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.



11:05 a.m.


The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

It is my duty to inform the House that a vacancy has occurred in the representation, namely:

Ms. Chow, member for the electoral district of Trinity—Spadina, has submitted her resignation effective Thursday, March 13, 2014. Pursuant to paragraph 25(1)(b) of the Parliament of Canada Act, I have addressed my warrant to the Chief Electoral Officer for the issue of a writ for the election of a member to fill this vacancy.

HomelessnessPrivate Members' Business

March 24th, 2014 / 11:05 a.m.


Peter Goldring Conservative Edmonton East, AB


That, in the opinion of the House, one nationally standardized “point in time” should be recommended for use in all municipalities in carrying out homeless counts, with (a) nationally recognized definitions of who is homeless; (b) nationally recognized methodology on how the count takes place; and (c) the same agreed-upon criteria and methodology in determining who is considered to be homeless.

Mr. Speaker, the wording of my motion is clear.

The motion's objective is to get the right amount of social services resources support to the right people. For example, some might see the motion as an attempt to cut supports to those most in need, but the intent is exactly the opposite. As parliamentarians, we all have a social conscience and an undeniable responsibility to those most disadvantaged, in dire straits and need. If we parliamentarians are to be proper and worthy stewards of taxpayer dollars, we should make sure we are getting value for money by being fiscally responsible.

We should also ensure that we are spending what is needed to address homelessness, such that we maximize the number of persons in need who we help. We can only do that if we know with some level of precision how extensive the problem really is. Right now there are multiple counts, multiple methodologies, multiple criteria, and not insignificantly, multiple agendas.

A national point in time would remove confusions surrounding counts of Canadian homeless people presently being done by municipalities, by establishing common definitions, common methodology, and a common count date. It would use the best practices introduced in the United States by the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. intergovernmental agency on homeless to ensure a national point in time. To maximize accuracy of the homeless count and statistical analysis so that both countries can collaborate to address concerns, it would provide all levels of government with reasonably accurate data to allow more proper allocation of resources to solving the homeless problem.

The point in time should be established as the last week in January, regardless of local climate factors. This date would minimize the chance of recording those who are merely transient and not truly homeless, those who may choose to live or camp outdoors in warmer weather while visiting the city or visiting friends and family. Major cities frequently have transient warm weather populations who are not truly homeless, but rather, just visiting in the warmer months and saving on accommodation. Many would stay in and pay for low-cost youth hostels, if available, or if allowed to. Many more would camp out and pay if there were any camping spaces in or near the downtown. Few are absolutely homeless. They have homes, but not in Edmonton or whichever city they are visiting.

When counts are done other than in the coldest of weather, many of those counted are visiting, people who do have housing alternatives elsewhere, but for personal reasons are not accessing emergency shelters at that point in time. Counting these people serves to confuse efforts to try to help those who are truly homeless with absolutely no means to attain housing alternatives and are in desperate need.

Different Canadian cities do their homeless counts at different times, making a statistically accurate number problematic. At present, only the City of Calgary conducts its count in January, as does the entire United States, regardless of climate, with others in Canada being conducted variously in March, April, May, and October. There is a notable, dramatic difference in count numbers of the absolute homeless, those literally on the street, in all of the Canadian cities counted. Examples are Edmonton, which does its count in early October when it is still relatively mild, and Calgary, a city of similar size. It is hard to imagine that there are 64 truly homeless people living outside in the cold in Calgary while Edmonton has a count of 1,070 homeless living outside. When the count is done does make a difference.

The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, states that there must be a common national point in time for counts in the last seven days of the month of January. Further, it states that defining the scope of homelessness has proven controversial since the issue first gained broad public attention during the 1980s. Public debate has revolved around how widely to view the scope of residential instability and how to target scarce resources to address it.

In general, residential stability can be divided into two broad categories of people: those who are literally homeless and those who are precariously housed.

Literally homeless defines the people who, for various reasons, have found it necessary to live in emergency shelters or transitional housing for some period of time. This category also includes unsheltered homeless people who sleep in places not meant for human habitation—for example, streets, parks, abandoned buildings, subway tunnels—and who may also use shelters on an intermittent basis.

The precariously housed are people on the edge of becoming literally homeless, who may be doubled up with friends or relatives or paying extremely high portions of their resources for rent. This group is often characterized as being at imminent risk of becoming homeless.

HUD's assistance program specifically targets persons living in shelters or in places not meant for human habitation but not people in precarious housing situations or couch surfing.

It is important that the literally homeless situations are distinct and separately enumerated from couch surfers or other precariously housed persons and are not included as part of the Canadian homeless count, as the count is to determine the level of government services necessary to assist the truly homeless needs. Some may be at risk of becoming homeless, but while they are couch surfing with family or friends or precariously housed, they can be considered to have a home or have the means and wherewithal to access shelter and are not necessarily a draw on social services.

Prisons, hospitals, and special care treatment centres should also not be included in homeless number counts in Canada. These people should not be considered homeless until they are discharged or voluntarily leave and then may or may not be homeless, depending upon their financial means or their own housing alternatives at that specific time.

We should not be postulating on who may be homeless in the future but concentrating on those who are actually homeless at the present time.

HUD's definition of “chronic homeless” is: unaccompanied homeless individual with a disabling condition who has been continuously homeless for a year or more, OR...has had...four episodes of homelessness in the past three years.

To be considered chronically homeless, persons must have been “sleeping in a place not meant for human habitation (e.g. living on the streets...) shelter” during that time.

HUD's definition of an “episode of homelessness” is “...a separate, distinct, and sustained stay on the streets and/or in a homeless emergency shelter”.

Now, HUD's definition of “chronic homelessness” does not include families. Families rarely enter the shelter system. They are given immediate accommodation by social services and funding towards more permanent housing rental accommodation. In addition, to be identified as chronically homeless, an individual must have a disabling condition, defined as follows:

...a diagnosable substance abuse disorder, serious mental illness, developmental disability, or chronic physical illness or disability, including the co-occurrence of two or more of these conditions. ...a disabling condition limits an individual's ability to work or perform one or more activities of daily living.

As can be seen, the United States intergovernmental agency on homelessness, while instituting a national point in time definition, recognizes that the chronically homeless are a priority but need to be carefully defined so the maximum of homeless persons can be helped with the limited resources available.

The easy part is to have Parliament approve the principle of point in time legislation. The Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness is calling for national point in time counts and national standards. It is correct in that it is essential to align homeless criteria continent-wise.

The more difficult part is to agree together on the definitions, including when, who, how, and why the counts should be conducted throughout North America.

Also difficult would be to convince Canadian municipalities to accept standardized definitions, fact-based definitions that would provide a common national and international perspective, regardless of local and regional Canadian social welfare variant present models.

There are many contrary agendas afloat. Once an agreement on how to proceed is made, the cost to do so would be minimal or neutral as, presently, the various cities are conducting government-funded counts now.

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities, as well as individual municipal and provincial planning and priorities homelessness groups, are united behind a call for federal money. They claim that the cost to Canada for homelessness is now $7 billion annually and rising. They say that great savings can be accomplished if the federal government would commit more money. In Edmonton alone, they say, taxpayers will save $2 billion over 10 years, if they spend only $1 billion.

The numbers for the present costs are questionably high. Also questionable is the description of the needs of the homeless population, both current and projected, by variant count methodologies and definitions.

Today, it would be very difficult for anyone to argue against reform of the process to better and more accurately direct resources to needs. It is time for real numbers, by nationally and internationally approved standards being employed, to allow our government to continue its good work in helping the vulnerable population.

There is a great need in Canada to step up to our collective awareness and intelligence of the true homelessness situation and that population's needs. Canada should perhaps have an institution that is comparable to the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, to focus on resources needed and to bring about solutions that maximize effort for those in need.

I would like to read where some of the confusion comes in, which is from a book that I brought out in 2000. In six homelessness reports that I reviewed, there were some 36 different definitions of what a homeless person is.

Members might like to hear some of those definitions, as follows: people living in transitional accommodation, ready to be discharged; people expected to be on the street at the end of this day; people expected to be on the street in the immediate future; people having low income; people having no permanent place to reside; people staying in a temporary form of situation; people who have ended up staying with friends; people living in housing that is extremely expensive; people living in overcrowded or inadequate housing; people living in substandard hotels and rooming houses; people living in housing not within easy reach of employment and costing more than 50% of income; people who lack privacy, security, and tenant document rights; people with problems of mental health or social disorganization; people who are not a member of a stable group; people paying more than 30% of their income for rent; people having no home or permanent place of residence; people who have the quality and the state of being homeless; people suffering from the homeless disease.

As members can see, there is a wide variance of opinions on who is homeless, and this manifests itself in one homelessness count after another. Unfortunately, as I said, the homelessness plan developed in Edmonton was to cost $1 billion over 10 years, and it is doubtful that it will do what it claimed, which is to end homelessness. It would help the homeless people, but $1 billion, in my opinion, would not be sufficient to end the homeless situation in Edmonton. We need to come up with proper definitions and how to approach it. We need a proper way to count them, so we can be together from one end of the country to the other.

We could also be aligned with what the United States is doing. Many of its northern border states are within 100 or 200 miles of our cities in the southern part of Canada. It is imperative that we too experience it and go forward in sync. Hopefully, Ottawa can work with Washington to come up with progressive plans to help this problem and to help homeless people.

HomelessnessPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.


Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet NDP Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, is the intent of this motion really to focus only on counting the number of people who use shelters or are in the street, or does the member think a more in-depth study should be done, one that includes hidden homelessness, for example among women, since they rarely use shelters?

Indeed, simply enumerating the people who use shelters will give us a very limited view of homelessness, as the member knows. However, a more thorough examination of the problem will give us the big picture. This will help us better target services, and therefore intervention, and will also allow us to focus on prevention, which is so important to really combatting homelessness.

HomelessnessPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.


Peter Goldring Conservative Edmonton East, AB

Mr. Speaker, the member is absolutely right. There is obviously more work we can do on a broader scope to find other social problems that we have.

The two sections in the point-in-time count, those who are homeless and not in shelters and those who are in shelters, do not preclude adding other documentation in order to poll other constituencies as well. This has been done in many American cities. However, the two areas that we want to line up with HUD on are the ones without shelter at all and the ones who are staying in shelters. Other issues can be added to the counts.

HomelessnessPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the bill being brought forward by my colleague today. He identified very clearly that this is another tool that would help to address the problem of homelessness. I see the merit in supporting this particular bill, which does not try to identify the definitions that are going to be required.

My question for my colleague is this. Should this bill be successful and pass, does he see the need for the government to broadly consult with those who have been working in this field for many years and who have the expertise? Rather than the government imposing a definition, does he see the necessity for trying to come up with something that works best for those groups that are impacted, to try to advance some solutions for this very important problem?

HomelessnessPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Peter Goldring Conservative Edmonton East, AB

Mr. Speaker, I agree. That is why I have specifically left the definitions out. That should be done in concert with exploring the reasons that the United States has lined up with the definitions that they use.

As I mentioned to the other member, there may be things we want to add, such as other investigative techniques, in order to Canadianize the count. The two most important ones are those who are living raw, out of the shelters, and those who are living in the shelters. Those are the two statistical numbers that should be common throughout North America.

HomelessnessPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Anne-Marie Day NDP Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I wish to congratulate my hon. colleague on having chosen this subject, an issue that our society really needs to address.

I have to wonder about the budget cuts made to the homelessness partnering strategy, or HPS. Between 2014 and 2018, the HPS budget will be cut by a net total of $15 million a year.

I also have to wonder about what Statistics Canada said, namely that it is extremely difficult to conduct such a study and that it would be terribly expensive. Statistics Canada has reduced previous budgets. Can my colleague tell us how these studies can be conducted and funded?

HomelessnessPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Peter Goldring Conservative Edmonton East, AB

Mr. Speaker, at present there are homeless counts done across the country, some every year, and most of them every two years. Therefore, they are already funded. I cannot see where there would be any difference with this type of methodology in doing a count that would cost any more money. If the funding is already being provided by the federal government, I could see that this would cost very little to implement across the country, because counts are being done and funded now.

HomelessnessPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet NDP Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today as the official NDP opposition critic on housing and homelessness to speak to Motion No. 455.

This motion addresses the lack of data on homelessness in most Canadian communities and problems caused by using a variety of methods to collect data on homelessness, as my colleague said.

The current wording of the motion refers to carrying out homeless counts only. It does not seek to paint a complete picture of homelessness in Canada, which could contribute to a better understanding of the reasons for the situation, as well as the nature and the scope of homelessness, including the less visible aspects. This could also help with prevention and response actions.

The New Democratic Party believes that the federal government has a major role to play in the fight against homelessness, particularly in terms of the funding required.

I have risen in the House several times to ask the government to take the necessary action to make fighting homelessness a priority for Canada.

Specifically, I have asked the Conservatives to index funding for the homelessness partnering strategy, the HPS, which has become increasingly underfunded over the years because of the rising costs of services and salaries.

Unfortunately, in the 2013-14 budget, the government only partially renewed funding for the HPS, cutting $15.5 million from a budget that was already too small to meet the needs.

I have also asked the government to review the new approach that it unilaterally imposed on the provinces and municipalities, an approach that shifts most of the funding for homelessness to programs that focus on housing.

Radio silence there too. The ministers have been trained to deliver all kinds of lines, but they never answer our questions. Far be it from me to say that we should not make it a priority to provide housing to the homeless.

I strongly believe that eliminating poverty starts with ensuring that all people have a roof over their heads. However, for years now, I have been criticizing the government's hypocrisy on issues related to housing and homelessness.

This government is bragging all the way to the United States that housing has all of a sudden become a priority, simply because the government is changing its approach to combatting homelessness by focusing primarily on housing and allocating a paltry $119 million per year to this issue. What the government is not saying is that from 2011 to 2013 alone, it saved $65.2 million by refusing to renew funding for long-term social housing agreements that were set to expire and that, by so doing, the government will have cut over $1.7 billion to the detriment of the most underprivileged members of our society by 2030.

We will see what direction the government wants to take when we debate Motion No. 450 on federal funding for social housing.

The NDP recognizes the problems related to the lack of data on homelessness in most Canadian communities and the variety of data collection methods. More accurate data on homelessness in Canada would help in the development of better prevention and intervention practices.

In that sense, the motion is a step in the right direction because it will provide a more informed view of homelessness in Canada.

According to the letter I recently received from the motion's sponsor, he intends to count only the number of people who use homeless shelters. That is a major problem because this method completely ignores less visible homeless people, those who do not use any services and who could be helped before they become chronically homeless. In other words, prevention is completely ignored.

From 2005 to 2009, the National Shelter Study analyzed national data collected annually in order “to establish a baseline count and description of the characteristics of the homeless population in Canada”.

With regard to the findings of this study, Stephen Gaetz, a recognized expert in the field of homelessness, said:

While this approximation gives us a good baseline estimate of shelter users, it does not tell the whole story. As Segaert points out, the study did not include individuals in transitional housing (for individuals or families), Violence Against Women shelters and second-stage housing, immigrant/refugee shelters, halfway houses or temporary shelters (e.g. for extreme weather).

Take, for example, homeless women. That phenomenon is not as noticeable and it is very poorly documented because women do not use shelters as often. If the motion limits the counts to shelters, the issue of female homelessness and possible ways of preventing it will not even be considered.

If the motion is intended to go beyond a simple census, it could contribute to a better understanding of the reasons for the situation, as well as the nature and the scope of homelessness among women—and other forms of less visible homelessness—and it could also help shape prevention and response methods.

We also believe that the definition of “homeless” must be broad enough to include homeless individuals who are less visible, despite the difficulties that may entail. The motion is silent on that front, and in his letter, the member for Edmonton East clearly states his intention to include only chronically or episodically homeless people who are ill or have another debilitating condition. Someone who has been homeless for 11 months because he lost his job would not be counted.

The NDP believes that it is important to involve the groups fighting against homelessness and other levels of government in determining the definition of who is “homeless”, the methodology on how the count takes place and the “point in time” that will be used to that end, in order to prevent Conservative unilateralism.

What exactly is meant by “agreed-upon”? Unlike our colleagues opposite, the NDP believes in consultation, not in imposing criteria that groups fighting homelessness do not agree with. They are the ones out there, doing the work.

Speaking of unilateralism, we would like to know which version of Motion No. 455 actually reflects the sponsor's intentions. The French version states the following:

Que, de l’avis de la Chambre, il faudrait recommander à toutes les municipalités qui recensent les sans-abris [which implies those that are already carrying out counts] une « période de référence » normalisée à l’échelle nationale qui soit assortie [...]

However, the English version seems to involve everyone in the process.

That, in the opinion of the House, one nationally standardized “point in time” should be recommended for use in all municipalities in carrying out homeless counts...

Are we going to ask all the municipalities to carry out such homeless counts or are we simply going to standardize the definition and methodology for the municipalities that already carry out homeless counts? We have to decide because the translation is ambiguous.

In any case, the NDP, like many groups and associations directly or indirectly fighting homelessness, believes that the costs involved in implementing this motion should not be covered by the municipalities, or taken out of the direct transfers or the homelessness partnering strategy budget, which are already inadequate for preventing and properly dealing with homelessness.

The Conservatives are masters at the art of getting other levels of government to pay for their policies. The municipalities already have limited financial resources, which are likely to become even more limited when the new building Canada fund and its new conditions come into effect. As for the provinces, they have already paid enough for Conservative policies since the Conservatives came to power. We believe this practice must end.

Despite claims to the contrary by the sponsor of the motion, the bill could be quite high. In 2001, at the request of Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, Statistics Canada published the Survey of Homelessness in Canada: Street Component Feasibility Study, which dealt with the feasibility of conducting a homelessness count in a number of Canadian cities. The author of the report found that such a comprehensive count would be prohibitively expensive, roughly $10 million Canadian, and present important methodological challenges, with no guarantee that the data would be reliable.

We support the principle of this motion, but a number of details have to be clarified. I urge my colleague from Edmonton East to seriously consider my comments if he wants my support and that of my colleagues, and if he wants to show that the fight against homelessness is truly important to him. A much more complete picture of the situation and action on prevention are needed in this fight.

HomelessnessPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.


Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to join in this debate today. As a frame for my comments, I am just back from Fort McMurray, Alberta. I was there for three days last week. I had the opportunity to live there for nine years back in the 1980s and early 1990s.

When we talk about measurement and trying to find ways to address whatever the issue or problem might be, I think it is fairly commonly accepted that if we can measure it, then we can work toward addressing it.

One of the things that jumped out at me is that it has always been a problem to measure the population in Fort McMurray because it is so transient. In any particular community, a relatively small house may have six vehicles parked outside. There may be nieces and nephews staying on the chesterfield, or maybe a bedroom has been rented out. It is really tough to get a hard count.

In my meetings with the Fort McMurray council, I learned that water consumption is now being used as the measurement. There is a Canadian standard that if a municipality consumes a certain amount of water, so many gallons per year, then this number probably represents the population. That is the measurement.

If the head count shows about 110,000 people living there, then the infrastructure may be adequate. However, the amount of water being consumed shows that in reality about 150,000 people are living in Fort McMurray. Without question, that puts additional demands on the infrastructure.

The point is that it is important to have a good count so that problems can be addressed. As my friend and colleague from Scarborough said, counting counts, and never more importantly so than with this issue of homelessness.

Homelessness researchers estimate at least 200,000 Canadians access homeless emergency services or sleep outside in a given year, including 30,000 on any given night. The problem of homelessness is real for the people suffering from it and real in terms of the social and economic costs to society and government that must deal with it.

As Liberals, we have always believed in an evidence-based approach to understanding a problem and creating solutions. That is why we will be supporting Motion No. 455.

Although the intention of Motion No. 455 is to help stakeholders understand the scope and depth of homelessness, everyone must realize that it is a very small piece of the homelessness puzzle. Having a government that is committed to a long-term strategy to ending homelessness through homelessness prevention and affordable housing programs is most important.

We must also realize that this motion is a recommendation. It is not a requirement for municipalities. It deals with the need for, and not the proposing of, a homelessness definition or count methodology. I want to be clear that any definition of homelessness or of a methodology for homelessness counts must be done in collaboration and co-operation with academic experts and advocacy groups to give legitimacy and buy-in on the process.

As pointed out by the Canadian Homelessness Research Network, homelessness is not an individual crisis but instead refers to “the failure of society to ensure that adequate systems, funding and support are in place so that all people, even in crisis situations, have access to housing”.

The problem with solving the issue is not that we do not have enough stats; it is that we do not have a government willing to commit to what would truly have an effect on reducing the problem of homelessness. Advocates, academic experts, and stakeholders know that we need two things: homelessness prevention programs and a national affordable housing strategy. Those are two very key components.

However, staying focused on this motion, I would like to make a few points as to why most experts agree that a common definition of homelessness is important.

The rationale for a common definition is quite simple. As the research network has stated, a common definition provides all levels of government and community groups with a framework for understanding and describing homelessness as well as a means for identifying goals, strategies, and interventions and for measuring outcomes and progress. The research network created a definition two years ago, and seeking widespread consensus on that definition would be a good place to start. The research network felt a common definition was necessary for a number of reasons, including sharing a common language about homelessness, being able to enumerate the problem, evaluating outcomes and progress, and coordinating responses to the issue.

Point-in-time counts have had many critics over the past two and a half decades since groups interested in homelessness began trying to measure it. One of the biggest criticisms is that the counts underestimate the number of homeless people because of the how—that being the methodology, or how the count gets done—and the who, that being who gets counted. This has been the result of many factors, including having no consistent manner or accepted methodology, incomplete surveying of the area, and only counting the visible homeless, to name a few.

We must all recognize that point-in-time counts inherently undercount the number of homeless. As such, they must not be viewed as a complete measurement of the homeless but rather as a tool to measure just one aspect. That point was brought up by the NDP member who spoke earlier.

Many critics still feel point-in-time counts consume a lot of time and a lot of money for little useful and reliable information. That said, many of these critics admit that point-in-time counts are better than nothing. They are in no way perfect, nor are they close to 100% accurate. However, a point-in-time count based on a nationally recognized definition and methodology would provide much better data on the size, composition, and trends in the homeless population that presently exists.

In addition, they could help in identifying such useful information as the number of shelter beds required; the food and water needs of the homeless; the physical and mental health needs of the homeless, and proper services to meet these needs; the special needs of specific groups, such as women, children, youth, aboriginal, or immigrant groups; and the number of subsidized and supportive housing units required.

As I indicated through my comments, our party does not think, nor does the sponsor of Motion No. 455 believe, that this would be the be-all and end-all. I totally agree with my colleague that this is an important initiative. It would serve stakeholders well should the motion be successful. If the many academics and stakeholders across this country have an opportunity to engage in this issue and come together on it, it would provide all levels of government and all stakeholders with something very worthwhile in their work.

HomelessnessPrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.


Brad Butt Conservative Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is indeed a pleasure to participate in this debate on Motion No. 455, which has been introduced by my good friend and colleague, the hon. member for Edmonton East.

The intention of this motion is quite clear. It states that one nationally standardized “point in time” count should be recommended for use in all municipalities in carrying out counts of homeless individuals in their communities. Motion No. 455 recommends the development of nationally recognized methods governing how the count should be carried out.

To put it more simply, my colleague has brought forward this motion so that the government can help provide the tools to improve and to standardize the way we count homeless people in Canada.

Currently, various methods are being used in different communities, which can be a problem. This motion would provide the opportunity to improve our programs and better target our resources. It would be a tool for municipalities and communities to gain a better understanding of the homeless population, what situation these people are in, and what challenges they face.

Given the complexity of homelessness, our Conservative government launched the homelessness partnering strategy in 2007, known as the HPS, with the goal of preventing and reducing homelessness in Canada. Last year, as part of economic action plan 2013, we announced an investment of almost $600 million over five years to renew the very successful HPS. HPS funding is delivered to 61 communities, as well as to aboriginal, rural, and remote communities.

One of the great strengths of the HPS is that it encourages co-operation between governments, agencies, local community organizations, and the private sector. The HPS allows each of these communities to determine its own specific needs and develop projects to meet them. I saw that first-hand when I was working in Toronto, with the City. I saw the excellent programs it was running, funded by the HPS. Each community must have an advisory board representing these types of stakeholders. They set the priorities and recommend projects for their communities.

What we know is that this partnership and approach work. For every dollar that we have invested, over two dollars has been invested by partners, including other levels of government, community stakeholders, and the private and non-profit sectors. We know that real solutions to homelessness can only be found through these partnerships within our communities.

I am proud to report that through the efforts of the HPS and its partners, thousands of homeless individuals have secured stable housing, found jobs, returned to school, and become fully participating members of Canadian society.

In economic action plan 2013, we announced the renewal of the HPS, using an evidence-based approach with the measurable and proven results known as “Housing First”. Housing First involves moving homeless individuals to immediate and permanent housing, then offering supports to keep them housed. Once stable housing is obtained, the focus shifts to addressing more ongoing issues, such as addictions or mental health. As a result, individuals are able to get their lives back on track and become self-sufficient and fully participating members of our communities.

Evidence shows that Housing First can be effective in reducing chronic homelessness, and makes better use of public dollars by reducing pressure on other shelter, health, and justice services.

Through the At Home/Chez Soi project, Canadians now have made-in-Canada evidence that the Housing First approach really works. Over a 12-month period, Housing First participants spent an average of 73% of their time in stable housing, compared to only 30% for homeless people in a control group. I am quite familiar with the success of this program from my previous role as the president of the Greater Toronto Apartment Association, working very closely with the Mental Health Commission of Canada and other excellent stakeholders within Toronto that made this project the success that it is.

I mentioned earlier that one of our main goals is to reduce the number of homeless people in the country and, if possible, eliminate homelessness altogether. How will we know that the numbers are going down if we do not have a baseline to refer to because we are not using an efficient and standardized method of counting? This is why our government is supportive of this motion to move toward a standard point-in-time count approach, also known as the PIT count. A standardized approach would facilitate efforts to create a more comprehensive national picture of sheltered and unsheltered homelessness in Canada. Communities would be required to measure the results of those efforts to reduce homelessness by conducting PIT counts. This data would help to determine whether homelessness is being effectively reduced at the community level.

The approach described by my colleague, the member for Edmonton East, would help to achieve this goal. Indeed, the proposed point-in-time count approach would better equip communities to assess the extent of homelessness. Such a method can also establish a baseline level of homelessness in designated HPS communities across Canada. Communities across Canada would be able to use this method to track, at a given point in time, both the number of people staying in shelters and the number living on the streets. This way they could obtain quantitative data that they could work with to address local needs and better deliver services.

I am asking all of my colleagues to consider Motion No. 455 and how it would help us direct our money where it could do the most good: helping the most vulnerable people in Canada. I ask all members of the House to support Motion No. 455 so we can continue to do work to help alleviate and eliminate homelessness in Canada.

HomelessnessPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.


Anne Minh-Thu Quach NDP Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, in front of my dear colleagues and the members of the House, I would like to start my speech by paying tribute to all those fighting for a better life and for a better future.

Homelessness is not a status or a predestined state. It is a difficult situation that can befall any one of us, and from which one can escape. Many people have done it. They turned their lives around because they wanted to and because they got the help they needed. Solidarity and compassion are Canadian values. Those values and open-mindedness should guide our discussion.

The motion being debated today calls for a homeless count in Canada. It is certainly an important tool to better understand and better help the homeless. However, counting the number of people who are homeless is not enough.

We need a set of measures to find a long-term solution to this problem. That is what the NDP wants. In a society as rich as ours, we cannot accept that people are sleeping in the streets and are left to fend for themselves. That is not acceptable. As the late Jack Layton said in his book, Homelessness: The Making and Unmaking of a Crisis, homelessness is the consequence of a lack of justice, support, solidarity and responsibility on the part of society as a whole. The lack of social services and health services, the shortage of affordable housing, the government's disengagement, the indifference of people around us, all these factors have resulted in the phenomenon of homelessness.

When the Conservative government slashes public programs and institutions that our predecessors took such a long time to create, it is setting a very poor example for Canadian society. It is sending the message that individualism, the power of money, “everyone for themselves” and “not in my backyard” are more important considerations than the fundamental values on which a country such as Canada is built. That is not at all acceptable and it is not responsible.

It is wrong for elected officials to be promoting these toxic and dangerous ideas. It is up to all of us to say that this is not the society we want in Canada. Counting the homeless will not help find a solution to the problem over the long term. We need to look at things another way. We need to ask questions, listen, hear, see and, especially, take action and respond.

People in my riding of Beauharnois—Salaberry work very hard to help others in need. Poverty and aimlessness do not discriminate. Homelessness in my riding affects people of all ages, men, women, anglophones, francophones, aboriginal persons, allophones, children and teens.

In Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, people from the city and from the country, from Ontario and even from the United States are asking us for help. Maison d'Hébergement Dépannage de Valleyfield and Pacte de rue are two organizations that assist people without a fixed address. Maison d'Hébergement Dépannage de Valleyfield has twenty or so people a day coming to them for emergency assistance.

According to its director, André Couillard, there are many causes of homelessness: a difficult personal situation, an eviction, drug addiction, illness, isolation, financial problems, and so on. Everyone's situation is different. More than 70% of the people who are housed at this shelter are there for the first time and do not return. Why is that? It is because this temporary housing gives them access to services and care that helps them escape the homelessness trap. What they need more than anything is not shelter, it is someone to listen to them, support them and help them.

Pacte de rue connects people who are in distress with emergency services. The organization provides assistance and shelter for the people who need it. Claude Théorêt, the director of Pacte de rue, says that 6,000 people a year are in need of emergency services in the Beauharnois—Salaberry region. Pacte de rue keeps statistics on the people who use its services and has developed a profile of the people needing assistance, the reasons for their distress and the services they need. Mr. Théorêt has determined that some causes of homelessness include increased poverty in Beauharnois—Salaberry, deinstitutionalization, the lack of social and health care services, domestic violence and the lack of affordable housing.

These experts on the ground tell us that homelessness is a growing phenomenon and that there are not enough resources to meet people's needs. The federal government changed the homelessness partnering strategy, the HPS. Nobody knows if the program will be renewed in two years. Not everyone agrees with the new focus on housing. There is no long-term funding. Many organizations in my region have had to make do with less. For example, Pacte de rue withdrew from the HPS so that other organizations could get additional housing spots.

Everyone is in belt-tightening mode, even homelessness organizations.

In my riding, things are even harder for people living on the streets in towns far from urban centres, in rural areas, where 29 of the 31 municipalities in my riding are located. People find beds for a couple of nights here, a couple there, in various centres. They are removed from their communities and given beds in different places. They often have to move on to a different shelter when there is a bed shortage. For people in crisis who need stability and personalized help, that is really not ideal.

Homeless people need more than just access to permanent, stable housing. The most important thing they need is professional medical and psychological help. Many of them need a social worker. For example, teenagers need specialized resources to help them take control of their lives and to keep them out of criminal organizations. They also need safe places to escape family violence. More than anything, people need support, and that means they need people, not just housing.

The most important question is this: why carry out a count? What will this information be used for? Will the count help better target resources for homeless people? Will it give us a better picture of people in distress and their needs? Will it give us the big picture, as my hon. colleague from Hochelaga said earlier?

The Statistics Canada feasibility study on conducting such count in Canada estimated that it would cost at least $10 million. How do the Conservatives plan to pay for this count? Will they take that money away from programs that provide funding for services to the homeless? Do we run the risk of once again penalizing the people who need help the most?

An important challenge that also needs to be considered is this: homelessness is an ever-changing problem. For most people, homelessness is a temporary situation, as shown by many studies done in Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto. There is also the fact that homelessness takes many forms. Some people sleep in the streets, others in emergency shelters, others seek temporary accommodations with friends or acquaintances, while still others find accommodations in unsafe places and risk being thrown out.

The Canadian Homelessness Research Network believes that homelessness is not a static state, but rather a fluid experience, where one's shelter circumstances and options may shift and change quite dramatically and with frequency. The Statistics Canada feasibility study also found that the methodological challenges would be significant, with no assurance that the data would be reliable.

Claude Théorêt from Pacte de rue believes it is crucial to focus on resources and services. His experience on the ground has shown that people in distress who get the help they need manage to escape extreme homelessness, often for good. The young people he has helped found safe places to live and were also able to choose the path that was right for them. People with mental health issues received the care they needed and were able to relearn how to live independently, and more importantly, with dignity.

The federal government, the provinces, municipalities and all Canadians have an important role to play in combatting homelessness. The federal government must show leadership and provide the necessary funding so that people can get the services they need.

Providing funding to social services and health care would be an effective preventative approach to helping people without a home. The federal government must also reinvest in affordable housing so that low-income Canadians have adequate and proper housing.

Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which Canada signed, states that every individual has the right to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including housing.

The right to safe housing has a significant impact on the health and safety of Canadians. It is a fundamental right. We need to do everything we can to make homelessness a relic of this country's past. This is possible, but we must also think about funding for support workers, as was mentioned earlier, to ensure that every Canadian is safe and that they can receive the help they need to live an independent, dignified life.

The principle of this motion is commendable, but I hope that the sponsor of Motion No. 455 will consider all of the issues raised by the NDP so that the motion can be improved and so that we can work to eliminate homelessness in Canada for everyone, not just for a portion of those living that reality right now.

HomelessnessPrivate Members' Business



The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

The hour provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired. The order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

Since today is the final allotted day for the supply period ending March 26, 2014, the House will go through the usual procedures to consider and dispose of the supply bills.

In view of recent practices, do hon. members agree that the bills be distributed now?

HomelessnessPrivate Members' Business


Some hon. members


Opposition Motion—Proposed changes to the Elections ActBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders



Craig Scott NDP Toronto—Danforth, ON


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.

Mr. Speaker, I will begin by saying that I will be sharing my time with the member for Louis-Saint-Laurent.

Let me begin today's opposition day by stating flat out that our electoral democracy is in serious danger as a consequence of a bill before the House, Bill C-23, the fair elections act, which I think almost everybody who knows anything about the act is now calling the unfair elections act. Conservatives and the Minister of State (Democratic Reform) are, frankly, relying on Canadians' busy lives and complacency about the state of our democracy to ram legislation through the House. They are also hoping for media silence in order to pull off what I would call a kind of Westminster-majority-government coup. Effectively, that is what we are looking at.

Let me also remind everyone of a baseline fact, which is that the right to vote is one of the most fundamental rights in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Supreme Court has made clear that statute law needs to be oriented, not only in its enactment but in its interpretation, to enfranchisement, not to the opposite. The right to vote is not even subject to the notwithstanding clause, whereas other important rights, like equality rights, are. This underlines how very foundational and fundamental the right to vote is in our society.

I am going to state flat out a couple of overarching premises about this bill before arguing about the elements we want Conservative MPs, in good faith, to vote with us on today, namely, to get rid of three elements in this bill that are, frankly, atrocities.

Overall, Bill C-23 is a calculated effort and intricate tapestry to do two things. One, for ideological or perhaps for sound philosophical reasons, is to enact a set of principles that are unfair, frankly. Perhaps not from the perspective of the minister and his supporters, but standing alone, without looking at any partisan advantage, this bill is full of unfairness.

Everybody knows, and we would be blind if we did not notice and remiss if we did not mention, that this is also a bill designed to secure strategic partisan advantage for the party that lies behind the government. The two interact. There is no doubt that a lot of my colleagues in the House have bought certain lines and spin from the government and the minister to try to keep this in the philosophical realm and to try to ignore how much of an attempt this is to hijack democracy. I ask them now, and will ask again at the end of my remarks, to please know that Canadians are watching and will notice what they do on this incredibly important bill.

The bill would do four major things, in clusters. There are tons of points I could draw attention to. However, in clusters, this is what the bill does that is so incredibly unfair.

First, it engages in the result, and now, because that result is so clearly known, by intention, of voter suppression. The primary devices for this would be getting rid of the voter identification methods of vouching and the use of voter information cards as authorized by the Chief Electoral Officer.

Second, it is an active attempt to encourage voter apathy and disengagement, with perhaps the single most important factor being getting rid of Elections Canada's public education and outreach mandate in an incredibly brutal way.

Third, it either does not add the necessary tools to enhance the investigative functions and powers of Elections Canada, in particular the Commissioner of Canada Elections, or it actually undermines the investigative power of Elections Canada while simultaneously flipping to a focus away from organized fraud of the sort we are all concerned about, and have been for years, which we all thought was going to be tackled in this bill. It changes the focus from that fraud to a mythical narrative of citizen fraud. Fourth, and finally, it jacks up big money politics in a big way.

I want to come back to the third point, which ties together the questions of voter suppression and the lack of a serious tackling of schemes like the automated robocall scandal from 2011. Effectively before this bill came down, Canadian society and the House had trained a telescope on the government, demanding a bill that would deal adequately and seriously with the above by giving new investigative powers to Elections Canada to deal with the robocall scheme and anything like it. Instead, that telescope has been turned around. The government is looking back at average Canadians and saying that Canadians are the potential source of fraud, and not just them, but also the 200,000 election day workers who try to do their job as best they can every election and yet are now being blamed for a fictional situation of fraud in this country.

The NDP members have been doing what they can and I think Canadians would expect no less. Once they become aware of the bill and what it contained, almost to a person they were deeply concerned about it. They would never forgive us, and we would never forgive ourselves, if we were not taking the fight to the government on the bill in the way we have been doing because, frankly, as I have said before, some foundational elements of our democracy are at stake.

The efforts have been bearing fruit. Civil society stood up to the plate early on and has continued to do so. Too many organizations and individuals have come forward for me to name. I would say a good number in the print media have as well. Regrettably, that has not been the case yet with the national news broadcasters, but I am hoping that they too will soon see their responsibility to keep the bill in front of Canadians' consciousness.

We held eight town halls over the course of the last two weeks. They were full to the bursting point. I want to come back to The Globe and Mail as one of the examples of the print media. It did an unprecedented thing by writing five editorials in a row condemning the bill, taking it apart bit by bit, to the point that the first one said:

The...government's continued focus on the threat of voter fraud in federal elections is approaching absurdity. Everyone with any expertise who has examined the question in detail has arrived at the same conclusion: There is no threat. And yet the government insists that controversial provisions in its proposed Fair Elections Act are needed to eliminate this non-existent terror—even at the risk of disenfranchising thousands of legitimate voters. It makes no sense.

In another editorial, it says simply:

The Fair Elections Act needs a rewrite and a rethink. It isn't good for Canadian democracy.

Today, we see no doubt that The Globe and Mail is aware that the entire day in the House is being devoted to our opposition day motion. In an editorial entitled, “For the Good of the Country: Kill this bill”, the Globe states:

For the government, it is an opportunity to admit error and change course.... This bill deserves to die. The Fair Elections Act must be stopped. Killing it should be Parliament's first order of business.

With that, many of my colleagues will be laying bare the problems with the government's case, the minister's case, which stands on no evidential foundation for getting rid of vouching, getting rid of the use of voter information cards, and gutting public education and outreach.

My task is simply to say that I am speaking to my Conservative colleagues across the aisle. You frankly have been spun by cabinet and the minister. You have a duty to look at this in more detail because, if you do not, you will regret it. You must exert your independence and vote with us today on getting rid of these three elements. If you do not do the right thing, you will be remembered for not standing up for democracy when called for. And if you do not back down, people will remember.

I would end by saying and reminding you that contrary to what the minister has said in his own op-ed today in The Globe and Mail, accusing us and others of hysteria, the fact is that more and more Canadians are engaged, and more and more Canadians are enraged. You should pay attention. If you do not, 2015 will bring a surprise.

Opposition Motion—Proposed changes to the Elections ActBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

I would remind hon. members to direct their commentary through the Chair.

Questions and comments.

The hon. member for Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington.

Opposition Motion—Proposed changes to the Elections ActBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.


Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member's speech was not really focused on the specific wording of the motion but laid out three items that he would like to see removed from the bill, and then pointed to a series of groups that he said would be disadvantaged if these changes were allowed to remain in the bill, suggesting instead that they be removed.

The three groups, as I recall, were new voters, including both immigrants and students, and seniors in residences, and aboriginal voters.

I want to turn to the second group of voters. When looking at the things he does not like about the bill, the voter information card and the vouching system, I cannot see how these things affect seniors voting in residences.

In the last election, there was a case that went before the Supreme Court, Opitz v. Wrzesnewskyj, in which the issue arose of the people who are not identified under the current system, who do not have voter cards, and who also do not have anyone living in the same poll because they are serviced by a mobile poll.

I do not think there is anything in the bill that would address this problem. I do not think there is anything in the current act that addresses the problem. I also do not think that the Chief Electoral Officer has pointed to any way of dealing with this very real problem.

Given the very legitimate problem that seniors living in residences are in fact hard to identify under the current system, I would like to hear what suggestions he has for taking advantage of this legislation to ensure that they would be able to exercise their franchise.

Opposition Motion—Proposed changes to the Elections ActBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.


Craig Scott NDP Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, I think it is important to point out with respect to seniors in residences that the fundamental point that the Chief Electoral Officer wants known is that in 2011 a large experiment was conducted with respect to aboriginal people on reserves, seniors in residences, people in long-term convalescent homes, and students on university and college campuses, to see whether the voter information card would both facilitate the voter process on election day and serve to enfranchise people having a very hard time showing address as one of two pieces of ID.

The experiment was a success, so much so that in response to the Neufeld report of last year, the Chief Electoral Officer made it known that he was going to authorize that voter information cards be used by every Canadian across the country.

With respect to seniors in residences, the feedback from the managers and people living in residences was that it facilitated things, so much so that everybody was delighted by how well it worked.

The fact is that many seniors residences do not provide, or refuse to provide, or are slow to provide the kind of attestation of residence that could also be a proof of address, and so, the voter information card substituted for that and made voting that much easier for seniors in residences.

Opposition Motion—Proposed changes to the Elections ActBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.


Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Toronto—Danforth for raising this. I want to thank the official opposition for putting this in one of its supply day motions. This is critical. It is unprecedented, as the hon. member noted, for one of the major national newspapers in this country, The Globe and Mail, to run five sequential editorials urging that the bill not pass. This is not some sort of partisan hysteria, as the minister would have us believe. This response to the so-called fair elections act is the response that should come from every single member of this place in response to a bill that is so deliberately intended to suppress a vote. It is not acceptable in the Canadian democracy.

I ask my hon. colleague, should the amendments not proceed successfully today, should we not be able to amend the bill, is it not time for opposition parties to band together and perhaps seek a ruling from the Supreme Court before the bill passes that this violates section 3 of the charter?

Opposition Motion—Proposed changes to the Elections ActBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.


Craig Scott NDP Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, let me say that I am pretty confident that if the bill passes intact or anywhere close to intact, there will be no small lineup of civically minded individuals and organizations that would challenge it.

The vouching provisions will certainly be challenged as the final safeguard for protecting the right to vote, but the entire intricate interconnection of elements in the bill—which all come down to depriving and excluding people from their right to vote, in the result but increasingly by intention because the government knows this will be the result—will also be challengeable.

Opposition Motion—Proposed changes to the Elections ActBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.


Alexandrine Latendresse NDP Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to this motion today.

This motion deals with what is referred to as the new electoral reform bill, which would change many things in our electoral system. Our motion addresses three points in particular: vouching, voter education programming by Elections Canada, and the use of voter cards.

In our opinion, by getting rid of these three extremely important measures the government is harming certain specific groups in particular and I will try to explain why in my speech. Those groups are youth, new Canadians, aboriginal Canadians and seniors living in residences.

Let us begin with vouching. Vouching enables young people who attend school away from home or who are living somewhere where it is very difficult to prove residence to vote by showing identification in the presence of a colleague, a roommate or someone who knows them well and can confirm their identity so that they can vote.

The major advantage to vouching is that the information of both the voter and the voucher is taken down. When people talk about possible or hypothetical fraud in the vouching system, let us not forget that we have all the information from both people who are voting.

Does anyone really believe that someone who is going to cheat the electoral system would provide all their personal information, namely their ID card with a photo, their telephone number and their address? That is absolutely ridiculous. The idea behind vouching is to allow anyone who has difficulty meeting the requirements to exercise their right to vote.

Personally, I was in that situation for quite a while. I am from Montreal and I moved to Rimouski to go to school. I lived there for a number of years without any official proof of address. I lived in residence where electricity was paid for, so I did not have an electricity bill. I had nothing to prove that I lived at that address in Rimouski.

If I could not go to the polling station on election day to vote because I did not have such evidence or documents, I could not exercise my right to vote. That is the reality of the changes to the elections act being proposed today.

My second point has to do with voting using the voter information card, which also specifically affects these groups. As my colleague from Toronto—Danforth just mentioned in response to a question from the government, the 2011 target groups who could use voter information cards to vote were youth, aboriginal people and seniors in residences.

All those in positions of authority who have experience with the electoral system, including the Chief Electoral Officer, Mr. Neufeld and everyone who was involved in the process, have said that this excellent measure helped people to be able to vote. They also recommended that everyone be allowed to use voter information cards.

What did the government decide to do instead? It decided that even the target groups would no longer be allowed to use these cards. These people will be left to their own devices and will have to find a way to vote. The government is telling young people who want to get involved and who want to vote but who face many obstacles to fend for themselves, to make arrangements and to find a way to navigate the new system and vote. However, problems already exist. For example, voter turnout among youth is abysmal.

Mr. Mayrand said something in committee that really stuck with me because I think it clearly identifies the problem. He said:

It is essential to understand that the main challenge for our electoral democracy is not voter fraud, but voter participation.

With regard to the young people who will have difficulty, I would like to quote the motion that I moved in May 2013 before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs because it is extremely important. It reads:

That the Committee:

(a) Recognize that reports of the Chief Electoral Officer submitted to Parliament from 2010 onward demonstrate that, if Parliament does not modernize our electoral system in order to engage young Canadians, lower and lower percentages of eligible voters will turn out to vote in future federal elections; and

(b) Conduct a comprehensive study before December 2013 on potential mechanisms to enhance youth electoral engagement in Canada, with the view to implement such changes before the next federal election, including: modernizing the online voter registration system; ensuring there are polling stations on university and college campuses across the country; recruiting and training more youth to act as elections officers; raising awareness about how and where to vote, especially among mobile college and university students; considering an electronic voting system; considering automatic registration; and, removing barriers to pre-registering young people at age 16 as prospective voters, in advance of eligibility to vote at age 18.

We thought of such measures because we believed that this issue had to be studied in order to determine how to increase the youth voter turnout rate. Instead of considering these ways to improve youth participation, not only is the government eliminating vouching and voter cards as means of identification, but it is also eliminating all of Elections Canada's voter education programs. Elections Canada will no longer be able to talk to anyone, except to tell voters where, when and how to vote. That is what our dear minister is repeating ad nauseam.

The problem is that encouraging young people to vote is not just about telling them how and where to vote. There are many different things that could be done today to improve the voter turnout of young people. Elections Canada is in the best position to know what to do. It has all the data and the information and the will to improve voter participation. However, it will not have the right to say anything to anyone, other than what it is allowed to say. That really is a problem. I would like to quote the Chief Electoral Officer, who appeared before the committee last week:

I am very preoccupied in this regard with the limitations Bill C-23 imposes on the ability of my office to consult Canadians and disseminate information on electoral democracy, as well as to publish research. I am unaware of any democracy in which such limitations are imposed on the electoral agency and I strongly feel that an amendment in this regard is essential.

The Chief Electoral Officer, Mr. Mayrand, was very clear and said that he was not aware of any democracy that has muzzled its electoral organization like this. This gag order is one of the most harmful things in this bill. Our electoral organization should be independent and able to talk to Canadians about the topics it considers important. If it is not allowed to talk to Canadians, this means it will also not be able to talk about potential cases of fraud, since this will not be one of the very limited number of topics the minister will allow the Chief Electoral Officer to talk about.

We believe that these three things have a negative impact on the participation of groups that are already at a disadvantage in the voting process. Meaningful action could be taken. For example, the Chief Electoral Officer made recommendations to address the potential problems with the voter identification cards and the vouching system. He made some excellent suggestions. For example, he suggested that the government give him the power to hire people earlier and that they be better training. If election staff are better trained and better equipped, there will be far fewer errors of this type that can lead to bigger problems.

The Chief Electoral Officer made a number of suggestions that were not reflected in this bill. That is unacceptable.

Opposition Motion—Proposed changes to the Elections ActBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.


Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr.Speaker, I appreciate the comments by the member, and I want to pick up on some of her comments in regard to the manner in which the legislation is before us today.

It is completely unacceptable that the government has chosen to put Bill C-23 before us in the fashion that it has. There was no legitimate consultation done with Elections Canada. There was no consultation done with opposition parties. There was no consultation done with other stakeholders, and this is one of our fundamental cornerstones of democracy in Canada.

It is fundamentally flawed legislation, and I am wondering if the member would go so far as to agree with what the Globe has said in its editorials, that the bill needs to be stopped in its tracks.

Opposition Motion—Proposed changes to the Elections ActBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.


Alexandrine Latendresse NDP Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Winnipeg North for his comments.

I agree with him and with today's editorial in The Globe and Mail. The government really missed an opportunity with this bill. I have been a member of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs since May 2011. We have been looking at the changes needed to the Canada Elections Act for a very long time. We have been waiting for many changes for a long time, and they are needed now.

The problem is that, as usual with the Conservatives, the bill contains all kinds of measures that do not make sense and that will undermine our democracy. We cannot even accept the few measures that are truly needed and that should be passed immediately, because there are too many measures that are very bad for Canadians.

Opposition Motion—Proposed changes to the Elections ActBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.


Raymond Côté NDP Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague from Louis-Saint-Laurent for her speech.

I would like to talk about one of the many interviews she did with the media about this bill and her work to oppose it. A week ago Sunday, she did an interview with Myriam Ségal of FM93. What is interesting is that on Wednesday, just a few days ago, FM93's morning show with Sylvain Bouchard revisited the subject. That is one of the most popular shows in the Quebec City area.

The host, Mr. Bouchard, and Ms. Ségal were surprised by various provisions of the bill and wondered about its real purpose. Consider, for example, the fact that the Chief Electoral Officer would be prohibited from publicizing certain things and the fact that expenses do not have to be reported if the activity is considered a fundraising activity, not to mention the mandatory transmittal of a full list of voters who did not vote. This got quite a reaction on the airwaves.

I imagine my colleague received similar reactions in other media forms and from the general public. I would like to hear more about how people have been reacting to this government bill.

Opposition Motion—Proposed changes to the Elections ActBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.


Alexandrine Latendresse NDP Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, I sincerely thank my hon. colleague from Beauport—Limoilou for his kind words.

During the interviews I have done with the media, journalists have been very interested in what is happening here. People understand that this bill will affect all Canadians, without exception. All Canadian citizens have the right to vote and will be affected by these changes.

There are many problems with this bill that I did not have time to talk about. For instance, we were talking about funding, a subject that our colleagues in Quebec City often discuss. How can the Conservatives justify the fact that all expenses related to fundraising are excluded from election expenses, when the Chief Electoral Officer himself said that this measure is completely unenforceable, because there would be no way to properly verify what is eligible and what is ineligible? He said that, basically, this leaves the door open to fraud, and it would be impossible for him to do his job, which is to enforce the Canada Elections Act.