Mr. Speaker, members may have noticed that some of my colleagues and I are fighting a little cold. If we do not seem all there, it is not because we are not interested in this topic.
Bill C-50 obviously deals with an important issue. The government addresses the same problems and same visions of democracy that we saw in Bill C-23 on election reform—or electoral “deform”, as we nicknamed it.
There are a number of problems with this bill. Before I get into them, I want to give a brief background. This bill came about because of a ruling by the Ontario Superior Court stating that it was unconstitutional to prohibit Canadian citizens living abroad for more than five years from voting in a federal election.
This is an important issue, especially in 2015, in light of the global village phenomenon. We have increased access to other countries and opportunities—this is especially true for young people. I am thinking about young university grads who want to pursue opportunities abroad without ruling out the possibility of returning home. They remain invested in their home community even though they are abroad.
The right to vote has always been essential, because at the end of the day, it is the very essence of what it means to be a citizen. With how easy it is now to find information and follow the events leading up to an election, the right to vote is increasingly important for citizens living abroad, considering the global realities of today's world.
I would like to mention another very important point that also relates to the right to vote, which, as I said, is the very essence of citizenship. The number of Canadian citizens residing outside Canada translates into a lot of money for the public purse because those individuals pay taxes. We all know the famous slogan that served a certain American cause very well: No taxation without representation. This is another important factor that must not be overlooked, beyond the principles of citizenship. Those people pay taxes, and ultimately, they are entitled to have a say in how their tax dollars are used, that is, in the governance of their home country, where they are citizens.
There are a number of problems, but there is one that we already saw with Bill C-23. The government sees problems; some are legitimate, others do not even exist. They are scaremongers. Last time, the government talked about fraudsters, as though there were thousands of fraudsters across the country trying to steal the right to vote from other citizens. Obviously, there were some dubious findings there. The idea was that many non-citizens were trying to take advantage of the right to vote.
Earlier, I heard an hon. member allude to the fact that non-citizens were receiving ballots abroad, as though this happened frequently and there were wide-scale electoral fraud. That being said, some media reports indicated that it was hard to tell the extent to which citizens abroad were affected. If the journalists who were focusing on this issue were unable to dig up these numbers, I do not see how an hon. member can make this observation. What is more, when my colleague from Sherbrooke asked the hon. member whether there were any studies to back her comments, she was unable to provide an answer.
The point I am trying to make is that instead moving forward and finding progressive ways to improve our electoral system, the government always takes a step backward. Instead of moving forward, it takes two steps back. That must be extremely frustrating for the people who, like the NDP, want to see a higher voter turnout. That is the problem we saw with Bill C-23, which had negative consequences for seniors, aboriginal people, young people and students. We see the same problem here.
The thing that strikes me the most is the French example. In 2012, I went to France with my colleagues to observe the presidential election.
I was surprised because I did not know that France had elected representatives—senators and members of the National Assembly—who represent constituencies outside of France. They represent French citizens who live outside of France. I know one person in the area, in Gatineau, who is a French citizen. This is a well-established system because French citizens living outside of France even receive campaign material from political parties.
That says a lot about how important it is to the Republic that all French citizens be properly represented, not just French citizens residing in France. This relates to what I was talking about at the beginning of my speech: in the new global village, where more and more citizens are pursuing opportunities abroad but staying connected to and involved in their communities, the governing body should represent not just residents but all citizens, no matter where they live.
As pointed out by my colleague from Toronto—Danforth—who does an excellent job of developing our positions on democratic reform—the French system has another component: the right to vote by Internet. The Americans allow U.S. citizens living abroad to vote by email.
While other countries look for solutions that will make it easier for citizens living abroad to vote, our government seems to be stuck on making it more difficult. A fine example—and that is another problem with the bill—is the issue of people living abroad who serve the government. We think of course of members of the Canadian Forces who are deployed abroad. The government will say that they are still exempt from the five-week period proposed in Bill C-50.
Although the government is not saying as much, this is a step backwards from what was already in the act. I will explain. Previously, diplomats were also exempt because, after all, they also serve the country, Canadians and the government abroad. Now, diplomats will have to follow the same laborious process as all other Canadians living abroad. They do not get a break even though they are abroad to serve their country.
The same is true for military families. It is a good idea and it is important—and I am not being sarcastic here—to grant exemptions to members of our Canadian Forces. However, we also need to think about their families. Some of these members are undoubtedly accompanied by their 18-year-old children. Some have spouses who also have the right to vote. The government is forgetting to look at the big picture when it comes to people who are living abroad.
Today in his speech, the Minister of Foreign Affairs spoke about the team and the public servants who served him abroad. As my colleague from Sherbrooke mentioned, people like that, who are working for a minister and serving the Crown—it is important to point that out—are also not granted an exemption from this long and sometimes difficult process. As a result, they will have to use courier services, which Elections Canada has no legal obligation to use. They will have to turn to courier services that sometimes take a long time to deliver things and, in some countries, are difficult to use. There are many problems with this.
This once again shows, as Bill C-23 did, just how much difficulty the Conservatives have resolving problems, making it easier to access the electoral system and increasing voter turnout. They are once again introducing a bill that makes the process even more complex and forces Canadians to work even harder to exercise their right to vote. The right to vote should be an automatic part of citizenship. The government has the responsibility to make this process easier.
In closing, I would like to quickly mention one more thing, which I did not have time to really talk about. Once again, students are affected. When I was going to McGill, I saw how easy it was for American students to vote, even though they were living in Montreal. However, Bill C-50 contains an error that requires any lease used by a student as proof of residence to be for an official university residence.
Students who are going to school abroad and living off-campus as an individual and not in accommodation such as a university residence cannot use their lease as valid proof of identity.
It is because of these types of problems that we are forced to oppose yet another botched bill on an issue as fundamental as our democracy.