Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today because I want to help protect something that is very precious to Canadians: our democracy.
The motion moved by the member for Hamilton Centre is a reasonable response to the Conservatives' misguided efforts with respect to democracy. As my colleague from Sherbrooke said earlier, this is electoral “deformation”.
What we are asking for is not complicated. We want Canadians and stakeholder groups to have a chance to express their views on these significant changes to our election legislation. When I say Canadians and stakeholder groups, I mean Elections Canada, the minister, of course, first nations, anti-poverty groups, people with disabilities, youth and students from all parts of the country, urban, rural and remote alike.
The committee has to travel. It cannot stay here in the ivory tower in Ottawa. No one can deny that Ottawa is an ivory tower. When we are here, we do not know what is going on in the rest of Canada.
Many committees travel in the course of their duties. Going to see people is essential. We have no choice. I do not see why the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs would not travel in this case. The government will say that it would be an expense, and I agree. However, some expenses are essential to democracy, and consulting the people is one such expense.
I think that, in devising this reform, the Conservatives did not pay much attention to people's reality. I think they could not care less. They are not spending money on the right things, if you ask me, and this is a serious threat to our democracy.
Since we are talking about democracy, I would like to take a little step back. The word “democracy” means “power to the people”. We all agree on that. I think the government is afraid of the people. The Conservatives are well aware that because they came up with such a bad bill, consulting people who are worried about this kind of reform might not go well. People would put the Conservatives in their place. That might be what happens.
I have not had the opportunity to speak to Bill C-23, the subject of our motion. I would like to provide a brief overview to illustrate how essential our motion is and how badly the government has botched this bill.
To start, this bill will strip Election Canada of its investigative powers. The Commissioner of Canada Elections will now be under the Director of Public Prosecutions. That would be like removing the RCMP's ability to investigate Criminal Code offences. It makes absolutely no sense. This is a serious change that will prove to be completely ineffective.
Furthermore, the government also wants to take away the Chief Electoral Officer's power to engage in public education, but public education is essential. This will in no way contribute to increasing voter turnout. The Chief Electoral Officer will not be able to talk to people about aspects of the electoral process or work to prevent electoral fraud. This is especially problematic.
The Chief Electoral Officer will also have to seek Treasury Board approval to hire experts. This is serious interference in the work of a senior official. That is not so unusual around here, as we know that the government enjoys that type of thing. However, this makes our electoral system less effective and again threatens our democracy.
The bill will also eliminate the ability of electors to prove their identity through vouching. This may seem minor, but it is a very serious issue. Some people will no longer be able to vote. Let us take for example an elderly woman who does not have a driver's licence and whose accounts are all in her husband's name. She will not be able to vote. Another example is a student who has a student card but does not have a driver's licence. That person will not be able to vote.
I would also like to add that voter information cards will no longer be able to be used as proof of identity. This creates the same problem.
The bill also increases the maximum threshold for individual donations from $1,200 to $1,500. This means that the electoral process would continue to favour people with money. Why are we doing this when Quebec did just the opposite? Quebec decreased the maximum amount of donations. I therefore do not see why we are doing the opposite. It does not make any sense.
The bill will also make it possible for candidates to contribute $5,000 to their own campaigns. I would like to give a very specific example. When I ran for my party, I had little to no money. If this bill had been in effect at that time, I could not have run for office and I would not be here right now. However, my constituents tell me that I am living up to their expectations. This bill would therefore rule out quality candidates who do not have the money to contribute to their campaign. Money is always being put first and foremost.
As I was saying earlier, many committees travel in the course of their duties and that is essential. I do not see why committees should be prevented from going to consult with Canadians. I want to reiterate that I believe that the government is afraid of what might come out of those consultations. To reassure my colleagues, I would like to add that I often hold consultations in my riding on anything and everything. I like consulting my constituents and finding out what they think about many topics.
The government should start doing that because it is essential, particularly since this bill has a direct impact on various segments of the population that need to share their opinions. Consulting these people will only help us to do a better job, and of course, we should go to them rather than making them to come to Ottawa. It is really important.
As I was saying earlier, good things do not come cheap. We need to move forward and improve our electoral system. Electoral reform would be a good thing, of course, but not in this way. This is not the right approach. That is my opinion and that of all my colleagues here at this time. You cannot impose things on people in this way, by ramming them down their throats and telling them that this is how it will be from now on. We do not do that in our country. We have a democratic country that is a great place to live. We want to keep it that way. That is not what the government is doing at this time.
This government is jeopardizing a number of things, and that is very problematic. If the Conservatives were to accept this motion, it would be a good start, because consulting people and implementing real electoral reforms together with the people is a step in the right direction.