House of Commons Hansard #298 of the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was chair.

Topics

Procedure and House AffairsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:50 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Procedure and House AffairsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Procedure and House AffairsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:50 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Procedure and House AffairsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

(Motion agreed to)

The House resumed consideration of the motion that C-76, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act and other acts and to make certain consequential amendments, be read the second time and referred to a committee, and of the amendment.

Elections Modernization ActGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

Julie Dabrusin Liberal Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today to speak to Bill C-76, the elections modernization act.

In my own family, one of the things I have always placed a lot of importance on is to take my children to the voting booth with me when voting, and to keep emphasizing the importance of people being involved in the electoral process and getting out to vote. This bill goes to that very point, so it speaks very strongly.

Among the bill's provisions are measures that affect the Commissioner of Canada Elections. The commissioner is a non-partisan official responsible for investigating potential electoral issues, such as voter fraud or financial irregularities. He or she is supported by an investigations directorate made up of investigators, lawyers, and communications and administrative personnel.

Our government made a commitment to Canadians in the last election to reverse the changes in the former Harper government's so-called Fair Elections Act that made it harder for Canadians to vote, or made it harder for our elections laws to be enforced. Bill C-76 delivers on that commitment.

When it is passed, this legislation would return the office of the commission to Elections Canada. This relationship would create several advantages for the commissioner. This change would help increase the independence of the commissioner from the government of the day. It would also help ensure that the commissioner and the Chief Electoral Officer are better coordinated in enforcing our election laws. Not only does Bill C-76 deliver on this important election commitment, but it goes further in providing new tools and powers to the commissioner.

Currently, the staff of Elections Canada are ineligible for consideration for appointment as commissioner. Elections Canada offers an obvious recruiting ground for personnel who are very familiar with the issues that arise in our democracy. Bill C-76 would restore Elections Canada's status as a source of candidate recruitment.

At the same time, however, I would emphasize that it is also important that the Commissioner of Canada Elections be independent, not only from the government of the day, but also from the Chief Electoral Officer. The bill before us adds an explicit statement that the commissioner's investigations occur independently of the Chief Electoral Officer. The bill also explicitly authorizes the commissioner to independently publish an annual report.

Under the bill before us, rather than having to first obtain authorization from the director of public prosecutions, commissioners would be able to lay a charge of their own initiative. The police and almost all federal regulatory investigators have such a power. As with most federal offences, the investigator would be the one to lay the charge, and the director of public prosecutions would be the one to prosecute. Giving the commissioner the power to lay charges would reduce the likelihood that delays might detract from the effective enforcement of the Canada Elections Act. Such delays present risks that witnesses may not be available or that their memories may fade.

The bill before us also provides the commissioner with the power to compel witnesses to provide testimony. Most Canada Elections Act offences are effectively enforced without recourse to a power to compel testimony. However, there are exceptional cases, such as allegations of electoral fraud, where the commissioner may need to secure a court order to compel witness testimony because some electoral offences are extraordinary in nature and enforcement is time-sensitive. Safeguards such as protection against self-incrimination, a statutory recognition of the right to counsel, and a requirement for an examination to be conducted in private would help ensure compliance with the charter.

The Canada Elections Act, as it stands, provides almost exclusively criminal sanctions for contraventions of the act. This approach is costly, time-consuming, and procedurally onerous. As a result, violations of Canada's electoral law are often not being dealt with in an efficient and timely manner.

For example, the act stipulates that the official agent of an electoral district association must file information within 30 days following the election. Filing such a return just a few days after its due date is an offence under the act, despite the fact that neither the amount of harm caused, nor the degree of wrongdoing in such circumstances would be likely to make a criminal prosecution worthwhile. As a result, such minor contraventions of the act may not be acted upon, or there may be a delayed response to them.

Administrative monetary penalties, or AMPs, would give the commissioner the option to enforce the act through penalties that would more suitably match the infraction. The AMP could be increased if the offence is repeated or is of a continuing nature. The bill would also allow the commissioner to enter into compliance agreements with entities such as political parties or municipalities instead of with persons only, as is currently the case. It would also broaden the terms and conditions that may be negotiated, thus lending further flexibility and effectiveness to the commissioner's use of this important compliance tool. I would point out that a number of these changes have been called for by the current commissioner himself, as well as by the Chief Electoral Officer.

I have been dealing with the proposed changes to the authorities assigned to the Commissioner of Canada Elections, but let me turn briefly to some of the measures in the bill that would affect Elections Canada.

In his report on the 42nd general election, the Chief Electoral Officer proposed changes to political finances that would streamline reporting and harmonize rules among the various political entities. Further, this bill would deliver on the Minister of Democratic Institutions' mandate commitment to review the spending limits on political parties and third parties. Our government is proposing a new regime to bring transparency and fairness to spending, not just during the electoral period but also in the run-up to the election.

Bill C-76 would deliver on our government's commitment to protect, strengthen, and improve our democratic institutions. It would deliver on important election commitments made by our government. Bill C-76 would also go further in providing Elections Canada and the Commissioner of Canada Elections with new powers and tools to better enforce our rules.

Modernizing our elections should be a priority for all members and I hope they support this legislation. I know it is an important issue for so many people in our communities and that it is so important that we maintain the integrity of the way our elections are held.

I am very pleased to have had this opportunity to speak in support of Bill C-76 and in favour of modernizing our Elections Act. This is an important step for all of us and I know that members will be in favour of it, because it is important to many of us that we maintain a system of integrity, create opportunity for people to vote, and bring down some of the barriers put in place and hindrances created by the previous government. We need to encourage people to get out to vote. Rather than trying to suppress voting, we need to make sure that people have these opportunities and use them. I have been very pleased to speak in favour of this bill.

Elections Modernization ActGovernment Orders

Noon

Conservative

Alupa Clarke Conservative Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for her speech, but I think she is mistaken and has some philosophical conflicts. She talked about the integrity of the voting system, but the main goal of this bill is to permit voting by people who have no identification, but only the identification cards given by Elections Canada. The main goal of this bill is not the integrity of the action of voting, or which government is chosen by the people. The goal is to permit people to vote without government identification. This in itself bears with it the great danger of disrupting the integrity of the voting system.

How can the member address the House and talk about the integrity of the voting system when one of the major changes this bill would bring to that system would be very dangerous to its integrity?

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Noon

Liberal

Julie Dabrusin Liberal Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, when I was speaking about maintaining the integrity of our system and encouraging people to vote, I was talking about how this bill actually reaches out to people to make sure they will feel safe within the electoral system. For example, there is a provision for electors in danger. The act would be clarified to specify that electors who have a reasonable apprehension of bodily harm may use an alternative address for both their place of ordinary residence and mailing address so they can feel safe when they go to vote and do not avoid voting because they feel they are in danger. I am talking about making sure that we have advance polls that are open for a number of days so that people do not have to miss work or run into difficulties of that sort. I am talking about making sure that our elections are held in a restricted period of time. There is much that can be done and much that would be done by this act to improve the integrity—

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Noon

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

The hon. member for Cowichan—Malahat—Langford.

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Noon

NDP

Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to ask the member for Toronto—Danforth about some of the opportunities this bill has missed. I am thinking specifically of a move toward a per-vote subsidy, because if we look at the tax dollars already expended during our elections, people get generous tax credits for the donations they make to political parties. I know that registered political parties are also reimbursed for 60% of their eligible expenses. Therefore, taxpayer dollars are already funding political parties to a fairly large extent. However, if I look at the constituent base in my own riding, and indeed across Canada, there are many people who cannot afford to make massive donations. Maybe this could be an opportunity to give recognition to their voices on an equal footing to those who can afford to donate $1,500 per year to a political party.

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Noon

Liberal

Julie Dabrusin Liberal Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, it would be mistaken to believe that the only way people can have their voices heard within the political and electoral system is through financing. We need to emphasize all of the ways that people can get involved in the political process, and to ensure that their voices are heard. When we keep focusing on dollar amounts, we are misreading the situation and not allowing people to understand all of the opportunities they have and should take advantage of to make sure they are heard by their candidates and the people running in elections. They do have those opportunities.

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12:05 p.m.

Whitby Ontario

Liberal

Celina Caesar-Chavannes LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Development

Mr. Speaker, we have heard that diversity is our strength. I honestly believe that strength comes when we choose to be inclusive. I am proud of this piece of legislation for a number of reasons. The first is that it will delete references to the sex of individuals who choose to not disclose it. It will engage young people, like members of the Whitby Federal Youth Council and many students in the high schools across Whitby, to become involved in the voting process. Also, there is vouching, increased access for those with disabilities, and increased civic engagement.

We know that 80% of this bill is based on recommendations by the Chief Electoral Officer. I look forward to its passing this House, because it does involve inclusivity in our most basic and fundamental forms of our democracy.

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12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Julie Dabrusin Liberal Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my friend for her comments because she is exactly correct. It brings me back to something I was talking about earlier, the integrity of our system. We need to make sure that people's voices are heard and that people are included. The inclusivity in this piece of legislation is a result of its taking into account people who might have different challenges. In particular, I thank my friend for raising the fact that a person's sex will not be recorded. These are important things that make people feel they are not included and not to want to participate in the system. What would make this place a better place is to have more people involved, more people's voices heard, and more diversity, frankly, within this place.

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12:05 p.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Beauport—Limoilou.

The right to vote is central to our democracy. For Canada's democratic system to be upheld, every Canadian citizen over the age of 18 must be granted fair and equal access to the voting process. In fact, this is such a vital component of Canada's DNA that it is actually in our Constitution under “Democratic Rights”, where it reads, “Every citizen of Canada has the right to vote in an election of members of the House of Commons or of a legislative assembly...and to be qualified for membership therein.”

Conservatives believe that the vote of each and every Canadian matters. For this reason, I would like to give honourable mention to one aspect of Bill C-76 that is worth recognizing and appears to be well intentioned. That is the measures it includes to accommodate persons living with a disability. It is right to facilitate these individuals' participation in Canada's democratic process and should be acknowledged.

Nevertheless, I have significant concerns about the remainder of this bill. Today, I will draw attention to two of those concerns in particular.

I am proud of our previous Conservative government and the incredible work we did with the Fair Elections Act in 2014. That legislation worked to uphold our democratic right to vote while also protecting this country against voter fraud. In contrast, the bill before the House today, Bill C-76, would do a great deal to move us in the opposite direction. While the Fair Elections Act strengthened Canada's democratic system, the bill we are talking about today would weaken it. Mainly, Bill C-76 would make it incredibly easy for an individual to use a false identification to vote.

As much as we need to ensure that all Canadian citizens have equal access to voting, we also need to ensure that they cast only one ballot, that they are citizens, and that they are over the age of 18. When individuals vote in the wrong riding or vote more than once or vote under a false identity, a crime is committed and our entire system is undermined. Unfortunately, instead of working to prevent such voter fraud, an objective that I am certain all of us in this Parliament, and indeed all Canadians, would stand behind, Bill C-76 would open up increased opportunities for voter fraud to be committed. Under the current system, voters are required to provide a piece of identification with their name and current mailing address on it be able to cast a ballot. This way, Elections Canada can verify that voters are who they say they are and can protect the integrity of our electoral system.

Bill C-76 would amend Canada's current voter identification rules. Specifically, it would eliminate the requirement to show an identification card, making it acceptable to simply produce a voter information card received in the mail. The problem is that the voter information card does not actually identify the individual who holds it; it is simply a card that got sent sent to an address. Any individual could take it out of a mailbox and bring it to the polling station. For voting purposes, then, the card is not suitable identification.

That the government wants to allow the cards to be used for identification is of course problematic. According to Elections Canada, the cards have an error rate of about 16%, which means that in the last election nearly one million Canadians received a card that was wrong in some fashion. Either it had a name illegitimately attached to an address or an address illegitimately attached to a name, or it was sent to someone who was not even a Canadian citizen or to someone who was not over the age of 18. All of these problems must be addressed within our voting system. However, the government has decided to make it easier for this fraudulent conduct to take place. This means that people under the age of 18 and those who are not even citizens might vote. An individual who receives a voter identification card in the mail with Susy Smith's name on it when she is Samantha Simons can just take the card and go to the polls and vote under a false identity. It is not difficult to see the problems within this.

The current Liberal government would have Canadians believe that it is difficult to obtain ID, but that is just not true. The Liberals make it seem like the current system is unnecessarily burdensome, but in reality the broad range of already accepted ID documents makes it possible for every single eligible Canadian to vote. If a person needs to show legal identification to get on a plane to fly somewhere or to buy a case of beer or a pack of cigarettes, it should be that much more important for them to show proper identification to cast a ballot and participate in Canada's democracy.

Under the Fair Elections Act, the previous Conservative government did its best to make the process as easy as possible, while protecting the integrity of Canada's electoral system.

Most people over the age of 18 may have a driver's licence, a provincial or territorial ID card, a passport, an Indian status card, a band card, a citizenship card, however, some people do not have these, and I will acknowledge that. People should not worry. Voters are able to bring in two separate pieces of ID as long as one has the voter's current mailing address. These IDs can range from a person's blood donor card, a hydro bill, a rental agreement, a credit card statement, a library card, a public transportation card, and the list goes on and on. However, maybe the voter still does not possess these. The good news is that there is a third option. Voters can bring in two pieces of identification and individuals who know them and are able to swear on their behalf that they are who they deem to be.

It is clear that we already have a system that allows every citizen who is of age and is a citizen of our country to vote. In fact, in 2015, under the new Fair Elections Act, we saw record turnout when it came to voter participation, one of the highest percentages in Canadian history. Knowing this, why would we then tamper with a system that has proven to be very effective in turning voters out to polls and encouraging their participation in democracy?

We all agree that it is irresponsible and imprudent to allow someone to board a plane or purchase alcohol or cigarettes without first presenting a valid piece of identification. After the 2015 election, the Prime Minister and the current government tried to change Canada's election laws to benefit the Liberal Party. It was the Canadian people who pushed back tremendously and stopped them. Now again we see the government trying to bend the arms of Canadians and push through legislation that is to the advantage of the Liberal Party and to the disadvantage of the Canadian public.

Our election process needs to be non-partisan. It needs to be separate from the whims of the governing party in order for a true democracy to remain in place. The integrity of the system should be protected at all costs. This means one person, one vote. Only those over the age of 18 and are valid citizens of our country should have the right and be granted the opportunity to cast a ballot. The bill that is being debated in the House calls into question whether this integrity will be protected.

The second issue I would draw attention to has to do with foreign interference. Beyond creating opportunity for voter fraud, the bill would allow for foreign interference in our elections. Today, more than any other time in recent history, it is important to be vigilant about protecting the independence and authenticity of our elections.

With allegations about foreign interference in Canada's 2015 election and the many problems we see taking place south of the border, it is absolutely vital to address concerns about foreign interference before going into the next election. We have yet to see the current government take any action on this.

The legislation would establish a new pre-pre-writ period; that is, the period before the period officially leading into the election. During this time, foreign contributions would be allowed. Bill C-76 would allow foreign money to be funnelled into Canada and then disseminated to numerous advocacy groups for the purpose of influencing the election outcome. Many allegations are still circulating from the last election.

The Tides Foundation, an organization based in San Francisco, is totally opposed to Canada's energy development. This organization funnelled $1.5 million to Canadian third parties in the last election year, and is currently under investigation by the Canada Revenue Agency.

The government should be doing all it can to protect Canada's elections from being hijacked by foreign investment groups. This means closing the loopholes. If the government were really concerned with the integrity of Canada's democratic system, it would go ahead and fix this problem. Instead the Prime Minister chooses to turn a blind eye. Meanwhile the election is only a year away.

Instead of making it more difficult for illegitimate votes to be cast and for our system to be illegitimately impacted, the government that is presently in power is actually facilitating these things and therefore compromising our electoral system.

It should be understood that Bill C-76 fails to protect every Canadian's right to cast a vote that is equal to all other votes and to do so in a system that is free from foreign interference. In short, the bill undermines Canada's democracy, and I will vote no.

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12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Mr. Speaker, I had the opportunity to listen to a number of Conservatives speak to the bill. One of the reoccurring themes that keeps coming up is the fact that voter turnout was so high in 2015. However, I would argue that perhaps it had less to do with the Fair Elections Act that came along previously and more to do with the actual election and the participants in that election. However, we can leave that to debate.

Another theme that continually comes up is about alcohol, cigarettes, and driving, how those things require proper identification and why voting should not require the same. When we talk about people buying alcohol, or cigarettes or driving a car, these privileges are afforded to them. However, the right to vote is a fundamental right of being a Canadian citizen, and that is what makes the difference.

How can the member not see that at the very basic core, we need to ensure that everybody has the opportunity to vote? Why should we not be encouraging people to vote? Does the member know of widespread situations where voter fraud has occurred, as she has described?

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12:15 p.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Mr. Speaker, when Bill C-76 came out just a few short weeks ago, if it has been that long actually, and the government has moved time allocation, forcing it through, individuals said publicly that in the last election they got the wrong cards. They could have taken it to the polls, used it in a fraudulent manner, and voted under names that were not theirs. Therefore, we know that these things take place. Elections Canada has said that 16% of these cards are in error. Nearly one million Canadians would have the ability to vote under a different name, or according to a different address or perhaps they are not even a citizen. In my riding, I heard of multiple situations where individuals, who may be permanent residents but not citizens, received voter cards.

It is not okay within Canada's democracy to encourage or allow these individuals to participate in our system. Citizenship matters. When we belong to a country, it means we uphold the rules of that land. It means that we are granted rights and privileges but also given responsibility. That responsibility is to get the proper identification, show up to the polls, and cast our ballots in a manner that is deserving of respect.

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12:15 p.m.

NDP

Karine Trudel NDP Jonquière, QC

Mr. Speaker, today, we are talking about a bill that was introduced at the eleventh hour. We had to wait until Elections Canada imposed a deadline. The government decided not to go ahead with the electoral reform and now we have before us today a bill that was introduced in the House at the last minute and now must be debated.

I would like to know what my colleague thinks about something that has continued to make the news recently, and that is the fact that Bill C-76 should include recourse against the collection of personal information by social networks, such as Facebook, and companies, such as Cambridge Analytica.

Does my colleague believe that Bill C-76 should contain those sorts of measures?

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12:20 p.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Mr. Speaker, the bill before the House today has to deal with protecting our electoral system or at least it should be about that. It should be about protecting the integrity of the Canadian electoral system. It should be about ensuring that my vote counts the same as John's, Michelle's, or any Canadian citizen who goes to the poll.

When we allow individuals to vote within our system, individuals who are not over the age of 18, who are not Canadian citizens or who vote according to an addresses that are not theirs, one vote can sometimes count as two. Individuals who are not meant to have a vote all of a sudden have a voice in our system. This then dilutes someone else's vote and voice within our parliamentary system. The bill is about that. It is about the attack on our parliamentary system, the attack on our democratic system, the attack on Canadians and what their votes counts for.

We should be doing everything we possibly can to ensure that the votes of the people within our country matter and are protected, and that the integrity of our system is upheld.

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12:20 p.m.

Conservative

Alupa Clarke Conservative Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak today as we get back to the House after a week in our ridings. Last week was very busy, I must say. I also want to take this opportunity to say hello to the many constituents of Beauport—Limoilou who, as always, are watching now on Facebook Live or who will be watching at a later time when the videos are posted on CPAC.

Today we are talking about democratic participation, which I find fascinating. If there is one thing that interests me most in life, it is democratic participation. This was the reason I got involved in politics. I urge Canadians to get involved. Last week I held the first-ever “Alupa à l'écoute!” public consultation in Beauport—Limoilou. I spent more than six hours listening to my constituents and answering their questions. Ultimately, my goal was to hear about the concerns, challenges, and difficulties they face in their day-to-day lives. The next consultation will be in Giffard on September 13, and the third will be in Beauport on November 17. For more information, people can call 418-663-2113. After these three public consultations, I will produce a report in the winter of 2019 and introduce a bill to address an issue that people face in their day-to-day lives. In those six hours last Thursday, I answered every question from around 40 constituents. I was very proud, because this kind of democratic accountability is absolutely essential. That actually ties into this bill.

Let us talk about participatory democracy. Once again, Bill C-76 is not all bad, but we expect that the Conservatives will vote against this bill for specific reasons. I did say “expect”, but that will depend on what happens in committee. My first impression is that this is another attempt by a government that brags about its international and national brilliance. Specifically, the Liberal government thinks it has a monopoly on being virtuous all the time. They want to sell to Canadians on the idea that with this bill they are again improving the accessibility of the electoral system and the eligibility to vote. A number of Liberal colleagues spoke in this place about the integrity of the system. With respect to Bill C-76, we feel that some of the amendments and new rules will directly or indirectly undermine Canada's electoral system.

My Liberal colleague, who as usual was fiery and spouted anti-Conservative rhetoric, said that voting is of course a fundamental right, but that it is also a privilege, as my colleague from Lethbridge stated. It is a privilege that requires a right and individual responsibility first and foremost. The laws that govern Elections Canada at present seek not just to foster participation, but also to ensure that this duty is carried out with integrity and responsibly. It is really a conflict between how to increase the public's participation and how to ensure that the right to vote remains a protected right.

The Liberal member for Willowdale spoke eloquently of the history of our great federation by talking about the changes in voting almost every decade; we went from suffrage on the basis of property ownership to popular ballot. We went from the popular ballot, just for men, to voting for women, thank God. It was Borden's Conservative government that gave women the right to vote. All the parties here, Canada's major governing parties, Liberal and Conservative, are always in favour of making voting more accessible.

We have some technical questions about the bill. That is unfortunate because, as my Liberal colleagues said, accessibility to the vote is a fundamental debate. Why did the Liberals move a time allocation motion a week ago? We were supposed to vote on time allocation today. Surely, the Liberals backed down after finding that they would look undemocratic by allocating only two or three hours of debate on such a fundamental issue.

In comparison, for Conservative Bill C-23, which dealt with Elections Canada and which was introduced during the 41st Parliament, we had four days of debate for a total of 14 hours, in addition to 23 meetings in committee, on this bill that was aimed at improving our electoral system. At this point, we have only had two hours of debate on Bill C-76.

As the NDP did, it is important to recall the concerns raised by the Chief Electoral Officer. He said that the government had previously tabled the amendments to Bill C-76 in Bill C-33, which died on the Order Paper. Actually, it did not exactly die on the Order Paper, because there was no prorogation, but it never got beyond first reading. The Chief Electoral Officer therefore told the government that it needed to get to work right away if it really wanted to make changes in time for the 2019 election. However, the government waited until the last second to make these changes, just days from the deadline set by the Chief Electoral Officer. Clearly, this is just another tactic to keep us from debating Bill C-76 properly.

Certain parts of this bill are fine, but what I find utterly astounding about it is that it proves that Mr. Harper was right back in 2015. The Liberals called us terrible, horrible partisans for announcing the election on July 1. However, the reason we did that was because Mr. Harper had noticed a problem. During the month of June 2015, unions, such as the FTQ in eastern Canada and other big unions in western Canada, which of course are free to protest, had spent tens of millions of dollars on partisan ads attacking the Canadian government in power at the time, which was a Conservative government. Since we could not respond to that situation because we were not in an election period, Mr. Harper, a man of unimpeachable integrity, decided to call an election so that we could respond using election expenses.

Throughout the campaign, the Liberals called us enemies of democracy who only cared about winning votes. In fact, they still say that about us today. However, by creating a pre-election period beginning on June 30 in Bill C-76, they are confirming, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Mr. Harper was right to do the same thing four years ago. That is a tribute to our former prime minister.

What exactly would Bill C-76 do? It would expand voter eligibility. Apparently this bill would prepare future voters by creating a register of young people aged 14 to 17 so that Elections Canada can start communicating with them. That seems kind of strange to me because that is when young people are most likely going to CEGEP or community college and living in apartments with two or three roommates. I do not really know how that communication is supposed to happen considering that young people today use their phones and social networks such as Facebook to communicate.

My Liberal colleague said that Liberals support enfranchisement, but giving kids the right to vote is something else entirely. He said that voting is a basic right, but that there is discrimination inherent in our system because Canadian citizens under the age of 18 do not have the right to vote. Voting is not in fact a privilege and a basic right granted to everyone. There are limits, and we can all agree that those limits are good for democracy and the duty to vote because people under the age of 18 have to go to school and do their homework. I strongly agree with that. If they are not in school, they should at least be working or travelling around the world and around Canada without asking anyone for money. I can say for sure that, up to age 18, people should be preparing to exercise their civic duty. That is why people cannot vote until they turn 18. It is not in fact an absolute right for everyone. There is already some discrimination inherent in the right to vote in Canada.

Then there are three pre-election periods. I have already mentioned the pre-election period, so let us talk about the “pre-pre-election” period. There is already a problem with this one, since there will be no constraints on the financial commitments of domestic and international third parties.

Until June 30, we know very well that all the international environmental groups, who like to see the Prime Minister contemplating the death of the oil sands, will spend millions of dollars to promote the end of natural and energy resources in Canada, which is very bad news. Natural resources represent 40% of the Canadian economy. We are in an energy transition. The systematic blindness on the part of the Marxist left and the centrist left in Canada is astounding. We are always being told that we are not making any effort on the environmental front. Since 1960, the environment has been systematically and continuously improved. Let us also not forget that this 40% of the Canadian economy is used to fund hospitals, education programs and our elections, which still cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

They also want an extended period of advance polling, which is very good. I won because of advance polling, so it is a very good idea. Joking aside, it is a good thing.

With regard to limiting the election campaign to 50 days, we could also ask why 50 days and not 37.

The Liberals want to change the requirement of having identification with an address and photo. It will be terrible. I go door to door every month in my riding—

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12:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

The member's time has expired.

The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Development.

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12:30 p.m.

Whitby Ontario

Liberal

Celina Caesar-Chavannes LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Development

Mr. Speaker, we have heard from the opposition that there will be fraud with the voter information card. The last speech was fraught with fear and cynicism.

I am going to read a couple of quotes from experts. The first is from a political science professor at Carleton University, who stated:

There's been very little evidence to show that there has been fraudulent voting—double voting or impersonation by people [through] misuse of the card.

Marc Mayrand, chief electoral officer from 2007 to 2016, stated:

After elections, officials go over the records to single out any instances of repeat or ineligible voting. Very rarely has that led to criminal prosecution.

Finally, Richard Johnston, Canada research chair at the University of British Columbia, said that claiming the information card opens the door to fraud is “just blatantly manipulative”.

What does my hon. colleague say to members of his community who feel disenfranchised and who would like to use the voter information card to be part of our democratic process?

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12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Alupa Clarke Conservative Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, that is a good question.

I held a town hall last week and I go door-knocking every month. I have knocked on 35,000 doors. In all honesty, no one has ever brought up the potential problem of not having an ID card to vote. We need an ID card for many things in our society. We are talking about the vote that will determine the next Canadian government. In 2015, 16% of the cards we got from Elections Canada had significant errors. What is more, it is very easy to get a voter card.

Sometimes in community buildings with 160 dwellings the mail room can be a bit of a mess. Mailboxes overflow with paper and anyone can grab an Elections Canada voter card and go to a polling station and vote. We are simply asking the Liberals to ensure that the right to vote is not just a game where anything goes. It has to be reasonably protected and ensured.

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12:35 p.m.

Gatineau Québec

Liberal

Steven MacKinnon LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Services and Procurement

Mr. Speaker, it is very hard to hide and the party across the way is doing a poor job of it. In fact, they are imitating what the Republicans are doing in the United States. In other words, they are trying to limit voter turnout any way they can. It is common knowledge in the United States that the Republicans want low voter turnout in some places in order to increase their chances of winning the election. That was the goal of the Conservatives' so-called electoral reform during the last Parliament. That is what we are seeking to correct. The bill contains 85% of the suggestions made by Elections Canada in order to increase voter turnout in Canada. That party is trying to suppress votes. It wants to take away Canadians' right to vote.

What does my hon. colleague have to say about that?

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12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Alupa Clarke Conservative Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Incredibly, Mr. Speaker, the parliamentary secretary is telling Canadians that the objective of 99 MPs is to suppress the vote of Canadians; he is also responsible for the Phoenix file, and we all know how that is going. He should be ashamed to say that about 99 MPs who represent nine million people. He rose in the House and dared to say that 99 Canadian MPs want to suppress the vote. That is terrible and nothing but rhetoric.

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12:35 p.m.

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Mr. Speaker, today I will be splitting my time with the member for West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, the very dynamic Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade, who does a wonderful job advocating for her constituents.

We tend to take democracy for granted and in some way I suppose this is understandable when one is born into one of the best democracies in the world, Canada's. When one is born into a democracy or relative prosperity, it is not always easy to imagine there was a time when things were not as good, or there are places in the world that have not achieved this level of democracy or prosperity. In this regard, sometimes it is new Canadians, refugees especially, who remind us that there are places in the world where there is no democracy, where there are strong-arm dictators, where there are no rights, and where there is corruption. Sometimes we forget that when we debate in the House. We do not realize there are places where there are real democratic problems.

We live here, in Canada, the best democracy in the world. It is a highly evolved democracy, one based on respect for individual rights and freedoms. However, it is flexible enough to also recognize and respect the rights and interests of communities, in particular official language minority communities.

That said, we must respond to any attempt to weaken the underlying principles that support our great democracy. That is the objective in part of this bill, which would reverse certain measures previously implemented in an attempt to suppress Canadians' right to vote. Bill C-76 would also establish measures to strengthen the foundation of our democratic system by also fostering a higher participation rate in federal elections through education programs and the registration on the voter list of youth from the age of 14, even before they have the right to vote. We want to give them the opportunity to get on the voter list in advance.

Voting is a hard-earned right, something we must encourage in order to have a better and stronger democracy, a democracy where government decisions reflect the will of the largest number of people, and not of special interests. Voter suppression does not serve the democratic interest, obviously.

What would Bill C-76 do? It would do a number of things to improve our democracy. Let us start with the fact it would limit the length of elections.

As we know, 2015 will go down in history as the longest campaign ever. Ironically, the previous government brought in fixed-election dates purportedly to prevent governments from using election timing for partisan advantage, but then it broke the spirit of that legislation by calling an election in 2008, long before the fixed date and without real reason.

Bill C-76 tries to prevent governments from using their position and their insider information to manipulate the electoral process to their advantage, to create campaigns that last 60 or 90 days for partisan reasons.

I heard the hon. member say that the timing of the election by the former prime minister was done out of a great sense of fairness. That was not the case: there were strategies behind the timing of the dropping of that writ. Bill C-76 tries try to do away with this power that governments have to manipulate the length of an election for their own purposes.

Bill C-76 would also make important changes to spending limits. Our Canadian democracy, while resembling many advanced democracies, also has its own shadings, if I may say. Most Canadians believe that diversity, including diversity of opinion, is essential to a healthy democracy. This does not mean that some views will not win out in an electoral contest, but only that the electorate has a right to be exposed to a variety of ideas in order to have a broad choice of ideas that a majority of voters will judge most desirable, and thus merit implementation.

In Canada, we believe that measures to safeguard and promote diversity of opinion are essential to a well-functioning and healthy democracy.

Our neighbour to the south, the United States, has a different view of this, in a way. For example, the U.S. Supreme Court has taken the view that money is speech, and that those with more money have a bigger say, as it were. I refer to a court case in the United States in 1976, Buckley v. Valeo, where the majority ruled that spending limits during elections are unconstitutional because they contravene the first amendment right to freedom of speech.

In that decision, a minority view was expressed. Justice Byron White dissented in part and qualified election spending as “a mortal danger against which effective preventive and curative steps must be taken.”

Justice Byron's view is more in line with that of our own Supreme Court, which has taken the egalitarian or “level playing field” position when it comes to spending limits.

In 2004, for example, in the case of the Attorney General of Canada v. Stephen Joseph Harper, the court found that although spending limits, in that case third party spending limits, infringe on section 2(b) of the charter, the law was reasonable and justified under section 1. By a majority of six to three, the court ruled:

In the absence of spending limits, it is possible for the affluent or a number of persons pooling their resources and acting in concert to dominate the political discourse, depriving their opponents of a reasonable opportunity to speak and be heard, and undermining the voter’s ability to be adequately informed of all views.

We know, for example, that the fixed election date law that was brought in by the previous government had, in a sense, an unintended consequence. When we know when the election is going to be, spending can be ramped up. If candidates can afford it, they can ramp up spending well in advance of the date that the writ is to be dropped. We saw that happen in spades in the last Parliament. We saw the Conservative Party ramping up its partisan advertising long before the writ was dropped.

Bill C-76 is essentially trying to correct that unintended consequence of fixed election dates by making it illegal to engage in partisan advertising in the pre-election period, defined as beginning June 30 of the election year. To be more precise, it will be allowed but only to a maximum of $1.5 million.

This bill also encourages voting by allowing young people in Canada, those 14 and over, to register to vote when they turn 18. In other words, it encourages them to start thinking about voting long in advance.

I know we all visit classrooms, and we see that students are quite interested in what is going on in the political realm and the societal realm. This goes against the narrative we always hear about young people being disengaged from politics or being apathetic. When we go into classrooms, regardless of the party to which we belong, we all see that young people are indeed keenly interested. We owe it to the teachers in this country who take it upon themselves, either as part of a curriculum course or outside the constraints of the curriculum, to engage students about politics.

This bill will allow students to register, and will of course create discussion within classrooms. They will start thinking about who they might want to vote for, or which party they might want to vote for. As has been said many times in this House, once somebody votes, especially at a young age, they are more likely to continue voting throughout their lifetime. This particular measure in the bill will encourage first-time voting for young people. This is another very good aspect of the bill.

I will leave it at that for now. I look forward to any questions my colleagues might have.