House of Commons Hansard #60 of the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was regional.

Topics

Opposition Motion—Proposed Changes to the Elections Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, I do not want to get into the detail of a specific offence, but I do want to speak to the issue of a credible enforcement system. I speak with some experience, because I worked in the field for quite some time in my professional career.

There are many components to an effective enforcement system. One is that there must be clear offences. Additionally, as the government is proposing, we need to increase penalties. However, if we do not have the requisite powers to investigate, we cannot bring cases forward and, therefore, impose penalties.

Whether the offence is fraud, overspending, or illegal robocalls and so forth, it does not really matter and it does not matter if we increasingly improve the potential for stricter penalties, because if the officers do not have the requisite powers and mandate to compel information and testimony, they are simply not going to be able to proceed with effective cases.

Opposition Motion—Proposed Changes to the Elections Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

NDP

Craig Scott Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for setting out so clearly some of the issues at stake. If she would indulge me, I would read a quick passage from the testimony of the Chief Electoral Officer, Marc Mayrand, before the procedure and House affairs committee. He gave very concrete examples drawn from the real world and Elections Canada's knowledge about where vouching is used. These are just some examples. I would ask whether or not you think there is any reason to disbelieve him. He said:

In the case of seniors, it is not uncommon for one of the spouses to drive and to have all the bills in their name. Right now, the other spouse can be vouched for by their partner. Similarly, seniors living with their children often must be vouched for by one of their children in order to be able to vote.

The reverse is also true. Young Canadians often live at home or, as students, move frequently. They sometimes have no documents to prove their current residential address.

First nations electors on reserve also face challenges, as the Indian status card does not include address information.

For many of these electors, vouching by another elector is the only option. Expanding the list of ID documents will not assist them in proving their address.

You spoke a lot about the mobile society that we live in. We have been listening all day to Conservative MPs almost pretending that these situations do not exist. I wonder if you think there is reason to disbelieve the Chief Electoral Officer?

Opposition Motion—Proposed Changes to the Elections Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Joe Comartin

I would like to remind all members of the House that they address their questions and comments to the Chair, not to other members.

The hon. member for Edmonton—Strathcona.

Opposition Motion—Proposed Changes to the Elections Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would be pleased to address my response to you, but I thank the member for his question, nonetheless.

As the member will have heard in my brief remarks, I have run into those scenarios in my riding, and I have heard assertions from campaign members, students, people assisting the homeless, people working with first nations, the first nations peoples themselves, and seniors. I have received letters and calls from constituents who are deeply concerned for all of those categories of people, especially those in isolated communities.

Particularly in my city, there is a highly mobile population and a major influx of new people. They are simply busy adjusting, trying to get their children into school and so forth. It is hard enough for them to find out that they have the right to vote, let alone where they vote and then what kind of information they should provide.

These are certainly huge categories. I absolutely have no cause to question the word of Mr. Mayrand.

Opposition Motion—Proposed Changes to the Elections Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am rising to join this very interesting debate so far on the motion put forward by the member for Toronto—Danforth.

I want to review the wording of the motion as a starting point, because although the debate has ranged around the suggestion of the mover that the entire fair elections bill is utterly without merit and has nothing redeeming about it, that is not what the motion he put before the House said.

The motion before the House made reference to three very specific proposals within the proposed legislation and then identified several very specific groups that, as argued in the motion, would be selectively disenfranchised. It says:

That, in the opinion of the House, proposed changes to the Elections Act that would prohibit vouching, voter education programming by Elections Canada, and the use of voter cards as identification could disenfranchise many Canadians, particularly first-time voters like youth and new Canadians, Aboriginal Canadians and seniors living in residence, and should be abandoned.

The assumption I am making is that the hon. member feels that those three groups, or four groups if one chooses to consider as separate categories first-time young voters and the first-time voters who have just recently become Canadian citizens, are selectively negatively affected by this proposed legislation. I will address those assumptions.

I want to start by pointing out some of the assertions that must be made as we cross the first column dealing with all those groups that might be deprived of the ability to vote. Here one assumes that he means de facto disenfranchisement, not de jure disenfranchisement. If that were the case, this would be an unconstitutional proposal.

All those groups in the first category or column, namely, youth, immigrants, seniors living in residences, and aboriginal Canadians, are linked with the specific problems, including the end to vouching, the provision stating that the voter identification card or voter information card cannot be used as ID, and the limits on the Chief Electoral Officer's ability to carry out advertizing programs. These can be linked so that in each case there is a problem occurring because of each of the reforms.

I would maintain that on its surface that is not a plausible hypothesis. I will give a couple of examples that will make this point. Vouching is presented as something that, if it is not permitted, will cause seniors living in residences to be unable to cast ballots. That is part of the assertion being made here.

That clearly cannot be true. In the last election, the 2011 election, there was a controversy over whether the Etobicoke Centre election had been won by the Liberals or the Conservatives. The issue revolved around the fact that senior citizens living in closed access residences and who were therefore serviced by a mobile poll could not vote because the existing rules did not permit any vouching for them.

Vouching can only occur when another person who lives in the same poll vouches for the person. So they were already excluded from any vouching. Had vouching been permitted, one assumes that this issue might not have arisen.

There is nothing in this bill that takes away a vouching proposal dealing with senior citizens living in closed residences, who are specifically mentioned as one of the enumerated groups most at risk under this proposal.

Not only is it not part of the status quo that these individuals can be vouched for, but as far as I know the hon. member is not proposing that we change the rule and permit vouching where one person at a mobile poll can vouch for another, or people who live outside of the mobile poll can vouch for people who live in the mobile poll.

Perhaps he is suggesting that, but if he is making that suggestion or is planning to make it, he has not done so so far. He might actually want to comment on that.

I mention that because when the member introduced the motion today, I specifically asked him about that issue. What about the seniors who, in Etobicoke Centre, could not vote, could not be vouched for? Is there some solution?

This is a population where I think, unlike many of those who are actually vouched for in real life, it is highly unlikely that person A is going to turn up to vote ineligibly in person B's place. We can see how a mobile poll is one spot where people cannot simply walk in off the street and say, “Hey, I'm a resident of this facility. I would like to vote.”

I mention that as one specific area where his proposal just does not make sense.

I want to turn to another example, the voter identification card. I keep on saying “voter identification card”. It is the “voter information card”. The motion suggests that if the voter information card could be used as a piece of identification, it would make it possible for individuals living at these residences to vote. The suggestion is also made that if it could be used for this purpose, it would ensure that some young people would be able to vote. I want to comment on this.

I am looking at a report issued by Elections Canada itself, the 2011 general election national youth survey report. In the summary of findings, it divided youth in Canada into five sub-groups and asked why participation rates were as low as they were. The five groups included aboriginal youth, ethnocultural youth, unemployed youth not in school, youth with disabilities, and youth in rural areas. For three of those groups, ethnocultural youth, unemployed youth, and youth with disabilities, not receiving a voter identification card was indicated as one of the primary reasons they were not participating.

Just to make the point, the voter information card is not being received by many of these people. This is exactly why they are unable to determine where they should go to vote. It is highly unlikely that use of this card as a piece of identification would make it possible for them to cast a ballot. So, no disenfranchisement is going on here at all.

On the contrary, it appears to me that there is an indication that in both of these cases a different problem exists, one that is not addressed by the rhetoric of the opposition today, and one that unfortunately does not seem to be addressed by the Chief Electoral Officer, even though he submits a report after every election in which he tries to point out ways we can improve the electoral system.

What is missing is an adequate system of databasing Canadians, determining where they live and who is able to vote in what location.

The voter identification cards are given to voters on the basis of the preliminary list of voters. We hear the Chief Electoral Officer telling us that he has a list of voters that is over 90% accurate. Now, if we turn that around, that means that 8% or 9% of it is inaccurate. That is a large number of voters.

However, the voter ID card is not based upon the final list of electors. The final list of electors, as every candidate knows, does not get issued until a couple of days before the election. A day or two before the election, we can get this list, usually only on paper, not actually in electronic form, although that might differ in some ridings. Up until that point, both the candidates and Elections Canada are relying on the preliminary list of voters, which, by the Chief Electoral Officer's own testimony in his report on the 41st general election, is only 84% accurate.

Just to be clear about this, I am looking at his report on the 41st general election. On page 28, the Chief Electoral Officer says that “The preliminary lists for the 41st general election included 93 percent of Canadian electors, and 84 percent of electors were listed at the correct residential address”. This means that 16% of voters, if they received any card at all, received it at the wrong address or were present when the card for the wrong person came to their address.

He goes on to say that “The currency of the lists in 10 ridings was estimated to have dropped to less than 75 percent”. He does not tell us what ridings he is talking about and this is a major frustration for me. The CEO is far from transparent when it comes to providing information of this sort. We, and the committee that oversees him, have to prompt him over and over again to find out this kind of information. He does not make it clear if the 75% was 75% of people who were at the correct address. He did not even know who the 25% of voters were in certain ridings. I am not sure which of those two things he means.

The point is that the preliminary list is very problematic. It is more problematic in certain ridings than in others. There are some, and I suspect mine would be one of those ridings, where it is very good as a consequence of the fact that fewer people move and there is more security in the sense that old information will be reliable information.

The Chief Electoral Officer's list is suffering from significant database problems. As anybody who maintains a database knows, there is a very high error rate, over time, and it gets worse as old information is unreliable. Simply acknowledging this is a problem and reporting on it openly would be helpful. Instead, we have to parse this information from the Chief Electoral Officer and he tries to develop methods of dealing with the problem that essentially boil down to saying that we will continually widen the basis on which we will accept that somebody is able to vote whether that individual can prove eligibility or not.

In the case of the election in Etobicoke Centre, which is the most studied example we have, many people voted. Nobody is arguing that they voted fraudulently. Many people voted who were not accounted for in a way that ensured they were eligible and that this could be demonstrated after the fact, thereby potentially putting the outcome of the election at risk.

As we know, the Supreme Court ruled on that case. In the Opitz v. Wrzesnewskyj ruling, a four-person majority of justices said that the election should not be overturned on that basis. A three-person minority, headed by the chief justice, decided on the contrary, that the election should be overturned because of the unreliability of the accounting for the voting, despite the fact that nobody was asserting that fraud occurred.

When we hear the sponsor of this motion and many others in the opposition benches saying that there is no problem with fraudulent voting, I am not sure whether that is true. The fact is that the record-keeping is so bad we cannot tell, or at least we cannot prove anything. What we do know is that even in the absence of fraud, mistaken voting is potentially going on, and the potential for elections to be overturned or controverted is considerable.

Justice McLachlin, along with Justice LeBel and Justice Fish, dissenting, determined that:

The federal election in the riding of Etobicoke Centre should be annulled because of votes cast by individuals who were not entitled to vote under the Act.

They did not state that the individuals were voting fraudulently.

What happened here was that the definition of the word “entitled” came under dispute, and in the end the one-person majority of the court argued in favour of a wider interpretation of the word “entitled”. We came very near to seeing an election overturned as a result of that.

In consequence of the fact that there was a court case under way, Harry Neufeld was commissioned by the Chief Electoral Officer to write a report dealing with these issues. In his report, he concluded that the number of irregularities that occur under vouching amounts to something in the neighbourhood of 40% of all incidents of vouching nationwide. He has a breakdown for a number of different things, such as the general election and the number of byelections. On the whole, the number comes down to somewhere in the neighbourhood of 40%. It may be as low as 25% in one of the byelections.

Clearly, the issue of vouching that occurs in a way not allowing for a proper follow-through to confirm that everything was done in a valid manner is very high. That is a serious problem.

I am going to turn now to a few examples from my own life to make the point about what is wrong with using the voter information card as a method of determining whether a person is eligible to vote. I have three stories. Two of them I have given before in committee and one I just learned about today.

The first story comes from the election of 2004. When my riding boundaries were changed, we had a new deputy returning officer down in Napanee, at the far end of my riding from where I live, who inherited a substantial chunk of the riding and was unfamiliar with how things worked. When they merged the database, a large number of erroneous voter information cards were issued. This included the issuing of three voter cards to Scott Reid. At 142 Arthur Street, my house, I received a voter information card for Scott Jeffrey Reid, which is me. I also received one for Scott Reid and one for Jeffrey Reid, and I was living alone at the time. Clearly, there is a problem when that sort of thing happens.

As I pointed out to the former chief electoral officer, Jean-Pierre Kingsley, when he appeared at a committee shortly after that, I could have taken one card and voted at the returning office. They would have struck my name off the list. I could have then taken the second card and gone to the advance poll. My name would have been struck from another list. Then on election day, I could have voted at the third place and my name would have been struck off the list. No one would have been the wiser. I would have been using a piece of identification that had been issued in triplicate to me. That is my first example.

Here is my second story. After that point I moved, got married, and at the new house, which is about 100 yards on the boundary between the riding of Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, which I represent, and the riding of Carleton—Mississippi Mills, I wrote down my address as being at that street address in Mississippi Mills, Ontario. My wife, my ex-wife actually, but at the time we were married, wrote down her name and same street address at Rural Route 1, Carleton Place, which is also correct. Both addresses are correct and both will cause the mail to be delivered to the same address. They both have the same postal code, obviously. However, Rural Route 1 starts in Carleton Place and goes into Mississippi Mills, so we got voter identification cards that told us to go and vote at two different locations in two different ridings.

Here is an interesting question. Had we not spotted this problem, had she gone and voted in the wrong riding, would that have been voter fraud? I do not know. It was Elections Canada's fault because it has an inadequate database. It was not her fault that she had a voter card telling her to vote in the wrong constituency but relying on a card and assuming it is accurate. Also, her name would not be picked up as one in the error rate that Elections Canada cites, when it says it is 84% accurate and only 16% wrong. There is another error that is going to lead to people voting mistakenly if they use the voter information card as the basis for their vote. Also, having a second piece of ID with her address would not solve that problem.

The third story comes from my legislative assistant who told me today as we were discussing the bill that in the last election, he and his wife had just moved and received voter information cards addressed to the people who had lived in the house before them. They are of British ancestry, but the people who had lived in the house before them were of Vietnamese ancestry and the names were obviously Vietnamese. His wife went to the voter station, taking the card along because it told her what location to go to. When she got there, she went in, holding the card in her hand, and was issued a ballot and told she could vote. It was not her card, but it was being treated as a piece of identification. That is how lax security is when it comes to the use of the voter information card as a piece of identification.

Is there a problem with its use? Absolutely. That is why it was not permitted as a piece of ID, except on an experimental basis in the past. However, the Chief Electoral Officer said in his report to Parliament that he would expand its use nationwide, something he had not done in the past. That is now being prevented because it is unwise.

Far from being about disenfranchisement, as the member suggests in the motion, this is actually about keeping our system open, fair, honest, and competent.

Opposition Motion—Proposed Changes to the Elections Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:45 p.m.

NDP

Kennedy Stewart Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I was very interested in my colleague's speech. By the sound of things, maybe the whole 2011 election should have been null and void, if that kind of fraud or potential mistakes were happening all across the country.

Of course, we know that is not the case. We know that Elections Canada does great work and that we are the gold standard of conducting elections in Canada and around the world.

Instead of looking at anecdotal information, perhaps we should look at what 150 political science professors across Canada have been saying about the Conservatives' proposed act and why we should be voting yes to the motion we have put forward today. These professors are saying, and many of them have been on boundaries commissions or royal commissions, that, if passed, Bill C-23 would damage the institution at the heart of our country's democracy: voting in federal elections.

Instead of drilling down to minutia on a couple of cards that were problematic, perhaps my colleague could say why he disagrees with the top political science minds in the country.

Opposition Motion—Proposed Changes to the Elections Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will try this again. I have been issued three cards at my house. My ex-wife and I were issued cards telling us to vote in different locations, despite the fact we lived at the same address. My point is that these are examples of a widespread problem. How widespread is it? According to Elections Canada, 16% of Canadians have the same problem because their cards are issued on the basis of the preliminary voters list that has a 16% error rate. There are probably higher errors because there are those who are not being caught by Elections Canada.

That is Elections Canada that is reporting a 16% error rate, which amounts to millions of erroneous addresses. A 16% error rate is too much to allow this to be used as a piece of identification.

Opposition Motion—Proposed Changes to the Elections Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:50 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I have heard the member talk about the three cards before, and I do not question that he might have received more than one Elections Canada voting card. However, I suspect that the record would likely show that he only voted once. He might have received more than one card, but chances are that he only voted once. I suspect there are many Canadians, as he has pointed out, who have received more than one card.

I do not believe we have heard any evidence from the Conservative benches where someone has used more than one card in order to vote. I would challenge other members on that. The closest we had to that was a Conservative backbencher who stood in his place and said he witnessed people pulling things out of a trash bin and taking them to a campaign office. The problem is, we found out that was not true, that there was no merit to it.

Is the member aware of any abuse where someone has used more than one voter card to vote more than once?

Opposition Motion—Proposed Changes to the Elections Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member has raised a worthwhile and interesting question, which I myself have raised with the Chief Electoral Officer. I mentioned how frustrated I was that they are opaque at Elections Canada. They now report on prosecutions for people having voted fraudulently; they did not do this formerly.

I had to ask the chief electoral officer of the day, Mr. Kingsley, about prosecutions. When I asked him a few years back about the previous few elections, he provided a list that showed there was less than one prosecution per election. I think there were three prosecutions over the period of five elections at that time. In the elections of 2006 and 2008, in both cases only one person in the entire country was prosecuted for any form of voting fraud. I suppose an argument could be made that no people in the entire country had engaged in electoral fraud except for these two people. They were both convicted after they wrote articles in the Toronto Star explaining how easy it was to vote fraudulently, and both of them did so in response to stories about how there was widespread fraudulent voting going on.

When we see it is impossible to be prosecuted except when one complains that Elections Canada has no security and writes about it, thereby incriminating oneself, I would suggest there is indeed a problem. However, that is not the only problem. It is impossible to confirm after the fact that votes have been cast, whether fraudulently or not, by people who were not eligible. That is a separate and wider question, and it should be resolved to a large degree by the bill.

Opposition Motion—Proposed Changes to the Elections Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

March 24th, 2014 / 5:55 p.m.

Conservative

Laurie Hawn Edmonton Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, I enjoyed my colleague's comments, which were rational and detailed, as always. I would like to support him a bit.

I have some evidence I want to bring to the procedure and House affairs committee at the appropriate time. In the 2006 election, I was called personally and offered hundreds of voter cards that had been left in apartment buildings and so on. Like an idiot, I said, “No, we don't do that sort of thing”. I should have said, “Yes, come on down”, and had the police waiting.

In the 2006 election, there were hundreds of people removed from the voters list, because it was clear that they did not live in the riding and that they intended to vote fraudulently. They did not, because we caught them. I suggest, as my colleague has also suggested, that this does not happen in one place. Is the Elections Canada system good? Absolutely. Is it the gold standard? Maybe. However, it is not perfect and probably never will be.

I would like to ask for my colleague's comments on that.

Opposition Motion—Proposed Changes to the Elections Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:55 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I do not think the question is whether Elections Canada is the gold standard or whether the people there have sterling characters or anything like that. I have a problem with some of the reporting, which I mentioned. I lobbied the minister to try to put in some additional reporting requirements for Elections Canada, and some of that is incorporated in the new legislation. That is a good thing.

Openness is always the most appropriate thing for government agencies, but the fundamental problem I am pointing to is a database issue. It is hard to keep a database current. It is harder in areas with high turnover. That is the fundamental problem. In 10 ridings across the country, according to Elections Canada, there was a rate of correct voter identification of less than 75%. That is more than a serious problem. That is a catastrophic problem for those ridings, and it has not been revealed where those ridings are.

Sterling or not, gold standard or not, we have a situation whereby some ridings essentially have no meaningful voter identification system. Some of those ridings may well be ridings where the election results are close. This could potentially result in elections being controverted, as almost happened in Etobicoke Centre.

Opposition Motion—Proposed Changes to the Elections Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:55 p.m.

NDP

Mike Sullivan York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comments of my colleague opposite. However, as has been said over and over again, the actual existence of fraud is negligible. It is zero. We are using a sledgehammer to kill something that is not happening. New Democrats would like the government to kill the bill.

On the issue of the member or his spouse having received more than one voter card, the voter card could only be used to identify where one lives. It cannot be used to prove who one is. Unless a person has fraudulent ID to prove that he or she is someone else, one cannot use a voter identification card to prove who one is. Unless the member is intent on committing fraud, which people are going to be able to do no matter what, regardless of whether there is a voter information card available, this whole business of removing the possibility of using a voter information card is a big red herring, and we really ought to get to the real problem, which we have identified.

There are problems with the lists. We know that there are problems with the lists. We know that there are problems with certain individuals abusing the process by phoning people and telling them not to vote. We know that there are problems with funding. Why can we not get at the real problems instead of this phony problem of the voter information card?

Opposition Motion—Proposed Changes to the Elections Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:55 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Mr. Speaker, the example I gave was of a card my former spouse, Lynda, had that would have actually directed her to vote in the wrong riding. It had her address right, but the address was interpreted as being in the wrong constituency. They had her assigned to a poll number that was in the wrong constituency as well. This was, in all fairness, an Ontario election issue, but it is the same database that applies and the same problem that exists. I have the same problem in my own database of having people on these rural routes in the wrong riding. That is an example.

The issue of people being assigned to the wrong poll is more widespread than that. In the 2004 election, there were situations of people living in Perth Road Village, in my riding, about 100 kilometres away from Perth, who were being assigned on their cards to vote 100 kilometres from their homes. There were numerous people sent to the wrong poll because of errors made by Elections Canada. There is a very high error rate in general, and it tends to go higher when there are changes such as riding redistributions. That is a major issue.

Again, it is not an issue of voter fraud, although I do think some voter fraud exists in this country. It is an issue of a database disaster, run by an agency that will not admit that it is a problem. That is the issue here.

Opposition Motion—Proposed Changes to the Elections Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

6 p.m.

NDP

Kennedy Stewart Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a great pleasure to rise here this evening and support the motion the member for Toronto—Danforth has put forward, and I would like to thank him for his work on this file. He has done a tremendous job not just on this issue but on all the issues he is handling regarding democracy in this country.

I would just remind you, Mr. Speaker, that I will be splitting my time with the member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine.

Democratic reform and protecting democracy in Canada are issues that are very close to my heart. I have studied and worked on this topic for 20 years, both as a student and as a professor. There are many concerns we have with the so-called fair elections act that has been put forward by the government, and this motion directly calls for its rejection. It is really worth reading the motion in detail, because it sums up our problems. It says:

That, in the opinion of the House, proposed changes to the Elections Act that would prohibit vouching, voter education programming by Elections Canada, and the use of voter cards as identification could disenfranchise many Canadians, particularly first-time voters like youth and new Canadians, Aboriginal Canadians and seniors living in residence, and should be abandoned.

This really sums up what will be the crux of my speech and the concerns many Canadians have, regular Canadians but also those who have, as I have, spent their lives studying this issue. In fact, I hope to show in this short speech that the Conservative proposals are not in the best interests of Canadians and that our motion should be passed.

Canada has long been seen as one of the most democratic countries in the world. Indeed, Elections Canada is consulted internationally so that other countries can learn how we do things here. The way we conduct our elections is the gold standard of how elections are conducted around the world and is something we should be proud of. However, I look now at how our democracy is performing overall, and I wonder if we have not hit a bit of a peak or have even passed our peak.

Voter turnout has been on a slow decline since the 1980s, and what is worse, we are creating cycles of non-voting. Citizens, for example, no longer join political parties. Less than two per cent of the citizenry is active in political parties. Once held in high regard, politicians are now loathed by the public, and in fact, both provincial and federal legislatures do not reflect the populations they represent. We could go on and on about where things used to be better and are declining.

I want to focus my remarks on voter turnout and use this to show why the Conservatives' proposed act is not only wrong in detail but is wrong in spirit and in the process by which it would be implemented.

In the 1960s, almost 80% of those eligible to cast votes did so. In the 2011 election, voter turnout dropped to just over 60%, a decline of 20 percentage points. This is not a one-off decline. It is not a dip in voter turnout. This is really a pattern. Turnout has not been higher than 65% in this country any time in this century. It has declined, and we are entering a period of further decline. That is why I am saying again that I think democracy has perhaps peaked in Canada.

The reasons for the decline in turnout are many, but some have to do with declining government investment in efforts to help get people to the polls. The Conservative proposals not only would take money away, for example, for door-to-door registration but would actually add additional barriers to participation. Why I say that this violates the spirit of what we try to do here in Canada is that it is going to make our low turnout problem even worse.

This is a very serious situation from two perspectives. First, many would agree that high voter turnout is in itself a good thing, and low voter turnout, in turn, is a bad thing. Second, and perhaps more serious, is that disengagement can undermine the legitimacy of the government, and in the extreme case, lead to instability. The low levels of turnout we now have will only get worse, especially if the Conservatives force this bill through Parliament.

It is worth noting the kind of cycle we are having of low voter turnout. Of those eligible to vote for the first time in 1965, almost 70% voted. By 2008, the turnout of voters who were first eligible to vote in 1965 had increased to 75%.

If we look at first-time voters in the year 2000, of those eligible to vote in 2004, only 34% voted. By the 2008 election, this group was still stuck at 34%.

What we are getting is a cycle of non-voting. Of those born in the sixties, 70% voted and have continued to vote in those numbers as we moved forward through elections. Of those born in the 20th century, one-third are voting, and they are stuck with one-third voting.

This is the cycle of non-voting of which political scientists speak. It is something we have to work to fix rather than what this Conservative bill proposes to do, which will make things worse.

Turnouts are low and dropping, non-voters are continuing to be non-voters, and there are more groups that are permanently disenfranchised from our voting system.

It is important not to take my word for it. Recently, over 150 political scientists wrote an open letter to the government on this matter. It is worth repeating what they had to say. These 150 professors are the cream of the crop as far as political scientists go in Canada. They are mostly chairs and full professors as well as people who all parties in the House have called upon to serve on boundary review committees, to head up royal commissions, and to advise on any matters to do with democracy. It is a multi-partisan group, one that some parties would favour and others would not favour. It is the grand collection of political scientists.

In their open letter to the Prime Minister and the Parliament of Canada, they said that if Bill C-23 was passed, it “would damage the institution at the heart of the country's democracy: voting in federal elections”.

Further, these 150 political scientists urged the government to heed the call for wider consultation in vetting the bill.

This is another problem with what is happening here in terms of the spirit of democratic reform. In the past, any changes to elections would be done in a non-partisan or multi-partisan way. Not only would we consult Elections Canada and experts around the country and perhaps outside the country, we would definitely be consulting the Canadian public. This has been abandoned with Bill C-23. We have had closure on debate, and this bill is being rammed through without any real discussion and without discussion with Elections Canada, which seems absurd, since that is the institution at the centre of this legislation.

These 150 political scientists are urging the government to consult more widely. While they agree, and we have heard today, that there are some things that could be looked at with our electoral system, they are worried about the serious damage that will occur with the passing of Bill C-23.

It is worth noting who these folks are, the drafters of this open letter, which can be seen in many publications, such as the National Post or The Globe and Mail. Professors Deveaux, Williams, Cameron, Dawood, Lenard, and Fuji Johnson are the main drafters. However, this letter has also been signed by 16 past-presidents of the Canadian Political Science Association: Caroline Andrew, Michael Atkinson, Keith Banting, Sylvia Bashevkin, André Blais, Kenneth Carty, John Courtney, Elisabeth Gidengil, Richard Johnston, Peter Russell, Grace Skogstad, David Smith, Miriam Smith, Reeta Tremblay, Graham White, and Robert Young.

If we put all of these signatories to the letter in a room, I would hazard a guess that we could solve any political science problem we have in this country. Of course, none of these people have been consulted on this bill. It is outrageous that these changes are going ahead and are being forced through Parliament without any consultation at all and without any expert advice. It has been drafted in a back room. It is something that would advantage one party over other parties, and it violates the spirit of what we have done here in the past. That is why I support the opposition day motion that has been put forward today.

I call upon the government to drop Bill C-23. Let us go back to the drawing board and consult with experts and regular Canadians to figure out how to make democracy better and how to improve our falling voter turnout.

Opposition Motion—Proposed Changes to the Elections Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

6:10 p.m.

NDP

Alain Giguère Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, my question is rather simple. On the one hand, experts are introduced who tell us that this bill is dangerous for democracy. On the other hand, we have the evidence of the second-last Conservative member, who said that someone tried to give him hundreds of voter cards, that he should have called the police and he regrets not doing so.

According to a very clear and simple rule of law, silence is consent. By failing to report an illegal act meant to rig the election, the member is himself guilty of election rigging. He presented that as an anecdote to justify the amendments to this legislation to prevent what he himself encouraged.

I would like my distinguished colleague to tell us how much importance we should place on anecdotes told by people who do not do their civic duty or their duty as an MP and report someone who tries to rig an election, compared to the importance we should place on experts who support us and encourage us to value our democracy.