Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak in support of Bill C-23, the fair elections act.
The bill proposes a substantial reform of many basic aspects of our elections act. Moreover, it contains measures aimed at giving investigators more powers, measures to protect voters from rogue calls, measures aimed at protecting politicians from the corrupting influence of big money, measures to combat election fraud and measures to ensure predictable application in line with the rules in the elections act. These are very important measures.
However, today I would like to highlight the aspects of the bill that provide better service to voters. As we are all aware, there has been a significant drop in voter turnout in the last 30 years. This is a serious problem that could threaten our democracy.
In fact, the legitimacy of our democracy depends on the fact that Canadians choose their government through free and fair elections. We must try to stop the drop in voter turnout and encourage people to vote so that we can protect our democracy.
I am pleased to see that the government has answered the call with this bill and that it is proposing measures designed to increase access to voting. Indeed, one measure in the fair elections act adds another day to advance polling: the eighth day before polling day, a Sunday. This will make for a continuous block of advance polling days, from Friday to Monday in the week before the election. The measure will lead to real results.
Studies done by universities and by Elections Canada show that the most common reason that people do not vote is that they do not have an opportunity to go to a polling station. Our modern lifestyle is increasingly hectic and it is often difficult to find the time to vote. During the 2011 election, more than 2 million Canadians exercised their right to vote at advance polling stations. This clearly shows that, if people are given the opportunity to vote, they will do so.
I am also pleased to see that thefair elections act proposes measures designed to eliminate congestion at polling stations. When voters come to polling stations, the very least we can do is to make sure that they can vote quickly and efficiently. I note that the bill follows up on a recommendation in the Chief Electoral Officer's report after the 40th general election. It provides for the appointment of additional election officers in order to reduce congestion at polling stations.
At the risk of repeating myself, everything must be done so that the voting process at polling stations moves quickly. More election officers in busy polling stations will make for a better voting process.
I also understand that election officers at polling stations will be able to spend more time serving voters, since the bill will eliminate the need to swear in candidates' representatives at each polling station they are responsible for in an electoral district.
With fewer oaths to administer, election officers will be able to let voters cast ballots more quickly, without interruptions. Furthermore, the bill will require candidates, parties and riding associations to submit the names of individuals who have the skills required to perform the duties of election officers earlier in the electoral period.
Right now, the names must be submitted no later than the 17th day before polling day, but in future they will need to be submitted a week earlier, no later than the 24th day before polling day.
This reform is important, because those people can be trained earlier and will have more time for their training. A better trained election officer will be able to make sure that the voting process is more efficient and quicker.
I am sure that a more efficient voting process will enable voters to cast ballots despite the pressures of their daily obligations.
Finally, I am happy to see that the fair elections act will require the Chief Electoral Officer to focus his communications on voters in order to provide them with the information they need to be able to vote. The Chief Electoral Officer will be required to provide information on how to vote, including the times, dates and locations for voting.
The Chief Electoral Office will also be required to provide voters with disabilities with information on the measures designed to help them exercise their right to vote. Everyone with special needs must know about the help that is available to them.
The fair elections act emphasizes the importance of making this information accessible to voters.
To conclude, I would once again like to voice my support for Bill C-23. The fair elections act will ensure that voters are better served when they go to the polling stations.
Given that the first duty of any Canadian citizen is to exercise their right to vote, and for all the reasons mentioned earlier, I urge my colleagues on both sides of the House to support Bill C-23 at second reading.