Mr. Speaker, I am happy to rise this afternoon to speak to Bill C-76, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act. Since elections are at the heart of our democracy, this is clearly an important bill for debate in this House.
The bill is a belated response to the Liberals' election promise to reverse some of the egregiously anti-democratic aspects of the Conservative government's so-called Fair Elections Act of 2014. I say “belated” because the acting Chief Electoral Officer gave the government a deadline of the end of April for any election reform legislation if changes were to be made in time to be implemented before the October 2019 election. That deadline was for passing legislation, not for introducing it, so we have clearly missed the boat there.
Speaking of delays, it has taken the government two years to name an official Chief Electoral Officer. Since it is such an important position, one would think the government would make that a high priority.
This bill is another in a series of very large bills that the current government has tabled. At 230 pages, it is very much an omnibus bill. It absorbs Bill C-33, which was tabled 18 months ago and never acted on. Even the minister who tabled it seems to be unclear as to what is in it. It is ironic that the Liberals complained about the Fair Elections Act from the previous Conservative government and its propensity for omnibus legislation, when here they are doing the same thing.
Now I would like to touch on some of the provisions included in Bill C-76.
It limits the writ period of an election to 50 days, thus eliminating the chance for another marathon election campaign of more than 70 days, such as that which we were subjected to in 2015. That is great news. I would like to thank the member for Cowichan—Malahat—Langford for suggesting this to the government in the form of his private member's bill.
Canada is far behind other countries in gender equity, and it is past the time when we should be taking concrete steps to improve this situation. The bill allows candidates to report child care expenses, but it falls short of promises to allow more candidates from equity-seeking groups to take part in our elections. The member for Burnaby South put forward his private member’s bill, Bill C-237, which would have strongly encouraged parties to increase the proportion of female candidates in future elections. Unfortunately, the government voted that bill down and failed to include its provisions in this bill.
I have been to many schools to talk about government and the electoral process, as I am sure many members here have, and I have always been impressed by the keen interest of many young people in civics. The questions I get at school talks are often much more informed than those that I get at open town halls. Therefore, I am happy to see that two parts of this bill encourage young people to get informed and to get involved in the electoral process. First, Bill C-76 would allow the registration of future electors between the ages of 14 and 17. This simple act has been shown in other jurisdictions to increase the proportion of young people who vote after they turn 18. That would be a good thing, since young people do not generally vote at the same rate as older adults. Second, the bill removes the ban on public education programs conducted by the Chief Electoral Officer through Elections Canada. Why this ban was put in place in the so-called Fair Elections Act is beyond me. However, I welcome the opportunity for Elections Canada to inform and educate Canadians on our electoral process.
Bill C-76 also brings back the process of vouching to allow electors without proper ID to vote, as well as allowing the use of the voter ID card for the same purpose. These were disallowed under the Fair Elections Act in an effort to solve a non-existent problem of voter fraud—of which there are vanishingly few, if any, examples—by creating a much more serious problem that inhibited Canadians, particularly disadvantaged citizens, from voting at all. We should be encouraging all Canadians to vote, and this will be a step in the right direction at last.
Also included in the bill are provisions to allow more expatriate Canadians to vote, effectively doubling that number. I think this is a very welcome addition.
While the bill institutes some rules around third party activity during elections, it does allow spending of up to $1 million in the pre-writ period for third parties, which is hardly a restriction, considering that parties are allowed only $1.5 million. As well, there is no limit on how much individuals can donate to third parties involved in election campaigns. If we want to get big money out of our election campaigns, this is not the way to do it.
I want to talk a bit now about the big thing missing from this bill, the elephant in the room, or maybe it is the elephant that is not in the room. Of course I am talking about real electoral reform. The Liberals, the NDP, and the Green Party all campaigned on a promise that 2015 would be the last federal election run under the first-past-the-post system. Over 60% of Canadian voters supported this idea. For many Canadians, it was the most important promise made in that election campaign. Canadians were tired of elections that gave parties with less than 40% of the vote 100% of the power under majority governments. The Harper government was an example and the present Liberal government is another, so creating a new system was very popular.
Unfortunately, once the Liberals were in power, they forgot about that promise. They created a committee that travelled the country and worked very hard to hear from as many Canadians as possible. The committee heard from electoral experts from around the world on best practices from other countries. The committee tabled a report calling on the government to create a proportional representation system after consulting Canadians with a referendum. The Minister of Democratic Institutions asked all MPs to go back to their ridings and hold town halls to hear what their constituents had to say on the subject. We in the NDP caucus took that request seriously and did just that. We not only held town halls but also handed out questionnaires at the meetings to tally the preferences of the attendees. I sent similar questionnaires to every household in my riding.
We found that over 80% of respondents from across the country preferred a proportional representation system. Unfortunately, the Prime Minister did not like that answer. He did not like the committee's recommendations and announced that he was going to break his promise on electoral reform. The Minister of Democratic Institutions even insulted the committee by saying it did not do the hard work expected of it. The Liberals say they want to increase the participation of Canadians in the electoral process and that Bill C-76 is their answer to this, but the incredible cynicism of their lack of action on real electoral reform has already had a negative effect on how Canadians feel about their elected representatives and whether it is even worth voting in the next election.
I was talking on the phone with a constituent a while ago on a separate issue, and at the end of the conversation, she said how nice it was that the MP was calling her directly. She told of how she and her husband engaged their children in the election campaign of 2015. They listened as a family to the debates, they read the campaign platforms, and in the end the parents asked their children who they should vote for. She did not say who they decided to vote for, but she did say that electoral reform was the issue that the children felt was the most important to them. They wanted every vote to count and were devastated when the Prime Minister went back on his solemn election promise. She even worries that their children might never vote when they are old enough. That was exactly the opposite effect that she and her husband were hoping for when they got them involved in the discussion.
I will close by saying that I support many of the reforms contained in Bill C-76, but it falls short in so many other ways: in its size, in the short amount of time we have had to debate it, and above all in the complete lack of real reform. Let us get rid of big money in elections and get back on track to getting rid of first past the post so that every vote will count.