House of Commons Hansard #345 of the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was elections.

Topics

Elections Modernization ActGovernment Orders

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Madam Speaker, I enjoyed listening to the member's speech, but I am not sure which conspiracy theory I want to deal with first.

In terms of the choice of the debates commissioner, I fail to see how David Johnston, a former governor general, is a partisan appointment. He is someone who has even moderated debates before.

On the timing of the bill, the member must know that even if a bill has not been passed, something he would know from the hearings at the electoral reform committee, Elections Canada begins preparing in advance of a bill passing. The commissioner even said that during the hearings on electoral reform.

Now I would like to shift to the official opposition's continual focus on electoral fraud. I would like the member's comment on a quote from the book One Person, No Vote, which of course is a play on the famous phrase. It is a book by Professor Carol Anderson, who writes, “The most common tool, though, [of voter suppression] are laws around identification: Crackdowns on what can be used as proof of address are often an indicator of suppression.”

I would like the member's comments on that quote.

Elections Modernization ActGovernment Orders

11:30 a.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Madam Speaker, particularly in the U.S., we have seen the most dastardly forms of trying to suppress certain votes. Sometimes it is done through identification and sometimes it is done through gerrymandering. There are all sorts of tactics that politicians there use, and I would say sometimes politicians here have used. Briefly, around vouching, it has certainly targeted folks who are homeless; younger people, who are more mobile and may not have those pieces of identification readily available; and particularly indigenous voters. Where I live, 40% or so of folks are indigenous, and there is less availability of ID for indigenous Canadians, particularly in rural Canada.

I would caution my friend though on the conspiracy theory comment, because I was very careful with the examples I brought forward. Unless he wants to say that the U.S. justice department is promoting conspiracy theories, or the European justice department is into conspiracy theories, or the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada or the Privacy Commissioner of Canada are into conspiracy theories, that language around this content is not deserving of the debate we are having.

Elections Canada had to make some of these modifications on the fly because the government was so late bringing the bill forward, but the Chief Electoral Officer said that this was not ideal. It is better to have a bill passed in its final form and then act upon it. Imagine if the police were to start enforcing things that were not yet passed into law. This is not good practice. He was forced to do it. Clearly, it was not the first choice.

Elections Modernization ActGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

Gérard Deltell Conservative Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Madam Speaker, it is always very interesting, enjoyable and exciting to hear my NDP colleague speak. Although we do not generally agree, it can still be inspiring. Indeed, much like the NDP member from British Columbia, I had the privilege of sitting on the electoral reform committee led by the member for Lac-Saint-Louis.

Before I ask my question, I would like to remind the House that the 1995 referendum in Quebec took place exactly 23 years ago today. As everyone knows, that vote profoundly divided Quebeckers. Perhaps there are people here who voted yes back in the day, but have since changed their minds.

Just a few minutes ago, the Liberal government announced a unilateral decision to appoint someone to oversee televised debates. We do not dispute that individual's expertise in any way, shape or form, but would it not have been better to make that announcement following consultations with the federal political parties?

Elections Modernization ActGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for the question. I also have fond memories of that committee and I like to think that we did good work.

As far as the debate commissioner is concerned, we do not take issue with the person who was selected or his credentials. We take issue with the process. The government selected a name from a list and then asked if we were happy with that selection. It is ridiculous. Even if the candidate were Ghandi, it is not about his qualities or performance, it is about the process.

In fact, the minister promised me and others that she would respect the work of the committee, which recommended that all parties discuss the selection. At the very least there should have a been a shortlist of two, three or four candidates. Otherwise, the government has all the say on something as important as the leaders' debate.

This seems to be a pattern with this government. Their principles and morality fall short when it comes to our democracy. This pattern is a threat to everyone because this government is obsessed with power.

Elections Modernization ActGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, the member was in the chamber when I posed a question to the Conservative Party about wanting to kill this bill. An opposition party will often vote against legislation, but it does not necessarily mean that in all circumstances it will go out of its way to kill the legislation. The Conservative Party would like to filibuster the debate on this bill and kill this legislation so that it never becomes law. Surely to goodness, the member across the way, with the experience he has, understands that.

On the other hand, New Democrats say we should never use any tools at all in order to pass legislation such as this. Would the member not recognize that if we do not look at the tool box, with the Conservatives committed to never allowing this bill to pass, there is a certain element of hypocrisy or lack of transparency on the part of New Democrats to be arguing that they want the legislation to pass even though it might need some improvements and then say, at the same time, never to use any of the tools that would ensure the legislation does pass?

Elections Modernization ActGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Madam Speaker, normally when it comes to hypocrisy, I would tend to defer to my colleague because he is a bit of an expert on that. I have a whole series of quotes from his lips in this place, saying that the tactic they are taking right now should never be done.

The question is: How did we get here? We got here because the Liberals took so darn long to bring forward the legislation in the first place. Then when they are up against the wire, they are surprised when there is a six-hour filibuster, and they cut a deal with the Conservatives to get it through, and then they apply time allocation. Those are all choices made by members of the government. No one put a gun to their heads telling them not to bring the bill in for three years. They just chose to do that, and one wonders why. I think they invoke the panic and the deadline. Then when they are past the deadline, they panic and rush it through without debate. They do it again and again. It might be hypocrisy, actually, just from a lack of incompetence. I will let everyone decide.

Elections Modernization ActGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.

NDP

Daniel Blaikie NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I will start by agreeing with my colleague that Liberal incompetence does breed a certain sense of urgency, but for the Liberals to use that as a tactic is quite wrong. There are a lot of things that need to get fixed and we are worried about them, but to purposely delay, then present something complex and insist that we need to run roughshod over the complexities because of their delay is not a tactic becoming of this place.

On the question of the new debates commissioner, one of the things I find interesting about the process, or lack thereof, is that the government appropriated $745,000 this year for a process to develop and implement a new debates commission. Presumably, the Liberals included the word “develop” because there was going to be some sort of substantive process that clearly required substantive funds.

I am wondering if the member can speculate as to how that money might have been spent given what appears to be a serious lack of process around appointing a new debates commissioner.

Elections Modernization ActGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Madam Speaker, why three-quarters of a million dollars is being spent on the process to pick the commissioner, I have no idea. I would have paid for the coffee if the minister wanted to come and talk to us, because we do not know the criteria by which they picked the new debates commissioner. We do not know who else was on the list. We do not know what job description they negotiated with the new commissioner. He is a very nice guy. He is smart and has done a lot of work. However, the fact that the Liberals spent three-quarters of a million dollars to unilaterally pick the former governor general, who was kind of just down the road at the time they started this, also begs the question of the $5.5 million they have attributed to running debates, one English and one French, with podiums, glasses of water and a bit of a backdrop. The sum of $5.5 million seems to be what the Liberals think that should cost.

The process is messed up. They know it is messed up. The Liberals do this again and again. They delay for two years, three years and sit on their hands on something. Then in the panic and the crisis, they say they would like to work with parties, but they cannot because there is no time available. It is getting weak.

Elections Modernization ActGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Surrey—Newton.

I recall when the whole issue of amending the Elections Act first arose under the previous government. Ever since that time, the notion of amending the Elections Act seems to have revolved around the issue of voter fraud. All we heard about in the previous Parliament was how new rules needed to be brought into play in order to prevent voter fraud.

Then during debate on this bill, Bill C-76, what has mostly come from the official opposition is again a focus on voter fraud. I wonder if this kind of discourse does not breed an unfortunate misperception on the part of the public as to how our electoral system works. That has been the tack the official opposition has taken. Essentially, their discourse is focused on the issue of the voter identification card.

Ironically, voter fraud is not a problem. It is really a bogeyman.

The only recent incident of voter fraud that I am aware of is the robocall incident in which case a Conservative volunteer, Michael Sona, went to jail for his role in that. I remember campaigning on the last weekend in 2011 when my campaign manager called me in a bit of a panic saying that we were getting calls in our office from people who had gotten calls saying that the location of their voting station had changed. I do not know how many calls were made in my riding but some were obviously made and they were made across the country as well.

I would like to focus on an article in The Globe and Mail on the issue of voter fraud. It is an article by Denise Balkissoon, in reference to the U.S. experience, which is relevant because our systems are comparable in many ways. She stated that:

Meanwhile, the threat of voter fraud has always been manufactured. One study that focused on impersonation found 31 provable instances between 2000 and 2014, during which time more than one billion American votes were cast. This August, a Department of Justice investigation into the 2016 election process in North Carolina found that, out of almost 4.8 million ballots, 500 had been cast by ineligible voters. Most were people with criminal records, who didn’t know their records prevented them from voting....

Therefore, those people in North Carolina were not attempting voter fraud. They just thought that they had the right to vote, which I guess they did not in that circumstance.

Meanwhile, the focus on voter ID is really motivated by a desire to dissuade voting, to suppress voter participation. I read a quote before, which I will read again, from Professor Carol Anderson, who wrote a book, One Person, No Vote, a play on the well-known phrase. She states that, “The most common tool [of voter suppression] ... are laws around identification: Crackdowns on what can be used as proof of address are often indicators of suppression.”

By not allowing the voter identification card to be used as ID, the so-called Fair Elections Act made it just a little bit harder to vote, tilting the balance away from voting for some because we know that in some cases people get frustrated if they feel that somehow there is an impediment to going to vote or a minor inconvenience. Some people will decide not to vote in that election. We know that is some of the thinking that occurs sometimes. The Fair Elections Act's prohibition on the Chief Electoral Officer's ability to run programs to encourage voter participation is another example of this attempt in the previous amendment of the Elections Act to discourage voting. Bill C-76, I am glad to say, moves in the opposition direction, in the direction of increasing democratic participation, of expanding rather than reducing the franchise. I will give some examples.

Bill C-76 encourages voting in the following ways.

First of all, it allows the use of the voter identification card once again. It does not mean that individuals can just go to the polling station and show the card and get to vote. They have to prove who they are with identification. It usually requires a second piece of identification.

A second example of how we are proposing to expand the franchise to vote is by allowing employees of long-term care facilities to vouch for multiple residents, which makes sense. In a long-term care facility there are usually one or two people attending to a number of residents. They know who these people are. They know their families. They know quite a bit about them. It makes perfect sense to allow that person to vouch for multiple residents. It is a common-sense change.

The bill proposes to allow the Chief Electoral Officer to sponsor voter awareness campaigns. To think that somehow the Chief Electoral Officer is advocating for one party over another is one of the conspiracy theories that have been born around the issue of amending the Canada Elections Act.

The bill proposes to create a national register of future voters to get youth engaged in the electoral process early, long before they reach voting age. That makes a lot of sense. I just met an hour ago with students from St. Thomas High School in my riding. They must have been about 15 or 16 years of age. I told them about that aspect of the bill and they seemed quite excited, as did their teachers, around the possibility of registering ahead of time before they reach voting age.

Another example of how we propose to expand the franchise is by expanding the right to vote of one million Canadian expats abroad. It would no longer be required to reside outside Canada for less than five consecutive years nor would it be required that a person intends to return to Canada to resume residence in the future in order to vote.

Last but not least, the bill proposes to make voting quicker and easier by allowing voters to vote at any table in the voting station rather than wait at a specific table.

Expanding the current use of mobile polls during advance polls to better serve remote, isolated or low-density communities is just another example of how we want to make voting easier. We want people to vote. We want to expand their democratic franchise.

We would be making it easier for people with disabilities to vote, which of course is the right thing to do. For example, assistance at the polls is currently only permitted for persons with physical disabilities. Bill C-76 would make assistance available irrespective of disability, in other words, whether it is a physical or an intellectual disability. An elector would be able to be assisted by a person of his or her choosing. Currently that is not possible.

Many people with disabilities have a particular caretaker whom they know and trust. They would be allowed to have that person help them with voting as opposed to arriving at a voting station and being told the voting station will assign a person to help them out, which can be intimidating to some individuals.

Currently, a transfer certificate is only available for people with a physical disability when the polling station is not accessible. Bill C-76 would make it available irrespective of the nature of the disability and irrespective of whether the polling station is accessible. Further, the Commissioner of Elections Canada would have the flexibility to determine the application process for the certificate in a way that is less challenging for an elector seeking accommodation because of a disability.

The current process for persons with disabilities to vote at home would be extended irrespective of the nature or extent of the disability.

Finally, Bill C-76 proposes to establish a maximum reimbursement of $5,000 per candidate and $250,000 for political parties that take steps specifically to accommodate electors with disabilities and reduce barriers to their participation in the democratic process.

I am personally proud as a Canadian of the progressive values in Bill C-76, when it comes to implementing the rights of people with disabilities to participate in the electoral process.

Bill C-76 would strengthen the electoral system against fraud, including in the context of the new digital technologies that we are now seeing can disrupt election results based on the influence of false information and manipulation. In other words, the bill would empower the Commissioner of Elections Canada to seek judicial authorization to compel testimony in order to ensure timely and thorough investigations and it would authorize the commissioner to lay charges.

We are strengthening the bill to protect against voter fraud and we are expanding the franchise. I am very pleased and proud of that as a member of Parliament and as a Canadian.

Elections Modernization ActGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.

NDP

Sheri Benson NDP Saskatoon West, SK

Madam Speaker, I had the opportunity to attend the electoral reform committee meeting in Regina and had the chance to get to know my hon. colleague across the way a little better. I want to make two comments with respect to two disappointments in this bill and ask for his comments.

Many of us would say that young people came out to vote, especially young New Democrat and Liberal voters, on the promise by the Prime Minister that 2015 would be the last election to use first past the post. I think that many of those voters, although they would be pleased to see some of the changes within this bill, would be very disappointed to see that the changes do not include that very explicit promise made by the current Prime Minister. I am wondering if my hon. colleague did not also expect more from this bill, given the fact we have waited three years for that change.

Elections Modernization ActGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Madam Speaker, likewise, I enjoyed chairing the committee with the hon. member present in Regina especially.

I will address the issue around electoral reform. I chaired the committee. I obviously was at all the hearings. I was part of the process from beginning to end. I entered the process with a very open mind with respect to what kind of system could possibly replace our current first-past-the-post system. What emerged over the course of that process was a realization that there was no consensus in this Parliament, in this House, as to what a best replacement system would be. Indeed, the Liberal Party favoured a preferential ballot. It is no secret that the Conservative Party did not want any change. We know that the New Democrats and the Green Party preferred proportional representation. I remember the Chief Electoral Officer saying that we could make a change without a referendum if the majority of the parties in the Commons agreed on a particular system. However, that was not the case. That I think is really the reason why we did not move ahead with this particular issue.

Elections Modernization ActGovernment Orders

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Madam Speaker, as we put legislation in place, we know that the responsibility of parliamentarians is to protect our democratic system in Canada. It is a system that we hold very dear to our hearts. It helps us to function as the society we enjoy, as the country we enjoy and call home and invite others into to also call home with us. Protecting that democracy means that elections must be fair. They must be set up in such a way that one vote counts equally to another.

Under the changes put in place by the Liberals, there would be the ability for someone to come and present an identification card as a form of ID. In the last election in 2015, we know from Elections Canada that 16% of these cards were sent out in an incorrect way. They went to the wrong address, they went to the wrong person, they went to a non-citizen or an individual received multiple cards at one location. Therefore, being able to use those cards as an identification mechanism by which an individual is able to vote actually degrades our system, because it means that 16% of those votes are not valid. I would like to hear what the member opposite would say in response to that.

Elections Modernization ActGovernment Orders

11:55 a.m.

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Madam Speaker, this is the point I was making at the beginning of my speech, which is that the party opposite has branded the amending of the Canada Elections Act as an issue of voter fraud. We know that when people get to the polls they have to establish their identity and a voter information card by itself would not suffice. However, if there was such a problem with voter identification cards, we would see cases of voter fraud. We have not seen any. The only cases of voter fraud we have seen have involved the robocall scandal that took place under the previous government. I reiterate the quote that I read before, which is that a billion American votes were cast between 2000 and 2014 and there were only 31 instances of impersonation or the belief that someone was trying to impersonate someone else. It is just not a problem.

Elections Modernization ActGovernment Orders

11:55 a.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, a good way to start is with something I put in the form of a question earlier today. The Government of Canada has wide support for many of the initiatives in this legislation, whether from New Democratic members, the leader of the Green Party or Elections Canada. We have listened to what Canadians have had to say on the importance of our electoral system in every region of our country. I believe that the minister has done an outstanding job in bringing things together and presenting to the House what is a modernization of Canada's elections laws. We want to see additional strength.

Today, around the world, Elections Canada is recognized for the strong leadership role it plays. In many countries throughout the world, we are often looked to as a country to go to for a better understanding of how we can have independent elections and how well we have done overall as a nation through the independent office of Elections Canada.

The minister brought in the legislation. A healthy debate took place. It went to committee. Unlike under the previous administration, when there were no opposition members listened to and when even Elections Canada was not listened to, we had many amendments. Amendments came from the Conservatives and the New Democrats. We had a great deal of input from the leader of the Green Party. Members on the government side listened to what the stakeholders, in particular Elections Canada, were saying, which led to many government amendments at the committee stage. We now have an even better piece of legislation as a direct result of having gone through that process.

The New Democrats will say that they had a lot more amendments that were rejected. Not all of their amendments were good. Not all of them were rejected. Some of them actually needed further study, and so forth.

The Conservatives, on the other hand, wanted to bring it back to the way it was, and we did not support that, and we believe that Canadians do not support that. The best example I can give was just referenced, and that is the voter card. Canadians across this country are sent in the mail or delivered a voter information card, which has their name and address on it. It tells them where they are going to be voting. A lot of Canadians, including me and my household, retain the card. Many people believe that they can take that card and use it as a form of ID. Why not? Elections Canada does not have any problem with that. Members of the Green Party and members of the New Democratic Party do not have any problem with that. It is only Stephen Harper and the Conservatives.

Even under the new leadership of the Conservative Party, there is no difference. What is the difference between Stephen Harper's party and the new leader's party? I do not know, especially when it comes to some of the legislation. The Conservatives have a problem with Canadians using something that is supplied by an agency, Elections Canada, which is recognized around the world as an independent body. The Conservatives, for whatever reason, do not believe that should be allowed for Canadians, because they do not trust it. Shame on the Conservatives for not recognizing what is a very obvious thing and an important part of democracy.

This legislation would do a great deal in terms of making changes to modernize the process. We are making the electoral process more accessible for Canadians with disabilities, caregivers and members of the Canadian Armed Forces. We are restoring voting rights to the more than one million Canadians living abroad.

What I find interesting is that we have the Conservatives, who are very transparent, and we have the New Democrats, who are trying to hide their real political objective. Let me explain that. The Conservatives have demonstrated today, as they did in committee for many hours and days, that not only do they want to vote against this bill, they will do whatever they can to prevent this bill from ever seeing the light of day. It does not take a genius to filibuster a bill. Give me 12 or 14 members, and I could hold up a bill for weeks. It does not take a genius to do that. The Conservatives have made the decision that under no circumstances do they want to see this bill passed.

The New Democrats say that they support the legislation, but under no circumstances should the government use any of the tools to ensure that it is passed. If it were up the Conservatives, this bill would never, ever pass. We would be debating it until after the next federal election. I will give the Conservatives credit. At least they are being transparent. The New Democrats are trying to come across as great democrats, when they have no intention of trying to ensure that this legislation passes. They should be embarrassed, because they consistently try to give an impression that is just not true.

It is not the first time the New Democrats have done that. In their statements, they imply that I have advocated that time allocation should not be used on motions. What the New Democrats are not saying is that on many occasions, when I was in the third party, I stood up and said that at times time allocation needs to be used as a tool. Otherwise, if there were an irresponsible opposition, the government would be prevented from getting the business done that is important to Canadians.

The New Democrats and the Conservatives are asking why we waited so long. We did not wait long. This has been in the process for a long time. We finally got it out of the committee stage. There are other pieces of legislation. The government has had a fairly significant agenda, starting from day one.

On day one, the legislative agenda was the tax break for Canada's middle class, something that both parties in opposition voted against. Today we are talking about giving additional strength to our democratic institution, Elections Canada. In fact, that is what this is doing. I believe that over 80% of the recommendations from Elections Canada are in fact being acted on.

As opposed to recognizing the legislation for what it is, legislation that is very much reflective of what Canadians want to see in terms of electoral changes, legislation that gathers the vast majority of the recommendations from that independent agency, the official opposition wants to go back to the days of Stephen Harper and prevent this legislation from passing at all costs.

We have the New Democrats playing a game, as if they want to see the legislation passed, but they are prepared to join the Conservatives in supporting a filibuster that would ultimately take it all the way past the next federal election.

I believe that Canadians deserve better. If members want to support and see a healthier democracy, they should not only support the legislation, they should support the idea of getting it passed in a timely fashion.

Elections Canada was very clear on being able to act on the legislation, as we went through the many hours and days of the procedure and House affairs committee dealing with this legislation.

There was a solid commitment by the government to ensure that we modernized the Elections Act. Whether the Conservatives want it or not, we are going to do it, and we hope to continue to receive the support of the Green Party and my New Democratic friends.

Elections Modernization ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

David Sweet Conservative Flamborough—Glanbrook, ON

Mr. Speaker, the parliamentary secretary said that Canadians deserve better, and he is absolutely correct. They deserve better than this mangled bill.

In the past, when parties won elections, they actually had a level of statesmanship and magnanimity in the way they approached things like this in dealing with opposition parties so that they could actually produce a bill that would be fair and beneficial for all Canadians. Instead, the Liberals produced a bill that would basically benefit them.

At the expense of sounding like I am defending my NDP colleagues, and I do not mind doing that on occasion, the member mentioned that they were not transparent. I have actually heard some words from NDP members today that were very transparent.

The member did not mention at all the fact that the bill does not deal with the security of our elections or the fact that our own security agency has warned the government about the ability of foreign interests to manipulate our democratic process. He did not mention the fact that the bill would impede the opposition parties from using the money Canadians have freely, lawfully given to them to use in an election. He did not mention either one of those things. I wonder who is not being transparent.

Elections Modernization ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I will not reflect on the individual who posed the question personally, but I will address what he just said as directly as I can.

The Conservative Party, under Stephen Harper, brought in legislation that had no support from other political parties, and when brought to committee stage, the Conservatives did not listen to any opposition, not only from opposition members but from other stakeholders, including Elections Canada, in making the changes they made. I made reference to a specific one that Canadians can really relate to.

Members need to get away from the speaking points and realize that what the member was describing was Stephen Harper when he was the prime minister and the changes the Conservatives made. We have been very—

Elections Modernization ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

An hon. member

Oh, oh!

Elections Modernization ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Order. Questions and comments, the hon. member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie.

Elections Modernization ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am astounded by the parliamentary secretary's speech. When he was in opposition, he said dozens of times that gag orders should never be imposed on members for any bills related to electoral reform, our elections and citizens' rights.

Today, he has changed his mind and done a complete 180°. If this bill is so important, why did the Liberals leave it on a shelf to gather dust for two years and bring it out only at the last minute? That is completely irresponsible.

The Liberals promised to consult all of the other parties before appointing a debates commissioner. Why then did they decide to impose their choice and make a decision on their own, a Liberal decision?

I would like the member to explain what the word “hypocrite” means to him.

Elections Modernization ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, what the member fails to tell people is that at times it is necessary to use the tools to get legislation through, because sometimes we get opposition parties that will, at all costs, prevent legislation from passing.

The member across the way has to explain why his party would be prepared, which is what we are hearing from New Democrats today, to never see this proposed legislation pass, because that is what the Conservative Party wants. The Conservative Party does not ever want this proposed legislation to pass.

If we do not follow the advice I gave when in the third party, that at times we need to use the toolbox to get the legislative agenda passed, it would not pass, and we would not be able to modernize the Elections Act.

The member across the way and the New Democrats need to look in the mirror. Do they want it modernized or do they not? I believe, if they want to be consistent, they should support the actions of this government on this issue.

Elections Modernization ActGovernment Orders

October 30th, 2018 / 12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

Mr. Speaker, for the sake of novelty, I thought I would do my entire speech without yelling or screaming, even once. Let us see if that helps to set the tone for the rest of the debate. I thought it was going pretty well until the last intervention and then we sort of went off the rails.

I want to start by dealing with a couple of things that have nothing to do with Bill C-76.

The first is to draw attention to the poppy on my lapel. There has been a developing tradition here the last couple of years where members will be wearing poppies that are different from the traditional ones put out by the legion. Sometimes they are an aboriginal poppy. Sometimes they have some other significance. The one I am wearing is done by the women's axillary at the Perth legion and the funds go directly to the local legion.

I also want to take a moment to deal with a matter that is near and dear to my heart, as I was unable to do so in any other spot. It is the issue of freedom of religion and the right to worship safely and peacefully. I am speaking of course of the tragedy that occurred last Saturday at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I chaired an all-party parliamentary committee dealing with anti-Semitism and, subsequently, along with the Liberal MP, co-edited a book about anti-Semitism. This is the very worst example of anti-Semitism we have seen in recent years on our continent. Like all members, I speak in solidarity with that.

I want to mention one other thing before I move on from this topic. I learned of this tragedy because I was informed of it by an email sent out by an Islamic group called LaunchGood, which raises money to assist people who face tragedies of this sort. Typically, these are tragedies within the Muslim community. A year ago, I and a number of other people, including some MPs, contributed to the LaunchGood effort to raise money for one of the survivors of the Quebec mosque shooting. This time, it is raising money on behalf of the victims of the synagogue shooting. That is indication of the kind of generosity and spirit we see among the great religions of the world and those who truly believe in their faith.

None of that is germane to Bill C-76, which I will turn to now. I will be splitting my time with the member for Battle River—Crowfoot, who like me is a survivor of the class of 2000. His riding name is more appropriate with time, as all of us who have been here since 2000 are developing deeper and deeper “crowfoots” at the corner of our eyes. It has been a great pleasure to serve beside him and the other veterans.

In dealing with Bill C-76, I will delve into a number of the issues relating to the way the government has pushed all too little on the bill until the last minute and now is in a panic to get it done in time to go into effect for the next election. This has been an unnecessary delay. I will return to that theme if there is time.

However, I want to start by talking about an issue that arose today, which is the proposed amendment to the motion before the House. That is the amendment introduced by my colleague and my New Democratic colleague calling for us to return it to committee so we can deal with the issue of by-elections.

There is a by-election under way now in the riding to my south, where my esteemed late colleague Gord Brown served. He sat in the seat near me. He passed away earlier this year. The Prime Minister took the maximum allowed period of time before calling a by-election for that riding. This means that the people in Leeds—Grenville—Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes have gone without representation far longer than is appropriate. Shame on the Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister has failed to call several by-elections for several vacancies, including the one in Burnaby South, where the New Democratic candidate is the current leader of the New Democrats, Jagmeet Singh. There can be only one purpose in delaying that by-election. It cannot be because the Prime Minister was caught off guard by this or because there is some kind of impediment keeping him from doing this. The former member for Burnaby South, Mr. Kennedy Stewart, our former colleague, resigned on September 14. However, he made public the letter to the Speaker in which he announced his intention to resign on August 2. He made it clear back in May that he intended to resign. That is now four months in the past. The by-election should have been called immediately.

There can only be one purpose for delaying this by-election. Take account of all the insincere posturing about being a friend of democracy we hear from the Prime Minister of Canada right now. The reason for delaying this by-election is to ensure Jagmeet Singh does not get to take a seat in the House until the last second.

Why would the Prime Minister do this? Because this is an extraordinarily effective tactic for neutering the leaders of opposing parties. We saw an example of just how this works the year I was elected. It was also the year my colleague from Battle River—Crowfoot was elected. We were elected November 27, 2000. The election was called, a snap election, in mid-October of 2000. Our former leader, Stockwell Day, was newly elected in a by-election on September 11, 2000. He came to the House, began speaking here, was beginning to bite and have some effect so the prime minister called an election to essentially neuter him before he could become effective.

The Prime Minister can no longer easily affect the date of the election, but he has the ability to delay and delay the calling of a by-election in order to ensure Jagmeet Singh will meet with a similar fate, that he will be unable to come here, advocate effectively for the causes he believes in and start nibbling into Liberal support from the left, just as our leader has been very effective in doing so from the right. That is an affront to democracy.

I do not care how many sincere looks the Prime Minister gives the camera while he explains whatever his ostensible motivation is. The fact is that he is stripping away a vital aspect of parliamentary democracy. There is a real need to deal with this sort of thing, to prevent this sort of misuse, especially when it comes to the election of party leaders to the House of Commons.

We have always had a practice of showing a kind of courtesy. I thought Jean Chrétien was egregious in his abuse and violation in turning away from that practice when he called a snap election in 2000. However, he really does not hold a candle to a prime minister who seems to simply want to hold off the by-election forever. It is wrong, it is always wrong and it is wrong when the Prime Minister does it.

Let me talk a bit the urgency of getting this bill through and the need to use time allocation. The Liberals introduced legislation dealing with elections changes, Bill C-33, in November 2016. Then they never brought it forward. Over a year later, they came out with the replacement for Bill C-33, containing most of what Bill C-33 contained plus some new additions. That is the current legislation, Bill C-76.

The year-long delay is not the fault of the opposition; it is the fault of the government. The government likes to say that the opposition was constantly filibustering in committee and it could not get anything done. The procedure and House affairs committee, on which I sit, met in the spring to deal with the bill and then it met again mid-September when the House resumed.

An entire summer went by during which this committee did not meet. It could have met. There is nothing stopping a committee from meeting over the summer. Indeed, a couple of years ago, another committee I was on, the committee on electoral reform, met all through the summer. This past summer, a number of committees met. Some of them met several times. This committee could have done that. That is not the fault of the opposition parties; it is the fault of the government.

Going back yet further, the government could have started dealing with this legislation much earlier. Instead, it chose to deal with its electoral reform that would change our electoral system, and there were hearings on it. It delayed that for the better part or a year in order to consume enough time that only one electoral system could possibly be put forward and implemented in time for the 2019 election, which is preferential voting because it does not require redistribution.

At this point, there has been a delay of about two and a half years out of the three years that have gone by so far. All of it is because of the government's own delays. The government has tried to say that it ought to impose closure, limiting debate on a 300-page bill, because we dragged our heels. My response to that is that the government's mismanagement ought not to constitute my crisis nor ought to constitute a crisis for the people of Canada.

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12:20 p.m.

NDP

Daniel Blaikie NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I want to go back to my colleague's closing reflections on the mental gymnastics of the member for Winnipeg North.

The member for Winnipeg North was quick to point out that there may have been times in previous Parliaments, when he was in opposition, that sometimes time allocation needed to be used. However, I will not repeat the quotes, because we put a number of them on record. In the last Parliament, he was very clear that with special respect to bills having to do with modifications to the electoral system, it was a no-go zone. Even if he said that in other cases the use of time allocation might be appropriate from time to time, he was very clear in the last Parliament that on the issue of making changes to the elections process, it was not permissible to use time allocation and that a government unilaterally ramming through changes was not on. There is a little revisionism going on here.

I know the hon. member was in the last Parliament. I wonder if he might offer us the benefit of his experience to provide some reflection on this manoeuvring on the part of the member for Winnipeg North.

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12:20 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

Mr. Speaker, frankly, I am not sure I can add to what my colleague just said. Maybe I should let those comments stand.

However, it lets me draw attention to another matter that I know is very important to my colleague from Elmwood—Transcona as a New Democrat. That is the justification by the member for Winnipeg North and the defence he gave on delaying the by-election, saying that other by-elections had been delayed in the past.

First, I am not sure if the by-election delay for Leeds–Grenville–Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes was legitimate. I do not see how the people living directly to my south in that riding deserve to be unrepresented for six months. I do not see how it benefited them or the issues that exist in their riding.

This is a special case. This is a matter dealing with the leader of a party and allowing that party to function fully in the House of Commons. To withhold that by-election is utterly unjustifiable and cannot be justified on any precedent based on any riding in which the candidate will not be the leader of one of the recognized parties.

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12:25 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to debate Bill C-76. I will have a speaking slot later for which I am very grateful.

The timeliness of the intervention from the member for Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston is very helpful for me. I was unable to pose a question earlier for the member for Lac-Saint-Louis, who did a spectacular job as the chair of our parliamentary committee on electoral reform on which both the member for Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston and I both served.

However, I think the member for Lac-Saint-Louis misspoke when he said that everyone knew the Liberals favoured preferential voting and ranked ballots. Our committee was tasked with making a recommendation for replacing first past the post.

I wonder if my friend from Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston could confirm my memory, that the Liberals on the committee never put forward to our committee the proposal for preferential voting. They did not put forward any proposal at all.

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12:25 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

Mr. Speaker, that is my memory as well, but it is very clear that preferential voting was the preferred option for the Prime Minister at the start. There is no doubt about that. I wish he had said so openly. It would have led to a very different reaction in the 2015 election, when many voters fled the New Democrats and perhaps the Green Party as well for the Liberals, especially in British Columbia where this was a live issue for the Liberals. When he said that we would move to a different system, the assumption they made was that the different system would be some form of proportional representation. We can get some idea of the legitimacy of preferential voting for a parliamentary system, where every riding tends to replicate the results in every other riding, from the fact that it is not one of the items on the ballot in British Columbia.

Preferential balloting need not be a bad system in the right circumstance. We use it for electing Speaker of the House. I designed that system. I note that in the city of Kingston, through a referendum, which is what we should do before changing a system, the people have agreed to change to a preferential system for municipal elections. Again, there is no party labels in municipal elections. In that situation, it is a good system. I congratulate the people of Kingston on that decision.