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House of Commons Hansard #161 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was election.

Topics

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:10 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, the question put by the hon. member for Western Arctic had two points to it but the first had nothing to do with Bill C-55, which is not unusual coming from an NDP member.

However, he did say that he did not believe that our Bill C-31, which deals with voter fraud, would in fact be effective because it would disenfranchise voters. I absolutely reject that premise and I think we will find out, in years to come and elections to come, that this bill will increase the security of voters, ensuring that all voters eligible to vote have an opportunity to do so.

However, he did make one comment about Bill C-55 concerning the advance polling date, the Sunday immediately preceding election day. He said that was tantamount to having a two day election and in fact that would be wrong. For the life of me, I cannot understand why any member of this place would want to see fewer opportunities for voters to exercise their franchise rather than more.

He also pointed out that one of the reasons he felt this would be wrong was that advertising by political parties would continue on the day prior to the election and that this would be something that would unduly influence the voter outcome. I must point out that advertising is already allowed during regular advance polling days, days 10, 9 and 8, prior to an election. In other jurisdictions, including my province of Saskatchewan, political parties can advertise on voting day.

Therefore, the point made by the hon. member for Western Arctic is weak at best.

Bill C-55 is intended to increase the level of voter turnout. If we can do that, in any way, shape or form, no matter how small or how large, it will be a good day and a good bill for democracy.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:10 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I was interested in the comments by my colleague from Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre. I concur with some of his points and I do see his point.

However, he mentioned the idea of election spending on days other than election day. Maybe he will have a chance to explain to us what his views would be on election spending outside of the writ period generally?

I will sum up my point by saying that we now have a fixed election date in this country. We now know when the next federal election will be, unless the minority government falls and it comes earlier, and there are strict spending limits for the writ period in and around that election, which is not likely to happen but it could happen that the government could fall sooner.

Is it not now time to introduce regulated spending limits for the entire four year period outside of the writ period? If it is unfair for big money to have undue influence during a writ period, which is why we have limits, is it not equally unfair for big money or whoever has the biggest bank account to have undue influence over political discourse for the entire four year period? Would he support spending limits in between elections?

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:10 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, I should also thank the hon. member for all his participation in democratic reform initiatives, including the work that he did on the legislative committee for Bill C-2, the Federal Accountability Act, where he was instrumental in assisting passage of that very bill.

I would point out to the member from Winnipeg that while he referenced the fixed election date, that being the third Monday in October 2009, and he commented that it was unlikely that this minority government would last until then, I can assure him that with the continued support of the NDP we will reach the fixed election date on the third Monday of October 2009.

I am encouraged to hear that the member seems to be willing to support our initiatives for the next two years and that we will in fact see an election fall on the appointed and fixed date.

However, the member's question had to do with whether there should be spending limits between elections and not just in the writ period. I think that is a valid point to make and I think it should be examined. Some of the difficulties, obviously, are what is considered election spending as opposed to government spending? How do we define partisan versus non-partisan?

I think those questions need to be considered. I would have no difficulty whatsoever examining that in committee or elsewhere.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Alan Tonks Liberal York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am privileged to rise today to continue the debate with respect to Bill C-55.

There has been a great deal of extrapolation and overview with respect to the ingredients of the bill. I do not think there is anyone in the House who would take exception to the efforts of the government and the opposition to find ways to broaden the franchise and to encourage people to exercise their democratic right to vote. As has been pointed out, this is one of the most basic freedoms that we enjoy and we should always be perceptive and reactive to citizens' needs for accessibility in order to exercise that franchise.

This particular bill is systemic in the sense that it deals with the mechanics of the election through the availability of advance polls. The bill is suggesting two additional days, one of which would be exactly the same, and the other being the Sunday prior to the election. Polling subdivisions across the country would be the same as those that would be accessible in the general election. That is self-evident in the sense that it would be more accessible for Canadians across the country to avail themselves of their franchise. Thus, it would be surprising if there were any opposition to that.

One issue has been indirectly raised and I would like to bring it into the discussion. I would suggest that this is more of a discussion with respect to allowing people to exercise their franchise and encouraging them to vote rather than one in terms of the usual cut and thrust of debate where something is put forward and the opposition has to tear it apart and find some way to improve it.

There are many improvements, I suppose, that generally could be made to the manner in which we carry on the electoral process. Fixed dates has been mentioned, and it is generally considered that this would be advantageous and a step in the right direction toward democratic reform.

The advance poll would be on the Sunday prior to the election and would have the same level of accessibility as a regular polling day during an election. This advance poll would be held the day before the election. I do not know whether the government has given enough consideration to the implications this might have if there were an issue of a high level of interest such as we experienced during the same sex debate where amendments had been made and had became law, but there was a continuing discussion of that through the last election period.

The fact that there was an interlude or, what I would characterize it as, a cooling off period between the time the bill became law and the election, very strong positions were taken across the country among various groups, but at the end of the day everyone had the opportunity for discussion, decisions had been made and we were moving ahead.

This just occurred to me. In the heat of debate, where there are issues that touch on the moral and legal lines, is it in the national interest for there to be the heightening of concerns and a re-awakening of issues the day before the vote? The ability to have a cooling off period, a period where people have an opportunity to digest what has been done, reflect on it and then exercise their franchise during the general election is that implicated by the fact that we are now having a poll the very day before an election, a poll that will be accessible in every constituency, every subdivision across the country?

In fact, that might become the source of discussion as a matter of religion. We have always tried to consider religion as absolutely sacrosanct in terms of issues related to what people view as their religious feelings on a matter and balance that against what is a political issue that is being defined by charter issues and so on.

It is this kind of balance that Canadians have been able to advance civil society through our institutions and conventions. We treat our conventions with respect and tend not to over-moralize. We try to have a balanced perspective with respect to how we would like to entrench the rights of all Canadians in terms of our institutions through our Charter of Rights. This was both the process and substance of what that discussion was all about many months ago, and we advanced past that.

I have a concern, and I am not sure whether it has been reflected on by the government, about should an issue of this nature arise or one related to our history in conscription. This was an extremely divisive issue and we had to come to grips with it. It led to regional differences that in fact threatened to divide the country and it took years for us to move past that issue.

The day before the election is there a possibility that there could be a negative influence in terms of institutions that would now be used, in the name of religion, to mobilize around particular points of view and inordinately affect the outcome with respect to an issue as it relates to a political decision? I only put that out as a concern. It has not been mentioned and it is perhaps something, had there been a broader consultation, that would have been more clearly articulated with respect to the bill before us.

When we look at the statistics, particularly for young people and those who have felt disenfranchised for whatever reason, they indicate that voter involvement has gone down. It was as high as 75%, as I understand it, in the 1970s and 1980s and has gone down to 65% or 60%. We note also that even among seniors, for whatever reason, there seems to be a diminishing of interest with respect to exercising their franchise, which might be a surprise to some people. There are regional patterns with respect to people being less inclined to exercise their franchise.

Although this is an exception, it is worthy of mention. Where we have done studies empirically trying to establish why people get involved in the process of voting and so on, it has been very clear that new Canadians, particularly those who have become citizens in the last decade, are exercising their franchise at a higher level than those who have been here for a long time.

Is it because we take our democratic right to vote for granted? Is it because of the experience new Canadians have, coming from countries where they did not have those privileges? As immigrants always have in the history of our country, they come here to seek a better life, a life where they have more say in their own futures, the futures of their children, the legacy they are creating. It is obvious to me that with those higher voting ratios among new Canadians, there is something for us to learn.

It is why this discussion goes beyond Bill C-55. Bill C-55 provides another opportunity for people to exercise the franchise. For us to really come to grips in real terms with increasing the responsibility and accountability to be part of the electoral process, we have to look beyond Bill C-55.

My colleagues in the New Democratic Party were speaking yesterday about proportional representation. They were alluding to what was happening in the province of Ontario with respect to a citizens commission, which looked at different approaches to electoral reform. This will find its way through into the next election in which there will be a referendum, just as there was in British Columbia. This is one approach that could be taken with respect to mobilizing public opinion and attempting to focus that on improving our electoral system.

I believe the government has attempted to look at different approaches because two other bills were introduced. Bill C-56 was introduced to change the formula for redistributing seats in the House of Commons. Bill C-54 looked at the restrictions on the use of loans by political entities governed by the Canada Elections Act.

The amendments through those bills were earnest attempts by the government to focus on the whole issue of accountability and relevance, and hopefully a corollary to that, getting people involved in the democratic process and in political organizations and mobilizing them to become more involved in Canadian politics.

As part of the discussion, I will make a few comments without straying from the intent of Bill C-55. I have stated that we all should support Bill C-55 with respect to the amendments it is make to allow for two additional advance polls.

However, if we are to draw people into what we view as political life and the discussion of issues that affect us, we have to look at issues related to accessibility. We have to look at whether we are really debating the real issues that people are not only interested in, but also issues that they see as part of the legacy for them and their children.

We also have to take some reflection on whether we have and are earning the public trust. It is matters of accessibility and that we are dealing with the real issues that concern Canadians. If we are doing those in earnest, they will view that as us exercising what they deem to be the public trust.

I reflect yesterday when we had workers here from all over the country. I know many of us in the House joined with the Canadian Labour Congress. People from coast to coast to coast talked about job loss and about the dramatic and traumatic implications of that. Workers had tears in their eyes. At the gathering in room 200, I and many of my colleagues were moved as we listened to the descriptions of what was happening in small communities across the country, with respect to the loss of jobs.

I mention this because this is not something of a partisan nature. Yes, we can look at governments and say we did better than that. These issues are of a global nature, which reflect on very complex and interconnected issues related to capital and how we are competing with countries in the global economy and what is happening with respect to foreign investment in terms of how we can connect and convince Canadians that we have control over our economic future.

It is related to issues that people are caught in a sense of helplessness. If they see this House, both in terms of the substance of that issue and the style of addressing it, they will see us grappling with the issues about they are most concerned. In that way we will be earning to some extent their trust. They may think we are making mistakes in their opinion or they may think we are on the right track, and hopefully we are. They may exercise their franchise in different ways, but that is part of believing in this country and believing in our institutions of governance.

I use that as an example because it goes beyond this bill. It goes into the manner in which we have representation and the manner in which we debate and are seen to be debating. It relates to how we contribute to the positive culture of parliamentary democracy in Canada.

I have shared this on occasion with many of our colleagues, that sometimes we are less than up to the challenge in terms of meeting the expectations of Canadians.

I will talk just for a moment to Bill C-56 as it relates to broadening the franchise. As I mentioned, that bill deals with changing the formula to redistribute seats in the House. In terms of whether we are earning the public trust, both the province of Quebec and the province of Ontario have indicated great concerns with respect to what the bill says. The government should be aware that consultation is absolutely fundamental to gaining the public trust and that we are attempting to broaden the opportunities for people to get involved in the process.

The last comment I have is with respect to Bill C-54 on loans. One of our most sacred rights is the right to be a candidate. Under the Canada Elections Act, we have the fundamental processes and protection in place to ensure that loans are dealt with, that candidates cannot go beyond what they spend.

With respect to some of the content of Bill C-54, it becomes apparent that some are less equal than others when it comes to borrowing money. What we have said is we will make everybody borrow from the bank, thus making it impossible to go our friends and have them on record loaning us money and on record having to pay us back.

Everybody now has to go to the bank and I am not sure that it is a democratic principle that everybody has to go to the bank because everybody does not have the equal ability to get the same loan and get the same rate of interest, and so on. Everybody always has to negotiate.

That bill went, to some extent, philosophically in an opposite way. The legislation that the government had brought in previously was designed to deal with that.

I did not mean to stray by mentioning Bill C-56 and Bill C-54, but I did want to elaborate. If we are dealing with electoral reform to broaden the franchise, those are the things we have to increase. We have to increase accountability, we have to increase accessibility, and we have to earn the public trust.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to my hon. colleague's discussion of Bill C-55.

We talk about wanting to engage the public and wanting to get people involved in the democratic process. However, I find that there is such a massive disconnect between what happens in this House and what happens out in the real world. For example, I would suggest that civility and accountability in this House would probably go a long way to getting people actually feeling that they should get off their couch and participate in the democratic process.

When we are looking at how we will actually engage people, my question concerns this notion of a so-called advance poll on a Sunday. It is clear. We are not talking about an advance poll. We are talking about the full election machine running on the one day that people have for their families. People will be knocking on their doors, the phones will be ringing from the phone banks, and someone will be saying, “Have you come out to vote?” There is stress on our volunteers.

Whether one is from a church background like myself, and our family has always felt Sunday was our day, or like people I know who do not go to church but feel that Sunday is the one day for them to just be with their families, the sense I am getting from people I have spoken with about this idea is that they will now have government in their face on their one day. Government will be trampling on the time they have and basically throwing it upon them to rise above this resentment and see themselves as citizens in a democratic debate.

My question to the member is this. Should we not be respecting the voters, respecting the one day they have and finding some other legitimate ways to engage them in the democratic process rather than trampling on the one day that we have set aside in the week for the family?

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Alan Tonks Liberal York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, it was part of what I was trying to grapple with when I talked about that cooling off period from the heat of an election to the actual deliberation, when the voters, Canadians across the country, would reflect on the issues. They would have been bombarded with election material and comment through the media and so on.

It is the one element that is an exception to the general rule by which the government is operating. It should, in the name of accessibility, make more time available. We have two extra days. However, it is the day before the election which is of concern from the perspective of both the question and my comments, but it is also the intensity.

It is not just a general advance poll. It is really the mirror of the general election the day before with polls in every constituency subdivision. It really is election day on the day before.

Yes, I do agree that there should be some balance that could have been brought in. Two days, yes, but is it necessary that it has to be on the day before and at the intensity that is being put forward by the government?

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a brief comment and ask a question. It seems that my colleague supports providing two more days of advance polling, as proposed in this bill.

The government says that its goal is to encourage more people to vote, but does my colleague agree that this will not make a big difference? Yes, two more advance polling days will be offered. However, in a riding like mine, Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, which is quite large—for those who are somewhat familiar with Quebec, it is located between Saint-Eustache and Gatineau—people who want to vote sometimes have to travel over 100 km to get to an advance polling station.

This bill contains no provisions to increase the number of advance polling stations. If the government really wants to encourage people to vote, it must ensure that there are advance polling stations as close as possible to where they live. It must increase the number of polling stations significantly. As things stand now, even if two more advance polling days are added, people in my riding will still have to travel over 100 km to get to the advance polling stations.

I do think that we have to support this bill; nevertheless, does my colleague agree that if the government really wanted to encourage people to go out and vote, it should have provided for more advance polling stations in small communities, as close as possible to where people live? That would really help ensure that all citizens have the same opportunity to vote in advance.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Alan Tonks Liberal York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, this is the flip side. While I appear to have been arguing with respect to the advance poll on the Sunday before the general election, I was arguing that it was an unnecessary intrusion that by its very quantitative exposure would distort the electoral process in somewhat negative terms.

I was arguing that to some extent, more as the devil's advocate I suppose, but now my colleague from the Bloc brings the other side of the question, the flip side. He is indicating that in his constituency, because of distance factors, more polling subdivisions are required and that would be a qualitative extension, and would help people in his community to vote because of the long distances between the communities.

I would like to point out to my colleague from the Bloc that on that side of the coin the government actually has created the polling subdivisions in keeping with those that will be created for the general election. On that advance day prior, the Sunday before the election, his constituents will in fact have access to local polling subdivisions.

That is my understanding of how the bill is being presented. I suggest to my colleague from the Bloc, from his perspective, that this is a progressive step that will make the electoral process more accessible to his constituents.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, we are talking about how to encourage people to participate in voting. Yet, we just had a bill that was brought forward and voted on by the House where we insisted that people now have to have photo identification to vote.

It was a big issue for me in my region because I have many very isolated communities, first nation communities, with no road access and many people with no proper identification who would like to participate and vote. We have extremely low levels of voting there.

I was in Toronto last week and met with senior citizens. They were asking me about whether they were going to be able to vote because they do not have drivers' licences and they have the old fashioned health card. I assured them that they were still going to be able to vote.

We have questions in terms of even the Elections Canada list. We used to go door to door. We used to ensure that all our citizens were accounted for before the vote. That was how we went out and made sure that people voted as opposed to catching them coming out of church on Sundays.

I would like to hear from my hon. colleague on this because he has been in politics longer than I have. Are there perhaps other ways, or have we actually thrown those out along the way, throwing out the baby with the bath water for example, where we have actually made it harder for people to vote?

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Alan Tonks Liberal York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, on the surface it may look like we were showing two different sides to the same coin, one arguing an unnecessary intrusion because of the nature of the electoral process, where we are going to have an advance poll the day before the election, and then the flip side of that from the Bloc's perspective, where having more polling divisions is good.

Now my colleague from the New Democratic Party is saying that in terms of voter registration, his position from a northern perspective is that there would be people in those communities who do not have the necessary voter registration cards or something that identifies them.

However, in urban communities, the issue on the flip side of the same coin is ensuring that there are no irregularities with respect to voter discrepancies. People pick up their cards in apartment buildings and then vote. They do not have to provide, and are not compelled to provide, the appropriate registration card that identifies who they are and so on.

As I understood it, the NDP's position was that it was against the matter of including birth dates as part of the voter registration cards. I feel that is a progressive step to be realistic. The result of our discussion was that everybody should have that card and I think that probably everybody should try to have it in order that those kinds of irregularities do not happen.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-55. Before I get to the substance of the bill, I would like to inform the House of the departure of one the Bloc Québécois' colleagues, Catherine Lacroix, whose work is greatly appreciated. I know that all parties have people behind the scenes who help us on a daily basis. Ms. Lacroix, whom I affectionately call Catou, has been with us for many years. She is following her adventurous spirit and plans to travel around Europe. She will leave us at the end of this session. I am not certain if that will be next week or the week after, but I would like to take this opportunity to thank her for her loyal service to the members of the Bloc Québécois, her unfailing good humour and her perennial smile. We know that it is not always easy to work with elected representatives. First of all, by definition, elected representatives tend to be self-confident. While not suggesting that we all have big egos, I think it is fair to say that, in order to make it in politics, one must have self-confidence. I would ask my fellow members in this House to join me in a round of applause for our colleague, Catherine Lacroix, who will be leaving us to take up new challenges. I know there are other people just as dedicated as Ms. Lacroix who work with the Liberals, the NDP and the government.

Democracy is not only a virtue, but a practice that must constantly be questioned. As elected representatives, we have a vested interest in the voting process, particularly whether it should be a proportional system or a uninominal single ballot system, as it is at the federal level and in most provinces. We have a keen interest in electoral motives, polls and, basically, in knowing why people vote the way they do. What makes people vote for one party over another? What makes a certain candidate successful in several election campaigns? What variables contribute to the popularity of candidates?

One might compare urban communities or urban and rural communities, but the most important principle is that of equal opportunity. In a democracy, the primary consideration must not be wealth, gender or age; we must all be equal before the law, whether we have $100,000 in the bank or are homeless. It is part of being a citizen to select those people who will represent the others, which is the work of parliamentarians.

We are all aware, of course, that voter turnout rates have dropped in recent years. When we were younger—as older members in particular, and there are many, will recall—we were told that voting was a duty, like any other civic duty. There was disgrace and stigma attached to not voting, which was considered as a form of social drop-out behaviour.

Over time, voting came to be viewed as somewhat less important. Let us face it, we have witnessed some social dropping out. Canada is not alone. This is true of several other democracies, such as France, Italy and Germany. I remember the days when Verchères-Les Patriotes was represented in this place by Stéphane Bergeron, our whip. At the time, a debate among our caucus was taken up by other caucuses. Should we not lower the voting age to 16, we asked ourselves? A colleague from the Liberal Party, whose riding I cannot remember but who was the youngest member ever in this House, introduced a bill to allow voting at 16.

It was said to be a way of not only enlarging the electorate, but also of making young people aware of their duties as citizens. I was rather in favour of the bill. I do not know how my colleagues in the House saw it, but we discussed it in caucus and at our general council.

There were two schools of thought. At 16, we can drive a car. As soon as we start working, we can pay income tax. So some said that, if there are a number of things we can do at 16, if we can do such important things involving our personnel commitment, we should be able to avail ourselves of the right to vote.

Others in my party thought differently. They included my former nice parliamentary leader. He is still nice, but he is no longer leader. The word “former” does not apply to nice but to leader. He said that we had to look out at what was involved in terms of responsibility. This was an argument worthy of consideration. Would young people take the time to become informed? There is something solemn underlying the right to vote. Is there not something a bit offhand about wanting to lower the voting age?

So what we have to be concerned about is turnout. Here I will digress. I was rereading the figures in the report by Justice Grenier. In the 1995 referendum, voter turnout was 93%. That is getting close to 100%. And it shows that when the stakes are high, people can be civic-minded and do turn out to vote.

Obviously the referendum is still an important event. To make a long story short, members will recall that there were two firmly established camps. There was the camp for change, with Mr. Parizeau, Mr. Bouchard and the others, who wanted the National Assembly to be able to keep all its taxes in Quebec City, to be able to decide on its own foreign policy and exercise all the prerogatives presently held by the House of Commons. The other camp, led by Daniel Johnson, Liza Frulla and Jean Charest, argued in favour of belonging to Canada, saying that there was an equalization system that benefited Quebec and that it was in Quebec’s interest to be part of a great Canadian whole.

When we talk about democracy, we know of course that there have been some major breaches of the Referendum Act. If I may, I am going to say a few words about the Referendum Act. This legislation was proposed by Robert Burns, who was also the member for Hochelaga—Maisonneuve. He had got this mandate from René Lévesque.

One of the first things that the Parti Québécois did when it came to power in 1976 was to clean up election financing. It put an end to slush funds. Furthermore, Mr. Lévesque asked Robert Burns, an Irishman, to draft a green paper on referendums. This resulted in a certain number of rules. For example, during a referendum, to respect the principle of equality of opportunity, all members of the National Assembly must register either with the yes or the no camp. This results in the establishment of a provisional committee that later becomes a permanent one with equitable public funding. It is interesting to note that equality of opportunity is so important that a government does not have the right to spend more just because it calls a referendum.

Another rule from Robert Burns' Referendum Act is the idea that there must be a democratic debate of 35 hours.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

An hon. member

Oh, oh!

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I believe that our NDP colleague would like to tell us about the very fine campaign conducted by the yes camp and how it won. We tell ourselves that there will be another time.

Having said that, the Referendum Act also contains the idea of a question initiated by the government in power.

I am presently writing a book. I hope that there will be some individuals, some generous souls, who will read it over a scotch one stormy night. It might be an interesting read. Looking back at the 1980 and 1995 questions, I recognize that it was perhaps somewhat complicated.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order.

We are talking about Bill C-55, not the fact that the PQ lost an election because someone paid more than, what, $1,000, and they lost their nation by $200. That is irrelevant to the discussion. They beat the same old tired drum all the time, and they have ample opportunity to. Could we at least be relevant and talk about this bill and what it means now and not this tired old--

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I will ask members when debating on this particular bill to stick as closely as possible to the actual provisions in the bill.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I ask that my colleague stay calm, listen to my speech and allow me to speak. I am talking about a democratic referendum. That is what we are talking about: democracy. I ask that my colleague show some respect and stay calm. His intolerance explains why the NDP does not have a foothold in Quebec.

I was saying that democracy is very important and that Quebec has its Referendum Act. This legislation was put into use in 1980 and in 1995. To our colleagues in the NDP, I would say that the Bloc Québécois is not convinced that the bill, as presented, will encourage voter participation. We do not think it is enough to increase the number of days of advance polling. It is political cynicism that is keeping people away from the polls. In this context of social disengagement, we have to do a little more than just increase the period set aside for advance polling.

I will give a few examples. Some positive measures were taken during the second-last election. In every one of our ridings, the Chief Electoral Officer hired people who canvassed youth. These people had to convince youth to add their name to the voters list. Young people tend to vote less than others. Not only would we have liked incentives like that to be included in the bill, but we think other measures could have been taken in Bill C-55 that would be more likely to promote voter participation. For example, would it not have been wiser to ask for more polling stations?

Earlier, the hon. member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel made an important point. In his riding, urban centres are quite spread out. Would it not be better to add more polling stations than increase the period designated for advance polling?

The Bloc Québécois is also concerned about the many errors in the register of electors. Quebec has already held a debate on mandatory voter cards. At the federal level, for some elections, it was even possible to register on voting day with two pieces of identification. All this encourages voter turnout. Obviously, there must be guarantees with respect to the potential for fraud. It is very important to question the integrity of the register of electors.

There must be a debate within society. We must ask ourselves why fewer citizens are casting their vote. Is it because they do not trust the leaders? Is it because it is not easy for them? Perhaps election day should be a statutory holiday. That way, people would have more time to vote. Is it because we should have fixed election dates? These are questions that come to mind. The Prime Minister has some very firm ideas about this. Personally, I tend to think that fixed election dates are an advantage. As a matter of fact, the Bloc Québécois, in its wisdom, supports the bill that would set fixed election dates. They would be an advantage, because they would shield us from partisan vagaries.

Twice, the Liberals called elections, called Canadians and Quebeckers to the ballot boxes, before the four-year term was up. In Jean Chrétien's case, it was three years.

He did it because he thought his party would win, because it was easier for his party.

This bill was drafted in response to concerns about voter participation. It would be better to bring in fixed election dates. It seems to me that in Canada—perhaps my colleagues can help me out here—there are already two provinces that have fixed election dates: Ontario and British Columbia, if I am not mistaken. There is no reason for the federal government not to have fixed election dates. I am trying to come up with relevant ways to improve voter turnout.

One day, I sat in for my party whip on a committee. I had the pleasure of speaking with the former Chief Electoral Officer, Mr. Kingsley. I went to a meeting of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to meet with him, and I asked him about the connection between poverty and voter turnout. It is clear that in Hochelaga, where I am from, voter participation is lower than the national average. The national average is 65%, but voter turnout in Hochelaga is only 55%. We have to consider the possibility that there is a correlation between the poverty index and voter turnout. I think there is. When people have trouble meeting their basic needs—food, clothing and shelter—they are much less likely to care about getting involved in our public institutions.

In the end, what does it mean to vote? To vote is to assert one's citizenship. This is why some people believe that, until Quebec achieves sovereignty, we cannot truly have Quebec citizenship. I must admit, I am pretty close to sharing that point of view. This does not mean that people cannot take an interest in the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, participate in the operations of the National Assembly, be familiar with Bill 101, and know the history of Quebec. But, clearly, true citizenship is conferred by the features of sovereignty. This is certainly one more reason to strive for sovereignty.

Indeed, there is a rather tenuous link between social disengagement and participation in democratic institutions, and this should make us reflect on how we can address poverty. I know, for example, that the hon. member for Sherbrooke—and I can never thank him enough—tabled a motion a few years ago to add a provision to the Canadian Human Rights Act to prohibit discrimination based on social condition. I was not surprised by his actions. I know how much the hon. member for Sherbrooke cares about such issues. He is an asset to the social democratic wing of the Bloc Québécois, and I would like to thank him once again.

In closing, we are not convinced that we will support the bill, nor are we convinced that it is enough. The bill lacks the measures and the vision needed to really increase voter turnout. We would have liked to see more polling stations and greater incentives, including a better register of electors and the ability to reach out to voters who are more likely to disengage socially.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, first, I want to congratulate the hon. member for Hochelaga on his presentation. I also congratulate him because, this past weekend, he was selected unanimously as our party's candidate in Hochelaga to run again at the next general election. The Bloc Québécois grassroots in Hochelaga have again put their faith in this member, whose competence and experience are unique.

My colleague presented a very nice picture of Hochelaga, and I would like to hear his thoughts on voter turnout, because this is what is most important.

In Quebec, we made changes to the advance voting process. Before the last provincial election, in March, Quebeckers who wanted to vote in advance had to give a reason to be allowed to do so. Now, they no longer have to give a reason to be able to vote in advance. This resulted in a higher advance poll turnout, but the turnout for the general election changed by a mere 0.1%. So, this measure did not have a significant impact in that regard.

I wonder if the hon. member for Hochelaga could give us his thoughts on how we could encourage more citizens to vote, including in Hochelaga, where, in some areas, people seem to be experiencing greater difficulties.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel. I would like to congratulate him on having been appointed our party's chief organizer. I know that he will do his very best to ensure that the Bloc Québécois not only keeps its seats, but also wins more seats in the next election.

Once again, I think that this is a timely issue. In places where the poverty rate is high, people disconnect from society for all kinds of reasons. These are people who have had a hard time professionally, people who have mobility issues, people who are illiterate, and so on. These are all factors that cause people to participate less in their democracy.

Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, which is located between downtown Montreal and the east end, includes five neighbourhoods. I represent part of Rosemont, which is wealthier, part of south central Montreal, which is poorer, and all of Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, which, from 1898 to 1918, was an independent city that merged with Montreal some time later. People's opinions on mergers in this part of Montreal are deeply rooted. In addition to Rosemont, south central Montreal and Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, I have part of Bourget, which is mostly upper middle class people. The Hochelaga-Maisonneuve neighbourhood is home to real, authentic, courageous people who participate in community life and have a reputation for getting involved in their community and recreation. My neighbourhood would be very different, the social fabric would be very different without recreation groups like Jeunes Sportifs Hochelaga, Notre-Dame-de-L'Assomption, Centre Communautaire Hochelaga, to name but a few, that liven up my neighbourhood.

Once again, we have to ensure that we are making it easy for people to do their civic duty and to come out when it is time to elect representatives to their legislative bodies.

Message from the SenateGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I have the honour to inform the House that a message has been received from the Senate informing this House that the Senate has passed the following public bill to which the concurrence of this House is desired: Bill S-6, An Act to amend the First Nations Land Management Act.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-55, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (expanded voting opportunities) and to make a consequential amendment to the Referendum Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Bloc

Monique Guay Bloc Rivière-du-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would also like to commend my colleague on his speech. Since he is from Montreal, his situation is different than mine. My constituency is on the north shore in the Montreal area.

I have five municipalities to cover, including a regional capital, and the realities are truly different from one municipality to another. It is much easier to cover a regional capital than the small surrounding municipalities, because sometimes there are great distances to travel from one end of the municipality to the other. We therefore need more polling stations for people to get to.

The problem we often encounter is the absence of public transit, which is not an issue in Montreal. In our regions—except for the regional capital of Saint-Jérôme—there is no public transit to allow young people to travel to vote, if they want. It is extremely difficult to get a high voter turnout depending on where the polling station is located. This entire matter should be reviewed.

Reference was made to low voter turnout among our youth. Should we not consider having polling stations in CEGEPs, and allowing voting on more than one day? Should we not consider having polling stations in universities, where students could register? Students often come from other cities. If the fixed election date is in the fall, they are in school then. They do not necessarily go back home over the weekend, because they have homework to do. Also, if they got to register right at the university, that might act as an incentive to vote. The very low voter turnout among high school, college and university students is definitely a concern.

I have nothing against two additional voting days, but I do not think that will boost voter turnout. We know that, at the federal level, from the moment that a candidate's nomination paper has been filed with and approved by the Chief Electoral Officer, one may already vote at any time at the office of the Chief Electoral Officer. The name of the candidate may even be written by hand, if the ballots are not ready. It has been done, and it has been a common occurrence where I come from.

However, there is a single office of the Chief Electoral Officer and it is normally located downtown in the regional capital. People from outside that area are not likely to be able to easily get there to vote.

We also know that one can vote by mail. There are various ways one can vote. Many mechanisms are already in place at the federal level to allow people to vote.

Someone mentioned ID card and the voter cards earlier. There have been discussions for quite some time about the idea of a voter card for everyone. Voters would only have to show that card, instead of having to produce two pieces of identification.

I will give an example. I have an 18-year-old son who voted for the first time in my last election. However, he still does not have all the cards that we have, as adults. He still does not have a driver's licence, he has only his health insurance card. I had to identify him because I was asked to. He was asked for two cards at the polling station.

So this is a problem for young people. It is also a problem for some people who live below the poverty line and who may not have all these cards and all these tools to be able to go and vote. They will not take the trouble to go, either, because they will tell themselves that they would not be able to vote in any event.

When the bill is sent to committee, we may have to consider this possibility and examine it properly to be sure that we include it in Bill C-55 and improve the bill.

This bill is of some value, but it is very slight. It talks about adding only two days. There is not a lot in Bill C-55 that would prompt us to vote for it with any great enthusiasm because it is changing a lot of things.

On the contrary, it is not changing much. We said that we would vote for this bill at second reading to be able to study it further and in greater depth in committee. I hope that some ideas will come out of that committee for improving the bill.

There is also the whole question of the lack of interest in politics, as several of my colleagues have said. When it comes to federal politics, fewer people are voting. People have lost interest. Since 1993, I have taken part in five election campaigns. I have to say that I have been disappointed several times. There was even one time when the turnout fell to 52%, and that was disturbing because the percentage of people voting should be higher than 52%. This means that there is a lack of interest in politics, in representation in Parliament and in political parties. There is also a lack of interest in ideologies. This is disturbing. We have to find a way of restoring our fellow citizens' interest in voting.

The last campaign we had lasted almost 59 days. In the middle of that campaign we had Christmas and New Year. That made no sense. In my riding, during the holiday period, people had things planned for Christmas and New Year's Day. They had family and other people coming to visit. Of course people talk politics over Christmas, whether as a family or in other groups, but I have to say, sincerely, that the volunteers and people working on the ground needed a bit of time off to be able to celebrate with their families.

In my riding, we decided to take a break for those two periods. It made no sense to force volunteers to work on Christmas Day or New Year's Day. They are volunteers, they give their time, energy and enthusiasm to our election campaigns. We have to take all that into account too.

I am very happy with Bill C-16, which will give us fixed election dates so long as the government is not defeated because it is a minority government. Fixed election dates are a necessary and much less partisan approach. People might listen a bit more to what we have to say. People might have more confidence in us if the government cannot take advantage of being ahead in the polls to call an election and hand out goodies. We know how that works. As I said, I have been through five election campaigns.

I think that there will be some basic changes in this bill. I can well understand what my colleague from Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel goes through. He has a huge riding. Mine is a little smaller, but I still have to deal with five large municipalities. If we want to make services available and heighten people’s awareness, we have to provide them with more places to go and vote. I know that my colleague has to deal, just as I do, with a lack of public transit. People must have a car. But not everybody has one. Poor people do not have the means. Not all young people have access to one. For my part, I went to get my son so that he could go to an advance poll in the last election in Quebec. If I had not done that, he probably would not have gone to vote. It is very important, therefore, to raise the awareness of our youth and do so while they are still very young and in secondary school. They should be told what politics is all about. I am not saying they should be able to vote at a younger age, but they should be informed in school.

I have toured around some schools. I have been invited to speak about politics and tell young people what a day in Parliament is like and what an MP is. They do not really have any idea. It should be part of what we do and our responsibilities as MPs to go and talk to young people in secondary school—I do not mean grade 7 but students who are 14 or 15 years old—so that they can ask questions, get informed and understand. They should also be invited to come here and see what happens. A lot of schools send students. They visit Parliament and see question period. That is not always so great, however, because they see us get very excited. It is not necessarily a good example, but I believe that we can connect with our young people.

I was also invited to visit a political science class in a CEGEP to answer questions from the students and to tell them about the work of an MP, in their riding and also in Ottawa. So, it is important to discuss these matters and to find a way to connect with them.

There are also people who cannot get out and who must vote at home because they have a serious disability. My returning officer personally went to a house to allow someone to vote in her own home. That was a fine deed. People may vote as they please, but everyone has an absolute right to vote and I believe we have to maintain that.

However, I do not believe that simply adding two days, as the bill proposes, will be enough. A great many other changes are needed. There are things missing from this bill. We must also avoid scandals and observe the electoral laws. Spending limits must be enforced and there must not be any slush funds. That is extremely important. Our transparency must be crystal clear. That is, perhaps, what will lead people to take a greater interest in politics. They will then say that their politicians are much more honest than they thought. They will look at us in a new way. I believe that is how we should engage in politics. I have always practised politics in an honest manner and I believe it pays dividends.

There is a great deal of work to be done with the media in terms of awareness. Returning officers already do that work. However, on the media side—television, radio, etc.—even more information is needed, perhaps targeted at young people and specific age groups, with very precise messages to seize their attention and give them a desire to vote. In addition, there is all the work that we do. When people hear about things like the sponsorship scandal, that does not help us, and it leaves people disgusted with politics and politicians. We all felt that in the last election campaign. That kind of thing should never happen again. I hope it will not happen again and that, in future, the rules will be tightened up to avoid things like Option Canada and the endless list of scandals.

Scandal after scandal, people are disillusioned and fed up with politics. They say that politics are not necessary and, in any case, politicians are all the same. It is a bit disappointing to hear people say that. There is not much use trying to explain because that is often the answer we get. I think that politics have to be made more accessible insofar as what we do is concerned. We are making progress. We are doing it by means of the householders we send out to inform our people four times a year. What we do here has to be made known, though, in a much more general way so that people really understand. If I am talking with someone about Bill C-55, he has to be able to understand exactly what that is.

Not everyone is highly politicized, of course, but I think that we can connect with people more and get through to them.

I am looking forward to this bill going back to committee because I think it can be improved. All the parties in the House surely have important suggestions to make. We can make them in a harmonious atmosphere because they are intended to make it easier for our fellow citizens to go and vote.

What I have seen in some places did not make sense. Polling stations were chosen in inaccessible places, sometimes even churches or little chapels when it was bitterly cold outside. People could not even get inside to wait. They had to stay outside in the middle of the winter in a snowstorm or in temperatures of 30o C below zero. That is unacceptable. We need to review all that. We have to make sure places are found. I know that people cannot vote in schools in federal elections, but in Quebec they do. It is much easier that way. As a result, locations have to be found all over the place and sometimes they are very inaccessible. This is something that we really should review for Canadians. One result of all this is that people get angry. They go back home and say they will not vote because it does not make sense to be forced to wait outside for half an hour when it is 30o C below zero.

Then there is the whole issue of homeless people, to which my colleague referred earlier. It is important that these people also be allowed to vote. A voter's card would be the best means to allow them to vote in an election. We must reach out to these people, and we must also find an effective way to do so. They must have a say in the election of their government, which is going to develop policies that may save them, or help them move away from homelessness. There are associations that look after these people, but we must do more to encourage them to vote.

In conclusion, I personally think that Bill C-55 does not do much. I hope the government will be open to constructive amendments that will truly increase the chances of seeing these people vote in large numbers. We must fare better than we currently do in this regard. Indeed, it is rather disappointing to see that only 52% of the population voted. Even when we win, it is disappointing to see that people are turning away from politics.

So, as I said, I hope we can improve this bill by using everyone's input, and by using our experience both in Parliament and in the community, because we also work in the community.

I am currently working as the assistant to our new election campaign director. We talk to people and we hear what they think. They have good ideas. We must follow up on these ideas with concrete measures. Of course, we should not expect miracles. We will not achieve a 100% voter turnout. However, the more the voter turnout increases, the better we can do our work as representatives of the public, as elected people, as members of all the various parties and, in my case, as member of the Bloc Québécois.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

It is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Malpeque, Canadian Wheat Board; the hon. member for Madawaska—Restigouche, Summer Career Placements Program.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to begin by congratulating the hon. member for Rivière-du-Nord on her excellent presentation. I am currently touring Quebec with my hon. colleague, who is the associate senior organizer. I therefore have the pleasure of travelling around the province with her.

The objective of any politician should always be the same: to ensure that the largest possible number of citizens of voting age exercise their right to vote—it is so important in our democratic system. The only way to assess how a government or the parliamentary system is working is by using one's right to vote. All too often and for all sorts of reasons, lawmakers and the government forget the large geographic size of Quebec, among other provinces.

The bill seeks to add voting days. Everyone knows that one may vote in advance, on the weekend before a general election. This bill is not adding any polling divisions or making voting easier for people.

The riding of Rivière-du-Nord is not as widely spread out, but this rather large riding includes several municipalities. I would like my colleague to explain how advance polling works, how her riding is divided and what the government could do to improve the situation in the future.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

Bloc

Monique Guay Bloc Rivière-du-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his question. I might add that it is truly a pleasure to be touring Quebec. We are learning so many things, because people have much to say and, as I indicated, they have a lot of good ideas to suggest.

Advance polling poses a problem in terms of the limited number of sites. There is not a variety of sites like on election day. That poses a serious problem. Take a municipality like Saint-Colomban, which covers a huge area. There is only one place where people can vote. This makes it very difficult to vote in advance, especially for people who do not have cars. It might be a better idea to add advance polling sites instead of adding voting days. There is a serious problem due to the fact there is only one voting site, and this site can be located anywhere. As I said earlier, people cannot vote in schools, hence the need to try to find other sites or some small place where voting can take place.

With regard to advance polling, there would have to be provision for additional staff. Very few people work at advance polls. Those who truly wish to vote early are forced to wait a very long time in order to cast their ballot. Perhaps we should concentrate on the following points to increase voter turnout: have more polling stations and hire more staff. At the office of the chief electoral officer, people had to wait two hours to vote. That does not make sense. In Saint-Hyppolite, the polling station was a very small, unheated chapel. Voters waited outside and could not use the church pews. It is not pleasant to have to wait half an hour in -30 oC; some people did not go to vote. We need to take another look at that.

Bill C-55 is an opportunity to make some changes that would be much more worthwhile and enduring. This would be a greater incentive for our voters to go to the polls than just adding two extra days for voting. Adding two additional voting days is not the only solution. We could do that but I believe that other improvements are needed. There will definitely be some constructive suggestions to be made with regard to Bill C-55 when it goes to committee. In addition, witnesses such as the chief electoral officer of Quebec or of other provinces may have suggestions. We shall see. In any event, I believe we should improve the bill in order to reach out to as many voters as possible.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on Bill C-55, the title of which is An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (expanded voting opportunities) and to make a consequential amendment to the Referendum Act.

This bill comprises 14 pages, so I will settle for reading the summary.