Mr. Speaker, I want to give special thanks to my colleagues from Hamilton Centre and Toronto—Danforth for their exceptional work on this file since the very beginning. They are really committed to upholding the integrity of our elections and of our democracy.
Because of their relentless work and the continuing pressure they have put on the government, I think that we really have succeeded in making the government retreat on some of the really harmful aspects in this file. Therefore, I really have to thank them. Each time they get involved, they give me hope for our country and for our political system.
I would like to revisit the question that my colleague raised earlier by making some additional comments about the various aspects of the process established for Bill C-23.
First of all, I was here yesterday making a speech that was unfortunately very similar when we were studying Bill C-23 at report stage. I made additional comments on the process in general. I also made a short historical presentation about the way in which Bill C-23 had been introduced.
Today, I would like to speak a little more specifically about incidents that occurred in committee and about amendments that were rejected. In my view, this is a problem and it shows how unhealthy it can be for the majority party to decide to govern while listening to no one other than its friends in a corner, and while covering their ears and governing like despots.
The Conservatives keep repeating ad nauseam that 70 witnesses testified in committee, that the committee sat for 30 hours and therefore the bill has been thoroughly studied. They wonder why the opposition is complaining. It is outrageous. I sat on that committee for all those hours and, really, one witness after another told us about the huge problems that had to be completely eliminated from the bill and that we should go back to the legislation as it was previously. The testimony kept coming and coming. Not one single Conservative ever said that the testimony was interesting, that they had not looked at things that way or that things could perhaps be improved. Never. They did not budge and kept clinging to their positions.
Some witnesses, like the aboriginal women's groups, were treated with all but contempt. They were not listened to at all and they were told, in a truly paternalistic tone of voice, that everything would be explained to them and then they would understand. Watching what was going on, I was ashamed to be sitting there as part of that process. It was shocking.
At the end of the day, after starting the clause-by-clause consideration, we only got through half of the amendments, as my colleague mentioned. As for the bill itself, we only got to page 44, out of 250 or so pages. Does that make sense as a process for changing our electoral law?
That represents barely one-fifth of one of the most important bills for our democracy. However, we were told that we had studied it enough and that it would suffice. Debate was ended because the Conservatives no longer want to listen to us. In my opinion, that is a major problem.
Today, I will speak more specifically about different things that happened in committee. One of the most contentious aspects of the bill concerns all the changes made to section 18, which deals with the powers of Elections Canada. With Bill C-23, the Conservatives tried to completely muzzle Elections Canada and the Chief Electoral Officer by preventing them from communicating anything other than basic information, such as the location of polling stations, how to vote and the people eligible to vote. Elections Canada would no longer be able to communicate anything more than this basic information to the public.
Many people told us that it made no sense and that this had never happened before in any democracy on the planet.
In the long run, with all the people who protested, we managed to get the government to back down. However, what concessions did they make? It is important to have a good understanding of what the Conservatives changed. Now, Elections Canada's advertising messages can address only those topics. The bill deals with advertising messages, which means that it does not limit other forms of communication too much. The Chief Electoral Officer can therefore hold a press conference about a subject and so on. That is not so bad. We like the existing version of the Canada Elections Act the best, but if we have to choose between the first version of Bill C-23 and the amended version, we will take the amended version.
There is more to it than that, though. Now it says that the Chief Electoral Officer can deliver programs to promote democracy to primary and secondary school students. Why that, specifically? Four times in committee, I asked my colleagues if that meant there could no longer be any programs to promote democracy to university students. Did it mean there could no longer be programs to promote democracy to aboriginal people or any other target group that Elections Canada thinks might benefit? I did not get an answer. I really tried because I wanted to know. Maybe that is not the case. The way I read it, I get the impression that it cannot do anything else, but I just want someone to tell me I have got it wrong. That would be fine by me because I would rather see programs like that. Still, the way it is written right now, I honestly do not think that Elections Canada will be able to deliver programs like that to other target groups.
I found something else in here that is absolutely ridiculous. The government says that people can no longer use a voter information card to identify themselves and provide their address when they get to the polling station. We fought to keep that. We had excellent arguments in favour of it. We tried everything we could think of and presented every possible amendment to keep that card, but in the end, we had to give up because the Conservatives had made up their minds to get rid of that use of the card. Instead, we tried to mitigate the damage.
For all those who take it for granted that they can vote using that card, why not include an amendment to tell the Chief Electoral Officer and Elections Canada to write a message in big, highly visible letters on the voter information card that the card cannot be used as a form of identification when a person goes to vote? It is quite simple, really. All we want to do is avoid confusion. Many people show up to vote with their card and another piece of ID. Then they find out that that is not enough, and they are told they cannot vote. These are people who might have taken their lunch break during work to go vote, or maybe they live far from their polling station. Who knows—there can be any number of scenarios. I think that a lot of people will show up not knowing that. They will end up going home and will likely not go back to the polling station to vote.
I do not understand the logic behind that. I cannot come up with a single reason why the government would refuse to agree to write that visibly on the card. I cannot think of a single reason. I asked the question again in committee. I asked why the government would refuse to provide these people with a clear notification. The only explanation I can come up with is that the government wants to suppress the vote. I see no other explanation. I have looked for, asked for, and tried to get answers. At the end of the day, that is all I can come up with.
Finally, as my colleague mentioned during his questions and answers earlier, everything having to do with the registry of the companies that are going to contact the voters is generally good. It is better than nothing. However, as many witnesses in the know pointed out, this will not be very useful because the companies will not have to keep a list of the phone numbers that were contacted or a recording of the phone calls. It would be quite easy to do. They could start immediately with no problem at all, but no. We are going to be left with a registry that will keep the data for an insufficient amount of time, without the phone numbers, without the scripts, and without the information needed to make it truly useful in fighting electoral fraud.
Bill C-23 is truly a missed opportunity to reform our electoral law in an intelligent and consensual way that is respectful of our Canadian democracy. It is too bad.