Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise to speak to the motion by the hon. member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie.
This is an important debate. Many important affairs of state and issues that matter in the day-to-day lives of Canadians are debated thoughtfully in this chamber, but debating policies and ideas related to Canada's democratic institutions, to the very way we govern ourselves, are foundational to our democracy itself and are among the most important, and they should also be among the least partisan. That is what Canadians expect of their members of Parliament. Canadians want their parliamentarians to work with each other and to co-operate on policy. They want their government to be accountable. They want their MPs to act in the interests of their constituents.
Canadians also believe that major reforms to the electoral system should not be made if they lack broad support. We agree. That is why listening to Canadians is so important to us, to hear from Canadians about their democracy and to do all we can to make sure that as many Canadians as possible can participate in the conversation.
We entered the conversation a year ago with an open mind. We chose to listen to Canadians, to create opportunities for their voices, not ours and not narrow partisan interests, to dominate the discussion.
We said we would strike a parliamentary committee to study electoral reform, and we did. The all-party Special Committee on Electoral Reform was created in June 2016, and over the next six months, it dedicated itself to hearing from Canadians. There were 57 meetings, 196 witnesses, and 567 open-mic participants across Canada. Over 22,000 Canadians participated in the committee's online survey, and its thoughtful, detailed report was submitted to the House on December 1.
I have read this exhaustive, nuanced report. Great effort went into preparing this report, and I encourage every member of the House to read it.
The government listened to Canadians through its own concurrent consultations. Town halls and roundtables were held in every province and territory last spring, summer, and fall. Thousands of Canadians took part and shared their views on our democratic values and other important issues related to Canadian democracy.
We encouraged members of Parliament to hold town halls in their own constituencies as well, and we are so thankful that so many hon. members did just that. Some members of the House even held more than one. I held one in my riding of Burlington, and I am grateful to the more than 90 residents who joined me at Mainway arena for a thoughtful discussion.
It is important to recognize that these town halls were held by members representing every party in the House: the Conservatives, such as the member for Sarnia—Lambton, the member for Haldimand—Norfolk, and the member for Leeds—Grenville—Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes; the New Democratic Party, such as the member for Hamilton Centre; the Bloc Quebecois, such as the member for Rivière-du-Nord; and the Green Party, represented by the leader, the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands.
This process was non-partisan and important to members of all parties in the House.
The members of the official opposition presented a joint brief to the special committee. They decided to engage 81,000 Canadians in 59 ridings. They sent mail to their constituents, including polling data, a letter from their MP, and other documents. Members from the third party also presented a joint brief to the special committee.
According to that brief, 37,000 Canadians made comments about electoral reform through 40 town halls, telephone surveys, mail-in surveys, and petitions.
We hired Vox Pop Labs, who created MyDemocracy.ca, in order to give as many Canadians as possible the opportunity to take part in this conversation. We are extremely grateful to the more than 360,000 Canadians who took part. Whether by phone or online, Canadians from every province and territory accepted our invitation.
The consultations launched on electoral reform made it one of the largest and farthest-reaching consultations ever undertaken by the Government of Canada. On behalf of the Government of Canada, I thank those many thousands of Canadians. I thank them for spending the evening with their neighbours at town halls, because they wanted a chance to ask a question or share their opinion about our democracy.
I thank them for filling out an online survey, for taking the time to tell us what they believe. I thank them for getting involved, and for their honest participation. Their opinion matters, and their perspectives are valid.
Canadians have given us a lot to think about, and we will continue to respond to their concerns and perspectives. For example, Canadians shared their valuable ideas about online voting, mandatory voting, and how we can make voting more accessible for persons with disabilities. I am looking forward to formally responding to the special committee's report on these and other issues soon.
Above all, we learned the passionate, personal connection Canadians have to their democratic institutions, and how important it is to them that the government and their members of Parliament focus on strengthening and protecting those institutions. That is exactly what we are going to do.
If we want to improve our country's democracy, we need to ensure that the political parties are more transparent when it comes to fundraising. We currently have strict federal legislation governing fundraising. Contributions from corporations and unions are banned. There is a limit for individual contributions and there are strict rules regarding lobbyists.
Our government intends to introduce legislation to make political fundraising more open and transparent. If passed, it would apply to fundraising events attended by the prime minister, cabinet ministers, party leaders, and leadership candidates.
These fundraising activities cannot be private events. They must be publicly announced. It is also important that these activities be transparent. After these types of events take place, the political parties and leadership candidates must quickly make information about them public.
I look forward to working with the members of every party to debate and discuss this legislation.
Our government will also take steps to protect the integrity of Canada's democracy by defending the Canadian electoral process from hacking and cyber-threats.
If the political parties' computer systems are hacked or compromised, it could jeopardize our democratic system. Political parties constitute vital democratic infrastructure.
We will ensure that Canada's democracy is better protected by helping the parties protect their information. We will ask the Communications Security Establishment to analyze the risk that Canada's political parties' computer systems could be hacked and to make the results of that analysis public. This plan will help us better protect Canada's democracy by helping the political parties protect themselves.
As well, CSE will reach out to political parties to share best practices on how to guard against hacking.
These new initiatives will build on the important work that our government is doing to strengthen our democracy. We introduced Bill C-33. If it is passed, we will break down barriers to voting and strengthen the integrity of our electoral system. We will also give more than a million Canadians living abroad the right to vote.
We are keeping our commitment to Canadians to bring this legislation forward, and listening to the Canadians who called on us to take this action.
If passed, Bill C-33 would restore the Chief Electoral Officer's ability to educate and inform Canadians, especially young people, indigenous Canadians, and new Canadians, about voting, elections, and related issues. Restoring the mandate that was in place prior to 2014 would allow public information and education programs for all Canadians. Studies show that the more electors know about their electoral system, the more likely they are to vote. We trust Elections Canada to help inform Canadians about their democracy.
While more youth voted in the 2015 election than ever before, we cannot take it for granted. Bill C-33, if passed, would provide Canadian youth from age 14 to 17 the ability to opt in to a new register as future electors, so that when they turn 18 they would already be registered to vote. Many countries around the world allow youth to preregister to vote. It is an opportunity to learn about our democratic process and would promote democratic engagement among our future generations.
Bill C-33 represents positive, progressive reform to the way we vote. There are many examples that highlight our dedication and commitment to improving and strengthening our democracy within Bill C-33. I hope I can count on all members of this House to support our legislation.
I will leave members with one more example.
Statistics Canada found that an estimated 172,700 electors did not vote in the 2015 election because of a lack of adequate identity documents. The lack of these documents disproportionately affects groups with traditionally low participation rates, such as seniors, youth, indigenous Canadians, Canadians with disabilities, and the homeless.
Vouching is one way that we can reduce barriers and include more Canadians in our democracy. Our government committed to making voting more accessible, and if passed, Bill C-33 would deliver on the commitment by restoring vouching.
The Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs is continuing to examine the recommendations made by the Chief Electoral Officer following the 2015 election. As I said earlier this week when I appeared before the committee, I recognize the work that the committee members are doing and I look forward to reading the committee's report.
As the Minister of Democratic Institutions, I will also work on recommending options to create an independent commissioner to organize political party leaders debates, reviewing the limits of the amounts political parties and third parties can spend during elections, proposing measures to ensure that spending between elections is subject to reasonable limits, as well as supporting the President of the Treasury Board and the Minister of Justice in reviewing the Access to Information Act. I am confident that members share a desire to work on these important matters with us.
I will also continue to work with all members of this House on Senate reform. We have already introduced new measures and reforms for Canadians, including the non-partisan, merit-based Senate appointments process to fill Senate vacancies.
These are important issues, and by taking action on them we will ensure our democratic system is ready to face the challenges of the future, ready to face those who would undermine our system's legitimacy to threaten the very underpinning of who we are. Taking action in these areas will build public confidence in our democratic institutions and ensure Canadian democracy and democratic institutions remain examples to the world.
Over 922,000 young people participated in the student vote program in their schools during the last federal election. In fact, I remember organizing the first student vote at M.M. Robinson in Burlington when I was in high school. I am sure there are many hon. members in this House who took part in their local campaigns. In the 2015 election, I participated in all the debates organized by Aldershot School as part of its student vote initiative.
Our democratic principles and values are being sparked today in the hearts and minds of young people all across Canada. Democracy is alive and well in this country, and I am optimistic and hopeful about our democracy's future. It is our job as leaders in our communities to do all that we can to ensure that young people, indeed all Canadians, whether we agree or disagree, embrace that proud Canadian democratic tradition.
Debates on any subject in the House of Commons are an essential component of our democracy.
I will vote against this motion, but I do respect the fact that we are having this debate today. We may not always agree, but when we do and we work together, we can make great progress.
This House can reflect and embody the very best of Canada and can accomplish great work, such as universal health care, the Charter of Rights, peacekeeping, old age security, and even expanding the franchise. Those who were in this House before we were put aside partisanship, listened to Canadians, and did the hard work the public demands of us.
Important work lies ahead of us to strengthen, to safeguard, to improve our democratic institutions. I look forward to doing it together.