House of Commons Hansard #162 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was adoption.


The House resumed from May 31 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

10:05 a.m.


André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased on this Friday to take part in the debate on Bill C-55. When a bill has to do with exercising our democratic right to vote, it is very important to participate in the debate. Some speakers have already talked about this bill, and I join with my Bloc Québécois colleagues in saying that we support the bill in principle. However, we do have some reservations, because Bill C-55 will not eliminate the problem of low voter turnout for federal elections.

This bill amends the Canada Elections Act and aims essentially to improve voter turnout. Quite simply, Bill C-55 would add two days of advance polling. As I said, in and of itself, this measure is a good thing, because it would give people more opportunities to get to polling stations. But it is not the answer.

Personally, probably like the members of this House, I do not believe there is any one way to help improve voting. Still, Bill C-55 is a bit like sugar pie: you have to like it. It may not be the answer, though. I will have some proposals from the Bloc Québécois to present. They will no doubt be very interesting, and we may be able to play with them and draft possible bills.

The Bloc Québécois supports this bill in principle, because our party has long been concerned about the decline in voter turnout, particularly among young people.

I have some statistics from a time before I was even born. In the early 1960s—shortly before I was born—the voter turnout for federal elections was close to 80%. It is interesting to note that at one time the vast majority of people exercised their right to vote.

We all know about the epic battles that have been fought to enable people to exercise their right to vote. Consider women, who, after quite some time, managed to get the right to vote in Canada and Quebec—even later in Quebec than in Canada. Even today, in other countries, people are forced to fight for the right to vote. And I mean fight physically. Some people have to go to war to bring democracy to their country. I have seen places where armed guards had to supervise polling stations so that people could vote. So we in Canada are pretty lucky to have the right to vote. Our democracy enables people to choose who will represent them at various levels of government. Unfortunately, there are still places in the world where people cannot do that.

There was a time when a great majority of people exercised their right to vote. In my speech, I will refer to some statistics to show that unfortunately, little by little, people have been losing interest. Now, as I was saying, there is no one way to generate interest in the democratic process. There are a lot of solutions that would boost voter turnout to an acceptable level, if not as high as the levels of the 1950s and 1960s.

Typically, in the 1970s and 1980s, voter participation rates were over 70%. Since 1993, which was not that long ago, voter turnout has fallen to less than 70%. In 2004, only 60.9% of eligible voters cast a ballot. That is 20% less than in the 1950s and 1960s.

In the last federal election, participation rates climbed to 65%. Was that mere chance, or was it the result of the work of the Chief Electoral Officer and Elections Canada? I have to say that they did work very hard. I am asking because we do not really know exactly what happened in 2006 that brought out 5% more voters than in 2004. Still, it is good news, and I hope that we are seeing a trend toward higher voter turnout even though for some time now, voter participation has, unfortunately, been dropping.

I am thinking about the United States or France. At one point, only about 50% of people exercised their right to vote. Imagine that 50% of people did not choose their government because they refused to vote. I am reminded of the second-last French election, when in the second round, people found themselves stuck with—I say that because it is my personal opinion, but also that of many French people—Jean-Marie Le Pen, leader of the far right Front National, who made it to the second round.

We can imagine how worried some people were at the idea of such a person leading a country as powerful as France.

I am also thinking of the United States. When George Bush was elected, voter turnout was only about 50%. A lot of Americans say that this is not who they wanted to be president. If these people did not vote, it is harder to then criticize and say that the person representing them is a problem, since they did not make an effort to exercise their right to vote.

Perhaps people should make more of an effort. But the politicians must also make it easier, so that they can go and vote. Sometimes it is the opposite. There are places or times where it is made more difficult for some types of people. I will have the time to explain this during my speech.

As I was saying, we must recognize that for a few years, the Chief Electoral Officer and Elections Canada have been trying to make it easier for voters. For example, it is very interesting that it is now possible to vote every day during federal elections, which many voters still do not know.

From the moment we could do so, our organization—I am referring not only to the Bloc Québécois, but also to my riding of Richmond—Arthabaska—has always made an effort to get the word out about this flexible system, which definitely allows more people to exercise their right to vote. Not everyone works 9 to 5 these days. There are all kinds of work schedules, including weekends, evenings, nights. My brother, for example, has been working nights for years. Certain jobs require workers to ply their trade through the night.

It is not always easy to find time in one's schedule, even though it only takes a few minutes to go out to vote. I think more people need to be made aware of the possibility of voting throughout an entire federal election campaign. People need to know that if they must be away and cannot exercise their right to vote on election day or at advance polls, they can vote at any time. There is now even a system in place that allows people to vote by mail. I know some people who had to leave the country and had the opportunity to vote by mail.

Perhaps one day we will even be able to vote by Internet. We must be careful, however, not to open the door to certain kinds of fraud. I know for a fact that people can now vote by mail, even if they cannot be here for the entire election campaign. To do so, they need only be Canadian citizens and indicate their intention to exercise the right to vote. This is another way that people can vote and exercise this democratic right.

In addition, we are trying to improve access to polling stations for the elderly and those persons with physical limitations. Earlier, I mentioned that we sometimes put up obstacles. That is not done in bad faith, of course. There are some individuals who would definitely like to be able to vote but cannot do so even with mobile polling stations, even with advance polls, and even if political parties often organize transportation for these individuals. From time to time, there are exceptions. Unfortunately, some voters have to travel a few kilometres to vote, and that is just not manageable for them. They have certain limitations and there is no mobile polling station that goes to where these individuals live. Some improvements could probably still be made in this area. I do not think that we are pushing the idea that everyone should have clerks and secretaries come to their homes so they can vote and place their ballots in the box. However, some improvements could most definitely be made. We are also trying to make it easier for youth, especially students, to vote.

I stood for election the first time in 2000. That was not so long ago—just seven years ago. At the time, it was extremely difficult for some students who wanted to vote to cast a ballot. That was fairly recently, as I mentioned. When an election is held during the school year, students can vote in their host riding. However, they are usually on the voters list in the riding where their principal residence is located, which is often their parents' residence. A person cannot vote in two different places; you must choose where you wish to vote based on where you are at the time of the election. It is possible to vote according to the address of the parental home which, when you are a student, is usually your main residence. When in the middle of a school term, it is also possible to vote where you are studying.

In our area, we have the CEGEP of Victoriaville. It makes a lot of sense that students come there from other towns or even other areas. We also have a unique furniture and woodworking school in Victoriaville, where people from other parts of Canada come to study. These people have to be able to exercise their right to vote. It is very complicated. A system was established in 2000, which was described by many as bungled, whereby students would show up to vote, but they were not at the right polling station and had not received their voters cards, so they would be told that they were not registered.

Accommodations can always be made, but people end up getting frustrated and turning back without voting—that is what these files are all about—and various solutions are sought. As I said, in 2000, many students experienced difficulties. We have to look at that very carefully, since it is tougher to ensure adequate turnout among young voters.

It would be a very good idea to have polling stations in educational institutions, as we do in retirement homes and other places such as hospitals, where mobile polling stations can be set up. Taking that approach would certainly solve the problem at the CEGEP of Victoriaville, which I described a moment ago. I have had discussions with officials at Elections Canada who are considering doing just that. That would be great news.

Young voter turnout is a concern: the turnout rate for eligible voters under 24 is half that of those 58 and over. A series of statistics show that much work does indeed need to be done with young voters to improve turnout. Among the 21-24 year olds—it is in fact 21½ to 24—the turnout for federal elections is a mere 35%. Among the 25-29, it goes up to 46%. Among the 30-37, it is 49%. Then, it jumps to 58% for the 38-47, which is incidentally my age group. It reaches 67% among the 48-57.

The age group with a rather high turnout is that of the 58 to 67 year olds, with 75% of them voting in federal elections. As I said earlier, some people among those aged 68 or more have more limitations, making it harder for them to vote, and this results in a somewhat lower percentage for that group. However, older people have developed this habit of voting because it is important and no one can ever deprive them of that right. I am pleased to see these people react in this fashion. Among those aged 68 or more, the turnout in federal elections is still an impressive 71%.

However, contrary to what we may think, it is not that young people are not politicized. We have to be careful and realize that it is not all young people who do not care about politics. It is not true that they do not want to hear anything and that they do not understand. That is not how I see things. They may be cynical and disenchanted about politics in general, or politicians in particular, but their concerns have everything to do with politics. One simply has to visit a CEGEP or an organization with young people and talk to them to realize that they know very well what is going on, not only at the national level, but also on the international scene. I am thinking about young people's concerns regarding the environment, globalization and social justice. These are issues in which young people are not only interested but also involved.

Again, one simply has to visit a CEGEP. Earlier, I referred to the Victoriaville CEGEP, which I attended. I go back there regularly for various meetings, and I see how young people are aware of the world that surrounds them and of the challenges that it poses.

Today, a lot more young people are involved in numerous causes, including, for example, international aid and the protection of forests and waterways. All kinds of organizations have been created in our region to protect the environment. In the Bois-Francs region, recycling and salvaging have long been taken to heart. Consequently, many young people are aware of this cause, and I am very proud of that.

Being interested in politics does not necessarily lead youth to exercise their right to vote. Why not? Some people will say that it does not change anything. One can protest all one wants, get out to vote or do all kinds of things, in the long run, it does not change anything, because it is more of the same old, same old: politicians make promises that they cannot keep once they are elected. Examples come from the top down, and this is perhaps where work has to be done, by the government and the other parties.

In fact, to reach youth, not only does one have to speak their language, but one must also address and consider their concerns. It is also necessary to speak the truth and avoid saying just about anything only to get a vote. Indeed, one should not promise all kinds of things without keeping one's promises, although, unfortunately, this is still the case, even today.

Let us remember all these recent political scandals. Let us consider the sponsorship scandal. Young people and their elders are still telling us about it. In face of such results, they wonder why they should vote or bother to trust people who created all kinds of schemes to get money or votes. The effect of such wrongdoing is that the reputation of all politicians is tarnished because some individuals decided to use a program for thoroughly partisan purposes.

There is also the sense that politicians are in ivory towers making grand speeches. I am making one today. We have great ideas, but what really happens at the end of the day? I think I can generalize because it is not just young people who get this feeling. For those people, what can a government really do to directly solve their problems? Of course when we receive people in our offices, we as members know that we manage to help a number of them. We do not help them all. In many cases, we manage to get a resource directly from the government that we are affiliated with, the federal government, in order to help people. And often—and this is what I ask of my employees—my staff manages to direct people to the right place where they can get help in resolving their problems. For these people, not only is visiting a member's office interesting, but it allows them to resolve many problems.

What is the Conservative government doing now when it comes to the Kyoto protocol and summer jobs? There was an uprising over summer jobs. I call this an uprising because there was outrage, especially in Quebec, when the former summer career placements program became Canada summer jobs. All of this makes people increasingly cynical.

Nonetheless, I hope this will encourage people to go out and vote instead of saying it is not worth it. In my opinion, if something like the Kyoto protocol matters to someone, then it is very important that they exercise their right to vote to express their opinion. As everyone knows, the Kyoto protocol matters to the vast majority of Quebeckers.

Bill C-55 will not solve all the voter turnout problems. We could talk about this for a long time to come.

It is a step forward. It provides another opportunity for people to exercise their right to vote. However, we have to come up with other solutions. For example, the government could keep its election promises on the fiscal imbalance. Then people would say progress is being made, that something is happening, that politics yield results and that their vote matters, it counts and it is significant.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.


Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his speech, but I did find the Bloc position on this to be somewhat contradictory. I do feel that in relation to his concern about maximizing voters, many people do not carry the kind of identification that is required to vote.

The Bloc, by supporting the bill earlier on has actually disenfranchised voters and made it more difficult under some kind of an illusion that there is a massive voter fraud going on in the country.

At the same time, we are now pushing forward on a bill that would basically create a two day voting period. The first day, of which many people would take advantage, would be a day when advertising is allowed, where parties could take advantage of the opportunity to perhaps put forward issues that are new and that cannot be countered on the Sunday before the vote.

We would have a situation where parties, through their advertising, are going to be able to fool the voters when a massive number of voters are going forward to vote.

Right now we have a system where on the particular voting day there is no advertising allowed. Does the hon. member believe that we should extend that for the Sunday as well because of course this will become a two day voting period?

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.


André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, I think that the attacks against the Bloc contained in the member's introductory comments are unfair. There is absolutely no contradiction between our present position and the bill the hon. member mentioned. The amendment proposed by the NDP opened the door to fraud. We are all in favour of increasing voter turnout but, at the same time, we must not forget—and the member is old enough to know about this— that at a certain time, dead people were registered to vote. Even today, people use all kind of tactics to steal elections. We must keep in mind that some monitoring is needed when people are exercising their right to vote.

In Quebec, voters must now produce some identification at the polls. I have never heard anybody complain about that. As my colleague from Jeanne-Le Ber so rightly put it, voter turnout is higher in Quebec elections than at the federal level. We must monitor the situation while increasing turnout.

I did not have enough time to speak about solutions during my speech, but the member gives me the opportunity to do so. We could, for example, increase the number of advance polling stations. That would be a solution to improve voter turnout. We could improve accessibility in every riding, particularly in isolated or very large regions, by opening more advance polling stations. We could invest more in voter registration and in correcting the voters list.

Things can be done and we are very open to some of the solutions put forward by the member. We can listen. However, we must be careful not to implement changes that make a bad situation worse.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.


Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, the government announced this bill to the media and members of the public with great fanfare. A number of young interns were used for a photo op for the bill. The buzz was that a big announcement was coming on democratic reform and it was democratic reform week. Everyone went out to the front of the Parliament Buildings to hear this great announcement.

I asked a couple of the young interns who they were, where they were from, and who they worked for? Then the minister's announcement was about more advance polling. The government brought these young interns out for a photo op just to make an announcement about advance polling. It might have been a good idea, but it was about Conservative branding. It was like a fancy label on a soup can but the can only contained gruel.

I wonder what the member's comments are with respect to how the government approaches piecemeal democratic reform.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.


André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, if the hon. member was listening carefully to my speech, I said just that when I indicated that Bill C-55 does not solve all the problems. I was not even aware that this bill had been announced with great fanfare. That is surprising. All the bill does is give people two more days to vote.

As I said when I began my speech, it is hard not to like sugar pie, but at the same time, there are many things that need to be done to improve voter turnout. The Bloc Québécois believes that the solution to low voter turnout is more political than administrative. What we have here is a far more administrative measure. We need to fight voters' cynicism about politics. The current government is not helping matters. When the majority of Quebeckers and Canadians are in favour of implementing the Kyoto protocol and the government does the opposite, it is not respecting the will of the people. Obviously, that makes people angrier and more cynical. It also happens when the government sets priorities that do not really reflect the public's priorities.

For example, I do not think that people's priority right now is to purchase $20 billion worth of military equipment, yet that is what the Conservatives are doing. People consider the environment a much higher priority than buying military equipment. But we have to be careful when we say that. We have to say that we are not opposed to equipping our soldiers properly. However, there has not been a clear policy for years—even under the former government—on the purchase of equipment for military operations. No, the government is waging a public relations campaign and saying that it is buying aircraft and used tanks. Unfortunately, in the past the government has bought submarines that sink and helicopters that do not fly. That was a serious problem. Today, when people see that, they wonder where their priorities are and whether the government is listening to them. That makes voters more cynical. The government needs to look in the mirror and not make a huge show of announcing this sort of bill, when there are many other possible solutions to this problem.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.


Marcel Lussier Bloc Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Richmond—Arthabaska for his excellent speech. I particularly encourage the initiative that he suggested about opening polling stations in schools. My concern is hearing from all the statistics that he provided that the turnout rate among youth is the lowest. I would like to get his view about the proposal to give the right to vote at 16 and if we would anticipate a 16% turnout for these young people. What does he think about this?

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.


André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his question.

In fact, if memory serves me well, a bill was introduced in this House by a Liberal member, but we did not have time to go through all the stages of this bill to give youths 16 years and over the right to vote.

When this bill arrived on my desk, I did not have time to decide how I should vote in the House on giving the right to vote to youths at the age of 16.

Today, we must be careful because a young person can get a driver's licence at 16. However, there are other obligations that only come at 18 years old. I think that, at 16 years old, one can be adult enough to exercise one's right to vote. However, as my colleague is asking, would this increase voter turnout? We see that it is lower among young people. The number of youths who would vote would probably increase, but when it comes to voter turnout as such, that remains to be seen.

I believe this issue still needs to be discussed.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.


Thierry St-Cyr Bloc Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the bill before us today. The purpose of this bill is to increase—or so we hope—voter turnout. Unfortunately, even if the Bloc Québécois supports this bill, which we think will give more flexibility to voters, we do not believe it will increase voter turnout. This bill will only shift the vote from voting day to advance polls, as we saw during Quebec's last election. Participation in advance polls was very high, but total voter turnout was very disappointing. The same thing has happened in the past at federal elections: there were no clear links between voter turnout at advance polls and voter turnout on voting day.

In order to bring out more voters, we will have to look beyond strictly administrative matters, as my colleague from Richmond—Arthabaska was saying,. If voter turnout is not as high as we would like, it is probably not because it is too complicated or too difficult, although this can sometimes be the case—I will get back to this later on in my speech—but it is also partly because people do not want to go and vote. This indicates something much deeper and more serious, which goes beyond the actual voting period. It is something all elected members must think about. And perhaps, as the member for Richmond—Arthabaska said, we should change our way of doing things in order to encourage voters and show them how important their vote is.

I would like to compare voter turnout for Quebec National Assembly elections and voter turnout in Quebec for federal elections, for the House of Commons. Based on my information from Quebec, voter turnout for federal elections is consistently lower than turnout for Quebec elections, although it is the same pool of voters. I am not comparing the Canadian figures against Quebec figures. All voters in Quebec vote in greater numbers in National Assembly elections than they do in federal elections.

Ultimately, what incites people to get out and vote to choose their National Assembly representative, and what prevents these same people from voting to choose their House of Commons representative? In my speech here today, I will try to identify a number of factors that might play a role in people's decision. Among these factors, there are some that are more technical, such as those addressed by this bill. There are others, however, that are rather more philosophical and probably more important, although I do not have the statistics to support this in terms of any underlying motives.

I am somewhat new to politics, although I have taken part in two elections, one of which I unfortunately lost by 72 votes. Of course, when you lose an election by 72 votes, you quickly learn that every vote counts. You also quickly try to understand why every voter does not get out and vote, even when they say they will during your door-to-door visits, and you see your victory was only 72 votes away. You take the time to talk to voters, to try to understand their motives.

Technically speaking, there are some elements that will facilitate voting and can encourage people to participate. The bill before us, the purpose of which is to increase the number of days of advance polling, is certainly quite interesting, but this is far from the main reason and, by extension, the main solution. In Quebec, the advance polling period is more limited whereas, for a federal election, as soon as the writ is dropped, any citizen can go to the office of the returning officer and vote.

In fact, we can say that anyone can vote whenever they want during the election period, provided they can get to the office of the returning officer. This provision might work in urban areas, like my riding, where the office of the returning officer is not very far from people. Anyone in my riding can get to the office of the returning officer by metro. I imagine that in other ridings it is another story. And yet, voter turnout in my riding and in other urban areas is not as much higher as one might assume.

This leads me to think that the amount of time available for voting is not a factor. However, the issue of location seems to be important. A little earlier, the hon. member for Richmond—Arthabaska talked about seniors who quite simply have a hard time travelling sometimes. Some live in residences for seniors with limited mobility. For them it is not an issue of knowing when they can go and vote because they are almost always at home. The issue is knowing how they will get to the polling station. In my riding, I have noticed that in many cases a polling station was set up directly in the residence. This is a good idea and simplifies the voting process.

However, it is rather sad that similar measures are not taken for young people, students for instance. It seems to me that we should be putting a lot more energy into young students, especially, as the hon. member for Richmond—Arthabaska clearly illustrated, voter turnout for young people is disastrous. It is even worse during federal elections, when the rate is very, very low.

How can we make things easier for voters? Allow me to give a very concrete example. The École de technologie supérieure in my riding is attended by students from all over Quebec who live in university residences or in apartments located nearby. This makes for a university neighbourhood that is somewhat isolated, somewhat closed in on itself and focused on its own activities. On voting day, these young people are told to go cast their ballot in La Petite-Bourgogne, which is way over on the other end of town. I know this because I went door to door and I met with these people. I told them to go vote, and they asked me where the polling station was. I told them that it was in the same building as the La Petite-Bourgogne swimming pool, and they looked at me blankly because they had no idea where that was.

This is a problem because voters are not especially motivated to go vote, but they think they probably should. They are already less than committed. If things come up that make voting even more difficult, such as figuring out where the polling station is and having to travel a significant distance to get there, many of these less committed voters will be easily discouraged. They just will not go.

The same applies to the reminder cards that indicate the location. In Quebec, it helps that many or even most of the polling stations are in schools. People know where their local school is.

When I get my reminder card and I see that the polling station is at Saint-Henri high school, then even if I lose my card and I do not have the address, it is not a problem because I can remember that I have to go to Saint-Henri high school to vote. I know where it is because it is part of my community.

However, if the address indicated was that of residence xyz, of some centre or of a lesser known location, and that on election day I leave my workplace without that document, I may wonder where I have to go to vote. If I do not have the address and do not know where to vote, I will first have to go back home. These are minor inconveniences. However, when someone is not quite sure if he is going to vote, this might turn out to be the reason why, in the end, he will not bother. When most workers arrive at the same time to vote, there are waiting lines in some polling stations, because these locations are ill-suited and were not set up to make the process as quick as possible. In such cases, some people just turn around and go back home without voting.

I do not know whether studies were made on this issue, but I personally witnessed this situation. In the two elections in which I ran I, like many members of this House, toured polling stations to congratulate the election staff. I also took that opportunity to watch how the voting process was going. At about 5 p.m., the same scenario occurs everywhere, and particularly in those parts of the riding that have a large number of families and workers. People get to the polling stations and waiting lines begin to form. These workers get back home and they must cook supper, take the kids to soccer practice, pick up their little ones at the daycare, and so on. People all have obligations. I remember seeing a totally disorganized polling station. There were 10 or 12 polling booths inside, but they would only let people vote one at a time. This created an incredibly long waiting line. People estimated that they would have to wait 45 minutes or an hour, perhaps less. Since they had other obligations, they thought it was too complicated. Unfortunately, for reasons that I will explain in the second part of my speech, when people have to choose between their personal obligations and their civic duty, they increasingly opt for their personal obligations, rather than voting.

I find that the bill we are debating today is merely interesting. A great deal of work remains to be done in terms of the location of polling stations and their physical layout. What can be done so that at peak times, when workers arrive after work, voting can be carried out as efficiently as possible so that voters do not have to wait?

I said that I would talk a little about some more philosophical considerations. I will attempt to show the difference between what happens during a Quebec election and a federal election in terms of the appreciation of the elected members. When you tell citizens that it is important that they vote for their elected representative because members are the representatives of the people, you must be consistent, you must respect the members and appreciate their work. Unfortunately, this is less and less evident. It was not the case with the Liberals and it is even less so with the Conservatives.

The only message, in Quebec at least, repeated by this government like a child short of arguments, is to the effect that the Bloc will never be in power and that it is useless. That is not an argument that voters accept, as shown by the election results. It greatly devalues the role of the elected representatives. I wonder if the Conservatives said the same thing to their supporters when they were in opposition. I would like the Conservatives to provide me with some quotes from speeches they made in their ridings where they told voters that they were useless because they were in opposition.

They would never have said something like that. Perhaps when the Liberals have an opportunity to ask me questions, they will confirm that since they have been in opposition, they have been useless. Obviously, nobody would ever say that because it just is not true. We all know that the work of opposition members is very important in our democracy: our role is to keep the government in check. We are the majority in this House, and that means a lot.

There are advantages and disadvantages to being in opposition and to being in government. Opposition members do not have their hands tied by their government's promises, and they can criticize the government's actions frankly. Being a Bloc Québécois member is even better because our only loyalty is to Quebeckers, and we do not have to make compromises with other Canadian provinces on their positions and interests.

I think that the Conservatives' attitude will continue to undermine the role of elected members and will have a negative impact on voter turnout in the future. That elected members should do this is deplorable and very sad.

There is also the matter of the Conservatives respecting decisions made by the House. That was also the case with the Liberals when they formed a minority government. How can the Conservatives—like the Liberals—go around saying that we have to improve voter turnout, then turn around and act like this when they are in power? Both the Liberals and the Conservatives have done the same thing. They do not respect the choice made by citizens who elect representatives to speak on their behalf in the House of Commons. That has been happening more and more often with the two most recent minority governments. That might partly explain the difference between the number of Quebeckers who voted in Quebec's provincial election and those who voted in the federal election.

I am curious to see what will happen in Quebec now that we have a minority government for the first time. Will the National Assembly's decisions be respected? The current government will have to see to it, but as things stand, people become disillusioned when they see that the government ignores unanimous decisions without even giving them the time of day.

This government has also disrupted committee work. It even went so far as to develop a little guide for committee chairs explaining how to emasculate the work of committee members. The government's actions have certainly undermined the members' work.

We saw also what the government is doing in the case of former programs, such as Summer Career Placement—the new Canada Summer Jobs. In this case, members were entirely excluded from the grant allocation process. Of course, in the past, members were not distributing grants from the Summer Career Placement program, but they were part of the process. They worked with officials to establish local priorities and to provide some feedback on what was really happening in the field and where the needs really were.

People appreciated this. They felt that they had chosen a member who would be able to make the right choices and to guide officials toward the right priorities for the riding. Unfortunately, the Conservative government decided to cut all this. From now on, only one elected member will deal with these files, that is the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development. This minister does not know what is going on in each of our ridings and where priorities are. We find ourselves in an extremely partisan system, while previously, the system ensured that the elected member's work was appreciated. If the member made bad choices, constituents were able in the next election to tell the member that, if he did not take their priorities into account, they would replace him with someone who would do the job correctly.

If all this were considered and a little more effort were made, I am convinced that the turnout rate in federal elections would improve a lot.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.


Monique Guay Bloc Rivière-du-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for his very eloquent speech. Of course, being himself a young man he is in a better position to understand why young people do not vote. In fact, I have the same glaring problem in my riding.

I would like to hear the member's comments on the idea of not only giving young people in our colleges and universities a day to vote, but also a longer period to register. Many of them do not have time to go back to their community to register. We could give them a longer period to allow them to register at their college, CEGEP or university so they can participate in the electoral process. That would surely encourage them to vote.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.


Thierry St-Cyr Bloc Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Mr. Speaker, that is an excellent suggestion. As I indicated at the very beginning of my speech, serious efforts will have to be made to facilitate voting by youth, along the lines of what is currently being done for seniors, which is a great thing. We should continue to have polling stations in facilities for people with reduced mobility. However, there should also be polling stations in educational institutions and, as my hon. colleague from Rivière-du-Nord suggested, longer periods to go over the voter lists.

The CEGEPs and universities become the place of residence of the young people who study there. Students sometimes go home to their families over the weekend, but it is really at their CEGEP or university that they live. We have to reach out to them wherever they are. The chief electoral officer and electoral organizations have to try harder to reach them. Students have to be told that it is important to register. It has to be pointed out to them that we are making things much easier for them by having revisal offices on site, that it will take them less than ten minutes between two classes to register, which in turn will allow them to vote at their institution, also between two classes, come election day. That is what we should do.

We need to go further, and that will prove even more difficult. The youth not attending CEGEP or university also have to be reached. I do not have any statistics on that, but I am convinced that, if the youth low turnout was split up between those who attend CEGEP or university and those who do not, the turnout in the latter category would be even more disastrous.

All political parties have to be aware of this. Youth not attending CEGEP or university are extremely hard to reach. They are hard to identify, and it is difficult to find out where they can be reached. This makes it difficult to encourage them to vote.

This is an effort that will have to be made. Serious thought will have to be given to it by all.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.


The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

When debate resumes, the hon. member for Jeanne-Le Ber will have six minutes left for questions and comments on his speech.

Community Service LeadersStatements By Members

10:55 a.m.


Mike Wallace Conservative Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, today I stand to pay tribute to two very special people who have recently passed on.

The first is Mr. George Kerr. George represented Burlington in the Ontario legislature from 1963 until 1985. He was the first environment minister anywhere in Canada. He had over 20 years of elected political service. George was a true leader in his community and in his province. He was my political and community service role model.

We also recently lost Mr. Hugh Bell. Hugh was a very well-respected business owner and community volunteer in Burlington. He understood the real meaning of service to his community. Hugh was always there to assist families and community groups in their times of joy and sadness.

Our community, our province and our country will miss these two outstanding Canadians. I know I will miss them.

My thoughts are with their families and friends. God bless them both.

Summit of Francophone and Acadian CommunitiesStatements By Members

11 a.m.


Raymonde Folco Liberal Laval—Les Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, the summit of francophone and Acadian communities opens today in Ottawa. The purpose of this first summit, held at the University of Ottawa, is to develop a new vision for communities.

In all, more than 700 participants from all the provinces and territories will gather here in Ottawa.

The themes reflect the concerns of these communities throughout Canada. During my many travels across the country, I discovered how dynamic these minority communities are, and how much life they add to the development of our country.

Their work is essential in the fight to recognize the rights of francophone and Acadian minorities. I am happy to have this unique opportunity to congratulate them.

Once again, I thank the organizers, as well as the participants of this summit. You are a reflection of the vitality of our francophone communities.

Festivals and Special EventsStatements By Members

11 a.m.


Guy André Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is urgent that the federal government transfer to the Government of Quebec the $60 million allocated over two years to support festivals in Quebec.

We know the minister already has the criteria in place, as agreed upon by members of the cultural community, as well as the Government of Quebec and the Canadian festivals coalition. So, what is the hold-up, considering that the summer season is just around the corner and this is when so many festivals are held?

In Berthier—Maskinongé, we have two major events that have important repercussions on our community's economy, tourism and cultural life. These two events are the Festival de la galette de sarrasin in Louiseville and the Festival de la truite mouchetée in Saint-Alexis-des-Monts.

The worst solution of all is inaction. I therefore call on the minister to do whatever it takes to ensure that our festivals obtain the funds they need to survive, and before the summer season is upon us.

Manufacturing IndustryStatements By Members

11 a.m.


Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, last weekend I joined my colleague from Windsor West and thousands from our community in calling upon the provincial and federal governments to act to protect our manufacturing industry. The rally “Our Jobs, Our Communities, Our Future” was a clear demonstration of the concern the people of Windsor--Essex have about the loss of jobs in this vital sector.

Later in the week I united with my NDP colleagues, the Canadian Labour Congress and again thousands of others on Parliament Hill in another rally to highlight the crisis in manufacturing and to present to the government a practical five point plan to address this problem.

Canadians have shown that we can be the best at manufacturing in the world. We want to continue that proud tradition but cannot continue to be a leading manufacturing nation without the proper tools.

It is time for the government to provide those tools and develop a manufacturing sectoral strategy and a national automotive policy.

Royal Society of CanadaStatements By Members

11 a.m.


James Rajotte Conservative Edmonton—Leduc, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to commemorate the 125th anniversary of the Royal Society of Canada, the country's oldest and most prestigious scholarly organization, which came into being in 1882 at the initiative of the Marquess of Lorne who was then our governor general. The first meeting took place here in Ottawa on May 25, 1882.

The society's primary objectives remain to promote learning and recognize remarkable contributions of Canadians. The RSC: The Academies of Arts, Humanities and Sciences of Canada continues under the patronage of the present Governor General and it promotes and expands the founder's intentions.

The RSC has welcomed institutional members, which include all major Canadian universities. Together they sponsor forums on important issues of policy and ethics.

As a founding academy of the Council of Canadian Academies, the RSC is a supportive, collaborative presence on expert panel assessments. International research partnerships are also part of the RSC's broad and multidisciplinary outlook.

As a vital contributor to Canadian scholarly and cultural life, the Royal Society of Canada continues to build on its impressive traditions.

Drought AssistanceStatements By Members

11 a.m.


Ken Boshcoff Liberal Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Thunder Bay, Rainy River, Kenora and Algoma districts have been suffering from a severe drought for nearly 12 months.

Cattle producers have been forced to sell down their stock and farmers have no money with which to buy supplies for the spring seeding.

The Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and his parliamentary secretary have both indicated that money is available. The minister stood in the House on April 17 and said he had put forward a disaster relief framework to which all provinces have agreed.

It has been three long weeks since the minister announced $7.5 million in drought relief funding for Prince George, British Columbia, but the farmers across northwestern Ontario continue to wait for help.

I call on the minister to stop the delays and provide funds to help the farmers in Thunder Bay, Rainy River, Kenora and Algoma districts.

SyriaStatements By Members

11:05 a.m.


Deepak Obhrai Conservative Calgary East, AB

Mr. Speaker, over the last month Syria has sentenced several prominent human rights defenders, intellectuals and political activists to harsh sentences for up to 12 years' imprisonment for basic efforts to promote human rights and democratic freedoms in Syria. These acts contradict fundamental practices of democracy and respect for human rights.

On April 26 the Minister of Foreign Affairs issued a public statement on the human rights and democratic situation in Syria and urged the Syrian government to ensure that its domestic laws and practices are in keeping with its international human rights obligations.

Today the Government of Canada calls on President al-Assad to show clemency and grant general pardons to Anwar al-Bunni, Kamal Labwani, Michel Kilo, Mahmoud 'Issa, Khalil Hussein and Suleiman al-Shummar, and release these and all other political prisoners. In so doing, the government of Syria would encourage democratic freedoms and the development of genuine democratic participation and electoral processes in Syria.

Option CanadaStatements By Members

11:05 a.m.


Vivian Barbot Bloc Papineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, when the most recent referendum was held in Quebec, pitting the sovereignists against the federalists, everyone had to comply with the law and the rules of the referendum debate.

But the federal government interfered in the debate and illegally spent at least $539,000, thereby flouting Quebec law. The current government was elected on its platform of greater transparency and accountability. It is surprising, to say the least, to hear the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities refer to the Option Canada affair as “minor issues”.

The minister is reducing a shameful episode in the history of Canadian democracy to a mere footnote. A $539,000 hole and no indication of the cost of the love-in in Montreal: these are not minor issues.

In the name of the transparency it prides itself on, the government must thoroughly investigate the issues not covered by Justice Grenier's inquiry and shed light on—

Option CanadaStatements By Members

11:05 a.m.


The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

The hon. member for Beauport—Limoilou.

Summit of Francophone and Acadian CommunitiesStatements By Members

11:05 a.m.


Sylvie Boucher Conservative Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, the first summit of francophone and Acadian communities is taking place in Ottawa, from June 1st to June 3rd, under the theme “A Thousand Looks, one Vision”. Over 700 participants from every Canadian province and territory are gathering for this major event.

Francophone and Acadian communities represent one million people. During the summit, their officials will spell out what needs to be done to define a future vision that will promote the development and vitality of these communities.

Our government is more than ever committed to the francophone and Acadian communities, as demonstrated by our pride in being a partner in this summit.

I wish to emphasize the critical work that the participants will accomplish, and I want them to know that our government is very interested in their proceedings.

Long live Canada's francophone and Acadian communities.

Landscape Architecture AwardsStatements By Members

June 1st, 2007 / 11:05 a.m.


Yasmin Ratansi Liberal Don Valley East, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to announce that a company in my riding of Don Valley East, Schollen & Company International, is a recipient of a National Merit Award in the 2007 Awards of Excellence in Landscape Architecture.

The landscape architecture profession is concerned with analysis, design, planning, management and rehabilitation of the environment around us.

Landscape architects integrate and apply knowledge of ecology, socio-cultural factors, economics and aesthetics to create environments that are functional, innovative and attractive.

Schollen & Company International is one of the 36 projects located in Canada, the United States and China that have been recognized for excellence in all aspects of the landscape architecture profession.

The real winners, of course, are Canadians who get to enjoy these wonderful projects.

Sam FilerStatements By Members

11:05 a.m.


Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Mr. Speaker, Sam Filer was the father of four, grandfather of seven and a Superior Court judge. We honour him today because he was a model of courage and compassion who set an example for all.

He was a co-founder of the Canadian Committee of Lawyers and Jurists for Soviet Jewry, who helped thousands of Russian Jews find refuge in the west in the days of Soviet anti-Semitism.

When he was stricken with ALS, Sam Filer used his own illness to become an advocate for people with disabilities. In the end he could no longer speak but that did not stop him from delivering speeches full of warmth and humour which were read from the podium by his wife, Toni Silberman.

ALS could not take away his courage, but in the end it did steal his life. On March 28 Justice Filer was trapped by his illness in a house fire.

Today is the start of ALS Month. I know that nothing would make Sam Filer happier than knowing that his tribute today is being used to draw attention to those fellow sufferers who live on with the disease that could not destroy his spirit.

WestfestStatements By Members

11:10 a.m.


Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, Ottawa Centre is fortunate to have some of the best festivals and community events in the country. Next Friday marks the beginning of one of our most exciting and successful events, Westfest, Westboro Village's festival of music, art and life, thanks to the volunteers and to Westfest founder, Elaina Martin.

Hitting the streets of Westboro Village on the evening of Friday, June 8 and continuing through to Sunday evening, and spanning 10 city blocks is a two day celebration showcasing excellence in music, theatre, visual, dance, spoken word, aboriginal and performance art with the focus on local Ottawa talent.

Westfest 2007 is pleased to welcome Kathleen Edwards home as the festival headliner on Saturday, June 9.

It is the only festival in Ottawa to offer top level artists for free, featuring performances by 100 other Canadian artists as part of its 2007 edition.

I invite everyone to walk the streets of this 100% Canadian festival. It is Westfest and it is free.