Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this bill to amend the Canada Elections Act with regard to verification of residence.
Here is the problem, more or less. Elections Canada recently revealed that 1 million Canadians do not have a proper residential address under the terms of the original legislation. In other words, they do not have an address with a street number and a street name.
This is a reality both in Quebec and Canada. We have big cities, but we also have, numerically speaking, a large number of rural communities. Rural addresses quite often consist of post office box numbers or rural route numbers. For example, an address might include the name of the person, “Rural Route 1”, and the name of the municipality. We know that in most cases in rural areas, mail carriers deliver the mail to mailboxes along the roadside. Such is the case in my riding on Île d'Orléans, in Côte-de-Beaupré and in Charlevoix, where farms are very large. This makes mail delivery quite challenging.
In addition, Elections Canada realized that the addresses of residents of aboriginal reserves often consist of nothing but the name of the reserve. In my riding, there is a very dynamic aboriginal community, the Innu of Essipit. I am proud to salute the leadership of grand chief Denis Ross, as well as all of the band council and the negotiating team. In some aboriginal communities, then, the address consists solely of the name of the person and the name of the reserve. We can imagine that makes the process of identification somewhat complicated.
Worse still, those people could not appeal to another voter in the same polling division to vouch for them because most of the voters would not have the documents required to prove the address of their residence.
The problem is as follows. If you live in a township and your address is just “Rural Route 1”, it is very likely that the people who know you best or most intimately are your neighbours, and it could well be that those neighbours are your relatives. So, if your sister, your brother or sister-in-law lives on the same rural route as you, they have the same problem of identification. Their own address is incomplete for the purposes of Elections Canada. This measure has the same goal of improving the conditions for identification of voters.
According to Elections Canada, there are 1,012,989 voters, that is 4.4% of eligible voters in Canada, who do not have a residential address that meets the requirements of the Elections Act as amended. The situation is very disquieting. What is more, Elections Canada tells us that 80% of the residents of an area such as Nunavut do not have a personal address.
There are statistics for Saskatchewan, Ontario and for Newfoundland and Labrador. In Quebec, it is a matter of 15,836 voters or 27/100 of 1%, or more than 0.25% who could be facing the same problem.
Through Bill , which are now debating, the government is amending the Canada Elections Act to provide more flexibility in the regulations concerning the verification of residence in the case of voters who live in areas where the municipal address appearing on a piece of identification consists of a postal box, general delivery or rural route.
This bill provides that where the address indicated on the items of identification presented does not establish the residence of the voter but is consistent with the corresponding information on the voters list, the residence of the voter is deemed to have been established.
For example, a voter whose piece of identity contains an address consisting only of the rural route could establish his residence if that postal address matches the information recorded on the voters list.
The bill also provides that in case of doubt the deputy returning officer, the poll clerk, a candidate or candidate's representative could ask the voter to take the prescribed oath if there is any doubt in the opinion of the election officials.
The Bloc Québécois supports the principle of the bill because we believe it is necessary to correct the law to avoid having 1 million Canadians deprived of their right to vote. Even though, numerically speaking, we are talking about a smaller number compared to other communities and other provinces, I believe that those 15,836 voters in Quebec also have the right to exercise their right to vote. Not amending the act would amount to depriving them of their right to vote, and voting is a democratic exercise in which we elect the representatives who will speak for us in Ottawa.
We are of the opinion that the NDP proposal to grant the right to vote to every voter who swears an oath is unacceptable. This proposal was already rejected by the three other political parties when Bill was studied in the previous session of this Parliament.
We believe that it is reasonable to require at least one piece of photo ID, if available, to verify the identity of voters and to ensure the integrity of the electoral system. There must not be any ambiguity: the NDP proposal could result in some fraud. The NDP proposal runs counter to the principles of identification required to vote in a general election or a byelection.
We know that the NDP is criticizing this bill because it believes it will not resolve all the problems created last spring by Bill . We recall the discussions of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs where the NDP pointed out the situation of homeless people. I wish to reiterate what I said at that time: our party is not oblivious to the situation of the homeless. On the contrary, it is proof that despite economic prosperity, despite the fact that the dollar has reached its highest value in 30 years, there is the reality that there are poor people and homeless people in Canada and Quebec.
The problem for the homeless is that they do not always have an identification card. Yet, they must be able find someone to vouch for them and prove their identity. To adopt the NDP position would be to ensure that anyone at all could vote. We cannot support that position.
On the Liberal side, the member for , also the , a Liberal member from Saskatchewan, is calling for this problem to be solved as quickly as possible.
In closing, I want to reiterate that the Bloc Québécois is in favour of this bill and that this problem is not new to us, even though it has received a lot of media attention lately. On December 7, 2006, Jean-Pierre Kingsley, former Chief Electoral Officer of Canada, appeared before our Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs and warned parliamentarians about the address problem.
I will close my presentation by citing Mr. Kingsley:
|| The requirement to prove residence presents a significant challenge. It is worth noting that in Quebec, which is the only province requiring ID at the polls, electors only need to prove their identity, not their residence. ... As well, the chief electoral officers of other Canadian jurisdictions have pointed out that in many rural and northern areas of the country, especially west of Ontario, the address on the driver's licence is not the residential address but the postal address.
In closing, we believe that this bill will be carefully examined by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. I will say again that the Bloc Québécois is in favour of the principle of this bill.
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure today to speak to Bill recently introduced into the House of Commons in an effort to fix a hastily adopted bill, Bill , from the last session of Parliament.
I say hastily because I know the committee heard from many witnesses. They heard from Elections Canada, first nations, students, homeless advocates and the members of the committee, including the NDP member for , who was the critic at the time.
I know a lot of issues were raised on Bill . Unfortunately, some of the flaws that were pointed out were not addressed. They were overruled by the members of the committee.
Today we are trying to fix a problem created by the Conservative government. The problem is the new stringent regulations, as set out in Bill , on the cards to prove one's identity ultimately will lead to the disenfranchisement of over a million voters, as we have heard. This was pointed out by Elections Canada after the fact. Basically that has forced the government to come up with this new bill to try to undo the damage.
Under the new regulations of Bill being considered today, voting will still be more difficult for many cross-sections of Canadians, including people with rural addresses.
That is why I am here today to speak to the bill. I represent a riding that is probably 50% rural. We have a lot of small towns and a couple of large centres that get home delivery, but most of our communities get rural mail delivery. It is for them that I am worried.
I also have to include myself in that group of people because I live in a small town. I have a box number. Fortunately for me, my residential address is also on my driver's licence, as well as my box number. If that were not the case, I might find myself on election day unable to vote, or having to prove who I am.
In areas of Courtenay, where there is rural mail delivery, many people living on small farms and on lots outside of the city limits. They do not have home delivery. These people get their mail at the side of the road in a box, and it is an RR number. It has been like that for many years and a lot of the people have lived there for many years. This includes the area of Royston, which is just south of Courtenay where my aunt lives.
She has been in that place for over 50 years. She just turned 80 years old. She has always lived in the same place. She may find herself at the polling station unable to vote because she does not drive. She does not have a driver's licence with a picture ID on it and probably could not prove who she was. All her neighbours and the people who she knows would be unable to vouch for her because they might find themselves in the same predicament without the ability to verify who they are.
Also areas of Comox and outer areas of that town do not get home delivery. Up in the Lazo area, many people living in the little communities of Merville, Black Creek and Oyster River may be disenfranchised from their vote. Again, these people do not get their mail delivered to a box in a central post office. Because of what happened with Canada Post over a number of years, we have found that our mail is delivered to small community grocery stores, gas stations or other places where people have to pick up their mail. The mail does not come to their residences, so they usually have a rural mail delivery address or a box number in those places. Many people are going to find they have a problem.
I spoke a little about box numbers. Most of the communities in my riding, for example, Cumberland, Gold River, Sayward, Tahsis, Port McNeil, Port Hardy and Port Alice, Zeballos, have very small post offices. They are a long way from Ottawa and the larger geographical centres of British Columbia. People in these small towns rely on the post offices as the place to get their mail. Pretty well everyone's mail is delivered to a post office box. Many people live on roads that may not even have a name or a sign and their residence address would not be listed.
The other interesting thing is that there are a lot of little islands, Hornby, Denman, Quadra, Cortes, Alert Bay and Sointula, all those little islands we travel to and from. The people who live on those islands also get their mail delivered to a box at the local post office which in many instances is in the local community grocery store. These people may also find themselves disenfranchised.
That is a lot of communities, in fact most of the communities in my riding. There are only two main communities where people would get their mail delivered to their home and their home address would be on their card. We are concerned about what might happen with the people in the small communities.
The other thing I have to highlight is all the first nations communities in my riding and there are a lot of them, including places like Owikeno, Kingcome Inlet and up in Simoom Sound. These places are very remote. People do not get their mail delivered to a post office box or to their home. Their addresses are bag number such and such in the closest town and the mail is flown in on small airplanes or taken in by boat whenever the weather is good. That is how they get their mail. If they were issued a card that said bag number such and such, or whatever, obviously they do not live in a bag, they live in a beautiful community up the coast, but they could find themselves disenfranchised.
It is already hard enough for some people in our smaller communities and especially first nations because until recently they did not even have polling places on reserve, so they were feeling disenfranchised that way as well.
We are trying to find more opportunities to increase the vote among first nations people in our communities. I know in the last election we worked very hard with Elections Canada to make sure that there were polls on reserves so that people would have an opportunity to vote where they live. That is so important.
Some people in our rural communities have to travel quite a distance to exercise their franchise. We take it for granted when we live in a larger centre, in that we can just take a few minutes to go to our polling station and vote. We need to make sure there are more opportunities to do that, not less.
Also, I talked about homeless people and transient populations. My colleague, the member for , spoke passionately about how we would be disenfranchising many of those people in the inner cities who live in shelters or who are homeless. There were some provisions made to identify them and to make sure that they were not left out.
In my community we do not have big shelters. We have a couple of small ones, but we also have many homeless people in my riding. Many of these people are couch surfing. They are living in cars. There are families who are living at campsites. There are people who are double bunking, a couple of different families living together trying to make ends meet, trying to find suitable housing.
I do not know what will happen to those people if they have no address at all and they cannot prove where they are living. It is going to be really difficult for them at voting time. It is something that we should have addressed before.
At committee we also heard from students who were living away from home. Aboriginal representatives who came to committee brought up some of the flaws that were ignored at the time. As I said, here we are debating a bill that fixes another bill that was rushed through the House.
The NDP critic at the time who worked on the committee made presentations to our caucus. We understood the problems. We were the only party to vote against Bill at the time.
It is very unfair that all the groups that I just mentioned, aboriginals, students, rural residents, people who live in small towns, will have to jump through hoops in order to carry out their democratic right and civic duty to cast a ballot.
Constituents have called me to ask what is going on with respect to paragraph 3, proof of identity, in Bill . They will have to provide proof of identity and residence. If a person cannot prove his or her residence, then the person may lose his or her franchise to vote. That is a problem. That is basically what brings us here today.
The provisions were introduced in order to combat voter fraud that allegedly was taking place in Canada. However, no meaningful evidence has been put forth to prove that fraud was occurring in any systematic or widespread way.
My mentioned that candidate fraud is a bigger problem than voter fraud, with the floor crossing that goes on. A candidate representing a certain party will get elected. People commit to a certain candidate. They work hard for that candidate to make sure that the candidate is elected and when that person gets to the House of Commons, that person might cross the floor to another party. That act in itself is what turns off a lot of voters. It is a shame that these things are allowed to happen in this House.
I also believe that the objective of stamping out voter fraud is an honourable one, but unfortunately, it is being pursued at too high a price under these bills. It basically alienates many honest Canadians and disenfranchises them from their opportunity to vote. It is too high a price to pay for something that really is not a huge problem in the first place. The most important thing is for Canadians to have easy and open access to the ballot.
I put forward a motion on electoral reform because I wanted to hear from more Canadians. More Canadians deserve an opportunity to vote and their vote should count. I wanted to hear from Canadians to find out how we could change and enhance our electoral system with proportional representation, but unfortunately that motion was hijacked by the procedure and House affairs committee. It basically turned into a process where the government could hear about Senate reform. I heard from people who attended the focus groups that came out of that procedure. The whole agenda was pretty much taken up with talk about Senate reform. There was very little talk about electoral reform.
That is sad because I know that in the province of British Columbia where I come from, electoral reform is something that a lot of people wanted. When we had our referendum in 2005, it did not pass, but it did not lose by much either. We had over 50%. Unfortunately, the way it was set out it had to have 60%, but 57% is more than 50% plus one. That is what we need to have a majority in this House. I think a majority of British Columbians did want some sort of change in our electoral process.
Back to the bill at hand, the NDP critic for democratic reform, the member for , is taking an active role at the committee. Other NDP MPs are rising in this House to ensure that the rights of all Canadians are protected at the ballot box.
My colleague from also is in jeopardy of losing his vote. There was an article a number of weeks ago in the paper about that. His driver's licence has a very strange address. That is how things are done in his riding. It does not list his residence, but only lists the number of a road. He is willing, as I and others are, to jump through the procedural hoops that the government has placed before us to make sure that we get to vote on election day.
I do not have to ask how many of my constituents would be willing to find someone to go to the polling station with them to declare that they are who they say they are. Seniors, people with disabilities, young people who are voting for the first time, are they going to show up at the ballot box with the people necessary to prove who they are, or will they walk away? I think most people would say, “Forget it. This is too much trouble. Why bother”. Such a procedure is going to turn people away from the voting process. This is something that we ought not to do. We should be encouraging people to get out and vote, not making it more difficult for them. We should not be setting up roadblocks.
Already voter turnout is too low. I think that voter turnout hovers at around 65%. That is quite shameful. It means that members were elected to the House with the support of 65% of the population, and the percentage of the vote that we received makes it even smaller. That is something we need to address in this country. Again, that could be addressed through changing our electoral system.
I am proud to say that only the NDP caucus stood up in opposition to the original bill when it was being expedited through the House last spring. The Conservative Party introduced this troubling legislation and both the Bloc and the Liberals got on board on the condition that all voters' birthdates would be included in the voters list that is provided to the political parties. My colleague from fought hard against these provisions, but he was ultimately outnumbered at the committee where these amendments were made.
It is unfortunate that we are here speaking to Bill . Both it and Bill threaten the very foundation of democracy and the rights of citizens that Canadians hold so dear.
I know that the NDP democratic reform critic will do all he can to ensure that fair amendments to this bill are adopted so that the right of all Canadians on election day will be protected.
I thank the House for the opportunity to speak to Bill and to put my party's point of view forward.
Mr. Speaker, I have a very short intervention to make a couple of points for people to consider.
First, I would like to thank all the parties for working together to bring forward Bill , verification of residence of voters, so quickly, particularly on behalf of people in the north because inappropriate wording or an inadvertent mistake would have disenfranchised a lot of northerners because of their addresses. I used to have an address like RR 1, Site 2, Comp. 3. Other people have box numbers. Most northerners do not have a verified street address.
I express appreciation to all members of Parliament and all parties for getting this technical change through quickly. A large percentage of the people in the rural areas of Canada in particular, and I will speak for rural areas being the chair of the rural caucus, would have had difficulty voting, technically, under the definitions and would have needed special provisions. These are very warranted changes.
After reading the amendments, I am not positive that the issue of residential street addresses has been addressed. I just want to make sure that the voting rights of certain people in relation to their residential street address are protected. One example would be military personnel who are away. Hopefully, this provision would allow them, as long as they have the proper identification, to vote in the riding that they have chosen, as has occurred in the past.
Similarly, in places like my riding, a number of people, especially seniors, go south for a portion of the winter and therefore end up having to vote on occasion from down there as, of course, elections are seldom in the summer. Once again, I am assuming that if the residential address that is on the voters list is the same as the address on their identification they would have no trouble voting. However, I want to make sure that the people on the committee who are investigating this in line by line detail make sure those people are protected.
The final category of people in similar situations are students. As there are no universities north of 60, in the northern half of the country, people who go to universities in the south are often there on federal voting day. So once again, I am assuming that if they are on the voters list, as per this act, Bill , and their identification matches the information on the voters list they would be able to vote. I would like the committee to confirm that in its deliberations.
I have one other item I want to bring forward. If there is a member of committee in the House perhaps he or she could just answer this question for me during questions and comments. What is the number of people a person can vouch for? In my reading of Bill , I do not see any conditions on that. There may be conditions back in the original act that were not amended. I am thinking of particularly small polls where there may be a number of people in the situation where they need people to vouch for them and there may not be enough of those eligible voters to swear in those people who are not on the voters list.
Perhaps someone could clarify for me the number of people an eligible voter can vouch for under these new amendments.
I again thank everyone. We will certainly be doing everything we can to get this through as quickly as possible because everyone in Parliament agrees that this is a necessary amendment so that no one is disenfranchised, although the chief electoral officer would never let that happen because he has the flexibility to make sure everyone can vote anyway. However, it should be done properly.
I congratulate all members in the House for making these corrections as quickly as possible.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for that question because it is something I love to talk about as it was a very distressing report.
I raised the question about homelessness during the original debate, urging the committee to make sure that as much as possible was done there. It is also the reason I asked the question, which has not been answered yet, that the member raised about the number of persons an eligible elector can vouch for. We have to make sure that people in those situations can vote and I know the committee is looking at that.
I was delighted to be present for the release of the report, having read the executive summary, and to be there with the Liberal critic for women's issues. We were two MPs who attended the release yesterday. It contains horrific stories which, living in the north, I see all the time.
I was delighted that a number of things requested in the report were in the Liberal leader's anti-poverty plan. For instance, with regard to poverty for children, the Liberals would make the non-refundable tax credit refundable so that the poorest of poor could be helped by that tax credit. It does not help them at all now because if they do not pay taxes, they cannot receive the credit.
Also, we would expand the national child tax benefit which has been a widely acclaimed program in Canada, but we would make it even bigger and better.
We would also do three things to help seniors, which are part of poverty and homelessness in the north. First, we would increase the old age supplement, which goes to the poorest of poor; second, we would try to ensure that if one spouse dies, the other does not get dragged, for bureaucratic reasons, below the poverty line; and third, we would try to reward people who wanted to go back to work.
We would also work with other orders of government on items like affordable housing, which is obviously a big need, and continue our support for homeless shelters. There are a lot of good projects in my riding, I do not know about the rest of the country, through the SCPI program. There was no shelter at all before and now there is one, but it is certainly not totally suitable for the needs of women and, as the report said, 16 to 18 year old women. There are not enough services related to substance counselling and, in particular, in local areas there is not enough legislation related to landlord and tenant acts.
I highly recommend that everyone in Parliament look at this report. It is very thick. It dealt with the homelessness and poverty of women in all three territories and the excruciating effects it can have, particularly where there are excessively cold, harsh conditions.
At 50° or 60° below, as the member who used to live in Dawson knows, people cannot be homeless and lie on the streets. They have to go somewhere and probably somewhere they should not be, such as where their children can be abused or they have to provide services they do not want to just so they can survive the night. These are horrendous conditions in the north.
Having a very wealthy country with the amount of surpluses that we have, I would highly recommend that each party look at the recommendations in the report and try to put those into their platforms.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to rise today on Bill . I would like to provide a bit of background on why we are seized today with this bill. In February 2007, the House of Commons passed Bill , which changed the Elections Act to reduce the chances of fraud or error by strengthening the requirements around the identification of electors.
As a result of these changes, Bill C-31 became more like the Quebec Election Act. It was nothing new, therefore, for us in the Bloc Québécois. Bill C-31 will be in effect in the next election campaign and came into force at the time of the last byelections in Quebec. Voters now have to present a piece of government-issued identification containing their name, photograph and home address, for example a driver’s licence. Voters who do not have identification containing a photograph must supply two pieces of acceptable identification in order to establish their identity and home address.
The Chief Electoral Officer will issue a list of the acceptable pieces of identification that electors can present at polling stations. We had one during the last byelection in Quebec. The identification can range from a credit card or credit card statement to a telephone bill or any other document that makes it possible to quickly identify the elector.
Potential electors who go to a polling station without two pieces of identification will be required by law to take an oath that they are who they say they are. In addition, a person who has already met the voting requirements can vouch for them. So it is very simple. If a person does not have two pieces of identification, someone who has already voted and met the requirements and who has his or her identification can vouch for that person.
This seemed very acceptable to us. Of course, there are always exceptions to any good rule. We had to review the situation in light of the recommendations by the Chief Electoral Officer, who told us that more than 1 million Canadians do not have a home address in due form.
We can understand that in Quebec. Until 2000, I was the mayor of a small town. I was given the opportunity to be the warden of the MRC and one day the president of the Union des municipalités du Québec. I can say that in the 1980s, a number of the smallest communities in Quebec did not have street numbers, door numbers, etc. The Government of Quebec asked all these municipalities to have addresses with street numbers and door numbers. This required a major investment. People had to go through the Commission de toponymie to get street names and so forth. The effort was made in Quebec, in areas that had municipalities.
However, there are still some areas not organized in municipalities. In Quebec, there are thought to be about 15,000 people who are affected. This figure also includes people with no fixed address, the homeless and so on. According to the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada, there are about 15,800 electors who do not have an address consistent with Bill , passed last February.
When we look at what happened in the other provinces, such as Newfoundland and Labrador, we see that approximately 23% of voters would not be able to vote because they do not have a home address with street number. This means that they have rural addresses with only P.O. box or rural route numbers. This was the case 20 years ago in Quebec. So we can understand why other communities decided not to invest in this. In Ontario, 150,000 voters are affected and in Saskatchewan, there are 189,000. In Nunavut, approximately 80% of residences do not have individual addresses. So we can understand why this bill aims to regularize the situation and enable these people to vote.
Obviously, the proposals in Bill seem acceptable to us. In short, the bill amends the Canada Elections Act to make the rules more flexible, making it possible to verify the residence of voters living in areas where the municipal address on ID cards is a P.O. box, general delivery or rural route.
The bill states that if the address on the ID card provided does not establish the voter's residence, but corresponds to the information found on the voter's list, the voter's residence would be deemed established.
For example, a voter whose ID card shows only a rural route address would be able to establish his residence if that address corresponds to the information on the voter's list.
Obviously, if the voter's list shows that a person lives on rural route #2 in a particular place, and the identification shows the same address, it would be possible to make the connection and the bill would not require a street name and number as it did before. There would be enough information to make the connection.
There is also the case where one voter vouches for another. I gave an example of this earlier. Under the current act, someone who has an address and knows someone who does not have an address with a street number or does not have two pieces of identification can vouch for that person. People without addresses cannot be vouchers under the current act. Now, people who have proven to scrutineers, Elections Canada workers or the people responsible for supervising the vote that their general delivery address is the same as the address on the voter's list—and who therefore have previously exercised their right to vote—may vouch for another voter.
Clearly, these people can be allowed to vouch for voters who have no identification. The current bill keeps the references to pieces of identification, but allows rural routes in lieu of addresses with street numbers as addresses that match what appears on the voters list.
In my opinion, it is good that this bill can make things better for 15,800 voters in Quebec with no fixed address. The same problem exists in the other provinces, so the bill makes things better for the million voters the Chief Electoral Officer mentioned.
However, we have heard from members of other parties in this House. This measure must not nullify the whole principle of Bill , which was introduced in the last session. We want to be able to avoid fraud by requiring two pieces of identification. We must not allow statutory declarations. What some members are trying to say is that we should go back to statutory declarations. A person simply has to take an oath to be entitled to vote. What we want is evidence, identification or someone who can vouch for someone else. Otherwise, this bill would call into question or have the opposite effect of Bill , which was passed in February 2007.
I want Quebeckers who are watching us to know that Bill of February, 2007, is identical to the Election Act of Quebec. In Quebec, when we vote, we have to show identification. The federal legislation was much more lax. In the past, this resulted in mistakes and possibility for fraud. Quebec has always been a leader. Since René Lévesque, who overhauled the entire electoral system, political party financing and so forth, Quebec has always led the way in electoral legislation. We must applaud the Government of Canada for yet again modelling its legislation on legislation in force in Quebec and for the decisions it makes here in this House, with tremendous support from the Bloc Québécois. We are always proud to help the rest of Canada benefit from the good things in Quebec. Often, the best things come from Quebec. I am sure that the hon. member for can attest to that. As a former mayor, he knows quite well that we are always leaders in Quebec, but lately with the Conservative government, we have been falling behind in forestry and the development of the manufacturing sector.
If the federal government would agree to invest in its jurisdictions in economic development, if it would agree to listen to the recommendations of the Government of Quebec, of Premier Jean Charest, who is not a sovereignist, things would be better. Premier Charest asked the federal government to intervene and help the manufacturing and forestry sectors.
We saw that the Conservative government's recent policy statement, its mini-budget, offered absolutely nothing to deal with the crisis in forestry and manufacturing.
Bill , which follows on Bill , is a good piece of legislation. It modernizes the Elections Act and is based on legislation that has been in force in Quebec for almost a decade.
It would be nice if, in other matters such as aid programs for the forestry and industrial sectors, the Conservative government reacted to and relied on the good advice it is being given by the Bloc Québécois MPs and the Government of Quebec.
Once again, it is sad to see our colleagues from Quebec who agree to sit here, to sit at the same table as the hon. members from the rest of Canada, who do not have the same interests as Quebeckers. What can I say? They might understand, one day. There are seats available here on this side of the House for them.
That is why we always have to pay attention and be alert. After all, we are here to stand up for citizens. Bill was introduced in response to a complaint from Canada's Chief Electoral Officer, who wanted voters with no fixed street address to be allowed to vote.
The Bloc Québécois intends to stand up for their interests and supports the government in helping the Chief Electoral Officer.
When it comes to the Chief Electoral Officer, however, we always have to be very careful. When he asks for something, that is one thing, but when we do, that is another thing entirely. Let us not forget what happened during the last election campaign in Quebec, for the byelections. All of the parties in this House asked the Chief Electoral Officer not to allow people to vote with their faces covered. He did not comply with the unanimous decision of the members of this House who asked him to act in a timely and efficient manner like Quebec's chief electoral officer did.
I want to make sure this message reaches Canada's Chief Electoral Officer. This bill can help him. However, when all of the parties decide to recommend something, he should comply with that. After all, he is a public official. We want him to be neutral, but the position is a political appointment. That raises some questions. The Conservatives appointed him. They were very upset when he allowed people to vote with their faces covered. But since they were the ones who appointed him, they played it down later.
Obviously, by introducing a voter identification bill in this House, they are trying to correct one problem by creating another. The Conservatives are often conflicted like that. They want to solve the problem of veiled voters, but that means staff at polling stations will have to be women. Clearly, by solving one problem, they are creating another. That is often the case with the Conservatives. That is why they are languishing in the polls. In my opinion, they will continue to languish for some time.
Nevertheless, we hope here today to help those who do not have a fixed address. I explained this at the beginning. Something like this happened in Quebec in the 1980s. The tiniest communities did not have street names or civic numbers. That is understandable. Now, out of seven million residents in Quebec, there are only 15,000 people who do not have one. We understand that not all provinces have invested in this way. We can respect that reality, and help those people, while respecting the fact that they must produce identification.
Bill states that, even if a voter does not have a civic address, he or she must bring identification. If that identification indicates rural route number 1, without a house number, and if the voter registration indicates the same information, that is, rural route number 1, that is considered a match.
Thus, this bill would allow these people to vote. That is the aim of the bill, and we support it.
I can give an example of the identification required. A list, which can be updated for every election, was drawn up by the Chief Electoral Officer.
That is why it was not included directly in the bill. However, concerning ID cards, for all the voters listening here today, it could happen sooner than one might think. One never knows. There could be a federal election any time. With a minority government, any little slip up could trigger an election.
They need to know that the identity cards that will be accepted must include a photo and address, like a driver’s licence. Otherwise, it will be necessary to produce two other pieces of identification; in particular, those with a photo but without the address, such as a health insurance card in Quebec. It could be a matter of a health insurance card, a social insurance card, a birth certificate, a driver’s licence, obviously, a Canadian passport, a certificate of Indian status, Canadian citizenship certificate or citizenship card, a credit or debit card in the voter’s name, a Canadian Forces identity card, a health care card, an employee identification card produced by an employer, the old age security card, a bus pass, a student card, a library card, a liquor store identity card, a card from Canadian Blood Services or Héma-Québec, a hospital card, a fishing permit, a wildlife identification card, a hunting licence, a firearms acquisition certificate, an outdoors card or permit, a provincial or territorial identity card, or even a card from a local community services centre.
Obviously, these pieces of identification are accepted. Original documents with a name and residential address are also accepted; credit card statements, bank account statements, public utility bills, municipal property tax evaluations, school report cards, residential leases, statements of benefits, as well as income tax notices of assessment.
It should be understood that there is no shortage of pieces of identification. Obviously, the easiest is to present an identification card with photo and address, like a driver’s licence; however, not everybody has one and we are well aware of that. Next, there is a whole list of documents with name and address, two of which could be presented in order to vote, whether they have a photo or not.
The residents of Quebec should recognize that it is the same thing for the provincial elections: they must always bring their pieces of identification when they go to vote. As for the people who are responsible for applying the law, they should know that it is done out of respect for the institution; that is to say to ensure that the right people are voting. The procedure is very respectful. It will help election workers prevent fraud and error.
Above all, we are not falling into the trap where we allow the famous declaration under oath, without requiring any piece of identification, as was previously allowed. A voter could declare that he or she was the proper person without those who were working at the polling station really knowing that person’s identity. It was enough just to make a declaration. From now on, that will not be tolerated. An eligible voter will have to vouch for someone who does not have the proper identification.
If you do not have identification, you must be accompanied by someone who fulfills all the conditions—an individual who has identification, who was able to vote and who can vouch for you because they personally know you. This is allowed but you have to be accompanied by someone who knows you. Therefore, if there was fraud or whatever, the person who vouched for you would be responsible and liable to legal proceedings.
The Bloc Québécois is pleased to support Bill at second reading. We hope that amendments will be made quickly because elections can be called earlier than anticipated when a minority government is in power, particularly when the government acts like a majority government, as is the case at present, and is very arrogant towards the other parties. As the chief organizer of the Bloc Québécois, I am in a position to say that we will be pleased to go head to head with the Conservatives anywhere and anytime.
Mr. Speaker, it is not with great pleasure that I stand today to debate Bill .
As a member from a northern riding, I am debating a bill that may solve some of the issues within our riding, but it does not really get at the essential nature of the change in the voting system that will disenfranchise many people and will create great confusion and hardship in voting, at least in the next election, if not many other elections into the future.
When I stand today to speak to Bill , I truly want to speak to Bill . I want to speak to a bill that, in its nature, I cannot support. Its nature will change the way Canadians view their essential political rights in our country. It is a bill that I do not understand and I do not see where the direction is. I have to go back in some ways to Bill to look at some of the reasons given by our government members in putting forward the bill.
The member for spoke to the bill on June 18. He said:
|| 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.
To say that by creating these types of conditions that need to be in place for the voter to vote, we will increase the voter turnout in this country is, by any stretch of the imagination, patently absurd.
He went on to say, which is something more personal:
|| 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.
That is quite a significant fraud. We have seen greater fraud in the House over the past two years with the member for . He did not even take the time for the House to open up before he jumped across the floor and demonstrated his utter contempt for the voters who elected him. That is a greater fraud by far than a single voter who may misinterpret where he or she is supposed to vote or may make a mistake in the location of his polling station.
At the same time, the spoke. He said:
|| 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.
Let us look at some of those statements. He said “Improve the accuracy of the national registry”. Where, in any of the discussions we have had over the past while, do we see a better enumeration system? Clearly, that is one thing we need. Many of the problems we have in the voting system in Canada come from the attempts of the current government and previous governments to reduce the work and the effort that is put into the enumeration system across the country. That is one of the serious problems we have with voting.
This bill and Bill will not change that. They will not make the system more complete. They will not ensure that people are carefully enumerated and that we have the kind of system that our parents and grandparents built up over many years.
Will it facilitate communication with the electorate? I do not see how that will happen with these two bills. What we are going to see is a situation in which many people will find, for one reason or another, that they do not have the proper identification or the proper address or that the address does not match. They are going to be turned off voting.
That is going to happen with a lot of very young voters. That is going to happen with voters who are in disadvantaged situations across this country, the homeless, the poor and the people who have to work long hours and do not have the opportunities that others do.
I know that federal employees have consecutive hours off work in order to vote. The people who are less advantaged across this country will find it more difficult to vote. They are going to have to ensure that on voting day they carry their identification and make even more of an effort than they are accustomed to in many cases to carry out what is their fundamental, democratic right in this country.
The government is responsible for the bills that it brings forward and for the accuracy and the scrutiny that should go into every piece of legislation that is as important as this one, as important as this legislation that goes to the fundamental nature of our democratic system, which is the right and the ability to vote and the certainty that a voter has when he goes into the voting booth.
The government has completely failed Canadians here. It has brought forward another piece of legislation wherein they are attempting to fix their mistakes yet it does not go far enough. Our party says that if the government wants to fix the mistakes in Bill then it should go back to what the NDP said previously.
What we proposed previously was to allow the voters to swear that they are who they say they are at the polling station. Then, if there is doubt about the identity of the voter, the voter would put forth sworn testimony that they are who they are and they have the eligibility to vote in that riding. That is trust in Canadians and Canadians deserve our trust.
In the last four elections, where probably in excess of 60 million votes were cast, there have been four cases of voter fraud. All this work that we have been doing in Parliament is taking a big sledgehammer and knocking down a tiny gnat. That is voter fraud in Canada. This bill is a huge sledgehammer.
Then, as for improving the administration of elections, Bill is going to turn the next election day into a fiasco. We are going to have hundreds of thousands of people, millions of people, standing at polling stations across the country, people who do not understand the rules, who do not have the proper identification and who do not have everything lined up. Canadians are used to voting one way and they will come out to vote and find that the rules have been completely changed. The administration of elections in this next period will be a mess. It will reflect badly on this country and on the voting process of many citizens.
I find these reasons to be bogus at best.
Let us look at what is going on here. We are taking the time now to bring a bill forward that will assist Bill and some of the errors that were made in that bill in terms of the layout. I heard the comments today from the Conservative government that the opposition did not pick up on these mistakes in committee and therefore it is the fault of the opposition that the bill is not correct.
Why are we doing this? The most cynical bone in my body says that this is a social conditioning exercise.
It will be followed by other social conditioning exercises to ensure that Canadians slowly give up their individual freedoms and slowly find that they have to show identification for whatever they are doing at every step of the way in this country. I do not like that. I still feel that Canadians are trustworthy and that we should encourage trust among Canadians. The concept of continually asking Canadians for their identification at every possible opportunity is the wrong road to go down. Those are my views on dealing with those issues.
I would like to move on now to issues that concern my riding.
Last month I had the opportunity to attend a meeting at Paulatuk, a community high on the Arctic coast. We talked about photo ID and identification. There is no place in Paulatuk to get identification. The residents have to go to Inuvik, which requires a plane flight, to get any kind of identification. Quite obviously, many of the residents do not have current identification. They do not need it in Paulatuk because everybody knows everybody.
When people in Paulatuk go to the polls on election day, the returning officer is going to ask for verification for all kinds of people and they will not have the required identification. They do not have the opportunity to go to Inuvik. They do not have the opportunity to get that set up. That will make a travesty out of a community's life. People who have known each other throughout their whole lives will have to show identification to each other.
That is a difficulty. That is a fundamental problem within this legislation. It does not deal with the honest and trustworthy nature of Canadians. It does not consider that. Unless someone proves who they are, says this legislation, they must not be who they say they are.
In fact, even if an elector has identification but it is not quite what is wanted, as I have said, what happens is that under proposed subsection 3.2, “a deputy returning officer, poll clerk, candidate or a candidate's representative who has reasonable doubts concerning the residence of an elector” appearing in front of them “may request that the elector take the prescribed oath”. We are putting it in the hands of all those people to decide the trustworthiness of that Canadian, but we are not allowing the Canadian himself to say that he is trustworthy and give his oath that he is a citizen and is legally within the jurisdiction and has the right to vote. To me, that is the solution we should be going forward with.
The changes that are going to be made with this bill will help a problem that has been created by Bill , but will not help the problems inherent within it. They will also discourage Canadians from voting. They will reduce the already pathetic voter turnout in this country. They will probably reduce it among those who should vote, those who are disenfranchised from the system, those who need to express their opinions on politicians and the people who run this country.
This is a difficult situation for anyone who did not support Bill . We are being asked to repair some damage that the bill caused, not nearly all of it, but we are still going to leave our electoral system in chaos in the next election. The government is still not providing a decent rationale for its actions. It is not coming clean with Canadians about what it is trying to accomplish here.
To me, Bill is totally inappropriate because it does not go far enough toward fixing the problems that have been created with the other bill. Until the government realizes the fundamental mistakes it made in the previous legislation, how is it going to fix them with this patchwork? How is the government going to make the changes that are going to make this work for Canadians in the next election and elections in the future? It is not. That is the problem.
We can send this bill to committee. We can try to work with other parties in Parliament to fix errors in a bill that is not appropriate, but that is not good enough. For Canadians, one of the only hopes we have now is what is happening with the charter challenge on Bill . It is being challenged in our courts for its unreasonable nature in terms of our fundamental rights as Canadian citizens.
We will have to wait and see. Perhaps this problem will be solved for us by the courts, but that is a crying shame when we look at what has happened here in Parliament with this kind of legislation and the direction the government has taken. It is a real shame.
I am disappointed in the government. I am disappointed for my constituents. I do not want any of my constituents not to be able to vote, whether they are students travelling from one community to the other or transient people who have changed their address but have not changed it on their identification. Whatever the problem is, we will see problems with this bill that are hard to judge today, but they definitely will show up on election day. It will cast the whole system into some considerable doubt and will create a lot of pressure for change after the next election.
I do not know what we were doing when we brought forward Bill or what the thinking was there, but as a Canadian, as someone who prizes my right to vote and the right of every other citizen to vote comfortably and cleanly without any conditions put on that right, I am not happy with this. I do not think the bill is appropriate. I certainly hope that the courts will adjudge the same. That will solve the problem for us and bring it back to the reality of our electoral system, our voting system, which has worked well for us.
If there were examples of large scale fraud that came before the courts, we might have a case to say that we needed to be more vigilant here. We should have opened up the whole act and looked at how to review it to ensure that deputy returning officers and poll clerks all have the proper authority to deal with the issues that come in front of them. Instead, we took this course. Is it a course that is going to work for us? I do not think so. I think we have taken the wrong course and we need to right it.
If this Parliament does not do it, perhaps the courts will. I hope the voters realize this when they go into the voting booth in the next election and realize which parties caused the problems that they see in front of them, when they see the lineups and the people rejected from voting. I hope they think about it when they are going in to vote and I hope they cast their votes accordingly, realizing what the government has done to the system that was working well and was in place, a system that needed more work on the enumeration side and that needed the electoral act to be looked at in certain ways to ensure that the performance of the officers involved in conducting the elections is proper in this day and age.
Those are the things we should have looked at. We can attempt to fix this in a small fashion with this bill. We can fix the problems we have created with Bill , but it is not good enough. It is not good enough and it should not be taking place in this Parliament.