Mr. Speaker, it is a real honour to rise today in the House to speak to Bill C-76, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act.
Today has been one of those days on Parliament Hill. We just had a committee looking at parents who have lost newborn children or during pregnancy. As we sat listening to the stories of those individuals, it brought, I think, most of the committee to tears.
However, this afternoon we are looking at a bill to amend the Elections Act. It shows the broad range of things that happen in Parliament. This morning we saw people who were genuinely affected and now we are seeing a bill brought in place that really, for all intents and purposes, will just give an advantage to the Liberal Party.
I should say, though, that I sincerely regret the fact that many of my colleagues are denied a similar opportunity to speak, given the Liberal government's decision to move time allocation on this bill. Having an opportunity with an appropriate amount of allotted time for MPs to express the views of their constituents is a fundamental principle of democracy upon which the House of Commons is founded. This opportunity is being denied.
It is for this reason that we on this side of the House adamantly oppose the Liberals' blatant, disrespectful manoeuvre. Shutting down this debate is disrespectful to MPs and, more importantly, disrespectful to those Canadians who want to be heard on this issue.
I am confident that Canadians will justifiably punish the Liberal government for silencing them on this very important issue of electoral reform. At the very crux of our democracy are elections and how we facilitate those elections is key, and yet Canadians have had their voices silenced on this.
I am equally confident that Canadians will take great exception to the bill before us today, which leaves our elections wide open to foreign interference. It does so to the benefit to the Liberal Party. It is widely suspected that in the 2015 federal election, Liberal candidates defeated their opponents in several key ridings due to foreign interference.
The speed the Liberals are trying to ram this legislation through Parliament a year before the 2019 election clearly shows their eagerness to once again win with just a little extra help. I firmly believe that every vote cast by a Canadian citizen matters. I will therefore continue to work with my Conservative colleagues to keep foreign entities from undermining our democratic institutions, especially through the very fundamental exercise of elections.
As my honourable colleague from Thornhill pointed out last Friday, Bill C-76 would double the total maximum third party spending amount allowed during the writ period and would allow unlimited contributions by individual donors and others, unlimited spending by third parties and unlimited foreign donations outside the pre-writ and the writ periods. Effectively, this loophole would allow foreign charities to give millions of foreign dollars to Canadian charities, and those millions, as my colleagues stated, can be disbursed as Canadian dollars to third party groups to support and oppose parties and candidates.
Canadians deserve to know where the money for elections is coming from and it is up to the Liberal government to ensure that third-party entities are being fully transparent and there is no undue and outside interference. Bill C-76 fails miserably in this regard.
It is also up to the government to ensure that non-resident electors are not treated the same as full-time residents, residents who are impacted in their daily lives by the regulations, decisions and economic realities and red tape of government. The individuals who are living here deal with all of these regulations. Allowing non-resident electors the vote, regardless of how long they have lived outside of Canada or whether they intend to ever return, is simply wrong.
Most non-residents were unable to vote in Canadian elections until 1993, when expats living outside Canada for fewer than five years and who intended to return were granted the right to vote by mail-in ballot. I wholeheartedly agree with the less-than-five-year rule, but obviously the Liberal government does not. Again, I believe that they do not agree because, for all intents and purposes, they are looking for ways to gain an advantage.
As a result, the legislation before us today goes further than simply restoring voting rights to short-term expats, because the Liberals feel it is to their advantage. Under Bill C-76, anyone who has ever lived in Canada would be able to vote. Following the introduction of Bill C-33, Bill C-76's predecessor, as noted in a November 2016 South China Morning Post article, “They would theoretically include most of the 300,000 Canadians who live in Hong Kong, most of whom are returnee emigrants and their children. Huge numbers of Hong Kongers emigrated to Canada ahead of the 1997 handover, but many have now returned as dual citizens.”
The article gives the example that when Hong Kong was returned to mainland China, many people came to Canada and other countries. Now, many of them have returned. The same article goes on to express the divergent views of two Hong Kong residents. One, a civil servant close to retirement who spent 11 years in Canada before leaving in 1995, said:
Having the right to vote is an honour, this will motivate me to pay more attention to their political news because I still have family members living in Canada and I will spend more time over there after I retire.
In that article, he said he would vote in Canada at the time of an election if he were allowed to.
The same article made a comparison with a 39-year-old high school teacher in Hong Kong, who was born in Canada, but who said he would not vote, because he said:
I only lived there for 10 years when I was young. I do not know that much about Canadian politics and have not been following closely of their news, so I believe it would be irresponsible for me to vote.
I would agree with that. It would be irresponsible, as it is irresponsible for the current Liberal government, to lift the less-than-five-year voting restriction and thereby open up the system to abuse. It is irresponsible for individuals who have no idea of the issues, no idea of the candidates and no idea of what is really happening, to put an X when their country and their passion is where they are residing, as was the case with this 39-year-old, for some 29 years.
Another measure in Bill C-76 that would leave the Canadian democratic process open to abuse is the use of the voter identification card as acceptable voter ID. In the last election in 2015, nearly one million erroneous voter identification cards were given out, creating huge potential for voter fraud. I cannot support a bill that has the potential to undermine our highly respected electoral system as a result of voter ID cards being taken as a valid form of identification when we know that out of the 16 million or 17 million people who were eligible to vote in the last election, more than a million of them were given erroneous cards.
What the government is trying to enshrine in this bill works against fair elections. It works against the very principles of democracy. When anyone is willing to take away the rights of someone else to advance his or her own, I would warn Canadians, because if Liberals are willing to take that from someone else, what will they be willing to take from Canadians in the future?