Mr. Speaker, I am very honoured to speak to Bill C-23. There has been a lot of misinformation on the subject, and I am happy to have the opportunity to clarify at least some of it, and clarify why our Conservative government is putting forward the fair elections act.
A system can never be perfect, but we can always work toward improving it one step at a time. This is the very reason why the government put forward the fair elections act. This bill is designed to protect the fairness of federal elections and to ensure that all citizens are in charge of our democracy. Democracy becomes susceptible to threat when the rules are not given the proper respect. Therefore, it is our duty as citizens, and as members of the House, to protect its integrity as that in itself protects our freedom to live in a democracy.
The fair elections act would strengthen democracy by making it harder for people to break the law. The act would implement 38 of the Chief Electoral Officer's past recommendations. The first of many changes would be the process in which the commissioner of Canada Elections is appointed. It would establish that the commissioner is to be appointed by the director of public prosecutions for a seven-year term and could not be dismissed without cause. The commissioner would have full independence, with control of his or her staff and investigations. The act would permit the commissioner to publicly disclose information about the investigations when it is in the public interest, which would improve transparency.
The act would add a section that deals with voter contact calling services. Among other things, this section would require that calling service providers and other interested parties file registration notices with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, provide identifying information to the commission, and keep copies of scripts and recordings used to make calls. It would become a requirement for the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission to establish and maintain a registry, to be known as the voter contact registry, in which the documents it receives in relation to voter contact calling services are to be filed.
The fair elections act would give law enforcement more tools to protect the integrity of our elections by allowing the commissioner to seek tougher penalties for existing offences. It is our full intention to not allow a fast and loose approach with the rules of democracy. For more serious offences, the bill would raise the maximum fine from $2,000 to $20,000 on summary convictions, and from $5,000 to $50,000 on indictment. For registered parties, it would raise the maximum fine from $25,000 to $50,000 on summary convictions for strict liability political financing offences, and from $25,000 to $100,000 on summary convictions for political financing offences that are committed intentionally. For third parties that are groups or corporations that failed to register as third parties, the bill would raise the maximum fine to $50,000 for strict liability offences, and to $100,000 for offences that are committed intentionally.
By establishing tougher penalties, our Conservative government would deter the occurrences of offences, intentional or unintentional.
To encourage voter turnout, the bill would make it easier for voters to participate in the democratic process. The fair elections act would provide an extra day of advance polling. The additional day of voting would take place on the eighth day before polling day, creating a block of four consecutive advance polling days. This amendment would surely make it easier for Canadians across the country to vote.
It would also improve transparency by allowing the establishment of an advisory committee of political parties to provide advice to the chief electoral officers on matters relating to elections and political financing. It would amend the act to provide for the appointment of field liaison officers based on merit, to provide support for the returning officers, and to provide a link between returning officers and the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer.
The fair elections act aims to respect democratic election results. There are occasions, and my colleague spoke to this before, when the Chief Electoral Officer disagreed with the elected MPs' election expense returns. When this occurs, the MP can no longer sit or vote in the House of Commons until the expense return is changed to the CEO's satisfaction. This prevents the democratically elected member of Parliament from representing his or her constituency. The fair election act would allow the MP to present the disputed case to the courts and to have a judge quickly rule on it before the CEO makes the suspension.
In Canada, we are seeing a trend where money from special interest can drown out the voices of everyday citizens. The fair elections act would let small donors contribute more to democracy and prevent illegal, big money from sneaking in the back door.
Although the fair elections act would allow small increases in spending limits, it would be done to ensure that parties have enough resources to increase their outreach efforts and help encourage voter turnout. At the same time, this bill would impose tougher audits and penalties to enforce those limits.
This bill would help ensure that voter fraud does not occur by strengthening the rules around voter identification. With respect to voter ID, the act would be amended to require the same voter identification for voting at the Office of the Return Officer in an elector's own riding as it requires for voting at ordinary polls. It would also prohibit the use of voter information cards as a proof of identity.
It would eliminate the ability of an elector to prove their identity through vouching, and require an elector whose name was crossed off electors' lists in error to take a written oath before receiving a ballot. I want to explain why this is important. With a democracy comes responsibility. As a voter, I am responsible for providing proper identification so that I can participate in the democratic process.
Voting is one of the most important privileges and duties that we get to enjoy, so it is extremely important that we do not treat it lightly, that we take it seriously and meet all of the requirements.
Members of all parties have noted that the rules can be unclear. It is our intention that the fair elections act would fix that identified problem by making rules for elections clear, predictable, and easy to follow. These are a few changes that are proposed in our bill. I believe that the fair elections act would protect the integrity of fair elections by improving transparency and enacting tougher penalities for rule breakers.
What our government understands is that Canadians overwhelmingly support this bill. As was mentioned before, 87% of people polled believe it is reasonable to require someone to prove their identity and address before they vote.
In conclusion, I would like to ask all members of this House to support the bill in order to bring democracy in this country to a higher level.