Mr. Speaker, the opposition has reacted with predictable hyperbole to the fair elections bill, yet the bill is full of the common-sense measures that are required for the improvement of our democratic system.
To start with, let us deal with the issue of vouching. The opposition has made a controversy over that question, so let us zero in on the issue at stake. Some people have argued that we should not need photo ID to vote. They are right; we should not, and we do not. With the fair elections bill, people will still be able to vote without photo ID in Canada.
In fact, with the passage of the fair elections bill, people will not even need government ID to cast a ballot in this country. People will have the ability to use 39 different forms of identification when they cast their ballot under the fair elections bill, just as is the case right now. So what is the change? A voter will be required to provide some proof of identity and residence; it will no longer suffice for people to simply have a voucher stand in place and assert who they are and where they live.
The risks of vouching are obvious. It is obviously risky to allow someone to vote without having any documented ID of who they are or where they live. They could conceivably vote more than once or in a constituency in which they do not reside.
What is worse than these mere risks is the fact that the safeguards that are meant to mitigate the risks were violated 50,735 times, or 42% of the time, in the last election, according to Elections Canada's own compliance report.
Supporters of vouching have mistakenly believed that they had experienced an “aha” moment recently, when the author of that report, Harry Neufeld, restated his long-standing support for vouching. That was nothing new, of course, nor had anyone ever suggested anything to the contrary. His support for vouching has long been documented. In fact, it was in his report that has been on the public record for a very long time. Anybody could have looked it up. It was not news that he restated that position.
The fact that a long-standing supporter of vouching was the one who actually reported the violations of the rules and its use should be all the more troubling to all of us. Still, some claim that the enormous number of irregularities were simply record-keeping hiccups.
The Neufeld report, regardless of what the author might now claim, said exactly the opposite. Let me quote from page 5:
Errors that involve a failure to properly administer these procedures are serious. The courts refer to such serious errors as “irregularities” which can result in votes being declared invalid.
If members do not like that, they should try page 14:
Too frequently, the errors are so serious that the courts would judge them to be “irregularities” that violate the legal provisions that establish an elector’s entitlement to vote.
Further, Neufeld noted that the sorts of vouching errors that occurred in the riding of Etobicoke Centre “could contribute to a court overturning an election”. That last clause was a quote from page 10.
Rules exist for a reason. They are the “legal safeguards, in place to ensure each elector is actually eligible to vote..”. That is on page 6. Their systematic violation is serious enough for our court to overturn an election result or invalidate a vote, according to the report.
What are these rules, and why does it matter that they were violated? The rule that was most often violated in the last election was the requirement that the local Elections Canada personnel keep records of who vouched and who was vouched for.
By the way, this can be found on page 64 of the final report.
In 45,000 cases there is no such record, so we do not know who was vouched for and we do not know who did the vouching. If we do not know who vouched, then those individuals could violate the rule that they are not supposed to vouch more than once. That is a rule because, if someone systematically vouches for a large number of voters, then that individual can allow voters to cast more than one ballot or cast ballots in constituencies in which they do not reside. That is why the rule exists. The fact that it was violated 45,000-plus times should be a concern to all of us.
We are proposing a very reasonable solution. Individuals could bring basically any document showing who they are and where they live. That document does not have to come from the Government of Canada, the Government of Ontario or any provincial government, or a municipal government. It could come from a utility company. It could come in the form of a student card or an attestation. There are 39 different options. If the opposition wants to focus on a particular category of elector, I am happy to share a form of identification within the existing 39 acceptable examples that would provide those voters with an opportunity to identify who they are and where they live.
Voter turnout is the next issue of debate that the opposition has raised. There are two things that drive people to vote. One is motivation and the other is information. Motivation is what parties and candidates offer to inspire people to vote, giving them something to vote for. Information—the where, when, and how—is the responsibility of Elections Canada.
Election Canada's own data suggests it has done a poor job of providing that information. After the last election, young non-voters reported that not knowing where, when, or how to vote affected their decision not to cast a ballot; 25% did not know where to vote; 26% did not know when; and 19% did not know how to vote. That was one of the factors that led them to make the decision not to cast their ballot.
In the last election, half of our youth in this country did not know that they could vote before election day. Three-quarters of aboriginal youth did not know. If people are busy on election day and are not aware that they can vote early, they miss their chance. That is what led, I think, Elections Canada to write the following in one of its post-election reports, “The most important access barrier was lack of knowledge about the electoral process, including not knowing about different ways to vote...”. The fair elections act would require Elections Canada to communicate this basic information, while the parties do the job of voter motivation.
Finally, the fair elections act would make the law enforcement watchdog, Commissioner Yves Côté, independent from the Chief Electoral Officer. Predictably, the latter does not like that idea. That being said, I think it is completely essential.
First, there are almost three dozen offences in the Canada Elections Act that deal with the conduct of the Chief Electoral Officer's staff. How can the commissioner investigate the CEO's staff when he is one of the CEO's staff himself?
Second, the fair elections act would move the commissioner into the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions. The director has been responsible for laying charges under the Canada Elections Act for the last seven years, and during that time his independence has never been questioned and that is because it is unquestionable. The director is appointed on the recommendation of a committee of non-partisan public servants, a representative of each political party, and a representative of the law societies of the country. The appointment is then validated by an all-party committee of the House of Commons. After being put in that position, the director cannot be removed except through a vote by the House of Commons. In fact, that removal process is similar to what is required for officers of Parliament, including the CEO of Elections Canada and the Auditor General of Canada. No one would argue that those positions lack independence.
Prior to this debate no one has ever argued—and to my knowledge no one in the House of Commons has ever argued—that the Director of Public Prosecutions is not independent. I have never heard Elections Canada argue that the Director of Public Prosecutions is not independent. He has already exercised that independence as the chief prosecutor responsible for the Canada Elections Act for the last seven years. No charges can be laid under that act without his express sign-off and without the prosecution his office carries out subsequently in the courts.
Section 2 of the Director of Public Prosecutions Act specifically excludes the Attorney General, who is an elected politician, from any involvement in prosecutions related to the Canada Elections Act. I have never heard a single example where anyone has even alleged that this provision of the Director of Public Prosecutions Act has been violated. It has been scrupulously and faithfully followed by the DPP, the Attorneys General, and everyone else involved. Not only has there been no finding of wrongdoing in this respect, but I am not aware of even an allegation.
Beyond the independence of the DPP from the government, there is the ongoing independence of the commissioner from the DPP. Allow me to quote directly from clause 108 of the fair elections act. It says:
The Commissioner is to conduct the investigation independently of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
In other words, the prosecutor cannot direct the investigation. That job is exclusively in the hands of the commissioner under the fair elections act. Furthermore, for the first time, the commissioner would have a fixed term, he could not be fired without cause, and he would have control of staffing and investigations. That is real independence.
Canadians instinctively understand that these principles are rooted in both common sense and fairness. That is why they have not joined in the hysteria of the opposition.
The next point of peculiarity in the opposition's critique is related to fundraising. The opposition has come out against the provision in the act that would allow parties to exempt fundraising calls, emails, and letters from campaign expenses. The provision is based on a well-established principle that there is a distinction between raising funds for a campaign and spending those same funds for a campaign.
It is the same reason why people do not put mileage on their car while they are standing and putting gas in it. The mileage only starts to add up when the wheels start turning. The fuel in the car, by itself, does not cause the mileage to grow.
Is this a principle that was invented out of thin air? Actually, it was right in the NDP rule book for its leadership race. Let us look at rule seven, regarding expenses not subject to the party's expense ceiling: 7 d) says, “Any expenses for fundraising...”. Those expenses are explicitly excluded.
In fact, in the NDP rule book, the fundraising exemption is far more vast than what is proposed in the fair elections act. Our bill, by contrast, has clear definitions of what constitutes a fundraising expense. It must be directed at a previous donor of the last five years and it must have the purpose of raising funds, rather than some other purpose.
When the NDP excluded fundraising expenses from its leadership race, it had no such limitations on the exclusion. It was simply the case that anything claimed to be fundraising did not count as part of the party's spending limit. Therefore, for the NDP to now claim that it is opposed to the distinction between fundraising expenses and campaign expenses is a little rich, to put it generously.
We look forward to having continued debate on this bill. I expect there will be a very thorough vetting at the committee, where dozens of witnesses will come and share their points of view. I am prepared, should I be asked to return to the committee, to answer any further questions that the members may have. Although I have not been invited, I put out that offer to the committee.
That being said, this Elections Act reform is fair. It has common sense, and it would ensure that everyday Canadians stay in charge of democracy. It would put special interests on the sidelines. It would put rule breakers out of business. It would close loopholes to big money. It would bring in new penalties for political imposters who use rogue calls to deceive voters.
It would prevent political candidates from using unpaid debts as a way of getting around donation limits, as the Liberals were successful in doing in their leadership race.
These are changes to our electoral system that have been long required. The fair elections act would provide them. That is why I am proud to move the bill and to continue to support it as it travels through the parliamentary process.