Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to rise in this House to speak about Bill C-23.
Over the past few months, the opposition parties have been tirelessly trying to portray the fair elections act as undemocratic and sinister. Before the bill was introduced, even before they had had a chance to read it, they were against it. They have consistently tried to misinform Canadians about why the government was implementing Bill C-23. They have tried to build a narrative of the government ramming legislation through without proper consultation or investigation. Quite frankly, nothing could be farther from the truth.
It seems to me that the opposition parties have forgotten how our legislative process works. I would like to use my time today to highlight two issues. First is how the progress of Bill C-23 thus far exemplifies the integrity, utility, and efficacy of our legislative system. Second is what Canadians have really been saying about Bill C-23, not the fabricated stories the opposition parties have been desperately trying to sell.
The 2011 election saw several irregularities. While courts recently determined that nothing illegal had been done, Canadians, Elections Canada, and our government were concerned about the integrity of our electoral system and the process by which any irregularity would be investigated and prosecuted. This was the true motivation behind the fair elections act.
Although the opposition parties like to throw around alarming phrases like “voter suppression tactics” and other wild descriptions, this bill started out like any other. A problem was identified that needed a government legislative fix. There is nothing controversial or new about this. This is how our democracy has functioned for nearly 150 years.
Before Bill C-23 was introduced, the government spent a great deal of time examining the various issues raised by Elections Canada, as well as court cases related to the robocall scandal and other irregularities. I myself was inadvertently, and quite frankly, unnecessarily, dragged into the robocall case by the Council of Canadians. The court found, after close investigation, as we had stated all along, that nothing illegal had been done by any of the MPs involved.
If Elections Canada had sharper teeth, this entire investigation could have been completed more quickly, saving thousands of taxpayers' dollars. If Elections Canada had only had the proper investigative tools from the get-go, it would have been straightforward to discover the evidence, if any existed. Only charges with substantive evidence would have progressed, and countless hours of the court's time and taxpayer resources would have been saved.
Since Bill C-23 was introduced, the opposition parties have been trying to misinform Canadians by stating that the government had not consulted with Canadians or experts. They have continuously tried to convince Canadians that this bill was being rammed through Parliament without any debate or proper investigation.
Let me provide the House with some facts about what has actually transpired on Bill C-23. In committee, the bill has had a long and exhaustive analysis. There have been over 15 meetings, amounting to roughly 31 hours of study, with testimony from over 72 witnesses.
In addition, Canadians have continued to voice their concerns to their MPs, who have duly consolidated these concerns and have informed the minister and his department accordingly.
In my riding of Nipissing—Timiskaming, I have received input from 45 constituents. As people wrote in, the overwhelming majority of concerns were focused on one particular part of the bill, and that was the elimination of vouching. As their MP, I communicated this to the minister. The Minister of State for Democratic Reform was always open to the feedback I shared on behalf of my constituents.
In addition, the Senate conducted its own study of the bill and conveyed to the minister its thoughts and concerns. What was the result? On April 25, the government announced that it would support amendments to the fair elections act in anticipation of the clause-by-clause review of the bill by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. These amendments included voter identification and vouching, the mandate of the Chief Electoral Officer to include engaging the public on voting, the appointment of central poll supervisors, fundraising exceptions that would constitute an election expense, and several others.
While the opposition continues to pine and misinform Canadians, our government has methodically, in combing through the bill, listened to Canadians and experts and has made modifications that better reflect expert insight and essentially what Canadians want. That is not controversial or sinister. That is, quite frankly, democracy in action. In fact, I am currently in the process of sending correspondence to every single one of the constituents who expressed concerns about the bill to inform them about the details of the amendments so that they know that their letters, calls, and emails played a direct role in the legislative process of fine-tuning the bill before it becomes law.
Here are some of the details. First is voter identification. The bill would allow an elector to vote with two pieces of identification that prove identity and a written oath as to his or her residence, provided that another elector from the same polling division who proves his or her identity and residence by providing documentary proof also takes a written oath as to the elector's residence. This new measure would allow those who do not have identification proving their residence to register and vote on polling day.
Second is the public information and education mandate of the Chief Electoral Officer. The bill specifies that the Chief Electoral Officer may communicate with the public, but where he advertises to inform electors about the exercise of their democratic rights, he can only do so with respect to how to be a candidate; when, where, and how to vote; and what tools are available to assist disabled electors. Further, the Chief Electoral Officer may support civic education programs for primary and secondary schools.
Third is the appointment of central poll supervisors. The legislation would retain the current appointment process for central poll supervisors.
Fourth is the fundraising exception and what constitutes an election expense. We are eliminating the proposed exception as to what constitutes an election expense in the case of expenses incurred to solicit monetary contributions from past supporters.
Overall, thanks to input from experts, Canadians, and legislators, 14 substantive and 45 technical amendments have been introduced by the Minister of State for Democratic Reform to further improve the quality of the fair elections act.
Now that we have an appreciation of how Bill C-23 has carefully gone through analysis, consultation, and revision, I can briefly discuss what Canadians outside the Ottawa bubble have actually been saying about it.
A recent Ipsos poll conducted on behalf of CTV demonstrated that the overwhelming majority of Canadians believe that it is entirely reasonable for voting to have identification requirements. We require Canadians to have ID to drive, travel, purchase alcohol, and do countless other tasks. Canadians recognize the good common sense in requiring identification for one of the most fundamental acts citizens can do, and that is elect their government. This makes abundant common sense.
This poll demonstrated that 70% of Canadians believe that it is acceptable to eliminate vouching. This reflects the desire of Canadians to ensure the integrity of their electoral system.
Canada is a very tolerant and diverse society. If resident non-Canadians want to vote, they are always more than welcome to apply for citizenship. However, the responsibility of choosing our federal government belongs to citizens and citizens alone, and we must protect that important privilege from those who would seek to abuse it.
The opposition parties protest that ID requirements would disenfranchise some Canadians. For example, they argue that ID requirements would make it more difficult for students to vote. This is a perfect example of the kind of fearmongering and misinformation the opposition has been propagating. All Canadian universities and colleges issue their students ID cards. These same cards can be used to vote.
However, the issue of ID raises a more important question. If the right to vote is reserved for Canadian citizens, how does one prove that he or she is a citizen? ID requirements are just good common sense. However, and although it is highly unlikely, for citizens who do not have access to any of the 39 pieces of acceptable ID, including basic and easily obtainable documents such as bank statements, hydro bills, or library cards, we have retained vouching as an assurance, because we recognize that improbable does not mean impossible. We want to make sure that every citizen who makes the effort to come out and cast a ballot has a reasonable way of proving his or her status as a citizen. This would ensure that no Canadian citizen would be deprived of the right to vote.
Citizens who could not obtain the necessary ID could request that another voter from the same poll vouch for them, but this person would have to first prove their identity and would only be able to vouch once.
This change to vouching is in line with the March 6 recommendations of the Chief Electoral Officer, when he said, “vouching procedures should and can be simplified.... The need to rely on vouching should also be reduced”. We agree with that.
This amendment is a perfect example of how the bill has been fine-tuned through the legislative process after extensive review and consultation. In fact, for all the sound and fury the opposition has been making about Bill C-23 and how allegedly outraged the majority of Canadians are, the same poll indicates that some 23%, that is one out of every four Canadians, are closely following the issue. Clearly, this reflects the fact that most Canadians have come to the conclusion that the fair elections act is nothing but common sense, a common sense response to some very serious issues.
The opposition parties have tried to mislead Canadians by calling Bill C-23 a scheme intended to disenfranchise voters. This is simply not true, and Canadians know that it is not true. Sixty-one per cent, six out of every 10 Canadians, disagree that Bill C-23 is a scheme, and only 15%, fewer than two in 10 people, strongly agree.
Finally, when asked if requiring voters to personally prove who they are and where they live is essential to eliminating potential fraud in our electoral system, 86%, nearly nine out of every 10 Canadians, agreed. Only one in 10 Canadians disagreed with that statement.
There is evidence that the opposition parties are desperately trying to distract Canadians from the fact that they have no policy or plans of their own, except for possibly a $21-billion job-killing carbon tax. They have tried to mislead Canadians into thinking that this is a scheme and that the majority from coast to coast are upset about it.
As I said throughout my speech, over the past few months, only 45 constituents in my riding of 96,000 have raised concerns about Bill C-23. The majority of these concerns dealt with vouching. That issue has now been put to bed.
Once again, the opposition opines and fusses instead of making meaningful and critical positive contributions to our legislative process.
I would certainly like to commend our Minister of State for Democratic Reform for his principled commitment and leadership of guiding Bill C-23 through the legislative process.
While the NDP and the Liberals have tried to misinform Canadians about the contents of the bill, how it was drafted, how it continues to be fine-tuned, our government has attentively listened to Canadians, experts and legislators in order to improve the fair elections act.