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.