Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives claim that Bill C-23 will enable citizens to take democracy into their own hands.
However, several measures in the bill will do the exact opposite, since they put citizens—or at least certain groups of citizens—on the margins of democracy.
Under the existing act, voters who have a hard time providing proof of address on voting day, such as aboriginal people living on reserve, students who live far from home, seniors who live in residences and the homeless, can use their voter card as proof of identification. That will change with this bill.
Right now, if someone who has the right to vote does not have valid identification, he can ask a friend or relative to confirm his identity under oath. The government wants to change that. Thousands of voters used this vouching system to vote in the last election. This method of identification is strictly enforced and helps ensure that everyone who has the right to vote is able to do so.
Bill C-23 seeks to put an end to that. The Conservatives' bill would put an end to the vouching system and, as a result, voter cards would not longer be accepted as a form of identification. With these amendments, the Conservatives are going to complicate the voting process for many Canadians who might find it difficult to obtain the pieces of identification they need to vote.
The Conservatives are saying that these measures are designed to reduce the risk of fraud. My question is this: can my colleagues opposite prove that there is a real problem of electoral fraud with the vouching system? Do they have any evidence? The answer is simple. They cannot prove it because there is no real electoral fraud problem with the current system.
In addition, there is no indication that the system is broken. Fraud may occasionally take place, but it is not a major problem right now. As my colleague from Vancouver East said in this debate, fraud exists, but we already have a system in place to combat it and the system works well.
That makes me wonder about the real reason behind the government's decision to make these changes to the rules. The answer is troubling. With these measures, the Conservatives are trying to reduce the participation of certain categories of voters.
According to the Chief Electoral Officer, if the government puts an end to the vouching system, over 100,000 voters might not be able to vote in the next federal election. One hundred thousand people. That is an entire riding. My riding has about 105,000 voters. With this new system, the equivalent of an entire riding would not have the right to vote. The majority of those people are aboriginal people who live on reserves. This is a real affront to democracy.
Mr. Speaker, this bill is a threat to democracy. I am making my appeal directly to you.
The Prime Minister is often said to be an incrementalist. The viewers who are watching this at home may ask what incrementalism is. It means to make small changes. There is a big goal or vision at the end of the road and small changes are made toward that big goal. We have to ask what those small changes are and what the big goal is that the Prime Minister is going after. What are we inching toward? What is it that the Prime Minister wants to achieve, what goal? The answer is troubling because it looks like the Prime Minister is trying to reduce democratic privilege in this country.
Mr. Speaker, my appeal is directly to you because we are debating this under time allocation. I have said before when the motion for time allocation has come up that it was used three times in the first 70 years of Canadian history. From the beginning of this Confederation until 1956, it was used three times. It was used for a specific purpose, that being matters of urgency.
The first time it was used was during the First World War. They needed these things done quickly because it was a wartime regime, and sometimes people need to do things quickly during a war.
In 1956, when Speaker Beaudoin invoked closure during the pipeline debate, there was an urgent reason. It is questionable whether it was truly urgent, but there was a deadline for an agreement between TransCanada Pipelines and the Canadian government. There was also the need to consider the steel supply and the construction season. It was a question of urgency.
As I pointed out earlier in this debate, there is no urgency to changing our electoral system. There is no reason that closure should have been invoked.
My appeal is to you, Mr. Speaker. I ask you to listen to me. This has to stop. This use of closure has to stop during debates. You, Mr. Speaker, are the one who upholds the traditions in the House. It is up to you to uphold the traditions of this fine place, this House of Commons, which means the House of the common people. Your role is not just one of timekeeper; it is to uphold the traditions of this House.
This being the House of the common people, our role here as MPs is to debate legislation and to get to the bottom of legislation and its purpose. Whether our role is to debate whether it is perfected or whether we can craft a better bill, invoking time allocation impedes our privilege as members to properly debate this bill.
This is a large bill. It is a big bill. There are a lot of pages in it. Anyone can read it, but we have many pieces of legislation to review. Government members often accuse us of not even reading a bill; I am sure that there are a lot of members in the government party who have not read the bill either.
I ask the question: what is the rush? Why can we not have a proper debate about this bill? What are we inching toward?
It troubles me greatly that we have limited the debate in here, that we have limited the consultation with Canadians outside the House, and that we are passing a bill that would reform our electoral system. This bill would reform the way that elections are done and the way that the public franchise is done.
We have to look at this bill properly. We have to go over the clauses that are not good and improve them. We have to get rid of the horrible clauses and make the good clauses even better and even more powerful.
We are often asked what the Prime Minister is going toward. I can see, from my time in the House, that the Prime Minister is inching toward a system of trickle-down economics whereby we end up with a plutocracy in which the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. The Prime Minister now wants to give us trickle-down elections in which only the well off can vote. The ones who are more disenfranchised, because of poverty and their living situations, will not be able to participate in elections.
As a result of trickle-down economics and trickle-down elections, we will receive a trickle-down democracy. It will be a democracy for fewer people to achieve fewer aims and offer fewer services, and as a country, we will suffer.
Mr. Speaker, I am making a direct appeal to you. You are the guardian of the traditions of this House and, in effect, of our democracy. I implore you to please stop allowing the use of closure during debates on bills that are not of urgency. We are not in a war.
On this side, at least, we do not feel that we are at war with anyone. Perhaps someone on the government side feels that they are at war with poor people, aboriginal people, or democracy. Perhaps they are afraid that they will have difficulty getting re-elected in the next election. Certainly with the policies that they are bringing in, their favour with the Canadian people is going down every day, so I understand why they are fearful.
However, as representatives in the House of Commons, we have a duty to uphold our Canadian democracy. I implore you, Mr. Speaker, and I ask for your assistance. Stop allowing the Conservatives to use the tactics that have been used during the drafting of this legislation, putting in poison pills and invoking the use of closure in debates.