Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise today and participate in the debate on Bill C-76, the amendments to the Canada Elections Act.
One of the privileges we have in Canada and as Canadians is to participate in free and fair elections. I do not think there is anyone in this House who would disagree with the importance of that privilege and honour that we have as Canadian citizens to participate in our democratic rights.
However, the government has shown its inability to properly introduce legislation to change our elections. In fact, the acting Chief Electoral Officer made it very clear to Parliament and at committee that in order for Elections Canada to make the changes necessary for the next election in 2019, legislation had to receive royal assent by April 2018. Here we are in May, only just kicking off debate on this matter.
On April 24, 2018, at committee, the acting Chief Electoral Officer, Stéphane Perrault, had this to say to the procedure and house affairs committee:
When I appeared last February I indicated that the window of opportunity to implement major changes in time for the next election was rapidly closing. That was not a new message. Both Monsieur Mayrand and I had previously indicated that legislative changes should be enacted by April 2018. This means that we are now at a point where the implementation of new legislation will likely involve some compromises.
Later in his comments he said:
However, it is also my responsibility to inform you that time is quickly running out. Canadians trust Elections Canada to deliver robust and reliable elections, and we do not want to find ourselves in the situation where the quality of the electoral process is impacted.
The government tabled Bill C-76 in April 2018, the same day legislation was supposed to be in place. The government botched the entire process for implementing changes to the Canada Elections Act. As a result of its mismanagement, the government had to introduce this omnibus bill in order to play catch-up and distract from past failures.
The Chief Electoral Officer provided recommendations for legislative reforms following the 42nd general election in 2015. The Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs was reviewing the recommendations and preparing a report for this House. Then, on November 24, 2016, before the committee had completed its work, the former minister of democratic institutions introduced Bill C-33, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts. She introduced an incomplete bill and demonstrated a blatant disregard for the committee's work.
Then, after rushing to create a bill and, in their haste, creating a flawed bill, the Liberals stalled. They have been sitting on the bill and have still not brought it forward for debate at second reading a year and a half later. If we add to that their failed attempt to change Canada’s electoral system to favour their party, the tremendous delay to appoint a permanent Chief Electoral Officer, and the incomprehensible action to perhaps create a debates commission, this government's democratic reform has been a colossal disappointment. The Liberals waited well beyond the April 2018 deadline to introduce Bill C-76.
What is more, Bill C-76 is an omnibus bill. It is 350 pages long and contains hundreds of different sections. At best, it contains seven vastly different elements. Many of these elements are flawed, and not only will they not improve our elections, but in some cases they will actually weaken them.
This brings me to one of the key points contained in the bill, which is the subject of identification. The government is clearly out of touch with what is reasonable in the 21st century.
Today, photo ID and identification with one's address is commonly and routinely used for interactions with governments at all levels, whether federal, provincial or municipal. Under the current law, nearly 50 different types of identification are permitted to allow a Canadian voter to prove his or her identity and address.
Canadians are used to using identification. In Canada, no one bats an eye when he or she is required to show ID to board a plane. No one bats an eye when he or she is required to show ID to prove his or her age to purchase alcohol or tobacco. Students are regularly required to show ID when they take VIA Rail to get the student discount. When we drive a car, we need a driver's licence. When we go fishing, we have a fishing licence. When we go to get a prescription for medication, we show identification. Even to borrow a library book, we need a library card, which, I might add, in most municipalities is free. What is more, when we get that library card, we can also use it as one of the acceptable forms of ID with Elections Canada.
I am proud to have a library card for both the Wellington county libraries and the libraries in Perth county, and I use them regularly. I encourage all Canadians to go to their local libraries and get a card.
Let us look at the list of some of the identification that is currently approved by Elections Canada. Of course, there is the driver's licence or a provincial or territorial ID card. In Ontario, that includes both a photo ID as well as an address on those cards. Also, there is the Canadian passport, a birth certificate, and a label on a prescription container.
It has been mentioned before that perhaps those living in a retirement home or a long-term care home may have a challenge finding identification. However, I would challenge anyone to show me a senior who may be living in a long-term care home who does not have perhaps a pill bottle or prescription that has his or her name and identification on it. Another case would be an identity bracelet issued by a hospital or long-term care facility. Also, one could use a credit card, debit card, or employee card.
The minister talked about students. Nearly every student in high school, college, trade school, or a university has a student card. Most students also have a bus pass or public transportation card. It is unfortunate that the Liberals got rid of the public transit tax credit but, nonetheless, most students do have a transit card, particularly if they do not have a driver's licence.
One could also use a licence or card issued for fishing, trapping, or hunting, one of the great pastimes in Canada. One could use a utility bill, whether that be for electricity, water, telecommunications, cable, or satellite. What is more, Elections Canada also accepts either e-statements or e-invoices for that type of ID. In a growing technological world, I know many of us receive our bills solely online, which is an acceptable form of ID.
One could use a personal cheque, a government statement of benefits, or an income tax assessment. All Canadians are required to file their taxes every year. April 30 was just upon us, and I am sure all Canadians remember that well, with the Liberal government in power.
One could use correspondence issued by a school, college, or university. Again, a student going to college or university in Canada would potentially have that letter. Barring that, it could be a letter of confirmation of residence from a place such as a student residence, for those attending university, or a seniors residence, a long-term care home, a shelter, or a soup kitchen, so that those who may not have a permanent fixed address would still have confirmation of their eligibility to vote.
There is also a third option, in which an oath can be taken to provide confirmation of one's address from someone within the same electoral district undertaking that confirmation.
Most Canadians would see these rules as reasonable and fair. The rules ensure that only those who are eligible electors vote, and that they vote in the correct riding. Canadians are rule-loving people. We respect the rules. When we are asked to prove that we are in fact legitimate voters within an electoral district in Canada, we are happy to do so.
This brings me to the government's decision to use the voter information card as identification. It is an information card, not an identification card, as is often said by members across the way. These are information cards because that is what they provide, information. It has been stated before that, in the 2015 election, 986,613 of these voter information cards had inaccurate information, were sent to the wrong address, or were not complete, yet the Liberals are okay with nearly a million voter information cards being used as identification.
Canadians know that things change. Addresses change, and the voters list is not always entirely up to date. Nonetheless, the Liberals are relying on that information to be used to confirm residence within a riding.
One of the challenges with using the voters list and the voter information cards is that much of this information comes from the Canada Revenue Agency. I will cite a couple of examples where the CRA has mistakenly declared people dead, yet this information is now being used to inform the voters list, and then the voter information card, which entitles people to vote.
I would draw the members' attention to an article from November 2017 in which a Scarborough woman was declared dead and her estate was sent her tax refund of nearly $2,800. Another example recently from CBC, in April 2018, talked about a Cape Breton man whose error on a tax return declared both him and his late wife dead, despite the fact that he never submitted a death certificate for himself. Again, this information is being used to inform the voter information cards, which the Liberals now want to use as a confirmation of an address.
The minister also said that the Liberals would be removing the voting restrictions for those living outside of Canada, removing the five-year limitation and the intent to return to Canada. There are two points on this matter. First, it might be reasonable for Canadians who want to see this country prosper and thrive to at least give an indication that at some point in the future they wish to return and live in this great country we call Canada.
Second, when we look at our Commonwealth cousins and the example of Commonwealth countries around the world, we see that they have similar provisions in place. In the United Kingdom, a national who leaves for more than 15 years is not eligible to vote in a national election. In Australia, the length of time is six years.
I want to talk briefly about foreign financing. The Liberal government tries to claim it is shutting the door on foreign financing, that it is blocking foreign influence in elections. What is actually happening is it is opening up a great big loophole that will allow foreign influence to funnel large amounts of money into U.S.-style super PACs to be distributed within Canada during an election campaign.
In a recent article, John Ivison writes:
In the last election, foreign money wielded by political advocacy groups targeted Conservative candidates—Leadnow claimed its 6,000 volunteers helped defeat 25 Tories.
Leadnow said no international money went towards the campaign. However, the New York-based Tides Foundation donated $795,300 to a B.C.-based non-profit called the Sisu Institute Society, which in turn donated to Leadnow.
Leadnow acknowledges Sisu contributed grants for its “other campaigns” but said the election campaign was funded entirely by Canadian sources. Yet, as Duff Conacher at Democracy Watch pointed out, this is nonsense. “Any grant frees up other money, if it’s all in one pot.”
There is nothing in the new bill to stop this from happening again.
Another example comes from our good friend Andrew Coyne, who wrote:
But let’s examine those much-hyped measures to “protect and defend” Canadian democracy. For example, we are told the bill will prohibit foreign entities “from spending any money to influence elections.” Wonderful, you say: how much were they allowed to spend until now? Er, $500.
But then, the real scandal, to borrow Michael Kinsley's phrase, is not what is illegal—direct foreign spending on Canadian elections—but what's legal: foreign money, by the millions, funneled through Canadian intermediaries, which pass it on to domestic advocacy groups to spend.
This is wrong, and Canadians understand that this is not the way that Canadian elections ought to be run. Creating loopholes that we could drive a Mack truck through, allowing foreign influence in Canadian elections, is wrong, and Canadians understand that. They understand that so much of what the Liberal government is doing in the bill is wrong. Canadians believe that voters should be required to prove their identity before they vote. Canadians believe that proper identification is necessary before they vote in an election. They believe that foreign influence in Canadian elections is wrong and that loopholes should not be allowed in the bill, as the Liberals have done.
Canadians also wonder about the lack of urgency of the Liberal government. We have known for a year and a half that we would need a Chief Electoral Officer, and yet the Liberals waited 18 months. They introduced Bill C-33 and let it languish on the Order Paper, and now, at a point in time when the Liberal government has been told directly by the Chief Electoral Officer that they do not have time to implement the changes, the Liberals are proposing to go ahead anyway with this information.
It is for this reason that I move:
That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “That” and substituting the following:
the House decline to give second reading to Bill C-76, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and other Acts and to make certain consequential amendments, since the Bill fails to address the high error rate in the National Register of Electors, and the high rate of erroneous Voter Identification Cards, reported at 986,613 instances in the 2015 election, and does nothing to deal with foreign interference in Canadian elections because the Bill proposes to double the total maximum third party spending amount allowed during the writ period and to continue to allow unlimited contributions in the period prior to the pre-writ period.