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.