Madam Speaker, I am happy to rise here today to speak to Bill C-76, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act. I am somewhat happily surprised to get this speaking opportunity, as we are debating this under time allocation.
The irony is, if it was not so serious, it is a bit delicious debating a bill that would change the rules around our elections, the foundation of our democracy, under time allocation after only a couple of hours of debate on the committee report. It is doubly ironic because the Liberals used closure to limit debate on second reading as well back in the spring. I remember that. Maybe it is a triple irony, because in the previous Parliament, the Liberals used one of their opposition days to debate a motion that time allocation must never be used to cut off debate on any bill that touches on our electoral system, and they have already done it twice here.
The history of this bill, as the previous member touched on, goes back to the time of Conservative Bill C-23, the so-called “Fair Elections Act” of 2014. If there was ever an Orwellian name for a bill, that was it. Among other things, that act made it more difficult for many Canadians to vote and ordered Elections Canada not to educate Canadians about the electoral process.
Both the Liberals and the NDP ran in the 2015 election on a promise to repeal Bill C-23 and get rid of the first-past-the-post electoral system once and for all. What have the Liberals done with regard to the Fair Elections Act? In late 2016, they tabled Bill C-33, and then sat on it for 18 months and did nothing. Then they tabled this bill, Bill C-76, on April 30 of this year, which included the measures of Bill C-33. That is a little late, because the Chief Electoral Officer had given the government a deadline of April 30 to pass any legislation around election changes because they had to be ready for the 2019 election. The government was a bit late with its homework there.
Here we are almost two years after the government tabled C-33, its first attempt at electoral reform, two years after it broke its promise that the 2015 election was going to be the last election run under the first-past-the-post system, and five months past the Chief Electoral Officer's deadline for legislation to be passed in time for the 2019 federal election.
What is in this bill that we have been waiting for all these months and years? To be fair to the government, I will start with some of the good measures we are happy to see on this side of the aisle. In fact, many of them are changes the NDP has been calling on the government to do for some time. It would limit the writ period of any election to 50 days, thus eliminating the chance for another marathon election like the 70-day campaign we had in 2015. That is great news for all Canadians, not just for candidates. I would like to thank my NDP colleague, the member for Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, for suggesting this to the government in the form of his private member's bill.
I am happy to see two parts of this bill that would encourage young people to get informed and involved in the electoral process. Like many MPs, I go to a lot of schools to talk about government and the electoral process. During the Thanksgiving break I spent a whole day at Grand Forks Secondary giving classes on civics, and a couple of classes on biology as well, because I was a biologist in my former life, but that is outside the scope of this topic.
The questions I get asked at school talks are often much more informed than those I get at open town halls. Unfortunately, the turnout for young voters at elections is usually well below that of older voters, so I am happy Bill C-76 would allow the registration of future electors between the ages of 14 years and 17 years. This simple act has been shown in other jurisdictions to increase the proportion of young people who vote after they turn 18.
Unfortunately, the Liberals voted down an NDP amendment to this bill that asked the government to study the possibility of lowering the voting age to 17. We allow young Canadians to join the military at age 17, but for some reason we do not want to give them the right to vote in our elections, to give them a voice for their future in this country.
Second, this bill would remove the ban on public education programs conducted by the Chief Electoral Officer through Elections Canada. Why this ban was put in place in the so-called Fair Elections Act is beyond me. However, I welcome the opportunity for Elections Canada to inform and educate Canadians about the electoral process.
Bill C-76 would also bring back the process of vouching to allow electors without proper ID to vote, as well as allowing the use of the voter ID card for the same purpose. These were disallowed under the Fair Elections Act in an effort that seemed to want to solve a non-existent problem, that of voter fraud, for which there are vanishingly few if any examples of, by creating a much more serious problem that inhibited Canadians, particularly disadvantaged citizens, from voting at all. We should be encouraging Canadians to vote and this will be a step in the right direction at last.
Unfortunately, the government missed an opportunity to increase gender equality in Canadian elections, to increase the number of women running as candidates. The Liberal government talks glowingly about its commitment to gender equality, but does next to nothing in the bill to advance that.
Canada is far behind other countries in gender equity in political representation. My former colleague, Kennedy Stewart, now the mayor of Vancouver, put forward a private member's bill that would have strongly encouraged parties to increase the proportion of female candidates in future elections. Unfortunately, the government voted that bill down and failed to include its provisions in this bill.
There is no ban on foreign third party spending or activity. We have seen evidence of how foreign activity has affected elections in the United States and the UK. We need to ban that from Canadian elections. We hear almost daily stories of election tampering in those areas and others.
Canadians are deeply concerned about privacy issues during election campaigns. Political parties amass huge amounts of personal information on voters, yet there is nothing in the bill that covers this.
The present Chief Electoral Officer, Stéphane Perrault, said in committee, “If there is one area where the bill failed, it is privacy. The parties are not subjected to any kind of privacy regime.”
The Privacy Commissioner, Daniel Therrien, said that the bill had “nothing of substance in regards to privacy.”
No one at committee spoke against more stringent privacy requirements. Everyone was concerned that we did not go far enough.
I will close by bringing up the big thing missing from the bill and that of course is real electoral reform.
The Liberals, the NDP and the Green Party all campaigned on a promise that 2015 would be the last election under first past the post. Over 60% of Canadian voters supported that idea. For many Canadians, that was the most important promise of the election.
Canadians were tired of elections that gave parties with less than 40% of the vote a 100% of the power in a majority government. The Harper government was an example and the present Liberal government is another. Unfortunately, once the Liberals were in power, they forgot about that promise.
The Liberals say they want to increase the participation of Canadians in the electoral process. They say that Bill C-76 is their answer to this. However, the incredible cynicism on their lack of action on real electoral reform has already had a negative effect on how Canadians feel about their elected representatives and whether it is even worth voting in the next election.
I support many of the reforms contained in Bill C-76, but it falls short in so many ways. Like so many bills we see in this place, it is a tentative step in the right direction, but we need to go further.
Let us get rid of big money in elections. Let us ban foreign interference in elections. Let us protect the privacy of Canadians. Let us get back on track to getting rid of first past the post, so every vote will count.