House of Commons Hansard #112 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was elections.


The House resumed from February 12 consideration of the motion that Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Public Service Employment Act, be read the third time and passed.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

10:05 a.m.


Stephen Owen Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, we are at third reading of this important bill now and I would like to begin by recounting how we have come to this place.

The recommendations for amendments to the Canada Elections Act emanate from the report of the Chief Electoral Officer following the January 2006 election. That is normal, of course, as he reports on the activities of elections and points out any failings or any improvements that may be made in the election process.

He produced that report and of course we went on to consider it in committee. The committee report went to the government and this bill is the answer, which falls very much in line with both the Chief Electoral Officer's report and the report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to the government. This will bring into force, for the most part, the recommended amendments from the Chief Electoral Officer.

The notion of the integrity of our elections is absolutely critical to our democracy, just as it is anywhere else in the world. It is interesting that Canadians are asked to monitor and help establish electoral commissions and the rules and procedures for elections in many newly democratizing countries.

In just the last few years, in the Ukraine there was major Canada Corps participation. Canadian teams of electoral monitors and advisers have been involved in the Palestinian authority and in Afghanistan. There was a team of Canadian officials in Bangladesh preparing for the election that should have taken place last month but has been delayed because of disruptions in that country.

The point is that we are seen as a country that has a sound electoral system. We must, as our first responsibility to our democratic condition, ensure that this integrity continues and is improved wherever it can be. The amendments to this act mainly deal with the identification of the voter.

I had the privilege of going with a Canadian team in 1990 to Nicaragua to monitor an extremely contentious election. Members might recall that it was a time when the Nicaraguans were in the middle of the civil war with the Contra rebels. It was a very dangerous time, yet the Sandinista government was submitting itself to free and fair elections, which is the standard we use.

I recall being up in the Honduran-Nicaraguan mountains in the northwest of the country checking out small voting stations, one a broken down old schoolhouse in the mountains, where there were literally hundreds of people lined up in the very hot sun. Many had walked for many hours to be able to exercise their right to vote.

There was one very poignant moment. One woman had walked for two hours, lined up for two hours, got to the front of the line, and did not have proper identification. She was heading back, another four hours both ways, to her village to get her voter card. That was the importance she placed on going through that electoral process. It also reflected the seriousness with which the Nicaraguan electoral commission, under the direction, guidance or advice of Canadian officials, was taking the integrity of the process.

When we have an international standard that we are often asked to advise on and monitor, the question is this: is an election free and fair? Of course free means the right of all adult citizens to vote in an election, but fair means that it has integrity, that there are no opportunities to stuff ballot boxes or for people to disguise their identities and vote improperly. That integrity is absolutely critical if we are going to ask our citizens to come forward and put their trust in the electoral and democratic system. Therefore, free and fair is an immensely important point.

We know that in the U.S. presidential elections in 2000 confusion was caused in Florida when voting machines were found not to be operating properly. There were irregularities. That cast a pall over the election, which I think many Americans to this day have not recovered from in terms of the feeling of unfairness that the vote may well have gone the other way had there not been those irregularities.

Let us look at the process under Bill C-31. It is not perfect. It probably never will be, but it is a reasonable advance in ensuring the integrity of that vote. For instance, there are improvements for access for the disabled. There are more convenient locations for the advance polls.

The access of candidates and officials to gated communities is clarified. The candidates' access to malls, privately owned public spaces, has been clarified. This is immensely important for any of us who have been candidates. Increasingly we are not going to meet people by knocking on doors but by going to malls, so this is important.

Also, there is an increased effort with the outreach provisions to get electoral officials to people unable to get to the polls.

I think these are immensely important improvements in that we must make sure our citizens have adequate access, but we must be vigilant against any irregularities.

What we have done in the committee, both in receiving the Chief Electoral Officer's report and considering it ourselves and in considering the government's response in Bill C-31, is to turn our attention to whether we were putting barriers in the way for people. They may be in remote communities, in aboriginal villages or in the inner cities. They may be living in shelters or they may be homeless. I think that all members of the committee from all parties were very seriously attending to the question. How can we ensure to the greatest extent possible, without risking the integrity of the system, that these people have access to vote? I think this was probably the toughest situation that all of us had to face.

We charged the Chief Electoral Officer to do a number of things. One was to ensure that areas of low enumeration and low participation were identified and targeted with extra resources to attempt to ensure access to identification and the voting process.

In regard to remote aboriginal villages, we heard evidence of people having difficulty providing adequate identification, so we also charged the Chief Electoral Officer to, first of all, recognize the aboriginal status card, which has a picture on it. It does not always have the address, but that card would be one of the recognized pieces of identification, as well as a letter from the band manager if the address was not on it, confirming that person's residence in that reserve area or wherever the person might live.

Those are reasonable attempts to deal with this tension between freedom and security: security in the system and freedom to vote. It is immensely important that we not drop our bar of the integrity of the system below that which we expect, advise on and monitor in other countries during their electoral processes.

We have an extremely important role. We have heard evidence from representatives of student groups and from people who work in the downtown east side of Vancouver, for instance, where the homeless or people in shelters have difficulty getting the adequate identification to secure their vote. The way we deal with the balance between integrity and freedom is not by lowering the bar so low that it could be open to abuse and therefore to lowering our citizens' belief in the integrity of the system. If they do not believe in it, they are not going to use it, and voting rates are going to continue to plummet.

We are concerned. I think we should express our concerns not by dropping our standards, but rather by redoubling our efforts through our electoral commission and the Chief Electoral Officer to get to those areas, to get to those people where there is evidence of low participation.

More broadly, as we talk about the Elections Act in this country we must attend to the issue of electoral reform, and we are in some parts of the country, in some provinces. We simply cannot continue to have dropping participation rates and fractured minority governments that do not properly represent the majority of the people in this country.

We must have some reform that will not do away with out constituency-based, first past the post system, but that at least will apply some adequate level of participation and proportionality so that the number of seats in the House represents in some better proportion than it does now the percentage of the vote achieved.

We have had some good experience with that, both in this country and abroad. In 2004, in the throne speech of the former Liberal government, with the encouragement of the NDP, I must say, we put forth the objective of studying electoral reform. A special committee of the House was to look into this. It was one of the processes that was cut short by the unnecessary election, if I may say so, of January 2006.

However, there we are and here we are, and what are we going to do about it? I would suggest that we charge the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs with this as the appropriate venue and place for this to be considered very carefully.

The government, through the Prime Minister, announced two or three weeks ago that in fact there was going to be a communication, a consultation, with Canadians over issues of electoral reform, Senate reform, decorum in this House, which is a very important issue, and public engagement. That is a bit curious, because for most of those topics, except for electoral reform, although that was started and stopped, the government has already put bills forward. It seems to me to be a bit backward to start a consultation process after bills on parliamentary reform have already been presented to the House.

Be that as it may, let us look at the quality of what was suggested. A $900,000 tender is being put out to a polling firm and an as yet unknown think tank to hold, across the country, a few consultations that are being called deliberative. Something can be called deliberative without it being anything close to deliberative if there is not the proper information brought forward, if there is not the time taken to advise people and have them well informed on the issues, the options and the different models, and then have a true conversation and a set of recommendations.

This is happening now in the province of Ontario with its citizens' assembly, which is very much patterned after the citizens' assembly process in British Columbia and which before the last B.C. election identified an alternative form of electoral process. That assembly process was deliberative. It went for about a year and a half. It was a widely representative group of about 178 people.

In fact, at the same time as the last election, the referendum was held on whether we would stay with the first past the post system or move to this new electoral forum recommended by the citizens' assembly, a single transferable vote system.that is quite complicated. Of the people voting in that election, 58% voted in favour of that change from our current system. The threshold was set at 60%, which is very high, but when we think that there was 58% represented, that is a very, very significant desire for change, certainly by a majority of the people.

We are watching that. It will come forward again for a vote in a referendum at the next B.C. provincial election in three years, so we will see where that goes. We also will see where Ontario goes.

Federally, quite apart from having polling companies and think tanks do some kind of quick, superficial testing of the atmosphere across the country, we want to look at it in an extremely in-depth way with a lot of consultation. Let me advise the House that in fact that process to a great extent has already happened.

The Law Commission of Canada in 2004 published a massive study. The Law Commission legislation charges that independent public commission to look into whether the laws of Canada properly conform to the social reality and the needs of the people. The Law Commission probably carried out one of the most in-depth research jobs, first of all, on voting systems in other democratic countries compared to Canada, and also looked at the different models that were going forward. It recommended on balance that we add an element of proportionality, not to do away with our current system but to add an element of proportionality to it. I commend this report to all members of the House. It is on the Law Commission of Canada website.

I commend all members of Parliament to do it quickly because as they may recall, the government, in its fall economic update, announced that it would basically eliminate the budget for the Law Commission of Canada, so it may lose its website as of April 1. Canadians may have less of an opportunity to see that fine work, that reasoning, that research, and the consultation which the commission is charged by its statute to undergo. It is extremely thoughtful and that is the way we should go forward.

There is nothing wrong with polling. There is nothing wrong with some deliberative discussions across the country with a think tank, but the place where these issues should be decided and studied, and where the consultation with Canadians should take place is through the House and the members of the House and, in particular, either a special committee or the procedure and House affairs committee of the House because that is our responsibility.

Second, we should be looking to the statutorily independent expert Law Commission of Canada for the fine work it has done and build on it, rather than simply ignore it.

Those are my remarks. I am speaking in favour of the bill at third reading, but I must conclude by reinforcing the observation of the committee that there are pockets of citizens in this country who do not have easy access. They face barriers in being able to exercise their right to vote and those include often aboriginal communities, but remote communities and people, often homeless, in inner cities.

We must redouble our efforts, through our electoral commission and Chief Electoral Office to ensure that those areas are targeted and the right to vote is brought to those people in an as accessible and effective way as possible.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

Prince George—Peace River B.C.


Jay Hill ConservativeSecretary of State and Chief Government Whip

Mr. Speaker, as always, I certainly appreciate the comments by my colleague from Vancouver Quadra, a member of the official opposition who, like myself, sits on the procedure and House affairs committee where this bill ultimately came from. As he said, we have had a lot of discussion there and certainly the whole area that he branched off into, the whole area of future electoral reform, and ultimately that is our intent.

In fact, we presented a motion recently, which was defeated, but the member for Vancouver Quadra was the only opposition member who supported our motion to have the procedure and House affairs committee look more in-depth at additional reforms that we could consider over and above Bill C-31, and some of the companion legislation that we have presently over in the Senate.

The only part of his remarks that I would take some particular exception to is that the election of 2006 was unnecessary. I think Canadians certainly did not share that opinion because they dramatically changed the makeup of this place and opted to replace his party with the new Conservative government.

However, be that as it may, he did actually touch upon, both at the beginning of his remarks and at the end of his remarks, a primary concern that has been expressed both at procedure and House affairs and in this House.

When we started down this process that ultimately led to Bill C-31, certainly my thoughts at procedure and House affairs were that we had unanimity among all four parties. We wanted to ensure the integrity of our electoral system, both for the advantages that present here in Canada, but also to uphold the image of Canada as a bastion of democracy worldwide.

He pointed to his own experiences in Nicaragua. Many members from all parties have participated as observers in electoral processes worldwide, monitoring elections in some of the world's poorest countries. I certainly applaud the efforts of the member and others who have done that, but it does point to the need to ensure the highest possible standards for Canada's democracy, for how we go through elections here.

I am very disappointed in the fearmongering of the New Democratic Party subsequent to our decision to move ahead with legislation like Bill C-31. Somehow it is trying to communicate to Canadians that there are going to be thousands of Canadian citizens who are going to disenfranchised by this legislation. I do not hold that point of view and I do not think the member does either.

As he quite correctly said, there are a number of steps that can be made, not the least of which would be targeted door-to-door enumeration in those areas to ensure that people are on the list and to ensure the list is as accurate as possible.

My question is the one that I hold near and dear. I do believe that there are some responsibilities that should be placed on citizens, that it is not entirely the responsibility of government to ensure that they are on a voters list, and that it is not entirely the responsibility of the government or Elections Canada to ensure that they have the opportunity to vote.

Yes, we have a collective responsibility, but I believe the citizens themselves have a responsibility to ensure that they can be properly identified as residing in a particular riding and thus they are eligible to vote in a particular part of the country, and that indeed they are Canadian citizens.

I think that comes home as we travel around the world. The hon. member referred to the great extents to which other citizens of other countries will go to ensure they have the opportunity to vote. Yet somehow we seem to reverse the onus here in Canada and think it is the responsibility of Elections Canada or the government, or members of Parliament from all parties, to ensure that every single Canadian actually somehow gets out to vote. There are responsibilities on the part of citizens themselves.

I would just ask for the member to comment, specifically if he feels comfortable with the assurances that we have had from the Chief Electoral Officer and from Elections Canada that it is certainly not our intent, nor the intent of members present, to see people disenfranchised and not have the opportunity to vote if they are actually qualified to vote.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.


Stephen Owen Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his observations and insights into the electoral process. I agree that he has put his finger right on the key point.

After the presidential elections in the United States in 2000, I remember a joke going around that the Russians would send monitors to the next presidential election to ensure it was fair, which is the reversal of roles of course.

There is a grain of truth there. If we are going to hold ourselves out as a democratic example, particularly through our electoral process, and be advisors and monitors in other countries that are experiencing often for the first time the democratic right to vote, which in my experience and in my observations in a newly democratized country is taken up with enthusiasm and high turnout rates, we should be a little ashamed that our own citizens do not participate in the same way in our electoral process.

That is the balance. If we cannot show that we have integrity, then our participation will be even less. It is one thing to have people vote for all of us in this place and then think we are not listening to them, but it is another thing entirely if they think we arrived here in some clouded way.

We must not allow that to happen at the same time as we are doing everything we can to ensure that the existing barriers, whether they are physical, intellectual, illness, or remoteness, are overcome by targeted enumeration.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.


Dawn Black NDP New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, in contrast to what the government whip said, the New Democratic Party does have serious concerns with the bill around the area of voter registration.

As a result of the way the bill is structured, thousands of people in Canada will be disenfranchised. These are the poorest people in our society. They are women who may be in shelters for battered women. They are homeless who may be in a shelter due to poverty. They are people who are ill or disabled. Yes, we have a real concern about these people, the most vulnerable people in our society, being disenfranchised, and it is a legitimate concern.

Another big area of concern is the whole issue of putting a voter's date of birth on the voters list. This is an invitation to identity theft, which we know is a growing problem in Canada. Getting that kind of information would make most direct marketers and those involved in direct sales absolutely ecstatic because they could then target individuals.

In terms of the addition of the date of birth of voters being put on the voters list, which does get into the hands of the public, how does the member for Vancouver--Quadra feel about that? How does he feel about his party supporting the Bloc amendment and the government also supporting that?

We are very concerned about it in terms of voter identity theft. What I believe is at the heart of this is the ability for other political parties to target people by their demographics, by their age, and use it for fundraising and so on. We are concerned about that. I would like to hear my colleague's response to that.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.


Stephen Owen Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague from the NDP has raised a very good point. I guess if it were easy it would not be as enjoyable, but we have to try and come to some coherent compromises in so many issues that we deal with in the House. We are going to be dealing with it again on security legislation and whether the investigative hearing and preventive arrest provisions still should be part of our system. It is that balance between freedom and security and it is contextual. We have to find it.

In this case there is no doubt that a person's date of birth can be an important indicator of that person's identity. The very thing that causes concern to my colleague from the NDP is the very thing that also makes it of use in terms of identifying someone. Someone may have the same name as someone else, but their ages may be very different. It does have an identifying value to it. Yet we do not want to infringe on people's privacy. Those are some of the tough trade-offs we have to make.

In the circumstances, on balance, I would rather it not have to be done, but I do accept that there is an identification value to it which should and can be respected. It is open to the parties, yes. It is not just open to the electoral officials because, of course, a mainstay of the integrity of our electoral system is our ability to have scrutineers from each party there to observe the process as one of the safeguards for it.

I would rather it would not have to be done, but I accept on balance that there is a value to it. On balance I would say that adds marginally and quite importantly to the integrity of the voter system.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.


Serge Cardin Bloc Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today on Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Public Service Employment Act, especially since I have run in eight elections. These elections touched me personally, because I was a candidate. I have to say that I have seen just about everything since I first ran for election in 1982. At that time, attempts at electoral fraud had already declined, but not disappeared completely, and they are still a problem today.

We must therefore protect the integrity of the electoral system and make sure that all the information on our lists of electors is accurate. We also have to make sure that everyone who is entitled to vote does vote and that everyone who is not entitled to vote does not.

But something strange is happening, and it underscores how important it is that only those who have the right to vote actually do so. Curiously, election results in the various ridings are becoming closer and closer. It is therefore especially valuable to have an accurate list and a sound system, because that can make all the difference in the end. Ultimately, when the differences are added up, a minority government could become a majority government. We must therefore make sure our electoral system is above reproach.

Obviously, the Bloc Québécois is in favour of this bill. The political parties worked together extremely well in committee. For once, the government apparently listened to the opposition parties, in contrast to what is happening on many other issues, such as law and order, the Kyoto protocol and even the gun registry. It has to be said that the party in power does not listen very well.

In this case, there was good cooperation and, as a result, the bill will reduce the opportunity for fraud or error, improve the accuracy of the register of electors, facilitate voting and improve communications between election officials, candidates, parties and the electorate.

Following the general election in June 2004, the Chief Electoral Officer released a report entitled “Completing the Cycle of Electoral Reforms”. It was tabled here in the House, but we did not have time to examine or approve the report before the election was called on November 29, 2005. It was presented, however, after the January 2006 election, in June. The committee then looked closely at this bill, analyzed it and made recommendations. We are now ready to move forward and we hope to see this piece of legislation enacted in time for the next election.

Given the timeframes that must be respected, the election will not be held too early this year, which means we can implement all the points presented in this bill.

Should we force an election anyway, considering the values placed on certain points that the opposition parties do not accept? Or should we wait for this bill to become law and come into force, to ensure that the next election is held under the provisions of the new legislation?

In any case, this bill clearly contains significant improvements. The Bloc is particularly proud to have made a number of gains with respect to this bill, such as the date of birth, the unique identification number, as well as the so-called “bingo cards” on election day, which serve to identify those individuals who have gone to vote and therefore encourage people to get out to vote. Getting people out to vote is an important part of it.

Lately, voter turnout has been declining with every election. In municipal, provincial, Quebec and federal elections, we have been seeing a downward trend in voter participation.

Some political parties have access to good lists of electors to ensure follow-up and encourage voters to cast their ballot. These tools are also critical on voting day to track voting and support better turnout. This is democracy in action, playing by the rules. I would like to review the proposed rules that will reduce the opportunity for fraud or error.

Voters must present government-issued identification. The best example of this is a driver's licence with the holder's photograph, signature, and other information that appears on the list of electors, such as an address.

We can be certain that the address is correct because if a person moves, he or she must inform the government so that his or her new address appears on the licence. This piece of identification is proof that the voter is legitimate.

Some people may not have photo identification. In such cases, they must provide two other pieces of acceptable identification. The Chief Electoral Officer is responsible for determining what constitutes acceptable identification.

There may also be some people who do not have two pieces of identification. Earlier, someone mentioned homeless people. Most of them are Canadian citizens, so they do have the right to vote. We must make it possible for them to vote. A person who has no identification can still vote if someone else can vouch for them in an affidavit. If that happens, that person can vote.

That said, the act provides that an elector who has been vouched for at an election may not vouch for another elector at that election. That could set off a major chain of events and could lead to electoral fraud if one of the individuals involved had dishonest intentions.

In addition to ensuring that people can be correctly identified, we must ensure the accuracy of the list of electors to verify that these people are eligible to vote. That is why clause 4 of the act states that:

The Register of Electors must also contain, for each elector, a unique, randomly generated identifier that is assigned by the Chief Electoral Officer.

There are a number of advantages to assigning unique permanent identification numbers.

Duplications do occur. We must be able to spot them and ensure that the eligible individuals are registered. Those who should not be registered should be deleted from the register of electors.

The identifying information required by the Act includes the date of birth, mailing address, civic address, as well as sex. Often, individuals may provide all this information in a particular order that may not necessarily be used in other circumstances. Linking lists may sometimes generate errors.

The use of a unique identifier would eliminate a fair share of potential errors.

In terms of the register of electors, when we complete our income tax returns, there is a small box to be checked if we want the information to be forwarded to the Chief Electoral Officer so that it is available. It is a fairly reliable data base because the taxpayer has contributed the information. It does happen that an individual who is not a Canadian citizen—and thus does not have the right to vote—prepares a tax return and checks off this small box. Their name is added to the register of electors. Thus, it was also suggested that a declaration of citizenship be included on the annual tax return as well. This would solve several problems and ensure that only the personal information of voters eligible to vote is used to update the register.

Tax returns are also filed for deceased persons. Unfortunately there are a fair number every year. We could also use the information included in the return filed for the deceased individual to ensure that their names are removed from the voters list.

For federal elections, the Quebec electoral list is used in Quebec, because of the completeness and accuracy of the information, which is updated regularly. The list also contains the new voters who have just turned 18, who are added regularly.

Once the eligible voters have been identified, and the ineligible ones eliminated, the voting process must be facilitated, to ensure that the highest possible number of people can easily access the polling station. For example, persons with reduced mobility who report to a polling station that is impossible to access can ask for a transfer. This transfer can now take place almost immediately and that individual can go to vote at another location.

In any case, we must ensure that returning officers in the various ridings do not overlook accessibility issues at the polling stations, which must be as large and fully equipped as possible, even though transfers are a possibility. After all, it is the responsibility of the returning officer to ensure that all sites can handle situations involving reduced accessibility.

Another purpose of the bill is to improve communications between electoral officials, candidates, parties and the electors. There are various aspects that enhance communication and facilitate access to the lists of electors. As I was saying earlier, the purpose of this is to “get out the vote” as much as possible and as honestly as possible. The bill also provides for additional operational improvements that will make the system increasingly effective and ensure its integrity and accuracy.

The Bloc Québécois is very proud of other aspects that are not included in Bill C-31. I am talking about the appointment by the Chief Electoral Officer of returning officers. History and experience show the truly different situations that have come up at times and that have been quite odd, not to say crooked. From now on, people will no longer necessarily be selected based on their political stripe, but will be appointed by the Chief Electoral Officer. Thus, those who seem best qualified will be appointed to the position.

Furthermore, there will of course be fixed date elections. Unfortunately, this will not be the case the next time around; I am sure the next election will not be held in October 2009, since the current government is a minority government. Nonetheless, we will now be prepared for it, especially with the tools available in Bill C-31. Future elections will be held with as much integrity and accuracy as possible.

In closing, seconded by the hon. member for Drummond, I move:

That this question be now put.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.


Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I will comment on two aspects of the speech by my colleague from the Bloc.

First, I am a little taken aback with the enthusiasm shown by the Liberal Party and the Bloc for the bill. It seems the government has introduced the bill based on the premise that it is necessary to change the part of the Election Acts dealing with voter ID because of widespread fraud.

I went to the website of Elections Canada. In the last federal election one person was charged and prosecuted for having voted incorrectly. The person was not yet a citizen and should not have cast a ballot. In the election in 2004, there was not one incident. In the election prior to that there were three.

First, if we are entering into these fairly draconian measures, which we argue will have the effect of disenfranchising many Canadians who will be unable to produce the extra photo ID contemplated by this, and if we are doing away with the idea of a statutory declaration as being acceptable for identification, why are we taking such heavy-handed measures when there really has not been a pattern of voter fraud? That is the first point I would raise to my colleague from the Bloc.

The second is the date of birth going on the permanent voters list is an appalling recipe for identity theft. We might as well be helping those who would steal identities. All one needs to get a fake credit card is name, address, phone number and date of birth. It is like having a PIN number.

During an election campaign, hundreds of volunteers go in and out of our offices. We cannot stop them from having access to that voters list. I agree it is important for Elections Canada to have dates of birth, but to have dates of birth, that personal, private information, floating around is absolutely dangerous.

My colleague, the hon. member for Ottawa Centre, said that relying on the government to protect one's privacy is like asking a peeping Tom to install one's window blinds. This is the risk that we are running.

I sit on the privacy committee. We are currently in the process of looking at the PIPEDA legislation, the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, dealing with just these very issues of people having a right to privacy, which is just as important as many of the other competing rights and privileges.

It gets to be a charter issue. Section 3 of the charter guarantees the right to vote in the elections of members of Parliament or provincial legislatures. We believe the barriers put in place by these new stringent identification rules are a barrier to the point that thousands of people will be disenfranchised and will be denied their charter right.

We just heard a constitutional expert, someone who teaches constitutional law at university, the member for Vancouver Quadra, say that he approves of this legislation. How can he and the member justify what will clearly infringe upon one's right to vote and access to vote from a constitutional and charter point of view?

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.


Serge Cardin Bloc Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, as I said in my speech, I have been through eight elections. During my first election, I must admit that I was a little naive and I did not believe that fraud existed. If I had looked at the Chief Electoral Officer's reports and they indicated there had been one or two cases, then I could have said I was right. But since 1982, in the last eight elections, in which I have taken part, I have seen for myself that, unfortunately, a lot of people have tried to abuse the system.

What matters is that the people who have the right to vote can vote and those who do not have the right to vote cannot. With more specific pieces of identification, we will ensure that people have the right to vote. After that, we want to ensure that the people who do not have the right to vote, do not vote. There is no point in thinking that fraud does not exist, because it does.

The hon. member from the NDP who asked this question has probably been in the House of Commons longer than I have. He said earlier that he obtained and read information indicating that there is practically no fraud. Fraud statistics are based on the number of charges that have been laid. Therein lies the problem.

When the deputy returning officer was not able to ask for identification and someone claimed to be Joe Blow, it was difficult to know whether that person was telling the truth or not. Sometimes, the deputy returning officer or the clerk knew this was not true because Joe Blow was their neighbour. However, not much could be done about it.

I believe that Bill C-31 will prevent people who do not have the right to vote from voting and will allow those who do have that right to go ahead and vote. As the Conservative Party representative was saying, those who have the right to vote have a small responsibility to ensure they are on the list. Protecting the integrity and accuracy of an electoral list and the integrity of an electoral system to defend democracy is a shared responsibility.

Quebec has been using the date of birth for a long time. As far as I know, the problems related to the date of birth appearing on the electoral lists were few and far between, even fewer than the cases of fraud the hon. member from the NDP was talking about.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

11 a.m.


The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

When the House resumes consideration of the motion, there will be three minutes remaining for questions and comments for the hon. member for Sherbrooke.

Warkworth Maple Syrup FestivalStatements By Members

11 a.m.


Rick Norlock Conservative Northumberland—Quinte West, ON

Mr. Speaker, March 10 and 11 are special days in my community of Warkworth, Ontario. On this special weekend, thousands of people will be enjoying the sights, sounds and smells of the Warkworth Maple Syrup Festival.

Each year the community marks the coming of spring with a fun-filled family weekend of events to enjoy both in the village of Warkworth and the Sandy Flats Sugar Bush.

Sugar bush highlights include horse-drawn sleigh rides, free taffy on the snow, log sawing contests, snowshoe and plank races, nature trail walks, clog and old-time square dancing, music and much, much more.

Of course, a trip to the sugar bush would not be complete without the taste of fresh, hot off the grill pancakes and sausages smothered in local award winning maple syrup expertly cooked by the Warkworth Community Service Club.

I send a special thanks to all the volunteers who make this weekend a yearly success. I urge all to come and enjoy a fun-filled, old-time country weekend in the beautiful hills of Northumberland—Quinte West.

Nobel Peace PrizeStatements By Members

11 a.m.


Nancy Karetak-Lindell Liberal Nunavut, NU

Mr. Speaker, I am thrilled to share with the House that on February 1, it was announced that Sheila Watt-Cloutier, an Inuk environmental activist, was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize jointly with the former vice-president, Al Gore, by two Norwegian members of parliament.

Sheila Watt-Cloutier has worked tirelessly on the international stage to bring to the attention of other nations and leaders, on behalf of the Inuit, the vital importance of informing people of climate change and the impact it has on the Canadian north and the people who live there.

It is imperative that the Conservative government stop ignoring the north and the impacts climate change is having, not only on our environment but on the people and their way of life.

I ask this House to join with me in congratulating Sheila Watt-Cloutier on this nomination and wish her all the best.

Diana ParadaStatements By Members

11 a.m.


Nicole Demers Bloc Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, this week, La Presse and Radio-Canada named Diana Parada, a 34-year-old woman from Colombia, their person of the week.

Ms. Parada arrived in Quebec nine years ago and was charmed by Quebeckers' involvement in their society and their solidarity. Her attitude and her desire to succeed helped her overcome the challenges of learning a new language and adapting to a new culture.

Her long road to success began when she and another mother made Colombian-style baby carriers. Encouraged by positive reactions from other interested parents, she founded Maman Kangourou Inc. In 2004, just six months later, she received three Quebec entrepreneurship competition prizes, including first prize in the trades category.

My Bloc Québécois colleagues and I would like to congratulate Ms. Parada. As a role model for Quebec women, she has proven that determination and successful integration can lead to great things.

Fraser HealthStatements By Members

11 a.m.


Dawn Black NDP New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, the Fraser Health Authority is the fastest growing health authority in British Columbia and yet Royal Columbian Hospital, B.C.'s first hospital, has only 1.6 acute care beds per thousand when the Canadian average is two beds per thousand people.

In addition, 50 beds at Eagle Ridge remain unopened.

Fraser Health is in crisis. Hospital executives are resigning in frustration.

The Conservatives promised to reduce patient wait times and yet now the health minister has admitted they will not keep that promise.

My constituent, Patricia Furdek, told me, “Our federal government needs to make a commitment to our national health care system, fix the inequities and ensure that there are national standards. After all, what's more precious than one's health?”

David Pollard wrote, “I implore you to fight on behalf of all residents of Coquitlam against two tier medical care”.

I do implore the government to take its commitment to health care seriously and ensure that Canadians receive the care they need, when they need it, where they live.

Chinese New YearStatements By Members

11 a.m.


James Moore Conservative Port Moody—Westwood—Port Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, on behalf of our government, I would like to offer my warmest greetings to all Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean Canadians as they welcome the Year of the Pig.

The Lunar New Year has become an important part of the Canadian cultural landscape, with celebrations taking place in homes and communities all across the country.

Simply put, the country we know and love today would not exist without the contribution of Canadians of Asian origin.

Chinese Canadians helped build the railway to the Pacific and now, more than a century later, Canada is building its Asia-Pacific Gateway to continue building our economic relationship to the rising economic powers of Asia.

Righting the wrong of the Chinese head tax was one of this government's great accomplishments.

As Chinese Canadians celebrate the Year of the Pig, I want to say Gung Hei Fat Choi.

In my community of Coquitlam, one of Canada's most vibrant Korean Canadian communities can be found. I wish to tell all my constituents and all Korean Canadians An young ha sae yo.

I also wish to tell all Vietnamese Canadian communities found across Canada, on behalf of our government, Chuc mung nam moi.

Mr. Speaker, happy Lunar New Year. May the new year bring health, happiness and success for all.

Canadian Citizenship ActStatements By Members

11:05 a.m.


Andrew Telegdi Liberal Kitchener—Waterloo, ON

Mr. Speaker, 2007 marks the 60th anniversary of the Canadian Citizenship Act and the 25th anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Today's special celebration of Canadian citizenship at the Supreme Court of Canada would have been greatly enhanced had the Conservative government kept is word and enacted a new Citizenship Act that was compliant with the charter.

The 1947 and 1977 Citizenship Acts contain many discriminatory sections that are in contravention of the charter. These outdated sections discriminate against religious marriages, deny many people born out of wedlock their citizenship rights, treat wives and children as chattels and deny the birthrights of children born to Canadian soldiers who fought for our freedoms in the second world war.

Had the previous Liberal government not been defeated, Canada would have a new Citizenship Act that embodied, in word and spirit, our Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

I call upon the Conservative government to keep its promise and table a new Citizenship Act that ends discriminatory practices and to use as its guide the unanimous 12th report of the citizenship and immigration committee from the last Parliament entitled, “Updating Canada's Citizenship Laws: It's Time”.

Forest IndustryStatements By Members

11:05 a.m.


Colin Mayes Conservative Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

Mr. Speaker, the forest industry makes a vital contribution to the Canadian economy but it is facing significant challenges to its competitiveness.

That is why the Government of Canada has developed the $127.5 million forest industry long term competitiveness initiative that will help create the conditions necessary for Canada's industry to compete globally.

This funding will go toward promoting innovation, expanding market opportunities, developing a national forest pest strategy and addressing skills and adjustment issues in the sector.

This builds on the recent efforts of the Government of Canada to support the sector, including $200 million to combat the mountain pine beetle infestation in British Columbia and the new softwood lumber agreement, which put an end to the long-standing and costly trade dispute between Canada and the United States.

The forest industry's long term competitiveness initiative is another example of the government's commitment to Canada's forest industry--

Forest IndustryStatements By Members

11:05 a.m.


The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

The hon. member for Gatineau.

Michel PrévostStatements By Members

11:05 a.m.


Richard Nadeau Bloc Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Bloc Québécois and I would like to congratulate Michel Prévost on being re-elected chair of the Outaouais historical society.

Mr. Prévost is leader in the field of heritage conservation. He encourages Outaouais decision makers to keep our past alive by protecting heritage buildings and sites. He has worked to protect Charron House, the Notre Dame cemetery caretaker's house and Moore farm, and to beautify Brewery Creek and Jacques Cartier Street.

Mr. Prévost is also a well-known lecturer in built and religious heritage, and bears witness to the lives of famous people who left their mark on the Outaouais, such as Jos. Montferrand.

Congratulations, Michel Prévost, and long live the Outaouais historical society.

HealthStatements By Members

11:05 a.m.


Daniel Petit Conservative Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Mr. Speaker, once again, Bloc Québécois ideology has trumped common sense. To the Bloc Québécois, its cause takes priority over the health of Quebeckers.

To show that it is willing to go to ideological extremes, the Bloc Québécois voted against motion M-235 calling on the Minister of Health to continue working with Statistics Canada and the provincial and territorial cancer registries.

Such cooperation on this type of cancer is extremely important and could help everyone involved save lives.

Recently the president of Coalition Priorité Cancer, Pierre Audet-Lapointe, said that it is not true that Quebec can ignore what is being done in the rest of Canada. According to the coalition, this battle is too important to get bogged down in a jurisdictional dispute.

In addition, because that would go against its ideological fixation, the Bloc wants the provinces to go without Quebec's expertise and wants Quebec not to exercise its influence in the Canadian federation.

Once again, the Bloc has chosen its cause over health, and—

HealthStatements By Members

11:10 a.m.


The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

The hon. member for Thunder Bay—Rainy River.

COMRIF ProgramStatements By Members

11:10 a.m.


Ken Boshcoff Liberal Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Speaker, the COMRIF program was introduced in 2004 to improve and renew public infrastructure in communities with populations of less than 250,000.

In January, the Conservative government announced the recipients of the final scheduled application process.

In reviewing the announcement for the entire province of Ontario, funding totals show that the Conservative government is using the fund to disproportionately favour Conservative held ridings.

Of the total $46 million funding delivered in 2007, $40 million has been awarded to Conservative held ridings. In 2006, of $117 million in total funding, no less than $100 million was allocated to Conservative ridings.

This kind of blatant partisanship is immoral. Small communities across the province are in desperate need of infrastructure renewal. Clean water and safe roads must be available for all ridings, not just those that supported the minority government in the last election.

Justice LegislationStatements By Members

11:10 a.m.


Rick Dykstra Conservative St. Catharines, ON

Mr. Speaker, political parties are judged on whether they can walk the walk, not just talk the talk.

In the last election, the Conservative, Liberal and NDP platforms all called for stiffer mandatory sentences for gun related crimes.

Acting on our commitments, the government has introduced safer community bills that will restrict the use of conditional sentences, better manage dangerous offenders, crack down on alcohol and drug impaired driving, protect youth against sexual predators, and Bill C-10, which would impose mandatory minimum penalties for serious gun crimes.

The government realizes that it takes cooperation in a minority Parliament and we have offered fair changes to answer the opposition on our gun crime bill. The Liberals, in their arrogance, have demanded we either pass their old, weaker crime bill or they will gut ours.

The Liberals will not meet us halfway and are putting their interests ahead of Canadians. When Bill C-10 comes back to this House gutted of protective measures, Canadians will know who the guilty party is.

Citizenship and ImmigrationStatements By Members

11:10 a.m.


Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, Sunday is Chinese New Year and I wish all hon. members a happy New Year of the Pig.

Unfortunately, for many hard-working immigrant families this weekend will be one spent alone, without their families or friends from back home. Visitor visas are increasingly hard to come by. The decision-making process is arbitrary with no chance for appeal. Wait times to bring fathers and mothers to Canada are long.

After so many years of promises to reform our immigration system, the Liberal and Conservative governments of the last decade have failed. This failure is especially evident when the daughter of a dying man in my riding cannot visit him from China. He sadly passed away without ever having seen his daughter. She could not even come here to the funeral.

Where is the fairness?

This Chinese New Year, let us speed up family reunification. Let us put in place a fair and humane system for visitors. Let us approve the NDP's once in a lifetime bill so more families can be brought together. Let us create an appeal process so there is real accountability in our immigration system.

Climate ChangeStatements By Members

11:10 a.m.


Alan Tonks Liberal York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, this week I was privileged to attend, along with other MPs, the G-8 + 5 Legislators Forum in Washington, D.C., where the world's governments affirmed that climate change remains at the forefront of global consciousness.

German chancellor, Angela Merkel, made a keynote address to the session outlining the EU's priorities on climate change. Key business leaders, like Sir Richard Branson, also attended and added their influential voices to the discussion. The presence of banking and business leaders served to underscore that major stakeholders in every political and private field now understand the urgency of this issue of global warming and climate change.

As China, India and other developing countries continue to expand their economies and emissions, we in this country must serve as a model to the world, a model for sustainable development.

Canada can be a leader and it is time for all parties to cut the hot air. It is time for Canada to take leadership and act.