Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my colleague, the member for St. John's South—Mount Pearl.
I would like to address briefly some comments from my colleague across the way, the member for Oak Ridges—Markham, and ask that he do his best to not take the word of whomever is feeding him this information. On the day that the bill was tabled, I appeared before the media and said that I was reading it. I had not yet read it all. However, I had read enough of it to be extremely worried about where it was heading and whether it was going to structure things in a very unfair way. I asked the media to be on the outlook for the details. It was the next day that I came out against the bill, after many hours of reading it. Therefore, what my colleague has been fed by way of a line is completely inaccurate.
I would like to address the motion rather than the generalities of the bill; we have already had the second reading debate on it. I want to put it in the context of our request for cross-country hearings to be part of the procedures and house affairs committee study. There have been no public consultations in advance. We had a debate with the minister about how much he consulted, at all, in advance, especially with Elections Canada. We believe, in listening to the Chief Electoral Officer, that it did not take place. Certainly there was no consultation beyond a “hi, hello” session with the critics or the other parties. Therefore, it is all the more important now that we consider the public input side for something as fundamental as this piece of legislation.
It is hard to characterize the Canada Elections Act as anything other than one of the most fundamental statutes in our system. It cannot get anymore fundamental without it being a constitutional document. It is all the more crucial because tradition and convention have been flouted in the context of the bill. In the past, it has been very much the case, majority government or not, that all parties, including opposition MPs who may not belong to parties, are to be involved in some kind of inclusive way before a bill hits the House. That is in order that there is some degree of consensus and buy-in on changes that, by definition, should be consensual and non-partisan. That is not what has happened here.
That is all the more reason that the government and the minister need to be woken up to the concerns that those of us who have had a chance to read the bill have been raising, and that day by day, week by week, more and more people are becoming concerned about. That will only be fully apparent to the government if the committee is able to have some hearings outside of the Ottawa bubble.
I would also like to make a final link: If we had a fair voting system, this unfair elections act would never have hit the floor of the House. If we had a system where proportional representation was built in, we would not have a single party running a majority government. It would be rare in our history that a majority would be generated because it is so rare that one party gets 50% of the vote. The circumstances would be very different. The tradition, the convention, that parties should be consulted and work together on the Canada Elections Act would have been forced upon this government, assuming that it was the government, with fewer than 50% of the seats. If we had a proportional representation system, we would have had a more collegial consensus approach as to how the bill was generated. The concerns that we have been articulating and debating—and I must credit the minister for coming out and continuing to offer his point of view—would have occurred in advance. A lot of the problems in the bill would have been cut off at the knees, if the government were serious that it had no intent to do x, y or z.
We just heard from the minister that the whole question of being able to call former donors is not going to be abused because any calls have to be for the purpose of that. I would like to hear the minister then say, here and now, that he would accept an amendment that says “for the sole purpose of calling former donors”, and that any other aspect of that call would itself be illegal and/or part of the campaign expenses. That would have been sorted out in advance, if we had been involved in this at an earlier stage.
The minister himself did not bring this up in his speech, but it has been brought up on several occasions by colleagues across the way that we do not do cross-country hearings for studies of bills. That is supposedly a truth. That is not a truth.
In recent memory, the relevant committee went to the Northwest Territories with respect to Bill C-15, the Northwest Territories devolution bill. Why? Although it is a piece of text that has to be studied as a piece of legislation, the context in which that bill is going to take root was important to that committee. With respect to Bill C-10, a bill on firearms control, the committee travelled to Toronto. These were for studies of bills.
Members on the opposite side of the House say that they only ever travel for policy studies. That does not help either. There is so much fundamental social context involved in the policy decisions made so far in this piece of legislation that it is important to hear from Canadians in their local settings, whether it is aboriginal communities on reserve, people in transitional situations in downtown cities or urban areas, students on campus, or Canadians who might not otherwise have a chance to testify before a parliamentary committee and are not used to tuning in to CPAC. These Canadians might nonetheless come to a committee hearing to listen and learn, whether or not they are testifying.
This legislation is fundamental legislation, and I think the minister realizes how fundamental it is. There are reasons that this legislation needs to be grounded in a broader consensus and with buy-in from Canadians at large. That is quite apart from the fact that other parties were not involved in bringing it forward.
I would also like to draw attention to my colleague from Louis-Saint-Laurent, who has spoken about the irony of a House committee travelling as far as Ukraine to study democracy there, including having public hearings. Yet, somehow this is being resisted tooth and nail in our own country.
I have been a harsh critic of the bill, ever since I spent a lot of time reading it in one day because we were having a debate on it on the very next day. I am concerned about every one of the replies that the minister has made. I am still concerned that without amendments those replies do not do the job.
Canadians can read what I have to say on my own website, something that I admit is provocatively entitled “The Unfair Elections Act is a Con Game”. They can read about the over two dozen concerns that I have, none of which have been obviated by any of the minister's arguments, despite his best efforts. I am not going to go into those details.
After hearing from many Canadians, my current concern has only been deepened. These Canadians are not just experts in the field of electoral law or electoral processes, but Canadians who have taken the time to read bits and pieces of the legislation and are drawing something new to my attention. If the social knowledge of ordinary Canadians can produce that kind of feedback to me, my guess is that the benefits of cross-country hearings would also produce insight for every member of the procedure and House affairs committee.
I want to end with a quote from Jessica McCormick, national chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students, who is in Ottawa, and who hopefully would be on the list for Ottawa hearings. She gives an example of what the effects of the bill would be, which I think members can extrapolate as to why we would benefit from going around the country, at least as part of hearings. She said:
Canada has amongst the lowest youth voter turnout when compared to peer nations. The effects of Bill C-23 will make it harder for youth to vote by complicating the voter identification process and eliminating public awareness campaigns that encourage youth to vote.
Bill C-23 serves to cement the notion that politicians do not care about the issues that effect youth. It is our firm belief that the Bill will contribute to a decline in voter turnout that the provinces and peer countries are actively attempting to reverse. The decline is clearly a threat to a healthy democracy and must be meaningfully addressed, not encouraged.
It is that kind of input that I would be looking for, not just here on the Hill in parliamentary committee, but also across Canada through cross-country hearings.