fire department and for 911, so people can be found in an emergency. Thousands of people still do not fall into that category. That correction has not been made, and unless we amend the provisions in this bill today, they will not be able to vote.

Santa Claus and I visited a small community in my area on the weekend. This community is spread out along the highway and in rural bush areas where there are no addresses. Many people just have general delivery. A truck goes to the community every couple of days and drops all the mail at the post office. This legislation would not solve this problem.

In my community there are many people who live out in the bush. I remember going down roads in the middle of virtually nowhere and coming upon cabins. These people do not have a particular street address. Some of them have to fly in like they do in Nunavut. All sorts of people only have access to their communities by air and not by road. This may be a surprise to a number of southern Canadians, but there are many areas where there is no road access. In these cases it would be very difficult to have a defined street address as we in southern Canada understand it.

There are other people who could also be affected, such as first nations. I have urged in previous speeches that we make sure these people are not disenfranchised either through this bill or through further amendments to the Canada Elections Act.

Many first nations are in fly-in communities or they live on reserve. They may not have the same type of street numbering system that we are traditionally accustomed to. It is important that these people are not disenfranchised.

Fourteen first nations live in Yukon and a number of these are traditionally nomadic. They do not stay in one area for an entire year. They move around because of the various types of game harvesting or plant harvesting they need to do during various times of the year.

It is important that we take into account the nature of all Canadian lifestyles when we are developing an electoral system. This is not impossible to do.

A Mongolian delegation recently visited here. The Mongolian people, unlike Canadians, have many herds, many cattle, sheep, horses and goats, but they do not have fences or private property the way we do here in Canada. When they need to rest an area for the environment, they simply move their herds over to another steppe, or another mountain, or another valley.

Obviously, they do not have specific street addresses while they are moving around. I questioned them when they were here a couple of weeks ago and they said they had no problem in coming up with solutions to enumerating all their people and making sure that they have a very high percentage of voting, I believe higher than we do. That is great for a country in that part of Asia where democracies are not prevalent, particularly with the sad situation today in Burma.

The provisions were put in with the best intent. There are people who have come to members of Parliament with numerous examples suggesting the occurrence of fraud when identification is not available. Not very many cases could be prosecuted or taken to the final stages. Various people have alluded to many problems that would not be in the existing system if we changed the provisions so that they were similar to the provisions in a number of other countries.

I do not think anyone in the House would be against improving the integrity of the voting system in Canada. Certainly the hallmark of our democracy is one person, one vote. That people would try to circumvent that really strikes at the heart of our democracy, but in that sense, as I urged earlier in my speech, we have to make sure that in doing this, we do not disenfranchise people. That principle must apply to everyone.

I have mentioned several groups, such as the homeless, first nations people, and people in the rural areas who do not have a street address, but there are other groups in my constituency that I have mentioned in previous speeches on this bill, for example, students.

North of 60, there are no universities, so all our students make a grand migration to universities or colleges in the south. We do have excellent colleges in the north, such as Yukon College, which has some university credit courses, but many of the students in the three territories go to the south. I can say that as the northern critic. The students would be away at election time and would not be residing at their permanent street address. If for some reason they were not properly enumerated, they could fall into the trap of being disenfranchised.

This reminds me that I wanted to speak about the enumeration lists, as I am speaking about things that need to be corrected. I am speaking now to Elections Canada. I do not imagine there is a member of Parliament here who would not suggest that there have been some disastrous situations with the present idea of the permanent enumeration list.

Personally I am quite supportive of a permanent enumeration list, if it is kept up to date. I am sure all members of Parliament have gone to houses in recent elections where 20 or 30 people lived in the house according to the enumeration list. After people moved from the house, they were still listed as living in the house. The list had not been updated.

In my riding, there is a relatively high degree of mobility. There are all sorts of people who change their address, such as students and young people who move in and out with other people. Somehow they just do not show up on the enumeration lists and are therefore lost, or there are too many eligible voters. I am sure that accounts for part of the low degree of voting in Canada. If there are 20 people listed at one address where only three people live, that is going to show up as 17 people who did not vote. It will make it look like Canadians do not vote. Of course, they are not people who really live at the address; they are phantom residents. They have moved somewhere else and are double listed.

I encourage Elections Canada to modernize the enumeration lists to solve that problem. It is a good system to have a permanent list, but Elections Canada has to get a handle on who lives where so that when enumerators go door to door, the list is relatively accurate and the number of people who are enfranchised is more realistic, so we do not have to make amendments and we can spend our time debating ideas and policies.

There are other groups that we want to ensure are not disenfranchised. One of them is not specific to the north and that is the military. It has to do with the street address requirement for people who move around. The military has a unique way of voting. As I said in previous speeches, I want to make sure that members of the military are in no way disenfranchised by the amendments to improve the integrity of the voting system.

There are two other groups in my area. One is what we call snowbirds. A number of northerners, mostly retired people, go south for the winter, where there are lower heating costs and they can enjoy their retirement in a warmer climate. If they do not have an official street address and cannot vote, they would be unduly disenfranchised. I would urge the people in committee, in the department and in Elections Canada who are studying and improving the elections process to make sure they do not disenfranchise those people.

Another group is people who have to move quickly because of a medical emergency. I visited a hospital in the last election and there were people who had been brought to the hospital from out of town. Therefore, they were not in their poll and they could not vote. I want to make sure that in those cases, people can vote.

In conclusion, since we are breaking for the holidays, I would like to say meilleurs voeux, seasons greetings, auguri di buone feste, felices fiestas, peace, pax, paz, mir, mira poki, frieden.

Please support this bill so that rural Canadians are not disenfranchised. Let us get this bill through as quickly as possible.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

1:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The hon. member for Yukon still has two minutes left in his allotted time, plus the period for questions and comments.

We will move on to statements by members.

Mary OlsonStatements By Members

December 13th, 2007 / 2 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Merrifield Conservative Yellowhead, AB

Mr. Speaker, this past week the town of Edson mourned the loss of long time community activist Mary Olson. She passed away at the young age of 53 during her second term as city councillor.

She was a devoted community organizer who was committed to giving back to the people of Edson. She was a founder of the Edson Women's Association and the Edson Youth Justice Committee and was instrumental in establishing the Edson and District Victim Services group.

If she had a passion, she brought it forward and she stood by it. She learned that determination after spending some time living on the streets with her single mother, Dorothy, as Dorothy struggled to finish university.

Through Mary's dedication to the community, her love for the people and her willingness to serve, she was an example to all of us.

Today, I honour Mary and her life of selfless giving to her family and her community.

Heritage Railway StationsStatements By Members

2 p.m.

Liberal

Andy Scott Liberal Fredericton, NB

Mr. Speaker, the Canadian Pacific Railway station in Fredericton has fallen into a state of total disrepair.

I am calling on the federal government to amend the Heritage Railway Stations Protection Act, which would close a major loophole.

The York Street site was designated in 1991 as a historic railway station under the Heritage Railway Stations Protection Act. Unfortunately, the site has been neglected for years and its future is in question.

Under the act, a property owner cannot sell, demolish or renovate a site without the approval of the federal government, but it does not speak to inaction, neglect or abandonment.

Built in 1923, the CPR station in Fredericton was designated because of its historical and architectural qualities.

The federal government, through Parks Canada, must correct this flawed legislation and ensure that heritage sites are properly maintained and celebrated.