House of Commons Hansard #173 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was post-secondary.


The House resumed from May 7 consideration of the motion.

Pearson Peacekeeping CentrePrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.


Caroline St-Hilaire Bloc Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher, QC

Mr. Speaker, the motion that was introduced by our Liberal colleague from West Nova and is before us today is very positive, in my opinion. The proposal that the federal government fully fund the Pearson Peacekeeping Centre does not seem like a whim to me, because the centre's mission is fully in line with the Bloc Québécois position on foreign development assistance.

As you know, political, geographical and religious conflicts cause serious harm to people, and even one conflict is one too many. The Pearson Peacekeeping Centre was created at the federal government's request in 1994, when a number of countries bordering Germany and Russia were in a rather unstable and fragile state after the fall of the eastern bloc. The centre's mission is to train civilians, military personnel and police officers for peacekeeping missions and to promote research in order to guide public policy debate.

The increasing demands of conflict prevention and resolution, and the growing scope of Canada's involvement in all aspects of peace operations required the creation of a focal point for education, training, and research activities. The teaching environment needed to be multidisciplinary and international, providing a location where persons from different professional, cultural and national backgrounds could learn together. This diversity reflects actual field conditions. The Pearson Peacekeeping Centre was established in Nova Scotia in 1995 and expanded in 1999, opening an office in Montreal to better serve the international francophone community. In November 2003, recognizing the importance of having a presence close to the seat of government, the centre opened a liaison office in Ottawa. Most of the centre's official courses are given abroad, in Africa, eastern Europe and Latin America.

Unfortunately, the centre has always had funding problems. When it was created in 1994, it was supposed to be financially self-sufficient by 1999. It has proven to be difficult for a peacekeeping training centre to be self-sufficient. The Bloc Québécois thinks it is important for the federal government to subsidize this centre. In March, the Bloc Québécois was pleased with the Conservative government's decision to give the Pearson Centre $13.8 million over three years, from March 2007 to March 2010. This funding was for the basic infrastructure of the centre: salaries, rent, equipment, etc. The funding does not cover the projects and courses offered by the centre. It is piecemeal. For example, CIDA is responsible for funding conferences in Canada and abroad.

Until recently, the Department of National Defence funded training courses on peacekeeping missions at the Cornwallis office in Nova Scotia. Located outside major centres in a small community, the advantage of this site is that simulations for the purposes of exercises can be held without disturbing people in the surrounding areas.

The Department of National Defence has decided to stop funding the training courses at the Cornwallis office, saying that National Defence will provide training itself at the base in Kingston.

The only purpose of the Cornwallis office was to provide training. Without federal funding for these courses, the Cornwallis office may have to close its doors. Training is at the very heart of the Pearson Peacekeeping Centre's mandate. The Cornwallis section is very important and the upheaval that will result from closing this section could be very damaging to the centre.

The importance of the Pearson Peacekeeping Centre should not be underestimated. The training and policy directions there are directly related to the policy Canada has been developing since the days of Pearson, whose goal it was in the 1950s to devote 0.7% of gross domestic product to development assistance—an objective I would point out has still not been met, unfortunately.

The development assistance envelope has not stopped shrinking, going from a little less than 0.5% in 1991-92 to 0.45% in 1993 and 0.25% in 2000.

The decrease was particularly significant when the Liberals were in power, but the Conservatives have not managed to do much better.

Through the debate on the motion, I want to reiterate today that the Bloc Québécois is committed to having the federal government implement a realistic and concrete plan to achieve the UN target of 0.7% of GDP for international assistance by 2015. To reach this, the Conservatives must start increasing development assistance budgets now, at an average rate of 12% to 15% per year.

The Bloc Québécois' desire to see this happen is genuine , since we have worked long and hard to improve Bill C-293 to make the development assistance objectives as clear and effective as possible, by proposing that the federal government make all bilateral assistance dependent on respecting fundamental human rights, but also ensure that the money is not diverted from its original purpose.

The Bloc Québécois believes that, given the importance of the Pearson Centre, the government should work with it to ensure a seamless transition from DND funding of training courses to other funding. The federal government should provide full funding temporarily, until the Centre can find new clients to fund its training courses. The federal government has the means to fund this Centre.

Under no circumstances should the Conservative government reverse its decision to fund the basic infrastructure of the Pearson Peacekeeping Centre.

Because the Bloc Québécois has always supported initiatives aimed at resolving conflicts through dialogue and mediation, the Bloc Québécois supports Motion M-311.

Pearson Peacekeeping CentrePrivate Members' Business

11:10 a.m.


Lawrence MacAulay Liberal Cardigan, PE

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to say a few words on behalf of my hon. colleague from West Nova who cannot be here today but who understands fully how important this is to his riding, to the province of Nova Scotia and to the country as a whole.

As we are aware, the peacekeeping missions started over 50 years ago and they have certainly done a lot for this great nation.

Since his election to the House in 2000, my colleague from West Nova has been working to secure long term funding for the Pearson Peacekeeping Centre, an important Canadian institution.

Motion No. 311 calls upon the House to fully fund the Pearson Peacekeeping Centre to assure its continued operation in Nova Scotia.

The PPC was established as an independent, not for profit organization by the Government of Canada in 1994 on the site of former Canadian Forces Base Cornwallis in southwest Nova Scotia. The facility is recognized as a world leader in peace operation research, education and training. The PPC is headquartered in Cornwallis with offices in Ottawa and Montreal. Cornwallis is also the venue for residential courses and military simulation exercises.

There has been ongoing speculation about the future of the Pearson Peacekeeping Centre at Cornwallis. A full funding commitment would ensure the centre's continued operation at Cornwallis and assuage the fears of community members and employees throughout the organization.

Cornwallis Park, Nova Scotia is an ideal location for a training facility, given its retreat-like atmosphere. The facilities of the Annapolis Basin Conference Centre and the many services and amenities at Cornwallis support the work of the centre and provide the needs for staff and visitors. The Pearson Peacekeeping Centre generates employment and contributes significantly to the economy of southwest Nova Scotia.

The real work of the PPC is of increasing relevance. Peacekeeping and the environment in which it is conducted has evolved significantly since the peacekeeping mission some 50 years ago. In this changing environment, the PPC's contribution to preparing military, police and civilians to develop and deliver effective peace operations worldwide is more important than ever.

The PPC operates with funding from DND and CIDA. In March 2005, the federal Liberals announced $20 million in funding to support the PPC over the next five years. In November 2006, the Minister of Defence, during a committee of the whole, stated that his department would meet its share of the funding required to maintain the centre at Cornwallis.

Support for this motion would honour the current government's commitment to maintain funding to the centre. More important, it would send a clear message that the members of this House recognize the importance of the Pearson Peacekeeping Centre to the province of Nova Scotia and to this nation. It is so important for our international reputation that we ensure the Pearson Peacekeeping Centre is properly funded.

Pearson Peacekeeping CentrePrivate Members' Business

11:10 a.m.

Calgary East Alberta


Deepak Obhrai ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I stand before you today to voice my support for the Lester B. Pearson Canadian international peacekeeping centre.

The motion before the House seeks continued support for this unique institution. This government is doing just that, while also remaining fiscally responsible to Canadian taxpayers.

The Pearson Peacekeeping Centre, or the PPC, is helping to sustain a longstanding Canadian tradition. I am sure my colleagues in the House share my pride in Canada's vast experience and formidable reputation in support of peace operations.

Canadians have been actively involved in peacekeeping since 1947. In fact, since that time there has not been a single year when Canadian troops have not been overseas. They have been deployed abroad to stand between belligerents, supervise truces, demobilize and help reintegrate armed factions, remove landmines, and help provide humanitarian assistance, among other things.

Over the past 60 years, Canada's approach to international security has evolved significantly to meet the challenges of the changing security environment.

As members of the House are well aware, today's operations are more complex. Traditional United Nations peacekeeping missions are no longer as prevalent as they once were. More often, Canadian Forces personnel are involved in multilateral missions that are mandated rather than conducted by the UN.

They are participating in operations as part of a coalition or led by many organizations, including the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the European Union and the African Union. But regardless of the form they might take, Canada's peace support efforts are a natural extension of our nation's longstanding commitment to the principles of peace and freedom.

Our military personnel have helped to bring stability to the far corners of the earth and to provide the opportunity for lasting peace to take hold. Together with Canadian development workers, police officers and diplomats, our Canadian Forces members have brought to bear unique knowledge and unmatched skills.

The Pearson Peacekeeping Centre gives these Canadian professionals the opportunity to share their breadth of experience with other Canadians and with our partners and allies. Founded in 1994, the PPC broke new ground as the first training centre of its kind in the world. It has grown to establish itself as an international centre of excellence for research, education and training in all aspects of peace operations.

When one thinks about the Pearson Peacekeeping Centre, it is easy to recall its unique approach to thinking and learning that differentiates it from other organizations within the peace operations community. The centre is a progressive, innovative, multidisciplinary, integrated, practical and networked organization. It carries out important research.

The training it has provided, the solid educational opportunities it offers, and its capacity building contributions to civilian, military and police institutions in Canada and around the world are highly respected. More than 10,000 people, military and police officers as well as civilians, from 140 countries have taken Pearson Peacekeeping Centre courses. The centre has offered its training in 31 different countries around the world.

That is why the government fully supports the good work that is being accomplished by the Pearson Peacekeeping Centre. We have committed to providing it with up to $13.8 million, which includes $12 million in core funding and up to $1.8 million in in-kind contributions for the next three years.

CIDA and DND each will provide $6 million in core funding over the next three fiscal years. Additionally, DND will provide up to $1.8 million in salaries and benefits for a number of military officers to work as staff at the centre.

I must reiterate: Canadians are proud of Canada's military heritage and they are proud of the work the forces are doing to bring about security and stability. The government is pleased to fund an organization that is contributing to peace and security around the world.

These contributions are far-reaching investments. They will help facilitate research, education and training in all aspects of peace operations. They will help sustain an institution that promotes the Canadian values of human rights, rule of law, democracy and freedom. They will help protect Canadian interests abroad. It is common to encounter graduates from the PPC in key government posts abroad, in Europe, South American, Asia and Africa.

And government support goes beyond funding.

Over the years, the Canadian International Development Agency, the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade and DND have developed working relationships or partnerships with the centre. Later this year, the government will conduct a policy review to determine possible future collaborations with the PPC.

Most important, the Pearson Peacekeeping Centre is working to become an independent institution. It has presented a business plan outlining increased diversification of its program funding. It is looking to develop opportunities with non-Canadian government clients.

This government is working diligently to support the centre. The funding that this government has committed over the next three years will enable the centre to develop new courses that best fit changing international training requirements. The government's contribution is also providing the PPC with the support it needs to reach its full potential and become a self-sustaining enterprise.

This government recognizes the direct benefits the centre has brought not only to the Atlantic region but also, through its offices in Montreal and Ottawa, to other areas of the country as well. We appreciate the PPC's contributions to the study and practice of peace operations, as well as its success in building the capacity of other nations around the world. The Lester B. Pearson Canadian international peacekeeping centre has helped sustain and contribute to Canada's solid reputation as a leader in peace support operations.

Before I conclude, I would like to share with my colleagues in the House a few quotes from children:

Peace can grow and blossom like a rose but is delicate and has the innate ability to fall apart if it is not provided with all of its necessities.

That was written by a student from Vancouver, B.C.

Another student from Tottenham, Ontario wrote the following:

I know there are people with the same dreams as me. But it takes everyone to save all of us. We are the people, and it is our right to have peace.

Finally, a student from Waterloo, Ontario shared this view:

Another way to simply help stop war is to respect differences in how we look and think.

These are quotes from students who participated in a recent essay contest sponsored by the PPC that asked them to “think about peace”. Students from all across Canada, and from as far away as Nepal and Bosnia, submitted essays and posters as part of a contest marking the 50th anniversary of international peace operations.

The PPC received entries from Brownie and Pathfinder units, from school classes, from YM-YWCA after-school programs, from military family resource centres, and from students who entered under their own initiative. I wish I could share with members right now the phenomenal posters that were also submitted.

This contest's far-reaching impact is symbolic of the PPC's global contributions to improved capacity, to lessons learned, to education and to training. The PPC has enhanced Canada's proud traditions in peace support. This is why this government stands behind its continued operation.

Pearson Peacekeeping CentrePrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

Is the House ready for the question?

Pearson Peacekeeping CentrePrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Some hon. members


Pearson Peacekeeping CentrePrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Pearson Peacekeeping CentrePrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Some hon. members


Pearson Peacekeeping CentrePrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

(Motion agreed to)

Pearson Peacekeeping CentrePrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Rick Casson Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I think if you were to seek it you would find unanimous consent to suspend until 12 o'clock.

Suspension of SittingPearson Peacekeeping CentrePrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

The sitting of the House is suspended until noon.

(The sitting of the House was suspended at 11:23 a.m)

(The House resumed at 12 p.m.)

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders


York—Simcoe Ontario


Peter Van Loan ConservativeLeader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform


That a message be sent to the Senate to acquaint their Honours that this House agrees with amendments numbered 1 to 11 made by the Senate to Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Public Service Employment Act;

And that this House agrees with the principles set out in amendment 12 but would propose the following amendment:

Senate amendment 12 be amended as follows:

Clause 42, page 17:

(a) Replace line 23 with the following:

“17 to 19 and 34 come into force 10 months”

(b) Add after line 31 the following:

“(3) Paragraphs 162(i.1) and (i.2) of the Canada Elections Act, as enacted by section 28, come into force six months after the day on which this Act receives royal assent unless, before that day, the Chief Electoral Officer publishes a notice in the Canada Gazette that the necessary preparations have been made for the bringing into operation of the provisions set out in the notice and that they may come into force on the day set out in the notice.”

Mr. Speaker, it will surprise nobody that I take great pleasure in having the opportunity to speak to the matter of sending a message to the Senate, but today it is to only send a message with regard to a bill to improve the integrity of the electoral process, Bill C-31.

This bill is part of our agenda to strengthen accountability through democratic reform. While it is by no means headline grabbing, the bill proposes a host of necessary changes and timely operational improvements to the Canada Elections Act that many of us welcome. These are aimed at, among other things, reducing voter fraud, because whenever a person votes who should not, that act diminishes a legitimate vote that has been cast.

The genesis of the bill was the 13th report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs which was tabled in this place almost a year ago on June 22, 2006. Over the summer of 2006 the government studied the committee's recommendations and on October 24, 2006 implemented virtually all of them with the introduction of Bill C-31. We have introduced this bill because we, along with the committee, want to ensure that the democratic process continues to hold the confidence of Canadians.

The procedure and House affairs committee reviewed Bill C-31 in detail and reported the bill back with some amendments. In the spirit of cooperation and compromise, the government agreed to those amendments that had been supported at committee by the Liberals and the Bloc Québécois in opposition, even though we had voted against those at committee.

There is a key amendment in them. The bulk of the debate when it came to the amendments was about whether or not to include the birthdates of electors on the voters lists that are distributed to political parties and not just those that Elections Canada officials have. As I said, in committee the Conservatives opposed it, but when it came to the House we felt on election legislation of this type it was important to maintain a spirit of non-partisan interest and support across parties, so we gave up our opposition at that point to support it through report stage and third reading and send it to the Senate.

Then, to our surprise, since this was an amendment advanced and promoted by the Liberal Party, the Liberal senators were aghast and horrified that had been included. They chose to return to the original Conservative Party position of not including birthdates. Irony has no bounds when it comes to the Senate and Liberal Senator George Baker actually praised the senators for amending the legislation to take out the birthdate provision because it could have increased identity theft and allowed telemarketers to prey on senior citizens. Then he had the temerity to say that without the Senate, we would have had a bill that would have been a disaster. I guess what he was saying was if it were not for the Liberal Party, we would have had a bill that would have been a disaster, and that comment was from a Liberal senator.

I find that amusing because now we are in the circumstance of undoing what the Liberals in the House encouraged us to do. We went along with it in the spirit of non-partisanship to a point where we are responding to these amendments dealing with the birthdate provision. As I said, when we did it in a non-partisan fashion it was to ensure the bill passed to maintain, when it comes to electoral provisions, the spirit of non-partisanship. The Senate obviously felt differently.

The Senate amendments go beyond that. There are five categories. The first category deals with amendments related to bingo cards, which is what they are called. They are a way of helping scrutineers know who has voted. The second category deals with the coming into force provisions of the act. The third category deals with casual election workers. The fourth category deals with the use of birthdates, which I spoke about already. The fifth category is regarding penalties for the misuse of voters lists. I will address each of these in turn. Before I do that, I will say that this government is proposing that the House accept nearly all of the Senate amendments. However, we are proposing a small change to one of the amendments relating to the coming into force of the bill.

First, there are the “bingo cards”. The first group of amendments makes technical changes to clause 28 in the bill, which provides for so-called “bingo-card” updating of lists of who has voted on polling day. Essentially, this provision allows lists of those who have voted to be given to candidates' representatives periodically on polling day.

These lists can be used by candidates to assist in getting out the vote among their supporters. Candidates and their supporters are already entitled to keep their own lists of who has voted, but this mechanism will make the process more efficient and reduce the burden on candidate representatives at the polls.

Quebec has had a similar system for quite some time, and the name “bingo cards“ comes from the forms used there for this purpose. These forms include numbers corresponding to electors registered in the polling division. These numbers can be easily checked off when someone votes. In this way, the forms resemble bingo cards.

The bingo card provision was not in the bill when it was introduced, but was added by opposition members of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs when they studied the bill. The government agreed to this amendment in the interests of passing the bill as a whole. The Chief Electoral Officer appeared before the Senate committee studying the bill and asked that the provision be refined for operational reasons.

The senators agreed, and so the provision was amended in two respects: first, to exclude polling day registrants from being added to these lists. Polling day registrants do not have an assigned number and would need to be added to the lists manually, which would be cumbersome for poll clerks.

In addition, the purpose of bingo card updating is to facilitate the process of getting out the vote, which is targeted at registered voters that candidates have already identified through their lists of electors. Therefore, transmitting the names of polling day registrants would not advance this purpose.

Poll clerks will only be required to provide a list of those who have voted once on each advance polling day, after the close of advance polls. This measure will help reduce the administrative burden of the provision without hindering the effectiveness of the process.

The government agrees with these changes, as they will improve the operation of this provision. I therefore support passage of this amendment by the House.

Second, on the coming into force amendments, the provision in clause 42 was modified when the House committee reviewed the bill. Originally the bill was set to come into force within six months following royal assent, unless the Chief Electoral Officer was ready to implement it at an earlier time. This is the conventional approach for coming into force provisions for Canada Elections Act amendments.

After hearing from the Chief Electoral Officer, the House committee amended clause 42 to extend to eight months the coming into force of the provisions dealing with the national register and list of electors due to the need for updating computer systems at Elections Canada.

In addition, the House committee amended the bill to provide that the other provisions not related to the register, such as the voter identification provisions, would come into force within two months after royal assent. That is fairly easy because those are things that the elections officials already have to be trained to do in the cases where they now have to apply a reasonableness test for requiring identification. They will have to require it all the time. We are actually taking out a step, and therefore, it should not be hard to implement that.

Before the Senate committee the Chief Electoral Officer advised the implementation of the provisions related to the register would actually require 10 months rather than 8 months for implementation to allow time for thorough testing of computer systems. Therefore, the Senate amended clause 42 to allow 10 months for the coming into force of these provisions.

In addition the Senate made an amendment to clause 42 to clarify that the other provisions, such as the voter identification provisions, must come into force within two months of royal assent despite section 554 of the Canada Elections Act, which is the section that says that the six month implementation applies. This would clearly be contrary to the intent of the House committee in requiring that certain provisions of Bill C-31 should come into force within two months of royal assent. That is why we are going with it. The technical amendment ensures that this intent is realized.

The government agrees with these two amendments from the Senate relating to the coming into force provisions. I propose that the House accept these Senate amendments.

However, I should make clear that there is one we have problems with. The Senate also amended clause 42 to include the bingo card provisions I mentioned earlier within the group of provisions coming into force within 10 months from royal assent.

The rationale was that this change is affected by the register and it needs the same amount of time to implement as the other changes to the register. However, as we all know, there are already line numbers included on the list which are used by campaign volunteers to monitor voting and get out the vote on election day.

In light of the other amendments that we have accepted for facilitating the operation of the bingo card system, we do not see why it would take months to implement these new provisions. Therefore, I am proposing that this amendment by the Senate be amended by the House to require that it come into force within six months from royal assent. Assuming the bill received royal assent some time this month, that would be in place for any election that would occur within the year 2008.

The third set of amendments is related to casual election workers. The government in the Senate proposed this third set of amendments. The amendments deal with the issue of the maximum period of employment for casual workers in Elections Canada.

When introduced, Bill C-31 amended the Public Service Employment Act to permit the Public Service Commission to extend the terms of casual workers beyond the 90 day per year maximum period that is currently set out in the act.

As was very cogently explained by the president of the Public Service Commission before the Senate committee that studied Bill C-31, it is her opinion that the Public Service Employment Act does not provide the necessary authority to allow the terms of casual workers to be extended.

The situation of elections particularly in a minority parliament context clearly demonstrates that it is sometimes necessary. Personnel at Elections Canada nearly doubles during an election and the organization depends heavily on casual workers with previous election experience. In the context of successive minority parliaments, Elections Canada must be prepared for a potential election call with little advance notice. As well, there is the potential of running more than one general election in a year.

Bill C-31 as passed by the House of Commons would have addressed this issue. As well, it would have permitted the Public Service Commission to respond on a case by case basis to other situations where casual workers may need extended terms such as the running of a census by Statistics Canada.

However, senators raised concerns in committee with the scope of the regulatory power because it was not confined solely to the elections context. As a result the committee defeated these provisions.

Given the importance of this matter to the effective administration of elections, the government responded with the introduction of amendments at report stage in the Senate to restore the amendment to the Public Service Employment Act, but to circumscribe it so it would apply only to election workers whose maximum term would be set out in the statute at 165 days. This amendment was then passed by the Senate.

It is vital to our democratic process that Elections Canada has the personnel and resources it needs to administer elections effectively and efficiently. This amendment would facilitate that objective and I urge all members to support me in passing it.

The fourth issue and fourth set of amendments deal with the issue of birthdates on the lists of electors.

As hon. members will recall, when Bill C-31 was first introduced it provided that the dates of birth of voters should be added to the lists used at advance and regular polls by poll workers only. These poll workers could use the date of birth as another tool to ensure the integrity of the vote. For example, they could use it to confirm the identity of voters or to differentiate between voters with the same name. In accordance with the recommendation of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs in its 13th report, Bill C-31 did not provide for the dates of birth to be included on the lists distributed to candidates, MPs and parties.

When the bill was sent to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs after second reading, the Bloc and Liberal members of the committee passed an amendment to add dates of birth to lists distributed to candidates, MPs and parties. The Conservative members voted against this amendment in committee. However, we supported the bill as a whole when it returned to the House for passage because we recognized that sometimes compromise is needed.

When Bill C-31 was in the Senate, senators disagreed with those opposition amendments and effectively restored Bill C-31 to how it was when introduced—in other words, by having the date of birth on lists used by poll officials, but not on lists distributed to candidates, MPs and parties.

Obviously, the government is amendable to this change. It was never our intention to distribute birthdates more broadly to political participants.

Therefore, we propose supporting these Senate amendments as well. That said, in a minority Parliament, this is not our choice alone and it will be up to opposition members to decide.

I must say it is remarkable because I personally had to go to that Senate committee and defend the Liberal amendment to put the birthdates on the lists from Liberal senators who said it was shocking and abhorrent. Again, Senator Baker said that “Without the Senate, in this particular instance, we would have had a bill that would have been a disaster”. The Liberal amendment would have made the bill a disaster, so the Liberals in the Senate have changed it.

We just want to get along with everybody. We are trying to make things work. We have been trying to seek consensus on this one and I know we keep going back and forth, and I keep going to the Liberal House leader seeking consensus. I think we now have a consensus, or a partial consensus, but at least one that the Senate will accept.

I know members from the Bloc are not happy with it and I know it restores our original position which we were willing to give up in the spirit of compromise because that is indeed the spirit I and this government have always tried to pursue in the House. That is what we will be doing and I am pleased that eventually that game of ping-pong between the Liberals in the House of Commons and the Liberals in the Senate, on this issue at least, will change.

I hope that it can change on Bill S-4, the Senate term limits bill, and hopefully the Liberal senators will listen to their leader and actually make the decision to move forward with that. I also hope in regard to the budget that they would respect the will of the House of Commons, but that remains to be seen.

The fifth issue relates to the higher penalty for misuse of voters' lists. The fifth last and last group of amendments arose out of the Senate's discussion on the distribution of electoral lists generally. Currently, the Canada Elections Act provides that anyone who knowingly misuses personal information on the lists of electors is guilty of an offence. The penalty for that offence is set at a maximum fine of $1,000 or up to three months imprisonment, or both. The Senate proposes that this be increased to a maximum punishment of a $5,000 fine and one year imprisonment.

In an era of increasing identity theft there should be serious penalties for the misuse of personal information, particularly when obtained through the electoral process. The proposed amendments would provide a better deterrent to those who may be tempted to misuse personal information on the lists for financial gain. Therefore, I am in agreement with those amendments and I propose that they be accepted by this House.

I proposed that many messages be sent to the Senate, but on this occasion I am proposing we send a message advising that the House accepts amendments 1 through 11, but that amendment 12 be amended further to provide that the bingo cards come into force within 6 months from royal assent rather than 10. It is my hope that this important bill with these changes can be given royal assent before the summer recess.

As I have mentioned on other occasions, this bill makes a number of changes to the electoral process that will reduce the opportunity for electoral fraud, improve the accuracy of the national register and the lists of electors, facilitate communication with the electorate and improve the administration of elections.

These are changes that will be of benefit to all parties, to all candidates, and to all Canadians because it will make our electoral system, and in turn our democracy, stronger.

These amendments before us today propose refinements to the bill and I hope they can be dealt with quickly, so this bill can be passed into law. It is our responsibility as parliamentarians to ensure that the electoral process is updated so that it operates with the integrity that Canadians expect. The sooner that we pass this bill, the sooner its provisions can be implemented and our democratic system strengthened.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.


Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, my question is simple. It is about dates of birth. In his speech, the House leader said that the Conservative Party opposed including dates of birth on voters lists for reasons of transparency.

In Quebec, dates of birth are recorded on voters lists and are available to all political parties for verification purposes. This is a safe and transparent way to ensure that, at first glance—at least with respect to age—the correct person has come to vote.

I have a hard time understanding this. It seems that this is an excellent example of the “noblesse oblige” required of a minority government. Still, we should be able to open the Conservatives' eyes. I would suggest that perhaps we should go even further and make dates of birth available not only to Elections Canada workers, but to all political parties, as is the case during provincial elections in Quebec.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.


Peter Van Loan Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I think that the member made some good points. This approach is conceivable as long as the rules governing voters lists are respected.

Certainly, we would like to see this information out there. Our concern, when we first approached it in government, when the inclusion of birthdates on the list distributed to the parties was first proposed by the opposition at committee, was that we cannot necessarily expect that people will respect these lists. These lists do get into other hands and there is a possibility that they would get into hands where we would not want them, and that would produce an increased risk of identify theft.

On the other hand, obviously it would make it easier for political parties because, beyond Elections Canada, they are a very important part of the process of scrutinizing the vote. That is why they are called scrutineers, to ensure that electoral fraud does not take place. That is why we provide for each party to have oversight at each polling station.

From that perspective, it would add something to the system. What we have to do is balance these two very legitimate and competing objectives.

In our case, we thought that balancing those two was a very close call. At the end of the day, the approach that we have adopted is one of seeking consensus and seeking the compromise here in the House in order to have this bill become law.

Our main objective is to see Bill C-31 become law in Canada.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.


Peggy Nash NDP Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have concerns about this bill and its potential to disenfranchise voters, especially very low income voters who today are able to exercise their right to vote. My question for the hon. member is this. What is the rationale for bringing this bill in? Where is the problem?

I know there was an allegation, a complaint of a problem in the last election in a downtown urban riding in my city. There was an investigation and there was found to be not one instance of electoral fraud, so my question again is, where is the problem that, in the government's mind, is creating the need for this bill?

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12:25 p.m.


Peter Van Loan Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

Mr. Speaker, none of the amendments that we are responding to today in dealing with this message from the Senate are related to the issue that has been raised by my friend from Parkdale--High Park. Her concerns were thoroughly canvassed at second reading, at committee, at report stage and third reading.

We have gone there and now we are dealing with some other amendments, none of which relate to the issues she has raised. However, I am happy to address the issue of ensuring the integrity of our electoral process, which is the underlying purpose of Bill C-31.

Society has changed a lot. There used to be a time, and we can still see evidence in some of our old election rules, when people grew up and lived in the same neighbourhood all their lives. They knew all their neighbours, so the ability to commit any kind of electoral fraud was very difficult. People in the neighbourhood would know if someone showed up and said they were so and so. They would know that the individual was someone else. That was the way it was in the olden days. Nowadays, with the mobility of population as high as it is and people not knowing their neighbours as much, the opportunity to succeed in committing that kind of electoral fraud is much higher.

All of the political parties shared a concern about that. At least three out of the four political parties felt strongly enough about that concern to support this bill and its major provisions through the key stages here in the House of Commons.

It is a question of ensuring that we have an electoral process in place that people can trust, so that we do not have these problems and end up trying to resolve them after we have a hung Parliament that has been decided by two constituencies where there has been clear electoral fraud and our entire political system grinds to a halt. This bill is to keep that from ever happening, to protect the electoral integrity that we have, to ensure that electoral fraud does not occur, and to put in place reasonable and balanced measures.

Asking for people's identification is not outrageous. Every election dozens of voters tell me they are shocked that nobody asked for their identification when they went to vote. They said anybody could have said they were them and they would have been able to vote. More and more people are beginning to figure that out.

If we do not bring this provision into place, it will not be long before we see that kind of electoral fraud and the harm that could do to our democratic parliamentary system would be very dangerous.

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12:25 p.m.


Alexa McDonough NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I did not have the opportunity to hear the government House leader who just spoke and identified why we want to preserve the integrity of our electoral system, but I have no doubt that we in the House would have no disagreement on the importance of doing so.

I did hear his comment that if we do not introduce more stringent measures around identification requirements that before long we may get, and I am not sure the exact words he used, a lot of electoral fraud because sooner or later people are going to catch on to the fact that they can commit fraud. Those kinds of allegations have been made, particularly in large urban centres, in a very exaggerated form and found to be completely groundless.

There is no problem in requesting identification, but the concern arises because in real life circumstances in today's world some people do not have the kind of traditional identification that the rest of us have. The government, and other parties as well, seem to have a problem understanding this. That attitude, unfortunately, is related to the fact that the same failure to understand is why we are not doing what we need to be doing about homeless people, people living in dire poverty, and so on.

Does the minister not agree that there are a good many people who are homeless, who are in temporary shelters and so on, for whom alternate provisions appropriately need to be put in place?

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12:30 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

The hon. the government House leader will know that there are 30 seconds left to respond.

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12:30 p.m.


Peter Van Loan Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

Mr. Speaker, that is so little time to answer such a lengthy question.

To the extent that we have people who do not find themselves with typical identification and are a little out of the system, it is a positive thing they are encouraged to have greater access to the kind of social supports that come with greater engagement in our social support networks with government. When they do that, they are more likely to end up with housing and health care. We want people in those circumstances to have access to health care and become—

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12:30 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

Resuming debate. The hon. member for West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country will want to know that, as the government House leader did, he has unlimited time to make his presentation. When we get to questions and comments, time will be limited to 10 minutes.

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12:30 p.m.


Blair Wilson Liberal West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to stand in the House to debate the bill before us, Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Public Service Employment Act.

I believe the central issue of the bill hinges upon two points of view. One is the protection of privacy of the individual Canadian and the other is an increase the integrity and efficiency of our electoral system.

I believe the amendments from the Senate are appropriate and measured. We are dealing in the minority government situation, but we have a consensus around the amendments to the bill, which I believe will adequately protect the right of individuals privacy and at the same time will go a long way to improve the efficiency of our electoral system by enhancing the voter identification process.

The amendments will remove from the original bill references to the year of birth and to the date of birth, but will include the creation of a unique, randomly generated identifier for each electoral person, which will then be assigned to the Chief Electoral Officer to monitor.

The amendment will allow parties and Canadians to feel confident in our system. They will know that our process will allow for enough transparency in the system. At the same time we will have a reasonable and balanced approach to ensure we have a system about which Canadians can be confident.

During the last election, some issues and concerns were raised in the urban areas in Toronto, I believe it was Trinity—Spadina. Allegations were made that there may have been voter fraud. Some 10,000 Canadians signed up on the day of the election, through a process of serial vouching. People would vouch that the other people were who they believed them to be, then those people could vouch for other people and then those other people could vouch for other people. As this string of serial vouching went along, from a reasonable individual's point of view, there had to be some lapse in the integrity of that string.

I believe the bill tries to deal with those concerns in such a way that one Canadian can vouch for somebody else, but it eliminates the serial process of vouching, which I believe is a good thing.

One of the hon. members earlier in the discussion today raised a concern with respect to the proof of identification. I remember I stood in the House when we originally debated the bill and I talked about the requirement of the acceptability of first nations status cards as proof of who an individual was to allow the person to vote.

The issue we have is a delicate one. We are walking a fine line trying to ensure we are improving the integrity of the system by requiring valid identification from Canadians before they can vote. At the same time, we ensure we open up the process to enough Canadians so we have broad participation in the system.

We have a unique situation. Because we have a minority government, we have parties from both sides of the House agreeing on the amendments to the bill, on the balanced and reasonable nature of the bill and on the enhancement and the transparency of the process. It is a good thing for Canadians that Parliament agree, like we have on this. I look forward to the bill being carried and put into law.

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12:35 p.m.


Peggy Nash NDP Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will pick up on a point the member made about allegations of voter fraud in the riding of Trinity—Spadina as part of the rationale for his support for the bill. I am sure, like everyone else, he knows the results of the investigation into that fraud. There were no irregularities in Trinity—Spadina during the last federal election.

Where is the problem? He has alleged there is the potential for fraud, but in fact there has been no fraud. Does he think it is a fair balance to bring a law in that might prevent something that has not occurred in the past? Does he not think the cost of perhaps disenfranchising people, who do not have the means to get back onto the voter's list in many cases, is too steep a price to pay?

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12:35 p.m.


Blair Wilson Liberal West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member's question is valid. I am pretty sure she has had the opportunity to read the report came out on the allegations of the potential fraud committed in the Trinity—Spadina riding.

I have read the report and its findings. The interesting thing about the report, like any report, is the devil is in the detail. The way the report was done and the way the audit was performed was based on sample sizes of various voting boxes. It was not a 100% audit that reviewed every ballot box counted. In fact, if we go into the details of the report in the back pages and the fine print, there were areas in which the auditor or examiner could not go any further. There was missing documentation and ballot boxes that could not be retrieved. Therefore, their sample was based on a limited population to begin with.

I agree with the hon. member. The recommendations and the conclusions of the report were they could not find anything that would prove fraud occurred. At the same time, they realized our system had some wrinkles in it and they needed to be ironed out. Because of that, there was some missing evidence that did not allow them to proceed with a full and comprehensive review of every ballot cast in that riding.

The bill addresses ironing out some of those wrinkles, such as the serial vouching that went on in the riding. It will not be allowed to go forward.

As I said earlier, I agree with the member from the standpoint of it being a balancing act. We have to try to ensure we make our system more responsive to the development of our society. As we get more urbanization, it gets a lot more difficult for somebody to say, “My farm is just down the road from Bill, I have lived beside him for 20 years and I can vouch for who he is”.

We now live in an urban setting where people move in and out of our cities and it becomes a little more difficult for somebody to say that he or she can vouch for this person and then that person can vouch for somebody and then that person can vouch for somebody else.

We have to put in a little more stringent requirements on the rules of voting to ensure the integrity of the system is preserved and the confidence that Canadians have in our democratic system is enhanced. I believe the bill goes a long way to increase the confidence in our system.

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12:40 p.m.

Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo B.C.


Betty Hinton ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Veterans Affairs

Mr. Speaker, does the member opposite agree with some of the thoughts I have on this issue?

We require identification for things such as taking a book out of a library. We also require identification for things such as renting a movie from a video store. I think, from what I heard from the member opposite, that he agrees with the stance I have taken on this issue, and that is voting is a democratic privilege in our country and it should be treated with at least as much respect as taking a book from a public library.