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House of Commons Hansard #102 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was identification.

Topics

(Bill S-1001. On the Order: Private Members' Bills:)

December 7, 2006--Second reading and reference to a legislative committee of Bill S-1001, An Act respecting Scouts Canada--Mr. Ken Boshcoff.

Scouts CanadaPrivate Members' Business

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Ken Boshcoff Liberal Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. There have been discussions among the parties and I believe that you will find unanimous consent for the following motion. I move:

That Bill S-1001, An Act respecting Scouts Canada, be deemed to have been read a second time, referred to a committee and reported to the House without amendment, concurred in at the report stage, read a third time and passed.

Scouts CanadaPrivate Members' Business

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Does the hon. member for Thunder Bay—Rainy River have the unanimous consent of the House to propose this motion?

Scouts CanadaPrivate Members' Business

10:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Scouts CanadaPrivate Members' Business

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Scouts CanadaPrivate Members' Business

10:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Scouts CanadaPrivate Members' Business

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

(Motion agreed to, bill read the second time, referred to a committee and reported without amendment, concurred in and, by unanimous consent, read the third time and passed)

The House resumed from January 31 consideration of Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Public Service Employment Act, as reported (with amendment) from the committee, and of the motions in Group No. 1.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Mark Eyking Liberal Sydney—Victoria, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-31, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Public Service Employment Act.

On June 22 the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs tabled a report in the House entitled, “Improving the Integrity of the Electoral Process: Recommendations for Legislative Change”. The report was based in part on the recommendations that we had received from the Chief Electoral Officer. While there have been discussions about fundamental changes to our entire electoral system, these should not detract from the efforts that have been made to improve our existing system.

The government tabled a response to the committee's report on October 20 and agreed with a vast majority of the recommendations that were made by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. Bill C-31 was subsequently introduced on October 24 of last year.

The proposed bill would amend the Canada Elections Act to improve the integrity of the electoral process by reducing the opportunity for electoral fraud or for error. It would require electors before voting to provide one piece of government issued photo identification that shows their names and addresses or two pieces of identification authorized by the Chief Electoral Officer that show their names and addresses, or they can also take an oath or they might be vouched for by an elector who does have photo identification.

The proposed bill would amend the Canada Elections Act to, among other things, make operational changes to improve the accuracy of the national register of electors. It will facilitate voting and enhance communications with the electorate. It amends the Public Service Employment Act to permit the Public Service Commission to make regulations that will now extend to the maximum term of employment of casual workers. We see this as an improvement.

While the government did not incorporate the committee's recommendations in Bill C-31, it stated that when it did not accept these recommendations, it had a fundamental disagreement in principle, or the items required further study, or we had received inadequate testimony and had been unable to reach a definitive decision during the committee proceedings.

A key concern of the Liberal committee members was to ensure that the bill allowed aboriginal status identification to be deemed acceptable proof for voting purposes. Government officials have clarified that the text of the bill requires government issued photo ID with an address or government issued photo ID without an address. This would include band status cards, but they would have to be accompanied by a letter from the band council or something like a phone bill that would have the person's number, name and address to corroborate the claim that he or she was indeed an eligible voter in that specific riding.

A second concern that the Liberal committee members have is ensuring that the enumeration process is strengthened on the reserve communities. The government has suggested, rather than send the bill to committee, that the committee simply pass a motion calling on the Chief Electoral Officer to strengthen enumeration in reserve communities.

My riding of Sydney—Victoria is in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. It has the highest population of aboriginals in Atlantic Canada. There are three communities: Wagmatcook, Membertou and Eskasoni. Eskasoni is the largest aboriginal community east of Montreal. These communities are overcoming some major challenges and it is very important that as they are taking charge of their destiny, they get involved in our electoral process.

These communities contain 4,000 status aboriginals. Voter turnout in these areas has been historically lower than in the rest of the communities in my riding. I would hope this measure could help increase the voter turnout.

According to the 2001 census, 4.5% of the riding is aboriginal and I think this measure will go a long way to bring voter turnout up to match the portion of the population. Indeed, Eskasoni is probably the fastest growing community in my riding. It deserves representation so that its infrastructure and social needs can be addressed.

As the bill has emerged from the work of the all-party committee, sending it back to the committee would somehow be redundant, given that the government has assured the opposition that the aboriginal ID concerns are addressed in the text of the current bill.

On this side of the House we support changes to the Canada Elections Act that protect against the likelihood of voter fraud and misrepresentation. We need to be assured that the aboriginal photo identification is acceptable. We also support strengthening the enumeration process, particularly on the reserve communities and in other areas where there is low voter turnout.

Before I became a member of Parliament I did work in underdeveloped countries. As a member of the trade committee and the foreign affairs committee we visited many countries with my colleagues. Many of these countries were just embarking on a democratic process.They use us as an example.

It is not only important for Canadian citizens to be encouraged to vote, but it is also important that we encourage other citizens of the world to fully participate in democracy. I encourage all my colleagues in both the House and the Senate to support this legislation.

Voter turnout continues to be low. I never thought I would see a 60% turnout from an area that used to have some of the highest participation rates in the country. Even in my riding where people are generally more engaged politically there continues to be a lower turnout. There is nothing more frustrating for voters when their name does not appear on the list.

The ID provision in this bill actually will make it easier for voters to engage in the political process. I am sure all my colleagues have seen that problem and will agree with that.

My riding is on the north shore of Cape Breton Island. It stretches from Bras d'Or Lake in the southwest to Cabot Strait in the northwest all the way to St. Paul Island in the northeast. Sydney is our largest centre, along with North Sydney, Sydney Mines and New Waterford. They are all communities in my riding.

As I stated before, there are also three Mi'kmaq reserves: Membertou, Eskasoni and Wagmatcook. They want their voices heard. I believe this bill will bring greater confidence to the system.

A government issued ID photo is a small requirement to protect our precious right to vote. Indeed, even without an ID a voter still may be sworn in. That makes Canada by far one of the easiest jurisdictions in which one can exercise one's franchise.

There are other components to our system that make Canada a model for the world, including our system of professional returning officers. In my riding of Sydney—Victoria we have always been blessed with competent returning officers and our electoral staff. They undergo more training than ever before and this adds to the credibility of our system.

I believe the bill in a small way helps keep faith in the integrity of our system and that is why I am support the bill.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

10:10 a.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I was interested in a couple of points that the member made, particularly concerning first nation people being able to vote. I think we are all well aware of the fact that on many reserves the voter turnout is low and partly that has been a lack of responsiveness around appropriate polling stations for example.

I know in the advance poll in one of the reserves in my riding that there was a lack of understanding that people actually lived on an island and that they would have to travel from their island to a voting station that was actually on another island. There are a great many difficulties in having first nations turn out for voting.

One of the things that the member talked about was the fact that the status card would be one option, of presenting a status card and that would be acceptable identification. However, it needed a supplementary piece of identification or a letter from the band.

In my riding, using an example like telephone bills is a bit of a problem because many people actually do not have telephones. I wonder if the member could make some suggestions around what other kinds of things, particularly in these impoverished communities, might be acceptable. It is a real struggle to have voters turn out and it is an important democratic right that we would like to encourage.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

Mark Eyking Liberal Sydney—Victoria, NS

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the member's question, as many MPs have aboriginal communities in their ridings and it is very difficult for them. Many times, their communities are remote and polling stations are out of reach. We have to make it as easy as possible for those people to vote.

The other point the member brought up was about the telephone bill and the address. I am sure it is not just a telephone bill that would be accepted. I think we are looking at any piece of identification that shows the name and address on it as being acceptable.

This is not going to be perfect when we are done, but I believe that some of these steps are big steps and are going to make it a lot easier not only for aboriginal communities but for many communities that have low voter turnout. These steps are going to make it easier for people to vote and to not be embarrassed when they go to the polling stations.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

Joy Smith Conservative Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Mr. Speaker, the speech of the hon. member opposite had a lot of credible information in it. I have one question.

This bill is long overdue in Parliament. Could the member expand a little on voter identification? I know that there have been incidents across Canada in which people have given identification but were not actually the person carrying the identification, so I understand that they voted under false pretences. What are the safeguards against this kind of thing?

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

Mark Eyking Liberal Sydney—Victoria, NS

Mr. Speaker, as I said in my speech, people at the polling station are going to be able to identify most of the people coming in and out, but if someone really wants to do something wrong, it is hard. As for someone who comes in with someone else's identification and says he or she is that person and votes, it is really a disappointment. We hope that is minimized. We hope that is eliminated.

I think the gist of this bill is to encourage more people to get out and vote, to encourage them in areas where there is low turnout, where people feel intimidated when they go there and their names are not on the list. Also, of course, its purpose is to encourage the aboriginal communities. There is never going to be a foolproof system for someone going in with someone else's ID, but we are hoping that the people at the polling station will recognize that someone is using the wrong information.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

10:15 a.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak about this piece of legislation before the House. It is an important consideration when we are talking about our democratic process. One of the fundamentals of our democratic process is how people actually get to vote.

The legislation before us is a bill to amend the Canada Elections Act. Part of the reasoning that has been put forward for the bill is the alleged cases of fraud throughout the country, cases of voters being able to vote who are either not part of that riding or who perhaps are misrepresenting themselves.

Yet when the Chief Electoral Officer was asked about this very situation, what he indicated was that there were a very few isolated incidents of voter fraud. This notion that there is massive voter fraud throughout the country is bogus. If our Chief Electoral Officer says that there are isolated incidents, surely we should be able to accept his word for it.

The other thing that has been talked about around the bill is that it will be used as a mechanism to encourage voter turnout. I would argue that in fact what it will do is discourage voter turnout.

Members have talked about the fact that people would show up and their names would be on the list. I fail to see how asking for more identification actually ensures that people's names are on the list. If we really want to talk about getting people's names on the list and getting an accurate list, then what we would do is universal enumeration. The NDP certainly has called for that.

There is another thing people are talking about. I might just back this up a little by again referencing the fact that we would like to see increased voter turnout. That is a major concern, I am sure, for each and every Canadian. We need to have voters engaged in that democratic process. What we are seeing is a continuing decline in voter turnout.

In the last federal election, it was in the low sixties. When we start doing the math on that, we can see that we can end up having somebody with 30% or 35% of the vote, which is 30% or 35% of 60%, actually governing the country, and then we have a very small minority who supported a particular political party making decisions that affect all of us.

I would argue that what we need to do is look for mechanisms that encourage, rather than discourage, voter turnout. There are some aspects of the bill that will discourage voter turnout and disenfranchise the most vulnerable in the country, potentially including seniors, homeless people, students and first nations.

Part of the requirements in this bill are around voter identification. One of the very troubling elements of the bill is the fact that when a voter turns up at a poll and does not have the appropriate identification, the bill allows for somebody to vouch for that person. The unfortunate part of it is that once somebody has vouched for a person once, he or she cannot vouch for anyone else.

For example, we will have situations in which workers in a homeless shelter or a transition house who could vouch for a number of people, who are eligible voters in that situation, will not be able to do so. In the past, people have been able to vouch for more than one person. That would seem to be a reasonable thing to do. This is one situation that is going to cause some difficulties for people who have been able to vote in the past.

There is another situation. The member opposite talked about the fact that there has been some agreement around the use of status cards as a mechanism to allow first nations people on reserve to vote and suggested that perhaps phone bills are one mechanism. This requirement for other kinds of identification like phone bills demonstrates a lack of understanding about what people's lives are like in many communities. I would argue that what we really need to do is work closely with first nations on reserve to find out what would work for them in their communities around encouraging voter turnout and participation in the voting process.

I have heard of some very disturbing situations in my own riding. People have turned out to vote and have been turned away for reasons that, it turned out later, were not legitimate. Their identification was not recognized even though there were people there to vouch for them. It is very problematic.

The other thing we find in this legislation is the date of birth. There is a clause in this legislation that would require voters to provide their date of birth to Elections Canada. That information would then be provided to political parties. If we were to ask voters in this country if they wanted political parties to have their date of birth, I would suggest that many Canadians would be vehemently opposed to that.

I do not think Canadians want political parties to have their dates of birth. I do not think political parties would always be responsible about how that information would be used. We have certainly heard rumours around how, when political parties have access to that information, they use it for their own political ends by sending out birthday cards and greetings and all those kinds of things.

I am sure that voters would not appreciate political parties using their dates of birth on a voters list for those ends. I would encourage political parties, if they want to send birthday greetings, to find other means to do that. I would suggest that the voters list is not the appropriate mechanism.

One of the other elements of this bill that is troubling, and I did speak briefly about it, is about people who are homeless. This is a rising problem in this country. We know that in cities from coast to coast to coast we are seeing more people living on the street. I would argue that even enumeration in high homelessness areas will not give us an answer to that problem.

In my own riding of Nanaimo--Cowichan, the city of Nanaimo, along with a number of groups, did a social status update for Nanaimo. In that social status update, they talked about the fact that residents cited the increasing costs of housing, both owned and rental. They also cited the increasing incidents of homelessness and raised concerns about the declining stock of market rental housing. They also talked about the fact that the housing vacancy rate had dropped from 3.4% in 2002 to 1.4% in 2004.

We are seeing increasing pressure on people, either from losing their homes or from being forced out of rental accommodation, in my riding anyway, because of rising rental rates. Thus, we have a couple of things.

First, we have people ending up on the streets more frequently and therefore having no fixed address. If there is an election, we see them having more difficulty in terms of turning up at polls with appropriate identification that demonstrates where they live.

On the other hand, we also have people who are moving more frequently and who may not necessarily have identification with their current address when they turn up to vote.

These are important issues that we need to consider when we are encouraging voter turnout.

A couple of other things came up in this particular study that are directly related to voters being able to identify who they are. Again, the study talks about multiple moves, saying that the lack of affordable housing leads to multiple moves, which creates instability for children and causes difficulty for service providers trying to stay connected.

It is the service provider piece of it that is also important, because we say that people who know us can vouch for us when we are voting, yet when we have people disconnecting from the very service providers who could provide that voucher process, we are seeing that disconnect here as well.

The study also talks about how there is a need to develop appropriate housing and support systems to enable seniors to live independently for as long as possible, saying that if this occurred, it would relieve demand for more costly facility care arrangements. Seniors are also in this crunch. We know that seniors think it is a really important part of the democratic process to exercise their right to vote. We know that seniors vote in higher numbers. We want to make sure that seniors continue to have that right to vote.

A number of amendments have been put forward by the New Democrats. Certainly one of the things we have suggested is that the government look at a system currently in place in British Columbia. In the current system in British Columbia, there is an opportunity for people to swear to the fact that they said who they were. This system has worked well in British Columbia and has allowed people in places like Vancouver East, for example, to exercise their right to vote.

Unless the amendments that we have put forward are supported by members in the House, it will be difficult for the New Democrats to support the legislation as it stands.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

Joy Smith Conservative Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Mr. Speaker, after listening to the speech this morning, I certainly do have some questions. The purpose of the bill is to ensure that voting is done fairly and in such a way that identification can be secure so a fair and equitable voting process in a democratic society can take place.

I was quite interested to hear the member's presentation this morning. It seemed that the member discouraged putting these safeguards in the bill for a number of reasons. It was also interesting to hear her comments about seniors and that the bill would discourage seniors from voting.

Quite the opposite will happen because, as we know right now, seniors do vote and are very careful to give their identification and to get out to vote. I have heard from seniors in my riding who are pleased the bill is before the House of Commons.

The member said that we were just overstating everything and that there was not massive fraud in Canada. I do not think we are talking about massive fraud. We are saying that fraudulent incidents do occur and we need to address that, which is exactly what the bill is trying to accomplish.

What are the reasons the member thinks that seniors would be discouraged from turning out to vote if the bill passes in the House? I would like to know the reason why the statement was made.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I did not say that seniors would be discouraged. I said that we wanted to ensure there were no difficulties presented for them. Seniors could be discouraged if, for example, they are faced with constant moving because of increased problems with access to accommodation that could make it more challenging for them to have the appropriate identification.

Anyone who recognizes that seniors are increasingly struggling with poverty and their housing situation will recognize that they may run into some difficulties if an election is called before all the appropriate mechanisms are in place.

I will talk a little about the fraud. When we asked the Chief Electoral Officer if he felt there had been huge instances of fraud, he basically said that there were a few isolated incidents but that no political party had brought to his attention any systemic things going on. He said that as far as he was concerned this was not a big issue.

I would argue that if there are some isolated incidents, we need to find mechanisms to deal with those. However, we know that universal enumeration has been very effective in the past. Many people would support that. It would make sense to ensure the voter lists are accurate, are up to date and they reflect the true availability of voters in the riding.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Stephen Owen Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, one of the things that Canada has become best known for in terms of taking its international responsibility is providing assistance to countries that are newly democratizing or re-democratizing after civil war. In the last year alone we have assisted the Ukraine and the Palestinian Authority, even training people in Jordan to assist with elections in Iraq, and now in Bangladesh, although it has been delayed for some period of time and, regrettably, we have had election monitors there. The standards that we advise newly democratizing countries to meet are even more stringent than the bill is suggesting. We are looked to for our expertise in that.

I wonder if the member would comment on the reasonableness, perhaps, if she thinks it is, that we should be seen as experts on the international stage but we should be applying standards lower in Canada than we are advising and training people to apply in other countries.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, New Democrats are very conscious of the fact that we want our electoral system to be as free from fraud as possible. To that end, we have suggested a number of amendments that would not only protect the legitimacy of our system but also ensure that people wanting to vote actually can do that.

Some of the things around having someone vouch for more than one person would be a legitimate way to protect the integrity of the system as well as having people exercise their right to vote.

We put forward a number of other amendments that would ensure we were meeting those high standards, both nationally and internationally.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Ken Boshcoff Liberal Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to express my support for Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Public Service Employment Act. The bill would make many positive changes to the Elections Act that would protect against voter fraud and misrepresentation.

One issue that the bill addresses is the current practice of using federal income tax returns to update the Elections Canada register. Certainly tax returns are an excellent tool to obtain current information on our citizens. However, I have had numerous experiences where an individual is listed on the electors list who is not a Canadian citizen.

As we know, only Canadian citizens over 18 years of age are qualified to vote. The bill adds proposed section 46.1 to the Canada Elections Act authorizing the Minister of National Revenue to amend tax return forms so that individuals may indicate whether they are Canadian citizens. I believe this is a very positive step and will reduce significant confusion among foreign citizens who reside in our communities. I will have an anecdote toward the end of my speech on this very issue.

The bill would also implement new requirements for proof of identity to be shown at the voter's booth. I am sure we have all heard stories of voter cards being stolen. Until now there has been no requirement to show any proof of identity, which meant that anyone who had a voter's card could cast a vote, regardless of whether he or she were actually the citizen whose name was on the card.

Clearly, under the former system there was a very big loophole and any person or group with dishonest intentions could steal voter cards and use them for their own purposes. This deficiency put the entire election process in a bad light and had the potential to cause significant damage to the rights of Canadian citizens. Often, the perception of wrongdoing is just as harmful as the actual immoral act. As such, just having such a deficit in the system can add to the distrust felt by voters.

I am pleased that this new process will be implemented to ensure that all Canadian citizens who are eligible to vote cannot have that right stolen from them by the dishonesty of another.

Under this process, a voter would be required to provide identification at the voter's booth. That identification consists of: one piece of ID issued by any level of government that contains a photo and the name and address of the voter; or, two pieces of identification with the name and address that have been authorized by the Chief Electoral Officer. The Chief Electoral Officer would be required to publish a list of what will be acceptable identification; or, alternatively, if the elector does not have suitable identification, he or she can take an oath as long as he or she can be vouched for by another person who is listed on the list of electors.

I am very pleased with this third alternative being added to the bill. There are many people, whether seniors or disabled individuals, who do not have the above identification items. Through this option to take an oath, these Canadian citizens would still be able to vote as granted by the Canadian Charter of Rights.

The bill also addresses the practice of serial vouching by limiting each elector to be able to vouch for only one person. In addition, it bans vouching by electors who have been vouched for by another. That is a good rule. I am confident that this new provision to require proof of identity will be an excellent deterrent to fraud.

As the member of Parliament for Thunder Bay—Rainy River, there are 11 first nations in my riding: Fort William, Lac Des Mille Lacs, Lac La Croix, Seine River First Nation, Nicickousemenecaning, Couchiching First Nation, Naicatchewenin, Manitou Mounds, Rainy River First Nations, Stanjikoming First Nation, Big Island and Big Grassy.

The residents in first nations such as those often share one joint community postal box. As such, door to door enumeration in those areas is vital to ensuring that all eligible first nations people are included on the voters list.

One can imagine the difficulties when fathers, sons and uncles or mothers, aunts and daughters have the same name and surname. This can create terrific problems. It has in the past and I believe it has led to considerable discouragement of the voting process.

I am pleased with the committee motion calling on the Chief Electoral Officer to strengthen enumeration in reserve communities and areas of low enumeration. I believe this extra effort will go a long way to help the disenfranchisement of our first nations people in federal elections.

We have all heard of the horror stories in the big urban ridings of people being bused in by the dozens or the hundreds, voter cards missing from apartment buildings and those kinds of things. This amendment would certainly correct that. It is important to instill that last vestige of security that we need for our democratic process.

As elected representatives, we are all familiar with the process of volunteers calling people who have received voter cards and then being asked whether they can vote with their card. The volunteer must ask whether they are 18 and whether they are Canadian citizens. From a campaign standpoint, we can give them the best advice but they still have the card sent to them.

I believe that with this type of identification we should be able to eliminate those last vestiges of people taking advantage of the system.

In the last round of municipal elections in Ontario there was yet another decrease in voter participation. In my previous life I was the mayor of the city of Thunder Bay. Although I did not run in the last municipal election, many people actually congratulated me and advised me that they had voted for me. We know there is considerable confusion in the democratic process. It is flattering, but then I know for sure these people did not vote for me.

If we want to set an international example, when we go to other nations that ask us to consult and be the model on which they establish their democratic process, it comes down to presenting them with our great rules and our great process. However, I only hope that they have not watched question period when they ask for an example of how a democratic nation should behave. Indeed, our own decorum is probably where we should be starting to set an example, not only for ourselves but for the young people in the galleries. They know that if they behaved and used some of the language that they hear, they would rapidly be in detention or out of class.

If we can restore that decorum part, it will let people know that if we think they are important, then they will realize that they are important and that their vote has much more value and importance. By knowing that they count, that actually means our country counts for more. In this way, we would actually increase the value or the significance of someone's vote. People would not feel that their vote has been wasted. People would feel that they were all pretty much the same.

Standards of respect and recognition in decorum, in tandem with Bill C-31 on the technical side, would certainly restore voter confidence. We know as a nation, when we compare ourselves to nations such as Australia with compulsory voting or others with much higher voter participation, that we can do more.

I encourage all members to support Bill C-31 to increase voter participation.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

Prince George—Peace River B.C.

Conservative

Jay Hill ConservativeSecretary of State

Mr. Speaker, it has already been well stated by members of Parliament from all four political parties in the House how important is the integrity of our electoral system. I certainly would agree with that.

Even prior to the government bringing forward Bill C-31, I have been a very welcome participant in the debate that has ensued at the procedure and House affairs committee, so I welcome the remarks of my colleague from Thunder Bay—Rainy River, not Kenora—Rainy River, and agree with the thrust of the comments he was making.

I would like to draw attention to the comments of his colleague from Vancouver Quadra who on a number of occasions has made reference to the fact that if we as the nation Canada are going to be a beacon for democracy, and a model, as my colleague just referred to, to the developing nations in the world, then it is incumbent upon us as parliamentarians and indeed all Canadians to ensure that our electoral system is of the highest possible standard. That is the concern of all of us. It certainly was expressed by members of Parliament at the procedure and House affairs committee.

I could not agree with my colleague from Vancouver Quadra more about that fundamental point, that it is up to us to ensure that we safeguard the integrity of our system. If there is any possibility of fraud, we must make adjustments to our system to ensure that we can stand up or as he said, when we suggest to other nations how they could model their systems on ours, that we have every confidence that we are holding ours up as the standard to aspire to. I would agree with the member on that.

The NDP has brought up this whole issue of vouching. The difficulty I have with that is if we have multiple vouching where one individual says, “Yes, I know Joe and Sam and Lou”, et cetera, there is an obvious opportunity for fraud, and that is what we are trying to prevent.

I recently had the opportunity to be in South Africa, a nation that has been developing its electoral system. A specific voter ID card is required there. In addition, it is required that the thumb be actually inked on the day of the election. These are the extremes that some countries are going to, to ensure there is absolutely no fraud in their systems and yet we seem to be balking at even having fundamental rules about voter identification.

As the member for Vancouver Quadra indicated, it is very difficult for us to maintain our defence of our system if we cannot ensure when we say this to other countries that ours is an example.

I wonder if my colleague from Thunder Bay—Rainy River would comment on this whole business of vouching specifically and of the importance of ensuring that when a person actually casts his or her ballot that at a minimum the person is a citizen and he or she does at least even temporarily reside in the riding where he or she is marking his or her X.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

Liberal

Ken Boshcoff Liberal Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would have to say that in communities such as mine, the experience is that this type of issue does not come up as much as it would in intensely urban areas. It may be the nature of proximity to large populations and their density, meaning the number of people per square mile, that there would be that opportunity to be led into temptation, to take advantage of a situation. Perhaps in a high-rise apartment building there may be several hundred voter cards sitting there or subject to borrowing or temporary use, and those kinds of things could happen.

The rule of one person, one voucher and not being able to reverse that is a very solid step forward. Again, as the hon. member mentioned, if Canada is going to be used as an example, we would really want to show that we really have covered the bases, that we have a model that protects people. I view it strictly as protection. People should be really glad to go there and be proud to know that they are voting--

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I am afraid the time allotted for questions and comments has expired so we will call for resuming debate. The hon. member for British Columbia Southern Interior.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

NDP

Alex Atamanenko NDP British Columbia Southern Interior, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to talk about this bill.

There are a couple of problems with the bill, although the intent is good. Overall there are people all of us are trying to target in the election who do not vote, people who have never voted, or for one reason or another find it difficult or complicated to vote. I personally feel that by introducing more constraints we may lose these people. Somehow we have to find a compromise between what is proposed and people who are cheating the system.

This bill will result in thousands of individuals who lack proper identification, maybe due to poverty, illness, disability or having no stable address, not being able to exercise their right to vote because of the identification requirements in the bill. People who are homeless or who are temporarily housed often do not have identification that reflects their address or their stay in a shelter. How would we get them out to exercise their democratic right?

We put forward recommendations at committee that would have addressed these concerns. These include the use of statutory declarations as an alternate means of identification for an elector to prove his or her identity. We also proposed an amendment to allow for a representative of a recognized agency to be authorized to vouch for the agency's clientele as authorized by the local returning officer and that someone, not necessarily residing in the same poll, be allowed to vouch for more than one elector at a time.

These are amendments that can be looked at and tightened up, but the idea is that we have to somehow allow people who often do not vote, or who may not have a home at some point in time, to exercise their democratic right. These amendments unfortunately were defeated by members of each of the other parties.

We will want to propose amendments at report stage to address the concerns of the Public Service Alliance of Canada and the Professional Institute of the Public Service dealing with provisions in the bill for casual employment. As the Professional Institute of the Public Service pointed out, these two amendments are more or less buried in a bill devoted mainly to the Canada Elections Act. They may seem innocuous but they could potentially have a significant impact on employment patterns in the federal public service, particularly at a time when government has called for more flexibility in departmental hiring.

Having said that, I would like to take a few minutes to address the whole question of electoral reform, not only reforming the Canada Elections Act but electoral reform in general. As members of the House know, a former member of the House, Ed Broadbent, unveiled his ethics package. Part of one point in his ethics package called for serious electoral reform.

Most of us probably would agree that we have an antiquated first past the post system which requires major democratic reform. To achieve a degree of fairness for all people in our society, we need a mixed system of past the post plus proportional representation which would be necessary to erase the imbalance in the House of Commons.

The member for Vancouver Island North has tabled a motion which will be debated very soon. It offers public input on serious electoral reform relating to how members of Parliament are chosen. The motion calls for a special committee to be created to make further recommendations on strengthening and modernizing our democratic and electoral systems.

There already have been recommendations that were agreed to by all parties, including the Conservative Party. This all-party approach of working together would ultimately result in an electoral system where every vote cast by Canadians was reflected in the House of Commons.

It is interesting to look at the imbalance under our current system and what we call a broken voting system. In 2006 in Alberta there was a Conservative sweep of 100% of the Alberta seats with only 65% of the vote; 665,940 Green voters elected no MPs; while 475,114 Liberal voters in Atlantic Canada alone elected 22 Liberal MPs. It took 89,296 votes to elect each NDP member of Parliament, but just 43,339 votes for each Conservative, 43,490 for each Liberal, and 30,455 for each Bloc MP. Some would say it is a good thing; some would say it is not a good thing.

Let us look at some other low points in Canadian elections. In the 1990s Canada ranked 109th among 163 nations in voter turnout, slightly behind Lebanon, in a dead heat with Benin and just ahead of Fiji. In 1984 the Progressive Conservatives won 50% of the votes but gained nearly 75% of the seats, close to an all-time record for the largest percentage of unearned seats in any federal election.

Obviously we need some kind of a system of reform to reflect how people vote in Canada. In 2004 more than 500,000 Green voters failed to elect a single MP anywhere, while fewer than 500,000 Liberal voters in Atlantic Canada alone elected 22 Liberal MPs. In 2000, 22 candidates became MPs despite winning less than 40% of the votes in their ridings. In 2004, the election produced a House with only 21% of women MPs, with Canada ranking 36th among nations in percentage of women MPs, well behind most western European counties.

In 1993 the newly formed Bloc Québécois came in fourth in the popular vote but formed the official opposition by gaining more seats than the second place Reform Party and the third place Tories. In 2000, 2.3 million Liberal voters in Ontario elected 100 Liberal MPs while the other 2.2 million Ontario voters elected only three MPs from other parties. In 1993 more than two million votes for Kim Campbell's Progressive Conservatives translated into two seats, or one seat for every one million voters. Meanwhile the voting system gave the Liberal Party one seat for every 32,000 votes.

Finally, in 1984, when competing for the Liberal leadership Jean Chrétien told reporters in Brandon, Manitoba that he would introduce proportional representation right after the next election if he became Prime Minister. In 1993 Jean Chrétien won the election and began his 10 year reign as Prime Minister. In three elections he never won more than 42% of the popular vote but still formed majority governments, thanks to the current voting system. And of course, he never got around to introducing proportional representation.

It is important at this point in our history, and I think we have the will to do it here in Parliament, to bring something forward that eventually and hopefully soon will reflect the voting patterns of all the voters in Canada.

I hope that we will be able to work together to develop a voting system that represents all Canadians proportionally. That way, we will bring a fairer system to Canada's Parliament.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

There will be five minutes for questions or comments on the hon. member's speech when debate on this bill is resumed.

Official LanguagesStatements By Members

10:55 a.m.

Conservative

Sylvie Boucher Conservative Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the Minister for la Francophonie and Official Languages, the member for Edmonton—Strathcona recently announced a $750,000 investment to build community spaces in Edmonton's Saint-Thomas Community Health Centre.

I would like to remind the members that two Liberal ministers made empty promises they could not keep.

This announcement is the latest in a series of initiatives that are making a tangible contribution to the development of official language minority communities across the country at places like the Centre scolaire communautaire Samuel-de-Champlain in St. John, New Brunswick, the École canadienne-française in Saskatoon, which is being expanded and renovated, the École Allain-St-Cyr in Yellowknife, which is being expanded, and the Dawson College community theatre in Montreal, which is being renovated.

When it comes to official languages, our government is all about action and we are bringing in concrete measures to support communities.