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.