House of Commons Hansard #56 of the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was debate.


Statements by Member for Mississauga—Streetsville—Reference to Standing CommitteePrivilegeRoyal Assent

5:55 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

Statements by Member for Mississauga—Streetsville—Reference to Standing CommitteePrivilegeRoyal Assent

5:55 p.m.


Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

It is true, Mr. Speaker, my grandma would never have done that kind of thing. She had more intellectual honesty than that.

I am trying to understand what happened between February 6th and 24th.

If someone tells the House that he saw people commit illegal acts, why did it take him 18 days to realize he saw nothing of the kind?

No apology will erase the contempt of Parliament committed on February 6. What happened during those 18 days? How is it that the member for Mississauga—Streetsville appears to have suffered hallucinations on February 6 and suddenly had to set the record straight on February 24? We would like to understand.

Basically, this sham, this preposterous story, is supposed to justify the Conservative minister’s electoral reform bill. Constructing public policy and major reforms on baseless statements, smoke and mirrors, is very serious and utterly unacceptable.

We in the official opposition act in a responsible and honest manner. We want to know exactly what happened. Was the member influenced in a way that made him make such statements? Was he subsequently influenced again when he said he had seen no one commit an illegal act? If that is true, how is it that he, as an honest politician, did not notify Elections Canada?

This has nothing at all to do with misspeaking. I might be mistaken about the name of a constituency or a person and then have to apologize, but that is not at all the case here. The member stated on two occasions that he had personally seen such actions.

This brings us back to all the defects in the electoral reform bill. We are told, in an entirely Orwellian tone, that this bill will protect us from the influence of big money, whereas maximum contributions are being raised from $1,200 to $1,500. How can anyone have these two ideas in mind at the same time? This is absolutely inconsistent.

If you want to reduce the influence of big money on elections and political parties, you increase public funding and cut individual contributions. However, the Conservatives are doing the opposite. They probably have more friends than we do who are able to write cheques for $1,500. They are not being serious at all. They are cheating by creating a legal framework that will benefit them in the next election.

This is extremely serious in a representative democracy such as ours, in which people must be able to trust the laws that govern them. Not only do the Conservatives risk preventing tens of thousands of people from voting, but they are raising the limit on individual contributions to a political party to $1,500 and preventing Elections Canada from investigating by stripping it of that power and conferring it on a third party.

What enrages me most about Bill C-23 is that the Conservatives want to prohibit Elections Canada from promoting the right to vote. This is quite disturbing when voter turnout has been declining for years now.

The main body that organizes elections in our country will not be able to tell people that it would be good for them to go and vote, that their votes count and that we need them. No, the only thing it will be able to tell them is the location of their polling station. Elections Canada will no longer be allowed to encourage people to exercise their right to vote and to have a voice in the representation and governance of their country. That must suit somebody. That must benefit people who are not counting on citizen engagement or people’s desire for real change in this country.

It is particularly odious to make false statements in the House to justify an electoral reform bill that has undergone no public consultation, either with the opposition parties or with the Chief Electoral Officer, and even less with the people of our country.

For the NDP, that is unacceptable. We will stand against it.

Statements by Member for Mississauga—Streetsville—Reference to Standing CommitteePrivilegeRoyal Assent

6:05 p.m.


Françoise Boivin NDP Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I greatly appreciated my colleague's speech.

We have talked a lot about the credibility of the Conservative member who made comments that we now know were not true and that, it has been acknowledged, constituted a prima facie breach of parliamentary privilege. Does that not speak volumes about the Conservatives? All day I have listened to these members dismiss this out of hand, when the very thing that should be sacred in the House is our word, what we say. What we say is not always great—and I include myself in that—but we are not supposed to lie or use unparliamentary language.

The vote that will be held in about two hours will say a lot about our colleagues across the way, who think that it is acceptable to mislead the House and the public and to breach the privilege of parliamentarians in the House, a fact that the Speaker acknowledged. Does that not have an impact on all Conservative members?

Statements by Member for Mississauga—Streetsville—Reference to Standing CommitteePrivilegeRoyal Assent

6:10 p.m.


Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from Gatineau for her excellent question. Obviously, this says a lot about and is symptomatic of the Conservatives' attitude: they are entitled to their entitlements, they do not need to listen to anyone, anything goes, and the ends justify the means.

They have a bill that will change the Elections Act to their advantage. They are prepared to spout utter nonsense to justify it even if the facts are not on their side. Why? It is because the Conservatives are not usually interested in reality and facts. We have seen that in other sectors as well. Statistics Canada is now prohibited from using a mandatory long form census, which makes the data it collects inaccurate and hard to use. The fact that the government is muzzling scientists follows the same pattern and is part of the same arrogant attitude of a tired old government.

Statements by Member for Mississauga—Streetsville—Reference to Standing CommitteePrivilegeRoyal Assent

6:10 p.m.


Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have a quick question for my colleague. The Conservatives are now saying that there is no need to vote for this motion or for the recommendations made by the Speaker of the House with respect to the member for Mississauga—Streetsville because everything is clear now.

Over the course of the past two days, that member had umpteen hours and opportunities to explain what is going on. We only got 50 words out of him. He said that he had made a mistake. Indeed, he made a big mistake with respect to the election bill. Why? Is it that obvious? Does everyone understand what is happening and why?

The member said that he “misspoke”. As you know, Mr. Speaker, in the rules that guide us, we cannot accuse other members of Parliament of lying. This is one of the things that guides us, which is good because it tries to keep the conversation cooler than our yelling “liar” back and forth across the House.

So the member said that he misspoke and did not intentionally mislead the House. However, in the Speaker's ruling and in the presentation that we made, one of the conditions is that the Speaker has to believe that in making the statement the member intended to mislead the House.

So who are we going to believe? Is it the 20 words spoken by the member for Mississauga—Streetsville who was caught completely falsifying his witnessing of a crime, or the Speaker of the House who witnessed the whole conversation and is yet to hear from the very member we are talking about over hours of debate?

I am curious as to why. Is the air clear? Does this satisfy the public that we actually know why the Conservative member conducted himself this way over such an important thing as our election act?

Statements by Member for Mississauga—Streetsville—Reference to Standing CommitteePrivilegeRoyal Assent

6:10 p.m.


Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the opposition House leader for his question.

That question is the reason for the debate we have been having for two days. In fact, the member for Mississauga—Streetsville rose in the House and said:

I made a statement in the House during the debate that is not accurate. I just want to reflect the fact that I have not personally witnessed individuals retrieving voter notification cards from the garbage cans or from the mailbox areas...

Eighteen days earlier, he stated the opposite four times. We want to know what happened. Unfortunately, my Conservative colleague is not present. The Speaker of the House of Commons said that, with this contempt of Parliament, there was a clear intention to mislead the House of Commons.

At the very least, the member could be here to explain. If he cannot be here to explain and he insists on hiding, then a committee should look at this in order to determine exactly what happened.

Statements by Member for Mississauga—Streetsville—Reference to Standing CommitteePrivilegeRoyal Assent

6:10 p.m.


Isabelle Morin NDP Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in the House today to take part in this debate. I believe that it will have a significant impact on the future of democracy in this country.

On February 6, during a speech he made in the House of Commons, the member for Mississauga—Streetsville stated that he had personally witnessed voter fraud. That is a serious accusation. He said the following:

I have actually witnessed other people picking up the voter cards, going to the campaign office of whatever candidate they support and handing out these voter cards to other individuals, who then walk into voting stations with friends who vouch for them with no ID.

In my opinion, the member for Mississauga—Streetsville made a very serious accusation. A few weeks later, on February 24, the member came to and changed his story. He stated that, in fact, he had not personally seen what he had previously reported. He said that he heard such stories when working in the rental housing industry. That is why, on February 25, my colleague, the House Leader of the Official Opposition, raised a question of privilege, saying that the member had deliberately misled the House. I believe that that is exactly what the member did.

What are we to think of these contradictions uttered by a member of Parliament? As the representative of his constituents, he should ensure, more than anyone, that his words and actions meet the ethical standards that all Canadians are entitled to expect an elected member of Parliament to meet.

I would not like to be one of his staff right now. I have a duty to my constituents, whom I represent every day in the House. I am here to defend their ideals and values, to inform the House of their views. If I told false stories to the House of Commons, many people would probably call my office, send me emails or write to me on Facebook. It must be mind-boggling for his staff. The member decided that what he had told the House was no longer the truth. He made that decision two and a half weeks later.

I do not know what happened. The allegation was rather serious. He accused some people of election fraud. Perhaps he realized he had gone too far. However, for the past two days, our Conservative colleagues have been saying that it is no big deal. The member did not tell the truth, but because he apologized everything is swept under the rug, forgotten, and we should move on.

Indeed, I would like to talk about important issues, such as the situation in Ukraine and the economy. Yesterday, we were supposed to have a debate on food safety, which is a very important issue, but we now find ourselves talking about this matter. I too feel that we are talking about it a lot, but it is a very important issue. We are talking about our country's democracy and what is going on in the Canadian Parliament.

Yesterday, on March 3, the Speaker of the House ruled in favour of my NDP colleague. He clearly indicated that the member knowingly made false statements with the intention of misleading the House. The member deliberately told the House something that was false.

We must think before we speak. Earlier, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration said that if a member apologizes 18 days later, it is okay.

I would like to share a story. A few weeks ago, I learned of an immigration case in my riding. The lady came from Russia. When she arrived in Canada, she was asked about her status. She was asked whether she was married, in a common-law relationship or single. The common-law relationship does not exist in every country of the world. Therefore, she said she was single. A week later, she realized she was in a common-law relationship. She wanted to correct her mistake but was not able to do so.

Thus, there are times when it is important to be aware of what we say and what we do. We are parliamentarians. We speak on behalf of Canadians. I do not understand why that woman was told that she could not change her status. It was a nightmare trying to change the form. Here we have a member who apologizes, says he did not act deliberately, says he is sorry for coming up with this story to help his party, but it is not true. He apologizes, saying “I misspoke”. The Conservatives want to move on.

I think and I hope that we are more serious than that. I think this is a farce, and it is important to talk about it. It is important to explore this in committee, to see why the member did that.

We have been talking about it since yesterday. The member was in the House yesterday. He never stood up to defend himself, to ask a question, to say that maybe we should investigate further. He did not say anything.

I would remind the House that three conditions must be met in order for someone to be accused of misleading the House. The member met all three conditions. The first is that the individual made a statement that was misleading. The second is that the individual knew at the time that the statement was incorrect. Since it was entirely fabricated, the member knew that it was false at the time. The third condition is that, in making the statement, the member intended to mislead the House. We have seen this in the past. The member rose here to say that it was not true, because he knew that he deliberately misled the House.

Therefore, the member for Mississauga—Streetsville was in contempt since he said he personally saw what he described, when in fact he was fully aware that what he had just said did not reflect reality.

As was mentioned earlier, he did not say it just once. He said a second time that he had witnessed this fraud. Therefore, this member clearly intended to mislead the members of the House. This is an extremely serious matter that goes to the heart of our democracy and has to do with respect for our country's most important institutions.

The member deliberately chose to present as facts information that he knew was false, to justify the passage of a government bill that would deprive some Canadians of their right to vote.

We could talk about much more serious issues. I would much rather talk about the bill and its content, but that is what happened.

Moreover, the Conservatives are accusing us of wasting time. I am sorry, but it is not because of me that we are discussing this matter. It is because of one of their colleagues who rose in the House at the beginning of February and spouted nonsense. If I rose and began talking nonsense, I hope my colleagues would call me to order and remind me that I represent people and must speak the truth.

The member presented information to justify the government's decision to introduce an electoral reform bill that ends the vouching system, which tens of thousands of Canadians use properly. He did that as a member of Parliament. Therefore, initially, we had no reason to think his statement was not true. In making this statement, the member was fully aware that, in the eyes of Canadians, his status as an elected representative in the Parliament of Canada guaranteed that he was telling the truth.

Why did he show such contempt for Canadians? I do not understand.

I think there is a simple reason. The member for Mississauga—Streetsville invented evidence to support the government's plan to use Bill C-23 to eliminate the vouching system. I think it is sad that the government would use such tactics to pass a bill.

I am sure many people have noticed that the Conservatives are prepared to do anything possible to take the next election. That is what is going on here.

The member spoke about one of the aspects of Bill C-23. He wanted to talk about a supposed flaw that was completely manufactured, in order to manipulate what members of Parliament and the Canadian public thought about the Conservatives' Bill C-23.

The member's only goal was to make the Conservatives' plan to abolish the vouching system more relevant. This system enabled more than 100,000 Canadians to vote in the 2011 election.

In conclusion I want to say that it is very important to send this issue to committee so that we can shed some light on this affair and find out what went on during those 18 days.

During the debate, some members argued that we must not create an environment in which members are afraid to rise and apologize. However, the member did not rise the next day. He rose 18 days later, which is the problem. Therefore, I think this issue should be studied in committee.

Statements by Member for Mississauga—Streetsville—Reference to Standing CommitteePrivilegeRoyal Assent

6:25 p.m.


Marc-André Morin NDP Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like my colleague to comment on a few points.

An apology is, in a way, a confession. When we defend ourselves or ask others to defend us, or if people rush to our defence, that is an admission of guilt.

As for where to draw the line, the question is not really a question because the line has already been drawn in House of Commons Procedure and Practice. Furthermore, the Speaker already said that the line had been crossed.

Today the Conservatives are asking us to entertain the possibility that, in the House, people can distort the truth or say things that are untrue to achieve a goal, then apologize and be done with it. That threatens democracy.

Statements by Member for Mississauga—Streetsville—Reference to Standing CommitteePrivilegeRoyal Assent

6:25 p.m.


Isabelle Morin NDP Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Laurentides—Labelle for his question.

It is not even a matter for debate because, yesterday, the Speaker himself said that the line had been crossed and the three conditions met. A committee should look at the situation to see what happened. Since yesterday, Conservative members have been telling us that the member apologized and all should be forgiven.

If someone comes to my house and steals something, then brings it back 18 days later, apologizes for stealing and says he should not have done it, that does not make it okay. We are giving carte blanche to a member who was fully aware that he was not telling the truth. That is the line. The member did not tell the truth, he apologized, and everyone wants us to say that there is no problem.

I think we need to go further than that.

Statements by Member for Mississauga—Streetsville—Reference to Standing CommitteePrivilegeRoyal Assent

6:25 p.m.


Philip Toone NDP Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for her speech. She raised a number of interesting points.

She identified a question that a number of people are asking. Is this a Conservative Party tactic? Why would the hon. member want to use such tactics for Bill C-23? What is in this bill that the Conservatives are so afraid of?

Statements by Member for Mississauga—Streetsville—Reference to Standing CommitteePrivilegeRoyal Assent

6:25 p.m.


Isabelle Morin NDP Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for the question because, indeed, Bill C-23 contains many things. When the hon. member rose to speak to this bill, it was to talk about the vouching system. The Conservatives no longer want someone to be able to vouch for a voter's identity.

I have a little anecdote. I used the vouching system in 2008. I was a student in Sherbrooke at the time. I was living in an apartment with eight roommates. The hydro bill, the phone bill and the lease were not in my name. I moved around a lot, so the address on my driver's licence was my parents' address. I had to have someone vouch for me.

The Conservatives are telling students in this country that because they are students—students are more or less stable, their address is their parents'—they cannot vote. I am sorry, but in 2008, if I had not used the vouching system, I could not have voted. Voting is a fundamental right. It is important. The government keeps alarming everyone by saying that young people do not vote, but the vouching system was a good way to enable them to vote.

A member of Parliament makes up some story in the House because he wants to get rid of this option. I understand, the Conservatives do nothing for young people. If I were them, I would not want young people to vote either. In Canada, everyone has the right to vote at age 18. The Conservatives are trying to prevent that. That is what Bill C-23 proposes.

What we are talking about here is the member for Mississauga—Streetsville, who made up stories in the House. This case must be referred to committee because it makes no sense. If we let this go, there is no telling what this party will do.

Statements by Member for Mississauga—Streetsville—Reference to Standing CommitteePrivilegeRoyal Assent

6:30 p.m.


Malcolm Allen NDP Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, usually I would rise and say that I am pleased to join the debate, but I have a sense of trepidation about doing this. The member for Mississauga—Streetsville is someone I have come to know and quite like, so it becomes difficult when one has to stand and talk about his actions in the House.

My preference would have been for the government to simply allow this to go to committee, in which case the committee could have dealt with it a long time ago and dispensed with it. The committee could have ruled on it and brought back a recommendation. This way we would not be, as the government House leader has said, spending two days talking about this particular issue, which the member for Mississauga—Streetsville has ended up being the centre of.

Of course, this is public. It is televised. CPAC carries it. People can watch it on the Internet. Committees can be watched on the Internet, but they are less public than this forum.

Would it not have been collegial of the government, of which he is a member, to send it to committee to have it dispensed with? That is what the Speaker's ruling was intended to do. The Speaker believed that there was a case to have it resolved somewhere else and to have us look at it.

Here we are, looking at it here and throwing all the information out over and over again. It does not help the member for Mississauga—Streetsville to have it recast over and over again, but the government has given us no other opportunity. It has left us with this as the only outlet.

One of the government members said earlier that one may misspeak in the House. I started to think about when that happens. Has it happened to me as a member? It actually happened to me on Monday, during the debate on Bill C-18, the government's bill on agriculture.

It came to my attention in two ways. I did not actually know that I had misspoken. In relation to what is called UPOV '91, I actually talked about 1929, which is actually an international convention on plant protection. I interchanged 91 and 29.

The Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, when questioning me during the debate, said that I had gotten it wrong and was talking about something that had happened a long time ago. It dawned on me that I had misspoken and that I had used the wrong date. That is misspeaking. That is how one actually misspeaks.

The staff at Hansard then emailed me. I have the email here. It said that they would like to clarify the text. The email said:

Can you please confirm whether [the member for Welland] was referring to the 1929 International Convention for the Protection of Plants (Rome), or if he meant to say otherwise (UPOV 91)? Can you advise...?

Clearly we were debating UPOV '91, which is from 1991, not the International Convention for the Protection of Plants of 1929. That was dispensed with long before we were born. We may think that we are long in the tooth sometimes, but we are certainly not that long in the tooth.

That was an example of someone getting a date wrong and misspeaking. There needed to be a correction but not an apology. It was simply the wrong date that needed to be corrected to reflect what we were actually discussing and what the debate was really about, which was Bill C-18, of which UPOV '91 was a part.

Therefore, when the government rises to defend its colleague, which is admirable and I understand why it does that, to suggest that he misspoke, it makes it extremely difficult to comprehend. It stretches credibility, to be truthful.

Here is what the member actually said. I will quote it, because I have highlighted a couple of pieces that I want to put emphasis on to show how it could not have been someone misspeaking.

On February 6, 2014, the member for Mississauga—Streetsville stated, “Mr. Speaker, I want to talk a bit about this vouching system again. I know the minister represents an urban city. I am from a semi-urban area of Mississauga”, and this is what I want to emphasize, “where there are many high-rise apartment buildings”.

He was adamant about it. He knew that he was from a place where there are lots of apartment buildings.

He further stated:

On mail delivery day when the voter cards are delivered to community mailboxes in apartment buildings, many of them are discarded in the garbage can or the blue box.

He knew it was one or the other. He went on to state:

I have actually witnessed other people picking up the voter cards, going to the campaign office of whatever candidate they support and handing out these voter cards to other individuals, who then walk into voting stations with friends who vouch for them with no ID.

I want to highlight that he said that he witnessed it personally and knew that the cards went in either the garbage can or the grey box, because here in Ontario it is the grey box for paper. He said that he saw it at that level of detail and knew the people who took the cards out of the boxes. They were not strangers but campaign workers. I admit that he does not say if they were Conservative campaign workers, Liberal campaign workers, or other campaign workers. He just said “campaign workers”. We did not get any definitive information on that. The committee might be able to ask him who the campaign workers were and what he actually saw.

He then knew that these people went to the polling stations eventually. People vouched for those folks and they voted. He knew all of those things. That is hugely different from what I described earlier about my misspeaking in the debate on Bill C-18 when I got the date wrong. It is important to get the date right, but it was not misleading the House that the agreement actually happened in 1929 when it truly happened in 1991. The two situations are not even the same.

To bring the point home even more clearly, the member for Mississauga—Streetsville said it again. He said it slightly differently but basically with the same intent. He stated:

Earlier this afternoon I asked the Minister of State for Western Economic Diversification a question. I think my friend from York South—Weston will appreciate this because, just like the riding I represent, there are a lot of apartment buildings in his riding.

I emphasize his next words:

I will relate to him something I have actually seen. On the mail delivery day when voter cards are put in mailboxes, residents come home, pick them out of their boxes, and throw them in the garbage can. I have seen campaign workers follow, pick up a dozen of them afterward, and walk out. Why are they doing that? They are doing it so they can hand those cards to other people, who will then be vouched for at a voting booth and vote illegally. That is going to stop.

That will be stopped based on Bill C-23. It would put an end to vouching and it would not happen again. People could pick up as many of those cards as they wanted, because it would not matter. They would not be able to vouch for people. We would get rid of the cards and it would not matter any more.

The story was not misspoken, in my view. It was made up, because the member subsequently decided that he should come back to the House and say that he never witnessed it and did not see it. He did not come back to the House to say that he misspoke and that it was not in the apartment building but somewhere else. That would be misspeaking. If he had said, “I didn't know they were campaign workers, but I saw it”, that would be misspeaking. If he had said, “I'm not sure if they were in the garbage can or the grey box, but they discarded them”, that would be misspeaking. He literally laid it out and itemized it. He highlighted that it was in apartment buildings at the mailboxes on mail day, and people discarded them.

The member said he witnessed it, actually saw it with his own eyes, and that means he was actually there. He had to physically be in that place on mail day to see those residents, which meant he had to spend some time there.

After the member said it the first time, one would have thought that if he had truly misspoken, he would have said to himself that it was not really, wholly accurate, so why would he do it again? Well, if he reinforced the story again by saying almost the same thing verbatim, there are only two things that could be.

One is to suggest that one has some sense of speaking notes, and this is not to suggest that one party over another does not do this. Lots of us have notes.

If the member was allowed to go to committee, one could ask if the speaking notes were given to him by someone in the PMO, who told him to relate the story as if it was his when it really was not. Perhaps the member then realized that he had told a story that was not really his, but it was in his speaking notes, and he later knew that he had to retract it because it was not his story. The member might have felt contrite thinking it was something he should not have done, and he decided to retract the story.

I think that is a valid question to ask the member. However, we are not going to get that opportunity because we are here debating it, and the government thinks this is enough.

This brings me to the position of the government House leader. He talked about how telling this story was not misleading in the sense that someone was not being deliberately misled, but it somehow came to that at the conclusion of the story.

It really boils down to what the government House leader said in the House. He said:

It is quite common for us to misspeak in the nature of conversation...

—and I think I have articulated that—

...and I can understand the error made by the hon. member on the question of voting cards, because I think there are probably very few members in this House who have not, at second- or third-hand, heard anecdotes exactly to that effect.

Here we have the government House leader saying that everybody has heard those anecdotal stories about these cards that someone picks up and takes. Everybody has heard it.

He goes on to say:

I personally

—meaning the minister, the government House leader—

...have heard anecdotes from others, not having witnessed it myself. It is different from having heard an anecdote, but having heard it quite regularly, it becomes part of the normal discourse that “this is what happens out there”.

So the fact that we have heard an anecdotal story over and over again now makes it true. It must be true, because we have heard it more than once. If only that were true, because then if my friends across the way said, “We know you are six feet tall. We know you are six feet tall”, then I could actually believe I am six feet tall.

Well, it is not true. The fact that it is an anecdote will not make it true no matter how many times it is said. To base legislation on anecdotes is the worst type of legislation one could craft, by pretending the anecdotes are true and that we must change the legislation because we know this is what happens because we were told a story. Someone told a story that this is what happens, so therefore we must ban that practice altogether because, Heaven knows, we were told a story.

It is quite beyond belief, to be truthful, that somehow the government would come forward with legislation based on anecdotal evidence and that somehow that evidence must be clear, concise, and true. This is a government that will quite often say to us, especially in the agricultural sector, that something is based on sound science. Now it will be based on sound anecdotes. Now, as long as it is a sound anecdote and as long as it is said often enough, it will be taken as a true story.

Aesop's fables, even if told over and over again, will always be fables. They will not be true. They will be fables. Myths, whether urban myths or old-time myths, are simply myths. No matter how many times we repeat the myth, whether it be an urban myth, whether it be another myth, it will be a myth; it will never be true.

As for the member apologizing, I must admit that I do congratulate him for apologizing, but that apology will not take away from the fact that he came in the House and literally laid out a case in detail of what he said he saw and personally witnessed, not once but twice. He stood by it. He did not retract it that day, did not say, “Oh, my goodness. I think I have actually told an anecdotal story here. I should go back to the House and say that it is not a true story. I actually did not see it. It is what I heard.”

He did much later. It is commendable that he did retract, but it does not negate what he did the first time.

Many of us are quite often sorry for actions we have taken, but if we take actions, there are consequences for our actions.

The government always says to us, when it comes to criminal legislation, that it is about people taking responsibility for their actions, and if their actions are such that people deserve some form of punishment, then that is what is deserved by those people. There are times when I have to nod in agreement, although not always, of course. Sometimes there are mitigating factors.

In this particular case, the member should appear before committee. It is what the Speaker expects us to do. It is what the Speaker suggested that we probably should do, in my humble opinion. I will not put words in the Speaker's mouth and would never do that, but in my humble opinion, that is what I think he was trying to say to us, because it is only about what we say to each other and what we say to Canadians.

It pains me to say this, but when professions are put on a scale, unfortunately we are not near the top with the Canadian public. Quite often, unfortunately, the reason we are not at the top is because of what we see here.

Some of it is question period. Quite often it is just question period. However, now it is about misleading the House, which we are now debating. How exactly does that affect those who are watching and those who are looking at it? They shrug their shoulders and say, “Well, what do you expect from them? That's what they do. They don't really tell you the truth anyway.”

Words are what we use. Those are the tools of our trade. The words that we give to one another and share with one another are the tools of our trade. There is only way this place can function, which is for the partisanship and the back-and-forth to be acceptable. That is why the Speaker is sitting in the chair, refereeing: to ensure we stay within those boundaries so that repartee back and forth is acceptable.

What is not acceptable is coming into the House and misleading it. That is why there are rules. They are there for good reason. They are there to ensure that we do not actually do that and have legislation come before us that is backed up by myths, mistruths, anecdotes, or stories of some description that do not exist in real life, stories that we just simply make up, and then say, “We must do this because this is the story”.

The government prides itself on saying it bases a lot of its policies upon sound science, which is evidence-based and all about truthfulness to the best of one's ability and measuring, quantifying, and qualifying. Unfortunately, when it came to qualifying the member for Mississauga—Streetsville's words, they came up short, and the Speaker was very clear about how short they came up.

Now it is incumbent upon us, as difficult and as unpleasant as it may be for our colleague and for us, to send it to committee, where our colleague will then have to face whatever repercussions and decisions are made based upon his, not our, conduct that started this process. Those repercussions and decisions will come back for ratification.

We did not start this process. It is his words in this place that started us on this path, and the path can only come to its final destination, not its hoped-for destination, when indeed we go to committee, where he will have his opportunity to answer questions. From the committee will come some form of resolution. Only then, I think, can this be put to a final conclusion.

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6:50 p.m.


Murray Rankin NDP Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my friend from Welland for his thoughtful remarks and for putting this controversy into the broader perspective and reminding Canadians why they sometimes do not have the highest regard for politicians who misspeak. I think “misspeak” is the word that the member for Mississauga—Streetsville used.

This member did a good job of explaining to Canadians the difference between, on the one hand, a member inadvertently saying something that was not 100% accurate, and on the other hand saying that he or she witnessed electoral fraud on one day, repeating that statement a few days later, and then, when caught out several weeks later, saying that it never happened. I thought that distinction was well brought to our attention by the member and put into a broader context.

My question to the member, who has been around this place much longer than a rookie member of Parliament such as myself, is this: what are the implications for allowing this conduct to stand without any retribution?

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6:50 p.m.


Malcolm Allen NDP Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Victoria because I know his roots trace back to where I represent folks, back in the Niagara Peninsula. His roots actually come from back there, but we have allowed him to go to Victoria to represent the great folks out there. Let me say that he is a great member. I say to the folks of Victoria that they are lucky to have him and I want to thank him for that opportunity.

As to the question, if we allow the matter to stand, it clearly means that all of us can stand in our place, misspeak, and then come back tomorrow and say, “Mr. Speaker, I would like to correct my misstatement from yesterday. While I am here, I apologize to everyone in the House and to all Canadians. Thank you very much.” Then we would leave.

You, sir, would then say, “I guess that is what they want in the House, because that is how they dealt with it, so it doesn't matter what they say anymore.” Members could get up and say whatever they liked, whether truthful, anecdotal, or not truthful. No one would care, just as long as we came back within a reasonable amount of time, a couple of weeks or a month, and said, “Sorry, I did not mean it. I misspoke. I just misspoke. I really wanted not to misspeak, but somehow it happened to me. I got caught up in a long-winded conversation I was having and I misspoke.”

If we get to that place where we all just misspeak, which is what we have called it, and we can apologize the next day, I would never envy you, sir, sitting in the chair and trying to referee the issue of who has misspoken today and who has not. We would be lined up on a million points of order, saying to you, sir, “I would like to retract my misspoken words from two weeks ago.” The place would not function any more.

Only our words are our bond. When we give them across the way in the sense of saying what we believe and what we believe to be true, the other side must accept the fact that it is, and as soon as they cannot, there is no longer debate or dialogue in this House and the system does not function appropriately any more.

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6:50 p.m.


Pierre Jacob NDP Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Welland for his speech, which was passionate as usual. He is always so convincing.

I have an anecdote for him. When you drive 130 kilometres per hour and are caught by police because they have radar, can you apologize to the police?

There is a culture of impunity, an attitude of “I can do anything I want”, “I can say anything I want”, and “all I have to do is apologize”.

I would like my colleague to explain this culture of impunity that exists among Conservative members. How does this manifest itself in other areas?

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6:50 p.m.


Malcolm Allen NDP Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, I actually think he should apologize. If one does get caught, one apologizes. We instinctively do that as individuals. For example, I might have been going the wrong speed in the wrong place at the wrong time. Lights went on behind me and the officer came over. I said, “I missed a speed sign? Sorry”. However, I did not expect not to get a ticket. He wrote the ticket and I thanked him for that because he was doing what he should do. I was not obeying the rules.

There is a consequence for not obeying the rules. It does not mean to say he cannot apologize. That is part of it. Certainly, in my upbringing, in my household, that was how my father approached it. He expected me to apologize if I had bent a rule or broken a rule of the house, which my mother had decided would be the rule for the five of us children. However, there was also a consequence. There was not only an expectation that I would say, “Sorry about that; I didn't mean to do that, but I did”, then my father would have a consequence, like grounding me or those sorts of things. The worst thing, at 16, was that he would not give me the keys to the car for a couple weekends. That was always a really heavy consequence, because then I would have to get the bus. No offence to my friends who take urban transit, but when one lives in the country, buses do not come around. Therefore, that was a real consequence if he did not give me the keys to the car.

Clearly, there are consequences in this place as well. One cannot absolve oneself simply by saying, “mea culpa; I am sorry”. We have to face the consequences of our actions in this place. If the Speaker had simply gotten up and said the member has apologized and it is over, we would not be here. The Speaker ruled otherwise, and that is why we are here. The Speaker, in my view, was asking us to get it to a place, get it resolved for all of us, not just for the member for Mississauga—Streetsville, but all of us. That needs to happen.

I implore the government members to allow it to get to committee and let the work be done. They will get back to Bill C-23. They do not have to worry about it. They have the numbers in the House. One thing this little Scots guy can do is count. There are more on that side than on this side.

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6:55 p.m.


Marc-André Morin NDP Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague just made me realize something.

First, I would like to apologize to the interpreters, because I am going to make them work hard. English is not my mother tongue, but I speak it pretty well. To misspeak is to use the wrong word. It is minor and we can apologize for it. To make up a story is to misbehave. That refers to misconduct.

When we break an established rule, one that requires us to behave in a certain way, we have to behave. When we make up a story, we misbehave. It is not the same as being mistaken or saying something stupid. Breaking the rules is quite a bit more serious, especially when the existing rules clearly establish, beyond a doubt, that person did so on purpose. That is when it becomes serious.

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6:55 p.m.


Malcolm Allen NDP Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, I agree with my colleague. During my remarks I tried to articulate the difference between what I feel is how one might misspeak versus how one might mislead. Unfortunately, I have no other conclusion to come to.

I actually read through the two quotes and I certainly emphasized certain passages in the quotes. They were my emphasis and I actually said that. I could have not said they were my emphasis, and somehow that would be me misspeaking about the member for Mississauga—Streetsville to suggest that they were his emphasis. However, they were not, and I actually said they were my emphasis as I went through his words, because that is to be accurate.

Clearly, one needs to know the difference between whether one misspeaks or misleads. If the Speaker thought the member misspoke, we probably would not be having this discussion.

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6:55 p.m.


Megan Leslie NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, we have a situation where the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley moved a prima facie breach of contempt. The Speaker says, yes, let us send this to committee.

Then I listen to the debate and to the Conservatives, and it seems as if they are arguing against the Speaker. They are acting as if this is not contempt; no, it is misspeaking.

I do not know why they are doing this. In this day and age we get the news instantly and I am reading a Globe and Mail article and a spokeswoman for the Conservative whip says, “there is little to be gained by sending the issue to committee”.

The Conservative government House leader says, “The question you have to ask is if that is actually going to serve any utility? ...cannot picture anything that will come of greater utility from further discussion of the matter”.

This blows my mind, the fact that they may vote against a decision that the Speaker has made, saying this is worthy of exploration. The Speaker said there are “...completely contradictory statements. This is a difficult position in which to leave members, who must be able to depend on the integrity of the information...”.

I wonder if my colleague has any comment.

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7 p.m.


Malcolm Allen NDP Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member quoted the House leader's comments from The Globe and Mail that asked what utility it would serve, that he misspoke and whatever, and what would be the point of going to committee.

The point of going to committee is to actually establish the boundary lines in this place and to suggest to folks and others who may feel as if they want to do the same, that if they do, the consequences are such that they ought not to think about that.

If we do not lay down a consequence, then we will just all do it. Over time there will be one more and one more, and so on. We have to put an end to it. If we do not put an end to it with this one incident, it will simply creep, and the more it creeps, the worse this place will get and ultimately the broader public will look at us and say they cannot trust us.

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7 p.m.

Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley Nova Scotia


Scott Armstrong ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Employment and Social Development

Mr. Speaker, I am proud to stand here today to discuss this issue; two little Scotch guys in a row.

It is my pleasure to rise today to speak about how the debate before us relates to matters that come back to the subsequent discussion, which my colleague the member for Mississauga—Streetsville was engaged in when he was talking about the issues that started the debate today. He was speaking about a risk that flows from the use of voter notification cards at polling stations as evidence of a voter's identity.

Too often here in Ottawa there is a tendency to lose sight of the bigger picture. Canadians want us to remember that we were elected by them to make laws, so let us make sure we make good laws, because Canadians deserve no less.

We legislate to address known challenges and mischief. The challenge underlying the discussion today that led us here remains real and worthy of discussing. It is one we must not lose sight of when we engage in events like we are debating here tonight.

Let me speak about the issue of vouching. The pitfalls and dangers related to vouching in federal elections are real. We know they are real because of the evidence collected by the commissions initiated by Elections Canada.

According to the Neufeld report, commissioned by Elections Canada, relating to the administrative deficiencies at the polls in the 2011 election, vouching procedures are complex, and there were irregularities in 25% of the cases where vouching was used. That is one in four.

Even with increased quality assurance, the report indicates that the problem would not be remedied. Vouching is risky and subject to high levels of irregularities. This was identified in the Neufeld report, and I am going to quote from that section of the report:

Identity vouching procedures are unquestionably the most complex “exception” process administered at polling stations. The level of irregularities for vouching averaged 25 percent. During two of these elections, quality assurance programs involving Onsite Conformity Advisors (OCAs) were applied. However, vouching irregularities still averaged 21 percent during the OCA monitored elections. This indicates that overly complex procedures cannot be remedied simply by improved quality assurance.

Even though there were people onsite who had been trained as conformity advisors monitoring the election, we still had irregularities of 21%.

Very clearly, the experts have identified a problem that, if left unchecked, threatens the very integrity of what we need to cherish dearly when we talk about democracy in Canada, the very purity of our election process.

My colleague the member for Mississauga—Streetsville has apologized and voluntarily corrected the record for the words he used when debating these issues, but that should not take away from the issues that he was trying to put forward, because those issues are paramount to the discussion we are having tonight. At the heart of his intervention was a sentiment related to what he viewed as a serious concern for the integrity of the voting process.

Former U.S. senator Hillary Clinton once said, “Voting is the most precious right of every citizen, and we have a moral obligation to ensure the integrity of our voting process”.

Regardless of one's political stripe or leaning, we all understand that the integrity of our voting process must relate to our ability to know that our votes as Canadians are counted, one vote each for each known and registered and verified voter.

If we have a system that is open to abuse, then our entire electoral process and our democracy is diluted and rendered less meaningful and less true. This is where Bill C-23, the fair elections act, comes in. It addresses this threat to the integrity of our system.

The fair elections act would end vouching altogether and require in law that Elections Canada communicate what forms of identification will be accepted at the polling station, so that voters will know before they head to the polls what they need to bring with them to cast their ballot.

The Neufeld report chronicles the sheer number of irregularities associated with the outdated process of vouching. However, we also know that these irregularities have led to outright court challenges and controversies, which only further undermine the confidence Canadians have in our democratic electoral system.

Voter information cards are similar to vouching, in that the pilot practice of using voter information cards as identification to vote is also open to potential abuse and a weakening of the integrity of the election process. This was at the heart of the concern raised by my colleague from Mississauga—Streetsville.

Other than as a pilot project in recent elections, Canadians have always voted without using a voter identification card as proof of identification and residency. The argument that we have heard that not using the voter identification card to allow someone to vote at the polls would somehow destabilize the democratic system is false. That would mean that all of the elections that had taken place in Canadian history prior to the use of this card were somehow illegitimate, not fair and not true. I would argue that is a false statement.

However, media reports since 2011 have shown that the use of voter identification cards as ID presents proven risks of voter fraud. Illegal voting is not a laughing matter. Voter information cards are regularly sent to electors with inaccuracies that could allow those attempting to subvert election law to use them to vote more than once or in more than one riding.

The Elections Canada website defines the voter information card as a card with one's name and address. It shows that someone is on the voters' list and tells someone where and when to vote. In a Canadian federal election, the returning officer in each riding mails one of these cards to each elector whose name appears on the preliminary voters' list.

This comes back to a serious flaw that my colleague, the member for Mississauga—Streetsville, was seeking to bring to our attention. This is why we need the fair elections act, because it would prohibit the use of voter information cards as a form of acceptable identification and would require in law that Elections Canada communicate what forms of ID would be accepted at polling stations so that voters would know before they headed to the polls what they needed to bring with them.

Even with this change, Canadians would continue to have some 39 other pieces of identification to choose from when they go to vote. The options for voters in presenting identifying documents are wide-ranging, and my colleague, the member for Mississauga—Streetsville, was well aware of that when he made his statement.

However, I want to make sure that people at home understand the broad range of ID they would be able to use when they go to vote, and that everyone would have the opportunity to cast their vote fairly and legitimately. Therefore, I will list some of the types of ID one could use, including a driver's licence; health card; Canadian passport; certification of Canadian citizenship; citizenship card; birth certificate; certificate of Indian status card; social insurance number card; old age security card; student ID card; provincial or territorial identification card; liquor identification card; hospital/medical clinic card; credit or debit card; employee card; public transportation card; library card; Canadian Forces identification card; Veterans Affairs Canada health card; Canadian Blood Services card; CNIB ID card; firearm possession and acquisition licence or possession-only licence; fishing, trapping, or hunting licence; outdoors or wildlife card or licence; hospital bracelets worn by residents of long-term care facilities; parolee identification card; utility bills, such as telephone, TV, public utilities commission, hydro, gas or water bills; bank card or credit card statement; or vehicle ownership.

I think members are getting the picture that in the next election, after the fair elections act is put in place, people would have a big variety of types of identification they could use. No one would be turned away at the polls, because we would make sure, and Elections Canada would be tasked to make sure, that people would know what types of identification they have to bring to the polls in order to vote.

There would be accurate pieces of identification so that we could be sure that we have verified voters who actually live at the residence they say they do when they go to the polls, and so that we can be sure across this country that we have a fair election where actual citizens of this country vote properly and with proper ID. I think Canadians deserve no less.

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7:10 p.m.


Françoise Boivin NDP Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I found the speech given by my colleague across the aisle interesting. However, it felt more like a speech on Bill C-23 itself, rather than on the question that is before the House and on which the Conservatives will be asked to vote very shortly.

The Speaker of the House had to rule on some very specific points. In order to justify Bill C-23, the member for Mississauga—Streetsville said on two separate occasions that he personally saw an offence being committed. The Speaker of the House stated:, it must be proven that the statement was misleading; two, it must be established that the member making the statement knew at the time that the statement was incorrect; and three, that, in making the statement the member intended to mislead the House.

It was deemed prima facie that the three elements were proven.

Therefore, what does the hon. member think about what his colleague did? Does it fit those three criteria, or one out of three or two out of three? We heard everything he said, but it is all about Bill C-23 and never about the subject of the debate today.

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7:10 p.m.


Scott Armstrong Conservative Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, NS

Mr. Speaker, the point I was trying to make in my speech is that I believe that we need to focus on what is really important, on the fact that we have brought forward a bill that would create a fair election process across this country, in which Canadians could be confident that when they go to vote the people standing in line before and after them are legitimate voters, and they can know that their vote is accurate because it will count as much as the votes of people next to them, who are there legitimately. That is the purpose and the reason that the member for Mississauga—Streetsville was making such an impassioned argument for this bill.

He has apologized for some of the inaccurate statements he made. I take him at his word that he did not intend to use these statements to try to mislead us and to fool people. That was not his intent. He may have gone a bit too far in his argument, but the purpose of his argument and the underlying principles beneath that argument, I believe, are very sound.

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7:10 p.m.


Joyce Murray Liberal Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member for Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley just made a comment about what is really important, and claimed that it was about this bill and the voting cards. I would contend that what is really important is that Canadians can trust that members of Parliament in the House will not knowingly mislead other members for some ulterior purpose, that they will in fact tell the truth and that when they fail to tell the truth, they will apologize.

The member has claimed that the member for Mississauga—Streetsville apologized. Does he consider an apology to be a statement that does not contain the words “apology” or “apologize” or “I am sorry”. I would like to read for the record the statement made by the member of Parliament for Mississauga—Streetsville on February 24, when he rose in this House. He said:

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order with respect to debate that took place on February 6 in this House regarding the fair elections act. I made a statement in the House during the debate that is not accurate. I just want to reflect the fact that I have not personally witnessed individuals retrieving voter notification cards from the garbage cans or from the mailbox areas of apartment buildings. I have not personally witnessed that activity and want the record to properly show that.

I ask the member this: where in that statement is there an apology? And would he like to correct the record where he asserts that the member for Mississauga—Streetsville apologized, because otherwise he himself is showing a challenged relationship with the truth.

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7:15 p.m.


Scott Armstrong Conservative Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, NS

Mr. Speaker, to listen to the exact quote that the member just read, it is easy to see that the member stood up and showed remorse that he had given the House inaccurate information. I take him at his word and I take that as an apology. That is how I would interpret it.

What we have never really heard a sound apology for or reconciliation of is the sponsorship scandal that the member's party perpetrated upon the taxpayers of this country, and $40 million that was taken and spread out to Liberal ad agencies across Quebec. We have never had an active reconciliation of that from that party. I wonder if that member will stand and say that her party is going to return that $40 million to the Canadian people.