|| That a message be sent to the Senate to acquaint their Honours that this House agrees with amendments numbered 1 to 11 made by the Senate to Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Public Service Employment Act;
|| And that this House agrees with the principles set out in amendment 12 but would propose the following amendment:
|| Senate amendment 12 be amended as follows:
||(a) Replace line 23 with the following:
|| “17 to 19 and 34 come into force 10 months”
||(b) Add after line 31 the following:
|| “(3) Paragraphs 162(i.1) and (i.2) of the Canada Elections Act, as enacted by section 28, come into force six months after the day on which this Act receives royal assent unless, before that day, the Chief Electoral Officer publishes a notice in the Canada Gazette that the necessary preparations have been made for the bringing into operation of the provisions set out in the notice and that they may come into force on the day set out in the notice.”
He said: Mr. Speaker, it will surprise nobody that I take great pleasure in having the opportunity to speak to the matter of sending a message to the Senate, but today it is to only send a message with regard to a bill to improve the integrity of the electoral process, Bill .
This bill is part of our agenda to strengthen accountability through democratic reform. While it is by no means headline grabbing, the bill proposes a host of necessary changes and timely operational improvements to the Canada Elections Act that many of us welcome. These are aimed at, among other things, reducing voter fraud, because whenever a person votes who should not, that act diminishes a legitimate vote that has been cast.
The genesis of the bill was the 13th report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs which was tabled in this place almost a year ago on June 22, 2006. Over the summer of 2006 the government studied the committee's recommendations and on October 24, 2006 implemented virtually all of them with the introduction of Bill . We have introduced this bill because we, along with the committee, want to ensure that the democratic process continues to hold the confidence of Canadians.
The procedure and House affairs committee reviewed Bill in detail and reported the bill back with some amendments. In the spirit of cooperation and compromise, the government agreed to those amendments that had been supported at committee by the Liberals and the Bloc Québécois in opposition, even though we had voted against those at committee.
There is a key amendment in them. The bulk of the debate when it came to the amendments was about whether or not to include the birthdates of electors on the voters lists that are distributed to political parties and not just those that Elections Canada officials have. As I said, in committee the Conservatives opposed it, but when it came to the House we felt on election legislation of this type it was important to maintain a spirit of non-partisan interest and support across parties, so we gave up our opposition at that point to support it through report stage and third reading and send it to the Senate.
Then, to our surprise, since this was an amendment advanced and promoted by the Liberal Party, the Liberal senators were aghast and horrified that had been included. They chose to return to the original Conservative Party position of not including birthdates. Irony has no bounds when it comes to the Senate and Liberal Senator George Baker actually praised the senators for amending the legislation to take out the birthdate provision because it could have increased identity theft and allowed telemarketers to prey on senior citizens. Then he had the temerity to say that without the Senate, we would have had a bill that would have been a disaster. I guess what he was saying was if it were not for the Liberal Party, we would have had a bill that would have been a disaster, and that comment was from a Liberal senator.
I find that amusing because now we are in the circumstance of undoing what the Liberals in the House encouraged us to do. We went along with it in the spirit of non-partisanship to a point where we are responding to these amendments dealing with the birthdate provision. As I said, when we did it in a non-partisan fashion it was to ensure the bill passed to maintain, when it comes to electoral provisions, the spirit of non-partisanship. The Senate obviously felt differently.
The Senate amendments go beyond that. There are five categories. The first category deals with amendments related to bingo cards, which is what they are called. They are a way of helping scrutineers know who has voted. The second category deals with the coming into force provisions of the act. The third category deals with casual election workers. The fourth category deals with the use of birthdates, which I spoke about already. The fifth category is regarding penalties for the misuse of voters lists. I will address each of these in turn. Before I do that, I will say that this government is proposing that the House accept nearly all of the Senate amendments. However, we are proposing a small change to one of the amendments relating to the coming into force of the bill.
First, there are the “bingo cards”. The first group of amendments makes technical changes to clause 28 in the bill, which provides for so-called “bingo-card” updating of lists of who has voted on polling day. Essentially, this provision allows lists of those who have voted to be given to candidates' representatives periodically on polling day.
These lists can be used by candidates to assist in getting out the vote among their supporters. Candidates and their supporters are already entitled to keep their own lists of who has voted, but this mechanism will make the process more efficient and reduce the burden on candidate representatives at the polls.
Quebec has had a similar system for quite some time, and the name “bingo cards“ comes from the forms used there for this purpose. These forms include numbers corresponding to electors registered in the polling division. These numbers can be easily checked off when someone votes. In this way, the forms resemble bingo cards.
The bingo card provision was not in the bill when it was introduced, but was added by opposition members of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs when they studied the bill. The government agreed to this amendment in the interests of passing the bill as a whole. The Chief Electoral Officer appeared before the Senate committee studying the bill and asked that the provision be refined for operational reasons.
The senators agreed, and so the provision was amended in two respects: first, to exclude polling day registrants from being added to these lists. Polling day registrants do not have an assigned number and would need to be added to the lists manually, which would be cumbersome for poll clerks.
In addition, the purpose of bingo card updating is to facilitate the process of getting out the vote, which is targeted at registered voters that candidates have already identified through their lists of electors. Therefore, transmitting the names of polling day registrants would not advance this purpose.
Poll clerks will only be required to provide a list of those who have voted once on each advance polling day, after the close of advance polls. This measure will help reduce the administrative burden of the provision without hindering the effectiveness of the process.
The government agrees with these changes, as they will improve the operation of this provision. I therefore support passage of this amendment by the House.
Second, on the coming into force amendments, the provision in clause 42 was modified when the House committee reviewed the bill. Originally the bill was set to come into force within six months following royal assent, unless the Chief Electoral Officer was ready to implement it at an earlier time. This is the conventional approach for coming into force provisions for Canada Elections Act amendments.
After hearing from the Chief Electoral Officer, the House committee amended clause 42 to extend to eight months the coming into force of the provisions dealing with the national register and list of electors due to the need for updating computer systems at Elections Canada.
In addition, the House committee amended the bill to provide that the other provisions not related to the register, such as the voter identification provisions, would come into force within two months after royal assent. That is fairly easy because those are things that the elections officials already have to be trained to do in the cases where they now have to apply a reasonableness test for requiring identification. They will have to require it all the time. We are actually taking out a step, and therefore, it should not be hard to implement that.
Before the Senate committee the Chief Electoral Officer advised the implementation of the provisions related to the register would actually require 10 months rather than 8 months for implementation to allow time for thorough testing of computer systems. Therefore, the Senate amended clause 42 to allow 10 months for the coming into force of these provisions.
In addition the Senate made an amendment to clause 42 to clarify that the other provisions, such as the voter identification provisions, must come into force within two months of royal assent despite section 554 of the Canada Elections Act, which is the section that says that the six month implementation applies. This would clearly be contrary to the intent of the House committee in requiring that certain provisions of Bill should come into force within two months of royal assent. That is why we are going with it. The technical amendment ensures that this intent is realized.
The government agrees with these two amendments from the Senate relating to the coming into force provisions. I propose that the House accept these Senate amendments.
However, I should make clear that there is one we have problems with. The Senate also amended clause 42 to include the bingo card provisions I mentioned earlier within the group of provisions coming into force within 10 months from royal assent.
The rationale was that this change is affected by the register and it needs the same amount of time to implement as the other changes to the register. However, as we all know, there are already line numbers included on the list which are used by campaign volunteers to monitor voting and get out the vote on election day.
In light of the other amendments that we have accepted for facilitating the operation of the bingo card system, we do not see why it would take months to implement these new provisions. Therefore, I am proposing that this amendment by the Senate be amended by the House to require that it come into force within six months from royal assent. Assuming the bill received royal assent some time this month, that would be in place for any election that would occur within the year 2008.
The third set of amendments is related to casual election workers. The government in the Senate proposed this third set of amendments. The amendments deal with the issue of the maximum period of employment for casual workers in Elections Canada.
When introduced, Bill amended the Public Service Employment Act to permit the Public Service Commission to extend the terms of casual workers beyond the 90 day per year maximum period that is currently set out in the act.
As was very cogently explained by the president of the Public Service Commission before the Senate committee that studied Bill , it is her opinion that the Public Service Employment Act does not provide the necessary authority to allow the terms of casual workers to be extended.
The situation of elections particularly in a minority parliament context clearly demonstrates that it is sometimes necessary. Personnel at Elections Canada nearly doubles during an election and the organization depends heavily on casual workers with previous election experience. In the context of successive minority parliaments, Elections Canada must be prepared for a potential election call with little advance notice. As well, there is the potential of running more than one general election in a year.
Bill as passed by the House of Commons would have addressed this issue. As well, it would have permitted the Public Service Commission to respond on a case by case basis to other situations where casual workers may need extended terms such as the running of a census by Statistics Canada.
However, senators raised concerns in committee with the scope of the regulatory power because it was not confined solely to the elections context. As a result the committee defeated these provisions.
Given the importance of this matter to the effective administration of elections, the government responded with the introduction of amendments at report stage in the Senate to restore the amendment to the Public Service Employment Act, but to circumscribe it so it would apply only to election workers whose maximum term would be set out in the statute at 165 days. This amendment was then passed by the Senate.
It is vital to our democratic process that Elections Canada has the personnel and resources it needs to administer elections effectively and efficiently. This amendment would facilitate that objective and I urge all members to support me in passing it.
The fourth issue and fourth set of amendments deal with the issue of birthdates on the lists of electors.
As hon. members will recall, when Bill was first introduced it provided that the dates of birth of voters should be added to the lists used at advance and regular polls by poll workers only. These poll workers could use the date of birth as another tool to ensure the integrity of the vote. For example, they could use it to confirm the identity of voters or to differentiate between voters with the same name. In accordance with the recommendation of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs in its 13th report, Bill did not provide for the dates of birth to be included on the lists distributed to candidates, MPs and parties.
When the bill was sent to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs after second reading, the Bloc and Liberal members of the committee passed an amendment to add dates of birth to lists distributed to candidates, MPs and parties. The Conservative members voted against this amendment in committee. However, we supported the bill as a whole when it returned to the House for passage because we recognized that sometimes compromise is needed.
When Bill was in the Senate, senators disagreed with those opposition amendments and effectively restored Bill C-31 to how it was when introduced—in other words, by having the date of birth on lists used by poll officials, but not on lists distributed to candidates, MPs and parties.
Obviously, the government is amendable to this change. It was never our intention to distribute birthdates more broadly to political participants.
Therefore, we propose supporting these Senate amendments as well. That said, in a minority Parliament, this is not our choice alone and it will be up to opposition members to decide.
I must say it is remarkable because I personally had to go to that Senate committee and defend the Liberal amendment to put the birthdates on the lists from Liberal senators who said it was shocking and abhorrent. Again, Senator Baker said that “Without the Senate, in this particular instance, we would have had a bill that would have been a disaster”. The Liberal amendment would have made the bill a disaster, so the Liberals in the Senate have changed it.
We just want to get along with everybody. We are trying to make things work. We have been trying to seek consensus on this one and I know we keep going back and forth, and I keep going to the Liberal House leader seeking consensus. I think we now have a consensus, or a partial consensus, but at least one that the Senate will accept.
I know members from the Bloc are not happy with it and I know it restores our original position which we were willing to give up in the spirit of compromise because that is indeed the spirit I and this government have always tried to pursue in the House. That is what we will be doing and I am pleased that eventually that game of ping-pong between the Liberals in the House of Commons and the Liberals in the Senate, on this issue at least, will change.
I hope that it can change on Bill , the Senate term limits bill, and hopefully the Liberal senators will listen to their leader and actually make the decision to move forward with that. I also hope in regard to the budget that they would respect the will of the House of Commons, but that remains to be seen.
The fifth issue relates to the higher penalty for misuse of voters' lists. The fifth last and last group of amendments arose out of the Senate's discussion on the distribution of electoral lists generally. Currently, the Canada Elections Act provides that anyone who knowingly misuses personal information on the lists of electors is guilty of an offence. The penalty for that offence is set at a maximum fine of $1,000 or up to three months imprisonment, or both. The Senate proposes that this be increased to a maximum punishment of a $5,000 fine and one year imprisonment.
In an era of increasing identity theft there should be serious penalties for the misuse of personal information, particularly when obtained through the electoral process. The proposed amendments would provide a better deterrent to those who may be tempted to misuse personal information on the lists for financial gain. Therefore, I am in agreement with those amendments and I propose that they be accepted by this House.
I proposed that many messages be sent to the Senate, but on this occasion I am proposing we send a message advising that the House accepts amendments 1 through 11, but that amendment 12 be amended further to provide that the bingo cards come into force within 6 months from royal assent rather than 10. It is my hope that this important bill with these changes can be given royal assent before the summer recess.
As I have mentioned on other occasions, this bill makes a number of changes to the electoral process that will reduce the opportunity for electoral fraud, improve the accuracy of the national register and the lists of electors, facilitate communication with the electorate and improve the administration of elections.
These are changes that will be of benefit to all parties, to all candidates, and to all Canadians because it will make our electoral system, and in turn our democracy, stronger.
These amendments before us today propose refinements to the bill and I hope they can be dealt with quickly, so this bill can be passed into law. It is our responsibility as parliamentarians to ensure that the electoral process is updated so that it operates with the integrity that Canadians expect. The sooner that we pass this bill, the sooner its provisions can be implemented and our democratic system strengthened.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for .
We are presently discussing amendments made by the Senate to Bill . I would like to start off by reminding members that although we agree with Bill , we feel that the Senate amendments have scuttled the efforts made by all parties, in committee particularly, to find consensus. Therefore, the Bloc will oppose the government motion that includes the amendments made by the Senate, along with some welcome changes.
We were and we still are in favour of Bill as adopted here in the House, at all stages. For the Bloc, it is extremely important to ensure that we have as many means as possible available to prevent electoral fraud and the errors that can be made in electoral lists. According to the Bloc, it is quite appropriate and desirable that electors to be able to identify themselves when required, in order to ensure that the right elector is voting and that one elector does not take the place of another.
In the past, individuals have arrived at the polling station and found that someone else had voted in their place already. That was just too bad for them; the vote had been cast. A certain complacency had set in, particularly with regard to procedures for federal elections, and especially in Quebec.
Over the years, more tools have been introduced to minimize, if not completely eliminate, electoral fraud. As I mentioned previously, we find it quite desirable that potential voters identify themselves to ensure that the right person is voting. We believe that it is reasonable for the date of birth of electors to be made available on the electoral lists in order to verify firsthand that the person voting is who they are believed to be and whose name appears on the electoral list.
It was proposed that Bill be amended to ensure that electoral lists given not only to the officials—the deputy returning officers and poll clerks—but also to the political parties, contain this information, as is the custom in Quebec. We believe that this is an additional tool to help prevent electoral fraud.
On election day, if they wish, the political parties are allowed to have representatives at the polls who follow the progress of voting and who can, if necessary, make some telephone calls. Most Bloc Québécois candidates take advantage of that opportunity. Supporters can then get out and exercise their right to vote. Perhaps they had forgotten or did not feel like it at the time, especially if they had any obstacles to deal with, such as transportation and so on.
We think it is entirely reasonable to add the date of birth to the various information needed to authenticate the identity of voters. The Senate decided to amend that, making the date of birth available to government employees, returning officers and poll clerks, but not to political parties. We feel this would eliminate an important tool in preventing voter fraud. I would remind the House that this was, and still is, one of the main objectives of Bill .
In the spirit of compromise, the Bloc Québécois proposed that at least the year of birth be made available, so that party representatives at the polls could have a rather simple indication of the validity of the identity of voters. If the year of birth is 1955, for example, we know right away that this is not a young adult, nor is it an older senior. The age of 52 does not exactly make someone a spring chicken, and I should know. In any case, we thought this was a reasonable compromise.
As far as the political parties are concerned, personally, I felt during the discussions and conversations we had that there was some openness. It seems that, if Bill were sent back to the Senate with a different amendment—so that the date of birth would no longer be available to the political parties, but just the year of birth—the government was afraid that it would turn into a ping-pong match between the Senate and the House of Commons.
In my opinion, if that is the reason it is a bad reason. Indeed, the government and the majority of members in this House agree that the representatives of the political parties should have access to this information, namely, the year of birth. It is not a case of elements of confidentiality and personal information that are not available. Usually, it is rather easy to guess a person’s age.
In order to avoid this game of ping-pong between the House of Commons and the Senate, we must remind the hon. senators—as the did concerning the budget—that once a bill has been adopted here in this House, the job of the Senate is to ensure that the members have dotted the i's and crossed the t's. However, to poke around in the very content of the bill seems to me to go beyond the responsibilities that belong to an unelected Senate.
So, we very much regret this decision by the government not to insist that the year of birth be included, at least for the benefit of the political parties. That is the reason why we will vote against the government motion, which accepts the Senate's amendments as its own.
As we know, the other amendment is the one that extended from two months to eight months the deadline for the coming into force of the register with a unique and permanent identification number.
In our view, the arguments made by the Chief Electoral Officer, which led the Senate to extend the deadline for implementing a unique and permanent identification number from two months to eight months do not hold water. In that sense, we believe that we could have asked the Chief Electoral Officer—perhaps in the space of four months—to ensure that a unique and permanent identification number be used for each voter in the next election. In that regard, the six month timeframe is not suitable to us but nevertheless it could be considered an improvement over the amendment made by the Senate.
This also has a definite impact on the work that political parties could do. If there is no unique and permanent identification number, Bill will make it possible to have cards that will let political parties follow the progress of voting on election day and know who has voted and who has not.
As long as most of us know who our supporters are, we can be sure that they will vote. So this measure will be a major incentive for parties to “get out the vote”, as we say.
This can only increase overall voter turnout in the next election and in future ones. We know that the higher the voter turnout, the better the democratic health of a society. The opposite shows that there are problems. We participated in a debate on this topic in connection with Bill .
Taking six months to implement this procedure is the lesser of two evils. We can hope that we will have these tools for the next election. However, we are very disappointed that the government is not pushing to keep the year of birth of voters on the electoral list, so it is available to all political parties. We succeeded in convincing the government, but unfortunately the Senate—I will not say destroyed, because that would be a bit too strong—contravened the agreements between the different parties, in a way which I think was completely inappropriate.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak following my hon. colleague from , our House leader, who explained the Bloc Québécois' position very well.
First of all, I am pleased to speak on behalf of the Bloc Québécois. As the chief organizer, I would like address my comments to my hon. colleagues from all political parties in this House. As all hon. members know, but perhaps not all Canadians know this, the Bloc Québécois only has representatives in Quebec. We defend the interests of only one group in this House, that is, the interests of Quebeckers. We also defend their values. That is what we have been doing, primarily within Quebec's borders, since 1993.
This is why I would suggest that my colleagues from all the other political parties would do well to listen to the Bloc Québécois' recommendations. Indeed, the Bloc Québécois' political machinery is the most formidable of all the political parties, and this goes for elections in Quebec and at the federal level. We have the most organized political machinery.
We participated in the debate on Bill in a spirit of openness. We wanted to share with our colleagues our knowledge, our experience and the strength of our political organization. That is why the Bloc Québécois put forward amendments, which, oddly enough, were derailed by the Senate.
That is why I find it very difficult to discuss changes to electoral legislation proposed by a Senate that is not even elected. I really have a hard time accepting that. Senators do not have to face the same situations that hon. members and the political organizations for every party in this House do.
I want to get that message across. I also want to discuss again two very important amendments that the Senate has proposed with respect to this reform of the Canada Elections Act, amendments we do not agree with. In his speech, the said that the Conservatives were against the date of birth measure, but that out of respect and integrity, they ended up agreeing on this. They voted against it, but they agreed to defend the birthdate amendments in the Senate.
The main purpose of including date of birth on the list of electors is to allow election workers and the political parties present at the voting tables to conduct an initial verification. Of course this is not perfect. A person's date of birth is not stamped on their forehead. Nonetheless, if people arrive to vote in someone else's place and they are not in the same age group, this allows for an initial verification. It is a first step to determining whether people are cheating and voting by assuming someone else's identity. This is the first step and all we have to do is add the date of birth to the list of electors.
This received support from the majority in the committee and was included in the bill. Now the Senate is saying that this list with dates of birth will be allowed, but that it will only be used by the election workers, meaning the poll clerk and the deputy returning officer who are employees of the Chief Electoral Officer. The list will not be available to the political parties.
So they are abandoning any concern for transparency, integrity and respect by not trying to detect people committing fraud. The political parties, the ones that have representatives, that being the privilege that the law provides for political parties, will not have access to the date of birth. The Bloc Québécois can boast of having representatives in every polling station and in the all polling divisions during an election.
Then today the Senate has decided that the representatives of the political parties will not be entitled to see the dates of birth. And the government tells us that even though it agreed when the bill was introduced, it now supports the Senate's amendments. Once again, the senators are not even elected. They have never been through an election.
There is still time for the government to realize that this is progress. This amendment was introduced by the Liberals and supported by the Bloc Québécois to improve the way elections are held in Canada.
This is an example inspired by Quebec. This is how it is done in Quebec. The voter turnout rate is 7% to 8% higher in Quebec elections than it is in federal elections. Why are we not using the approaches that have been tested and proved in other democracies, so that we can more forward? I find it hard to understand the parties that do not support this approach, which has the advantage of being more transparent.
The second amendment concerns the coming into force of the whoe polling management system: allowing representatives to provide the political parties with a list of electors who have exercised their right to vote. That list will be available every 30 minutes. That is good. Under the bill, that section of the act was to be brought into force two months after the bill was given royal assent. In a virtually authoritarian move, the Senate has now told us that it will be 10 months after it comes into force.
Once again, I find it very hard to understand how a Senate that is not even elected could tell us that part of the work done by the committee was for nothing. The bill was introduced and agreed to by a majority in this House. Nevertheless, the Senate is deciding when that part of the act will come into force. Once again, this is to facilitate voting. The point is that having this list of electors who have exercised their right to vote available every 30 minutes is useful to the various political parties. The sheet is available to all parties, and only the voter numbers are released. And there is nothing on that sheet. There is no date of birth. The sheet shows only who has voted in the preceding half hour. Using the voter numbers for each polling station, the parties' representatives who are getting the vote out can bring in people who have not yet voted.
Once again, this already happens in Quebec, and it is one reason why voter turnout in Quebec for provincial elections is higher than the turnout for federal elections. When this House had decided that this measure would take effect two months after royal assent, in time for the next election campaign, why has the Senate taken the liberty of deciding that it will take effect in 10 months, at the risk that this measure will not be in effect in time for the next election campaign? I have a problem with the fact that the unelected Senate is interfering in our election campaigns. What gives it the right? It has no right at all to make such a decision. This is none of its business. Its job is to approve this bill to amend the Canada Elections Act. The bill was adopted by the majority of members of this House and would come into effect in time for the next election campaign. Why did it do that? Maybe it is because, one day, the senators hope to be elected by universal suffrage. I hope we will get rid of the Senate before that day comes. That will save us a lot of money and give us a true, uncomplicated democracy centred on the House of Commons.
Obviously, the goal of the Bloc Québécois was to take part without political partisanship in order to improve Canada's democratic system and the system in our own nation, Quebec. It is as simple as that, and that is what we have tried to do with our strong political organization. We have told our colleagues that they must never forget that in Quebec, the Bloc Québécois has the best political organization, one that has proven itself time and again since 1993 and has sent more members from Quebec to this House than any other party.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to the bill.
I want to start by referring to the comments made by my friend from the Bloc. His answer in response to my question underlined the problem with the bill. Opening up people's privacy has nothing to do with voter participation. He established that with his non-answer to my question.
More people do not vote because their birth date is on the electoral list or shared with political parties. I made it very clear that many people who have contacted me about this big brother bill have said the reason they would not vote in the next election would be because of this bill. It is counterintuitive to have people's privacy put on the altar and say that it will somehow increase voter participation.
It is important to look at the origins and the trajectory of Bill . This bill is the result of a report by the procedure and House affairs committee, which I have in my hand. The report was very general in nature. The committee looked at the previous election to see if voter participation could be improved, how the machinery of government could be improved to allow elections to run more smoothly and to ensure that as parliamentarians we could improve elections by design to increase the number of people participating in elections.
It was interesting that after the committee report was tabled, very quickly there was a response from the government. That is not unusual, but the part that was strange was that the government cherry-picked from the Commons committee report. It came up with suggestions and lo and behold, after the response from the government, Bill was before us.
I point this out because Bill was not part of the Conservative Party platform. It was not a suggestion that had been made by grassroots organizations. It was not something that had been on the radar in general for people who are looking at how elections are conducted.
It was very interesting when I heard at committee the witnesses' concerns around the bill. They had concerns regarding the privacy issue. For anyone who is watching, listening or reading the transcripts, what the bill would do is it would require when voters presented themselves to vote, to have voter identification, government issued photo ID. When a voter did not have photo ID, there was a series of conditions regarding other documentation that would be allowed. Finally, if a voter did not have identification, there would be a process by which another person could vouch for the voter.
We heard from people who deal with the homeless, first nations, aboriginal peoples and people who represent students. They have said that this was a bad bill. Notwithstanding, and I am sure we will hear this from the government in response, there is a method for people who do not have proper ID to be vouched for.
The problem heard at committee was that the government is proposing in the bill that one person can vouch for another person as long as they are on the voters list. I underline this because people who are advocates for the homeless, first nations and students said that this is not necessarily an option for the people they represent, because they might not be able to find someone who is on the voters list or who resides in the riding, which is required in the bill.
The other critical issue, of course, is the privacy issue. I raised it at committee. It is worth noting that according to the bill every voter's date of birth will be published on the voters list for Elections Canada to verify that the person before an elections official is the person who is eligible to vote. That sounds fine, except when we look closer at the bill, there is also a verification number for every voter.
Photo ID is required. There is a verification number for every voter. The birthdate of every voter is on the electoral list. I opposed the inclusion of the birthdate and the NDP opposed the inclusion of birthdate information on the electoral list because of its dissemination. Every riding has hundreds of polls. There are 308 ridings. That is a lot of information being floated around. This is not anything against the good people who work as poll clerks during elections; it is just obvious that this information could fall into the wrong hands.
What has shocked me the most was the amendment by the Bloc, supported at committee by the Liberals and eventually by the Conservatives in the House, that birthdate information would actually be shared with political parties. I want to underline that all political parties, not just the ones in this House, but every single registered political party would have the day and year of birth of every single voter.
It is important to underline that because the Senate wants to make an amendment. While I welcome that, it does not go far enough. This bill at its foundation is flawed for reasons I have already mentioned about those people who might not normally have access to proper identification.
I brought forward these concerns at committee. At the time the Bloc and the Liberals got together to pass this amendment to share the date of birth information with political parties. Members should try to explain that to their constituents. I could not, I would not and I refused. I fought it at the committee. The Conservatives at the committee opposed this amendment, but when the bill came to the House, we heard from the government House leader that in the spirit of cooperation to get the bill through, the Conservatives would not fight this amendment.
I am sorry, but when it comes to issues of privacy, protection and integrity we do not just look the other way. That is exactly what members of the Conservative Party did. They looked the other way on privacy. I have a letter in my hand from Ms. Stoddart, the Privacy Commissioner of Canada. The letter suggests that this is a problem for her as well.
There are two parties, the Liberals and the Bloc, that got together to benefit themselves to give birthdate information to their political organizations. Clearly, the political parties see this as a bonanza. They can target voters. For the Liberals I am sure it is helpful because they can do some fundraising. The Liberals have to look to new sources for their fundraising. They will have to fill the void after having relied for so long on big donors. With this information, they will now focus their attention on citizens. It is very tempting for political parties to have this information.
People should not buy the idea that somehow this is going to help with verification of voters. There is already in the bill a verification number and photo ID is required. The idea that we would actually sell out privacy and the government would look the other way in order to get the bill through does not wash.
The amendments from the Senate are in front of us. I will establish that not only do I have a problem with the inherent contradiction with the Senate sending us amendments on elections legislation, but also the Senate amendments do not go far enough. They do not deal with those who, we heard at committee, will be disenfranchised, the homeless, aboriginal people and students.
There is a Globe and Mail editorial that talks about the whole issue of privacy. It says:
|| As Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart explained in a recent letter to [myself] whose party was the only one to oppose the bill, “One of the basic rules of data protection is that personal information should be collected and used sparingly and in proportion to the problem it is intended to address.” But the bill, which sailed through final reading in the House of Commons last evening, pays no heed to her legitimate objections.
Not only is the Privacy Commissioner against the bill, but from this editorial it would seem that Globe and Mail editors are against it as well. They underline the importance of why is the bill in front of us, what is the issue, what is the problem?
The government has put forward a notion that there is a huge problem with voter fraud. To be fair, it has been careful to underline it as potential voter fraud. If that is the issue, then I have no idea why the government did not look at other common sense solutions to deal with potential voter fraud. We put forward ideas at committee, at amendment stage, and made suggestions as to what the government could do.
We all know that voter cards are ubiquitous and often are left lying around in many apartment buildings. There is the potential for voter fraud. The NDP suggested in committee, and received the nod from the Chief Electoral Officer, that those voter cards should be in a sealed envelope. That would make sense. It is not exactly a high tech solution, but it would ensure that voter cards were not left lying around and instead would be sent directly to the voters. That was our first common sense solution.
The second common sense solution we put forward was to have universal enumeration at every election. When the Liberal government brought in voters lists, it was not to make the list more accurate, but rather to save money. In our democracy, if there is one thing we should invest in over anything else, it is the integrity of our voting system, and that means the voters list. That means having universal enumeration.
There used to be enumeration. People would go door to door to make sure that everyone had a chance to get on the voters list. Verification was done and the voters list was more accurate. I do not know a person in this House or in this country who would say that since we have had the centralized computer voters list that we have had more accurate representation.
Those two common sense solutions should have been adopted before we sold out people's privacy, before we put up barriers to the franchise to the most vulnerable, and before we got into this taffy pull between the Senate and the House. I agree with the Bloc and the government that it is passing strange we are waiting on the Senate to tell us how to run elections.
The bottom line is that this is a flawed bill. It is a big brother bill. The fact that it sailed through committee should not pass it off as being a valid bill. In fact, it is vapid in terms of what it is trying to do.
I want to underline what this bill claims to do and what the results will be if it passes. Not only will there be problems with privacy, but I believe the bill will be challenged on two fronts.
In testimony before the committee, the Chief Electoral Officer said that because of the new requirement for photo ID, more than 5% of eligible voters will not be able to vote. They will show up at the polling station perhaps five or 10 minutes before the polls close without their ID and will be told to go home. Therefore, they will not have the opportunity to vote. Others have mentioned this. I think of Duff Conacher, who has written about this extensively.
We might end up with a situation akin to what happened in Florida in one of the U.S. elections. This is not my submission. It is the submission of others. Others will call into question the validity of the election because people will not have been able to exercise their franchise. There will be situations where there are close votes. Those votes will be challenged. In a minority Parliament, that might decide which party did or did not form government.
Elections Canada will do a good job in promoting the required changes, but if we do not have a safety valve like the statutory declaration that the NDP put forward, which works in provinces with high voter turnout, then people will challenge the outcome of the election. That could lead to some unintended consequences.
I am putting everyone on notice that others have looked at this and they are saying that they will need to challenge this bill in court, some for civil libertarian reasons, some because of the private aspects and others because they believe that this kind of legislation is inherently wrong.
In summary, what we have in this bill is a Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs report that looked at elections in general and how to improve things. The report was tabled in Parliament soon after and, this is the part about the Conservative play book, the Conservatives used the committee report to cherry-pick and back a bill they had intended to put forward because that is exactly what happened. There was a response to this committee report very soon after and, more quickly than I have ever seen, a bill was in front of us based on the government's response to a committee report.
In that report we had the requirement for photo ID and then a cascading requirement, for those who did not have photo ID, to use other forms of ID. At the end of the day, people who are most disadvantaged, be it the homeless, aboriginal people or students, would be vulnerable.
It is interesting that a couple of weeks ago the government announced, with great fanfare, democratic reform week. If we were to believe the advertising, the government was doing everything it could to ensure that more people had access to the franchise. They need to look at this bill because what I have just outlined are barriers to franchise.
The Conservatives talked recently about having more young people vote by having an extra day to vote, which they had no scientific proof for. They had a nice photo op with some people in front of the Centre Block and somehow we were to believe that because of this extra day of voting we would have higher voter participation.
What they need to do is examine Bill and tell me honestly, when they look at the privacy provisions for allowing one's birthdate to be included both on the voters list and shared with political parties, notwithstanding the amendments, the fact that more young people will be required to show ID that they might not have access to, people concerned about privacy telling me they will ask to be taken off the voters list because they do not want big brother and the government, which is kind of strange coming from what used to be a party of libertarian dimensions, they do not want that to happen. They will take their names off the voters list and at the end of the day what we have is a bill that would undermine voter participation and not buttress it.
When we put this all together, we should keep in mind that the government did not want to listen to common sense, which was to have voter ID cards put into envelopes to prevent the concerns around voter fraud because people are using these cards or could, and the fact that there were four cases of voter fraud during the last three elections. In fact, there was more candidate fraud than voter fraud when members crossed the floor, which we remember, after they advertised that they would run for the Liberal Party or the Conservative Party.
Everyday people are more concerned about that fraud than the potential for voter fraud. They are more concerned about their privacy rights being trashed than they are about having these kinds of provisions put in. At the end of the day, they see that this bill would not improve our democracy. It would undermine it.
I would ask all members to keep in mind that when they go to their constituents or when this becomes a court case, because I believe it challenges the franchise, and many lawyers have said it, that the Conservatives were the ones who sat by and rubber stamped this process.
I urge all members to stand up against this bill, stand for democracy and more voter participation, and ensure we have a democracy we can all be proud of. I urge all members to vote against this bill and send it back. The Senate has made some minor improvements on the birthdate information but at the end of the day this is a flawed bill, a big brother bill and does not deserve to be passed.
Mr. Speaker, I stand to speak in support of not only Bill but the majority of the amendments that we have seen coming back from the Senate.
First, I would say that while Bill is important, it is only one in a suite of democratic reform initiatives that the government has brought in. We have seen, for an example, very important democratic reform initiatives such as fixed election dates which is Bill . It passed and has come into force. It states that the third Monday of October 2009 will be the date for the next general election unless of course by some strange occurrence the combined opposition determines that it wants to have an election before that date.
That was the first initiative that we brought in to try to ensure Canadians that there would be some consistency and regularity in the timing of federal elections. Far too often we saw political parties in power manipulate the voting system to their advantage. In other words, we saw parties in previous years take a look at the polling numbers and if they determined that it would be to their advantage to have an election earlier rather than later, because the polls happened to be advantageous for them, they would call an election at that time.
Subsequently, we saw both federally and provincially from time to time governments of the day go well beyond a traditional four year voting window because the polls were not quite a favourable for them during that four year cycle. What we are doing with Bill is ensuring that all Canadians will have some certainty as to the timing of federal elections and I think that is a good thing for democracy. I think it is a good thing for Canadian voters.
Also, however, we saw several other initiatives with respect to democratic reform. We saw bills come forward dealing with expanded voting opportunities in an attempt to get more and more voters to turn out at the polls. As I said in that debate, we have seen over the course of the last two decades or so a decline in voter turnout year after year, or at least election after election.
I think that is a reflection of many factors, the overall probably being the cynicism that most Canadian voters have with the political process per se. What we are trying to do, by presenting a bill that will give increased and expanded voting opportunities for all Canada, is attempt to raise the level of voter turnout because.
I think that we all agree, regardless of our political affiliations, that it is incumbent upon all Canadians to express either their opinions come election day or at least exercise their franchise because if we ever got to the point where we had less than 50% of the people in the country who were eligible to vote electing a government of the day, that would be truly a sad day for the democratic process.
We have also seen other examples of our democratic reform initiatives. Just today in committee we dealt with Bill on political loans and how we can ensure that all loans given to candidates over the course of an election are done in such a manner that we can ensure accountability and transparency. I think that is a very important initiative, again, one of a suite of initiatives we brought in.
There will be further democratic reform initiatives as we go forward in the course of the government's life cycle. Today I want to speak specifically to Bill , the voter integrity bill. I think there is no greater fraud that could be perpetrated on Canadians than that of an individual voting in a federal or provincial election who pretends to be someone that he or she is not. In other words, I think there could be no greater fraud than someone trying to influence the election results by fraudulent manners. That is what the bill deals with.
In committee, we dealt with many of the things that we felt needed to be corrected to ensure that there was greater accountability, transparency and greater integrity in the voting system. Primarily we talked about things around identification where all voters now, once the bill becomes a law of the land, will be required to show sufficient identification at the polling station to ensure that they are who they purport to be because we have heard on many occasions many examples of individuals fraudulently voting in individual elections.
Anything that we can do, as a House and as individual members of Parliament, to stop that abuse of the voting system is extremely well intentioned and I think will be well received by the voting public. We dealt with that and many other issues of which my hon. colleagues who proceeded me in this debate spoke about.
Primarily, we came up with what we thought was a bill that would accurately reflect the intention of the committee. The committee worked long and hard on the bill and at the end of day when we reported back to this House, we felt that we had a bill which would capture all of the suggestions and recommendations of committee members who dealt with the bill over a period of several months.
However, as is normally the case, and it seems at least these days it is normally the case, when our bill went from our place to the Senate there were additional discussions and additional amendments. While some of the amendments from the Senate are ones that we have some question about, I am pleased to report that the vast majority of the amendments that were made in the Senate will be agreed to, at least by this government.
We are doing so in a manner which we believe we can get the bill passed into law before we rise for the summer because in a minority situation, the length of a minority government is tenuous at best. If we happen to have an election within the next six months or so, we want to ensure that we have a bill that deals with these very important issues, so that we can ensure that voter integrity is at the utmost, that we dispel and dispense with any kind of attempted fraud in the next election that will be held, whenever that may be.
I want to speak for a few moments on the amendments brought back from our colleagues in the Senate. There were about 12 amendments in total but they fit into about five broad categories. The first one deals with what is generally known as bingo cards. Most of us in this House and any politician who has ever run for elected office is familiar with the concept of bingo cards. For those Canadians who may be somewhat confused about what a bingo card has to do with an election, let me explain.
Every political party, certainly every candidate, wants to track their supporters and whether or not they are supporters that they have identified during the preceding number of months leading up to the election and actually come out to the polls and vote. From time to time there are very close election races throughout Canada. When I was first elected in 2004, I was elected by a whopping majority of 122 votes.
One of the elements that really helped my election in that very stressful time was the fact that we had a very good voter identification program within my riding association and within my campaign team. On election day we had a very good “get out the vote” team which tracked people who came into the polling station, find out which of my supporters had not yet made it to the polls, and we brought those people for the most part to come in to vote. Close to 80% of my identified vote actually cast ballots in that election of 2004.
The use of bingo cards is a mechanism by which we can track the voter turnout. As the name suggests and anyone who has every gone to a bingo hall and played a game knows there are cards with numbers from 1 through 400. When scrutineers go into an election or polling station they are able to mark off on the bingo card the number of the voter assigned to them on the electoral list to ensure that everyone in our campaign team, or get out the vote team, understands who has, and more importantly, who has not voted.
From time to time during the day our scrutineers would go in and pick up these bingo cards from the inside scrutineers, take them back to GOTV headquarters, and phone voters who had not yet made it out to the polls in an attempt to make sure that all of our supporters understood the importance of their vote in that election.
What we are saying in this provision, at least what Bill purports, is that the bingo card concept be formalized and that Elections Canada be tasked with the responsibility of developing a standardized bingo card that would be available for all political parties and all candidates, so they could use the same get out the vote techniques that most candidates and most political parties have been doing informally over the course of the last number of years.
We see this being an asset to the political process because it helps engage all or potential voters by getting them out to vote. Yes, some of them might need a slight kick in the rear end from some of the GOTV members, but if we can at least increase the voter turnout we will have done a great service for the democratic process. So the amendments that the Senate brought back in with respect to bingo cards are ones that we agree with.
What are those amendments? Primarily, they say that in the original report coming from this place bingo cards should be available and updated every 30 minutes, so that candidates and political parties would be able to go into polling stations every 30 minutes to pick up the bingo cards and take it back to their GOTV headquarters and start their phone backs.
What the Senate has amended is that during advance polls these bingo cards need only be picked up once a day. That makes perfect sense to me. The time a candidate wants to know is on election day what the voter turnout is like. So that every 30 minutes during an advance poll is almost a bit of overkill. It is certainly not required. Therefore, I think it was a very useful, a very serviceable amendment to suggest that bingo cards during those four or five days that advance polls are open need only be picked up once a day and we agree with that.
That segues nicely into the second major classification of amendments and that deals with coming into force provisions. Primarily, we only have one problem with any of the coming into force provisions as amended by our colleagues in the Senate. That again deals with bingo cards.
What it suggests is that electoral offices be given 10 months to develop these bingo cards themselves and come up with a standardized format that would then be available for use by all parties and all candidates.
We feel that 10 months is too long. We believe that this bingo card format can be structured, developed and printed within a six month period. Therefore, we will be putting our new amendment that we will send back to our colleagues in the Senate, and we hope that they support it, suggesting that the only amendment we wish to make on its amended bill is that the coming into force provision for bingo cards would be six rather than 10 months.
I think that is a very legitimate and reasonable amendment for us to be making. We say that because again in a minority government one never knows how long such a government will last. In other words, if this bill is given royal assent before we rise for the summer, that means if we have an election before December bingo cards would not be available, but if any election is held from 2008 on we will have bingo cards available for all candidates. We think that is reasonable.
Again, the only change to the amendments that the Liberal dominated Senate has made is that we will have a six month window rather than a 10 month window for the bingo cards.
The third provision that is captured by amendments in the Senate deals with casual election workers. Again, as we know in a minority government situation we need a lot of casual workers who work from election to election to election on standby because there can be an election held at any time.
Currently, the Public Service Employment Act contemplates that casual workers and the broad category of casual government workers could only be classified as such if they work 90 days or less in any calendar year.
We felt that was too tight of a time line because if there happened to be two elections in one year, clearly 90 days would not be enough time for a casual worker to do both elections. Thereby, they would fall outside of that 90 day classification.
What the Senate committee had discussed and amended was that the provision now read that 165 days be the length of time that casual workers would be classified still as a casual worker within the Public Service Employment Act. We think that is reasonable and we are certainly willing to agree to that amendment and recommend that the amendment be passed in this House.
The fourth provision is one that I know will take a fair amount of time. I see that the time—