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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

Procedure and House AffairsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Procedure and House AffairsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Procedure and House AffairsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Procedure and House AffairsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

All those opposed will please say nay.

Procedure and House AffairsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Procedure and House AffairsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

In my opinion the yeas have it. I declare the motion carried.

(Motion agreed to)

MarriagePetitionsRoutine Proceedings

February 2nd, 2007 / 12:20 p.m.

Conservative

Joy Smith Conservative Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Mr. Speaker, I have over 200 names per petition and I have four petitions, so that is a lot of names that continue to come into my office on the issue of opening up the traditional marriage question. I would like to submit these to the House. They continue to come in even after we have addressed the question.

Human TraffickingPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

Joy Smith Conservative Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Second, Mr. Speaker, we are getting petitions on human trafficking in which Canadians are calling on Parliament to combat this horrendous crime of human trafficking. They want it done to make sure that children, women and others are protected from these predators.

LiteracyPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

Mario Silva Liberal Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to present another petition, one of several that my office has received, dealing with the issue of Bill C-316, calling upon Parliament to reinstate funding to literacy programs cut under the Conservative government.

I present the first of several petitions, which is from the Waterloo region. The petitioners note the importance of literacy for social and economic development and the impact that it has on our society. They recognize the need for Canada to help the 38% of Canadians who have trouble reading and writing. They also recognize that the $17.7 million cut from the funding of literacy programs will contribute to $10 billion in annual literacy costs to Canadians. I stand with citizens of the Waterloo region in calling for the reinstatement of literacy funding and petitioning the government to undertake a national literacy strategy to ensure that all Canadians have the opportunity to achieve this vital skill.

Undocumented WorkersPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Mario Silva Liberal Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have another petition signed by members of the Canadian Auto Workers. It again calls on Parliament to look at the issue of undocumented workers. It states the fact that undocumented workers play a vital role in the Canadian economy, that the Canadian government and this Parliament must do everything possible to make sure this situation is dealt with, and that the bureaucratic barriers that impose a lack of eligibility for Canadian citizenship need to be addressed to deal the issue of undocumented workers.

MarriagePetitionsRoutine Proceedings

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

Gary Goodyear Conservative Cambridge, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have a petition with approximately 35 names on it. The petitioners are calling upon Parliament to reopen the issue of marriage and to repeal or amend the Marriage for Civil Purposes Act in order to promote and defend marriage as the lawful union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

12:25 p.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Is it agreed?

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

12:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed 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

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

When the debate was interrupted for question period, the hon. member for British Columbia Southern Interior had completed his remarks. There remain five minutes for questions or comments on the hon. member's speech. I therefore call for questions or comments.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague from B.C. Southern Interior has given us a very helpful intervention in the debate on Bill C-31.

I think we have a bit of a phantom bill here. It is a bill that is trying to address an issue that has not proven to be a serious problem in Canada. We keep hearing about the need to address the opportunity to commit electoral fraud when we know that the actual incidents of electoral fraud have been very few. In fact, it is hard to get anyone to give a very clear example of a conviction, let alone a charge, of electoral fraud in Canada, yet we have this whole piece of legislation that largely attempts to deal with this phantom issue of electoral fraud.

In this corner of the House, we believe there are some very serious issues around electoral reform that need to be addressed. I know that one of them is very important to us and to the member for British Columbia Southern Interior. It is the whole question of proportional representation. We want to make sure that the House is truly representative of all the political ideas that are found in Canada and that Canadians are interested in.

In the current first past the post system, that just is never the case. It is also never the case that the representation in the House clearly reflects the popular vote in Canada or reflects the diversity of the Canadian population or the participation of women in Canadian politics.

I wonder if the member for British Columbia Southern Interior might comment on what is really needed in terms of electoral reform in Canada and particularly on proportional representation.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Alex Atamanenko NDP British Columbia Southern Interior, BC

Mr. Speaker, of course we need fairness in our electoral system. Regardless of age, regardless of how much money one has, and regardless of not living where one has a chance to vote, it is important to make the voices of ordinary Canadians heard.

I have quoted examples of the system we have now. It really is unfair that a party can get a certain percentage of votes and yet become a majority government. We have seen that in many provinces and we have seen that at this level.

My party and our leader want to try to somehow bring this whole question of proportional representation before Parliament. Our hon. colleague from Vancouver Island North is going to be discussing this very shortly. I just hope that we have a good debate on this and that we, as representatives of the people of Canada, come up with a system that is fair to all Canadians.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Denise Savoie NDP Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, I certainly agree with my colleague that proportional representation would provide a better representation of Canadians in the House. Some Canadians are concerned that proportional representation could lead to more fragile governments and minority governments. They see the tenor of debate in the House right now and they get really worried.

It seems to me that we have the worst of both worlds. We have the winner take all system which leads to the kind of confrontational debate that we have seen and a minority Parliament that brings out the worst as people continually arm themselves in the fear of an election.

Could my colleague talk about how proportional representation might lead to a more collaborative approach to governance in Canada?

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

The hon. member for British Columbia Southern Interior will want to check with the Chair for signals about time.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

NDP

Alex Atamanenko NDP British Columbia Southern Interior, BC

Mr. Speaker, we have seen around the world where there is chaos in the parliamentary system. That does not seem to work. We have seen the other extreme here where we have no representation proportionally. That does not seem to be working.

There is a way of coming up with a healthy compromise. It is not my turn now to get into specifics but I think that this can be debated. The concerns are real and I think we can come up with a system that would be really good for all Canadians.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Liberal Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in this debate on Bill C-31 at the report stage. This bill includes a number of amendments that are basically grouped into three sections, in addition to the amendments proposed by the hon. member for Ottawa Centre, at the report stage. I will focus primarily on the foundation of the bill, that is, the amendments concerning the electoral list, its preparation, maintenance, use, precision and accuracy.

From time to time, it is a good idea to evaluate the process in order to ensure that elections—either Canada's general elections or byelections, the elections that bring us into this House—are properly structured and accurately reflect the will of the population.

Recently, since the list was created, many questions have been raised about its quality.

Without criticizing anyone in particular, I believe it is important from time to time for parliamentarians to assess the situation and offer corrections, if needed. That is essentially what we are doing today. The Chief Electoral Officer and the committee have thought about this issue and made recommendations to the government. Generally speaking, the government seems to have accepted these recommendations to ensure that the permanent list of electors is better structured and that the accuracy of the information is improved.

It will be possible to obtain information from both the federal and provincial levels. The information could be combined better and given an identifier in order to avoid the duplication of names and so forth. In my opinion, these amendments should generally improve the permanent list of electors.

There is also the whole issue of voter turnout. We have heard comments about this from our colleagues. They mentioned the decline in voter turnout in Canada. In the past, questions were raised about the quality of the list and the number of duplications. Would this situation not be artificially lowering the turnout rate among the Canadian public? If the list is inflated with a few too many duplications, then such an improvement in preparing the list could eliminate this problem.

That is what I had to say about the first series of amendments to the bill. I did not hear anyone categorically oppose them.

The second series has to do with the need to identify the electors on polling day or when electors want to register on the list of electors on polling day.

On this matter, I share the concerns and apprehensions of a number of my colleagues that the system, as it is currently structured, could be abused.

On election day, when one goes from polling station to polling station and sees several dozen people waiting to register on the list of electors, one is entitled to ask what is wrong with the system.

There is not necessarily any fraudulent activity involved but, obviously, something is not right with the system. In my opinion, it is up to us to eliminate all opportunities for abuse. I believe it is fair to ask for photo identification, a government identification card or an identification card that is recognized or authorized by the Chief Electoral Officer. Most Canadians have no problem with that.

These days when we get on a plane, we have to have photo ID. It is also required when applying for credit and when young people want to have a drink.

Photo ID is often required to join a political party, or to fight for a nomination in a riding or the leadership of a party.

I think that asking voters and citizens to present photo ID is quite acceptable and normal. I would perhaps be less inclined to accept this if there were no other means of registering. We have to recognize that some citizens may find it difficult to obtain photo ID.

The system will continue to allow citizens to register without photo ID under certain conditions. Someone must be able to verify that the information provided by the person wishing to register is true and accurate.

I have to admit that I did hear of some situations in certain areas of the country where, on the day of the election, hundreds, even thousands, of individuals arrived to register. This was cause for concern or, at least, food for thought.

The parliamentary committee did its work and proposed legitimate recommendations. The government has accepted them and we will now proceed with these changes so that Canadians will have greater confidence in our electoral system.

I must admit that I am not inclined, at this point at least—unless I am shown evidence of fraud—to go so far as to require a voter's card. We have heard about them and some colleagues have seen them in certain countries.

In some situations, such as when an electoral process is just being introduced, a voter's card can be beneficial. Last summer, two of my parliamentary colleagues and I had the opportunity to participate in the elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo as observers. Voter's cards really went a long way toward inspiring confidence in the electoral process there.

I do not think we are at that stage, so I do not think we need a voter's card. But that is not what the bill is proposing. The bill is proposing that voters can use any piece of government-issued photo identification, such as a driver's licence, a passport or a health card. I support that.

I think that most Canadians will recognize that this makes sense.

Our colleagues from the New Democratic Party highlighted one of the administrative measures in Part 3 concerning casual hiring—from 90 to 125 days. The Chief Electoral Officer requested this power. The committee acted wisely in leaving that power with the Public Service Commission which will be able to increase the number of days a person can work casually from 90 to 125 days per year, at its discretion. The Public Service Commission has a great deal of knowledge about and experience managing the public service and will be able to bring in appropriate regulations in this case. I am comfortable with that way of doing things.

From the comments I have heard, all of my colleagues recognize that it is essential that Canadians have confidence in the electoral process. When issues come up, it is our duty as parliamentarians to stop, think and find a solution if we can. If it is theoretically possible to abuse the system, we must act to eliminate that possibility, at least in theory. That is what this bill is proposing.

All in all, this is a positive bill that will move things forward. It will not stop us from checking periodically to make sure that the spirit of the bill is being respected and that those goals are being met, and, if they are not, bringing in new solutions.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I respect my colleague's take on this bill. He said that it is important for citizens to have trust in the system; no one can disagree with that. However, I would challenge him on the remedies that are provided in this bill.

Most people think the need to have photo identification is reasonable. We on this side of the House think so. But now there are additional barriers in place. If one does not have access to those documents, we are going from allowing people to vouch in a statutory declaration to only allowing one person to vouch for one other person. We are taking away that opportunity, particularly for those who are homeless. There is no question that will restrict people from voting. We heard that from witnesses at committee. At committee I asked the Chief Electoral Officer if this was a problem. I asked him how many people had been charged with fraud and he told me that none had. We have to question the purpose of this bill.

The issue around privacy is something that is very disturbing to me. The bill as amended by the Bloc and supported by the member's party would allow Elections Canada to have birth date information. This would allow all Elections Canada workers to verify that the person who was voting was the actual person.

Under the bill, birth date information would also be given to all political parties. All of us here know that is about our having that personal information to target voters, get our message out and raise funds. What does my colleague think about birth date information being shared among all political parties?

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Liberal Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, in response to my hon. colleague's first question, whether it is reasonable that a person can be authorized to vouch for the information of only one other person, in other words, an individual cannot vouch for five or six people, I would say, yes, I think that is reasonable.

Otherwise, we would have a situation in which the representatives of the political parties, for example, could sit at a polling station and would be responsible for saying yes all day long. We would be no further ahead. I think that is reasonable.

If this proves in fact to be too stringent, Parliament, in its wisdom, could correct the situation. However, I do not believe that this will be necessary. In my view, the proposal is reasonable.

The question concerning people's dates of birth is very delicate. I would point out that an incident occurred here in this House. A member of the government party received some information at her office concerning passport applications. It seems that she could have later used that information to send greetings for birthdays and so on.

Some would say that this was not an appropriate way to obtain information.

In my opinion, it is the responsibility of each political party, of each member and candidate for all the political parties, to use all personal information very carefully and judiciously. Candidates who do otherwise will certainly pay the price.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

NDP

Denise Savoie NDP Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Public Service Employment Act. This bill flows from a committee report that sought to address certain concerns about the election process. In my opinion, everyone on both sides of the House wants an election process that is as impeccable as possible. However, careful attention must be paid to the negative effects certain sections of this bill may have. My colleagues who were members of the committee attempted to mitigate these effects by proposing certain amendments.

We should also remember that Canada does not have to make any drastic changes. I believe that Canada's Chief Electoral Officer stated that the integrity of our electoral system is intact and that there were, at the very most, only two or three cases of fraud in the last elections.

I would like to talk about certain sections of the legislation that we are discussing. First, some of them could deprive the most vulnerable of their right to vote. Second, they would allow political parties to assume the right to receive personal information, such as the date of birth of Canadians. I will start with this last point.

As I mentioned, the intent behind taking all possible measures to reduce the possibility of fraud is excellent. However, providing all political parties with personal information, such as birth dates, is symptomatic of a big brother state.

What in the world could justify giving political parties this information, aside from allowing MPs to make a birthday call for crass political reasons or to better target voters? This is not about reducing fraud. It is simply about targeting voters to get personal information to improve political parties' messaging. The Conservative Party, for example, is already spending fortunes to find out what would make voters less likely to vote for the Liberal Party rather than focusing on the issues. We are now developing personality attacks in Canada. I think Canadians will be very irritated when they find out that political parties can now have that kind of personal information.

It seems to me that political parties already have enough information, if we judge from the kinds of political ads that are presently being aired. Why make political opportunism more rampant than it is right now in Canada? I ask my colleagues to be attentive to this tool that Liberals and Conservatives are proposing and want to create through this law. The tool will shape the use, as noted scientist Ursula Franklin says. If we do not foresee the impacts of the changes that we are proposing through this law, we will not make a good decision.

Talking about good public policy, I would like to go back to the question of the new requirements for one piece of government issued photo ID showing a name and address, and two pieces of ID authorized by the Chief Electoral Officer showing the name and address of the voter, or the requirement to take an oath, or to be vouched for by another elector.

On the surface, this might seem fairly benign or innocuous, but in reality it seems that this bill could result in thousands of individuals who lack proper identification due to poverty or disability, or who have no stable address, not being able to exercise their right to vote because of the identification requirements of this bill. People who are homeless or temporarily housed often do not have identification that reflects their addresses or their stay in a shelter. During the last election I spoke with some homeless people on the street and that was in fact their case. They could go to a homeless shelter where the staff there could vouch for many of them, but this possibility would be removed for them. It would further disenfranchise those people.

My colleague from Ottawa Centre put forward recommendations at committee that would have addressed these concerns. These included the use of a statutory declaration as an alternate means of identification for an elector to prove his or her identity. I believe we also proposed an amendment to allow for a representative of a recognized agency, such as happens now, to be authorized to vouch for the agency's clientele as authorized by the local returning officer. These amendments were defeated by members of the other parties.

We should talk about one of the real problems that has occurred, and that is with respect to enumeration. I know personally that my daughter-in-law, who lived with me six years ago and has voted since then in a number of elections, still receives her voter slip at my address. There has been a real problem in performing proper enumeration in Canada and this should be corrected. That would be a way of reducing the possibility of fraud. This bill just does not do it.

The bill does require other amendments, for example, the proposed amendments to the PSE Act that are, more or less, buried in the bill. Those amendments could, potentially, have a significant impact on employment patterns in the federal public service where, clearly, the Conservative government is talking about more flexible employment and more flexibility in departmental hiring. We have a concern about what that might mean.

The bill is not good in its present form and I would urge my colleagues to consider some of the amendments that have been proposed by my colleagues.