Mr. Speaker, I want to return the attention of the House to some of the valuable aspects of this proposed piece of legislation, which would go a long way toward improving the quality of elections in this country.
Listening to some of the histrionics in what has been said earlier, one would think that Canada is a third world country in which elections are wildly abused. My hon. colleague for Guelph suggested that in 200 separate ridings there were investigations relating to people being misdirected to the wrong polling stations. If this were the tip of some giant iceberg, he would be right; we would be unfit to be considered a part of the family of developed and democratic nations. However, on its face, that is a ridiculous assertion.
One of the ridings the member was referring to was my riding, in which an allegation was made by at least one person phoning the Chief Electoral Officer, which is what actually accounts for the 200 different ridings. I do not know if the member is suggesting that my riding, where I defeated the Liberal candidate by more than a three-to-one margin and the NDP candidate by more than a two-to-one margin, was one in which our party was attempting to misdirect voters because we were afraid we would otherwise lose the seat. If that is what he wants to assert, then he should come out and assert that, as opposed to using this sort of ridiculous innuendo and suggestion, when a clear counterfactual is the case.
Let me deal with three real benefits to the new legislation.
The first is a mandate to Elections Canada as to how it would direct its advertising revenue during and prior to writ periods. This is to be found in proposed section 18 of the legislation. I will read this legislation and then comment on it. Proposed section 18 would now read:
(1) The Chief Electoral Officer may provide the public, both inside and outside Canada, with information on the following topics only:
(a) how to become a candidate;
(b) how an elector may have their name added to a list of electors and may have corrections made to information respecting the electors on the list;
(c) how an elector may vote under section 127 and the times, dates and locations of voting;
(d) how an elector may establish their identity and residence in order to vote, including the pieces of identification they may use to that end; and
(e) the measures for assisting electors with a disability to access a polling station or advance polling station to mark a ballot.
Proposed subsection (2) of that section says:
The Chief Electoral Officer shall ensure that any information provided [above] is accessible to electors with disabilities.
The Chief Electoral Officer has spent a great deal of money on advertising, but very little on these practical issues. This is despite the fact that many Canadians turn up at the polls, in some cases, as in a rural area, having driven a great distance, and discovering they do not have the necessary identification and are therefore unable to vote. Or, they find themselves in a situation in which they cannot vote at an advance polling station because they were not on the voter's list. This is a real problem.
I asked the Chief Electoral Officer in a meeting of the procedure and House affairs committee how big a problem there is with the voter's list. He hummed and hawed and did not want to answer the question. The answer is that there is a 20% rate of errors; one Canadian in five is not on the list or is on the list in the wrong way. That is a problem.
This legislation is designed to help people correct these problems for themselves. They can get on the list. They can find out how to vote. They can find out the methods available to them with whatever disability they may have, be it a mobility impairment, a visual disability, etcetera.
The CEO has to put in an effort to find out how to get those pieces of information to those communities, which is a challenge. I might add that this challenge has attracted no interest from the CEO until now, but now he will have to do that. That is a good thing.
Secondly, I want to talk a bit about voter identification and the issue of fraud. We have put in a lot of effort in this Parliament, and the previous one, into designing legislation in order to reduce electoral fraud. One of the key reasons this electoral fraud can exist is because Elections Canada has had to loosen the criteria for allowing people to vote and to identify themselves, given that Elections Canada has done such an unsatisfactory job in determining who is actually permitted to vote.
Mr. Speaker, I have just been passed a note. I am supposed to remind you that I am splitting my time with the member for Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale and not, despite his helpful suggestion, the member for Malpeque. He no doubt will have fascinating things to say when his time comes.
The situation with voter identification is a mess in Canada. We recently had a case adjudicated between the current member of Parliament for Etobicoke Centre and the former member. They were disputing whether people had voted validly in the election. In the end, the Supreme Court of Canada decided in favour of the present Conservative member and against the former Liberal member in that case. What was striking was that the issues revolved entirely around problems associated with voter identification, with the fact that people were not on the list properly. It all could have been resolved with better rules. Bill C-23 attempts to provide some of those rules.
One of the things that the bill would do is to specify that the voter identification card sent to a voter by the Chief Electoral Officer may not be used as a piece of identification for the purpose of voting. That is stated in proposed subsection 143(2.1):
The Chief Electoral Officer may authorize types of identification for the purposes of [voting]. For greater certainty, any document—other than a notice of confirmation of registration...may be authorized.
Why is this important? Let me give an example. My name is Scott Jeffrey Reid. In the 2004 election, I received three voter ID cards at my address. One was addressed to Scott Reid, one to Jeffrey Reid, and one to Scott Jeffrey Reid. Of course, all three voters are me. I can legally vote at the returning office at almost any point during the writ period. I can vote at the advance poll. I can vote on election day, in my case at a school near my house. I could have gone to all three of those places and voted, and there would be no record. They would take the voter ID card, but there would be no record that I had voted in multiple places.
I raised this matter with the former chief electoral officer, Jean-Pierre Kingsley, when he appeared before the procedure and House affairs committee. I said that this was not a very effective kind of identification. He responded that given the fact that I could go to these multiple places and engage in fraudulent voting anyway, what did it matter? I think that is not a very satisfactory response. Attempting to bring the issue of identification under control is very important. The elimination of vouching is a very important aspect of that.
I want to bring attention to, arguably, one of the most important aspects of the bill, which is the rule that from now on when the Chief Electoral Officer makes a ruling as to how the law is to be interpreted—and in some areas the law is ambiguous and will be found to be ambiguous in the future—he must apply the same rules to everyone. When we listen to the other side talking about the in-and-out scandal, they mean that a practice that was legal at the time was found afterwards by the Chief Electoral Officer, retrospectively, to be illegal in the preceding election. However, it was not found to be illegal in the election preceding that one, in which the other parties, not the Conservatives, had engaged in the practice. If we engage in that kind of retrospective ruling, we create a very unfair, unlevel playing field. That can no longer happen. No longer can retrospective rulings be imposed, and no longer can a ruling be imposed that does not apply universally.
A compliance agreement under the law is where a party violates the law. The New Democrats did this when they allowed sponsored advertising at their national convention, thereby allowing union contributions. It must be made public. They cannot keep it secret. When it is kept secret there cannot be precedents developed. There is no guarantee that the law will be enforced equally. That is a huge step forward. It is astonishing that Elections Canada did not undertake this on its own without encouragement from outside. However, having failed to do so, it will not be required to do so, and that is a very good thing.