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.