I will move amendment NDP-20. This concerns the registration offices.
The system in question within the Canada Elections Act and tweaked by Bill again involves a system of appointing after nomination lists from parties; those lists can be closed, so that becomes, de facto, pure nominations. Again, to be consistent, this is a whole package, which this would have been if we'd been succeeding on each vote, and it states, “Each registration officer shall be appointed by the returning officer on the basis of merit, following a process that is fair and transparent.”
I should also say that if the government MPs had been onside with this, towards the end of these amendments this would have been NDP-22, closing out the package. Having listened a bit to what the government was saying on their own concerns, we would have proposed the following: that the Chief Electoral Officer shall publish guidelines on the criteria and procedures associated with appointing electoral workers on the basis of merit, following a process that's fair and transparent.
We would have put in a “for greater certainty” clause showing that persons associated with political parties and persons nominated by candidates of parties in any election are fully entitled to be appointed on the same basis as any other person. Also, we would have created a mechanism, not a cumbersome one, but a basic way in which parties could direct people to Elections Canada or the returning officer to make sure they are considered under this process.
If we had succeeded with deputy returning officers, poll clerks, and now the registration officer—I've realized that we're not going to succeed—we would have been trying to assuage some of the concerns of the governing side, in that this process nonetheless would have produced appointments of election day officials that are, in our view, let's just say, fit for the 21st century.
We do think that elections commissions around the world generally are responsible for the appointment of election day workers. Scrutineers are the party's business. Election day workers should be Elections Canada's. That is why this is the third of the three amendments, and I hereby move it.
Mr. Chair, PV-26 moves us into a really important area of substantial amendments to the bill. It was one of the problems with the current way political parties operate, which was identified by numerous commentators, both by Chief Electoral Officer Mayrand and by Democracy Watch, and by a number of people who testified before the committee. It certainly has troubled me ever since I left the NGO world at Sierra Club, where we had to abide by the Privacy Act in the treatment of the names of our members, to find that Canada's privacy laws don't apply to registered political parties.
We have a lot of examples of fairly invasive practices by political parties, in maintaining databases of huge amounts of information on Canadians, without their knowledge and without their permission. Of course, if political parties were not exempted from the Privacy Act, such behaviour would be outrageous. Somehow, political parties are outside the normal rules of privacy protection of every other body and agency that operates in Canada.
My amendment would create a new clause, 24.1, to be inserted on page 18:
24.1 The Act is amended by adding the following after section 54:
54.1 (1) In order to ensure that the collection, use, disclosure and retention of Canadians' personal information by political parties is subject to commonly accepted principles of privacy protection, transparency and accountability, political parties shall develop and make available upon request policies and practices necessary to ensure compliance with Schedule 1 to the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act.
The rest of it is consequential to that.
Obviously, there's a paragraph 3:
(3) If a political party fails to comply with subsection (1), the Chief Electoral Officer may withhold from that political party any information contained in the lists of electors.…
I find it very troubling that in the world of big brother, nobody has bigger databases on Canadians than the larger political parties. No offence to my colleagues across the way, but I think the CIMS database has them all beat. We have information on what people buy, what they own, where they shop, where they worship, and I really think that all of us, as members of political parties, should be troubled by this exemption.
I don't have a lot of hope that you're about to pass it, but I really want to make the case that I bet your constituents would be really proud of your voting to ensure that political parties are not above the laws of privacy in this country.
Again, just for the sake of completeness, we've been moving amendments until this point to make the returning officer, therefore Elections Canada, responsible for all appointments of elections officers, the central poll supervisor. In effect, although with different wording, that is the case in the current act.
Bill changed that and made central poll supervisors effectively subject to the de facto appointment of the candidates or the parties—this is the provision we have now—who placed first in the last election. Therefore, the whole point was that unbalanced the system that existed. The theory of neutrality was that there'd be a deputy returning officer of the first party, and a poll clerk from the second. This squeezed out any other parties, so it was a problematic system, but nonetheless this would have unbalanced it.
There have been a lot of comments from informed observers from the NDP, from the opposition, to say that was a mistake to include. I won't belabour the point, other than to note that the minister did say it was among the changes that he would support.
I understand that by virtue of voting against clause 44, the government will return us to where the act currently is on central poll supervisors. However, before we get there, I'd like to have a vote on this and get to returning the Canada Elections Act to a situation where the central poll supervisors would not be appointed by the first-place party.
Could we vote on this, and then go to clause 44?
Mr. Chair, I'm sorry for jumping in to point out that this wasn't identical. It was in the sense that the representative shall be appointed based on merit.
The significant difference from previous amendments that is found in this particular amendment, PV-27, is based on recommendations from the Chief Electoral Officer, as well as from Democracy Watch, as well as from Mr. Neufeld particularly.
There's no question there has been controversy throughout the period since the first reading of Bill over the content of the Neufeld report. There's no question the review of the 2011 election by Mr. Neufeld commissioned by Elections Canada reflected that there were a number of errors. The errors were not, as you will recall from testimony, related to attempts at fraud, apparent fraud, or even suspicion of fraud. What they did relate to is that our electoral system depends on a lot of people who are hired at the last minute and who do not necessarily receive adequate training.
The key difference between this amendment and previous ones is to allow the returning officer to appoint the central poll supervisors 180 days before the writ. You will recall from Mr. Neufeld's testimony how significant he feels it is that we stick to fixed election dates. Then you know when the writ's going to be dropped and then you can start bringing in the chief election day workers well enough ahead that they get the training they need to reduce error rates.
If you stepped back and were inventing our electoral system from scratch, you wouldn't invent the system we have . We've eliminated the enumeration. We don't have a voters list that's reliable. We're now relying on multiple pieces of identification. We have a bunch of people picked by political parties who are appointed at the last minute and not given adequate training.
This is an attempt to say that in the case of those central poll supervisors who play such an important role, let's hire them early and make sure that they're the bulwark of the system with adequate, in fact excellent, training.
Just mine. Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I'll keep it brief, as everyone's familiar with the topic.
In 2007, the CEO decided to change certain rules to allow people to vote with their faces covered. At the time, the Prime Minister said he seriously disagreed with the CEO's decision. Bills to amend the Elections Canada Act were later introduced, one by the Bloc Québécois and one by the Conservative Party. The Conservatives also mentioned it in the Speech from the Throne. In 2011, the current minister, Steven Blaney, put forward a private member's bill requiring electors to show their face when voting.
The Bloc Québécois just wanted to bring the federal legislation in line with Quebec's: anyone who goes to a polling station must show their face when voting. It's a bit like passports, where the photo shows the person's face. The same applies to driver's licences.
Since the Conservative government has always supported the measure, I would ask its members to vote in favour of my amendment, because I already know the other parties are against it. Of course, if we could bring them around this evening, that'd be ideal. Voting with your face uncovered is simply a matter of fairness to all voters.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Chair, I'll move this amendment.
This is getting down to the section of the act where we talk about ID requirements when voting.
We've heard the argument that it's not so much ID, who you are, but the residency requirement as to where you live that seems to be the major problem. We've heard that time and time again from people who made interventions. In fact, it seemed that the vast majority of people did not seem to have a problem with producing identification to prove who they were. It was only the residency that seemed to be the sticking point.
Therefore, we're suggesting that to overcome that problem of not being able to prove residency, rather than vouching, someone who has a proper piece of identification showing who they are can have another voter from the same polling station, who has both proper identification as to who they are and where they live, sign a written oath of residency. The voter himself, who doesn't have the proper residency requirements, will be required to co-sign the oath attesting to the voter's address. In other words, we would have a situation similar to what currently occurs in Manitoba.
Just to be clear, everyone will have to prove who they are. They will have to have a proper form of identification. But through the signing of an oath, or attestation as some people would call it, we can allow those people without proper identification of residency to still vote.
That's what this amendment is about. I'll leave it at that, because I'm sure there are members from the opposition side who have questions on this amendment.
Okay. Just for the record, NDP-30 and NDP-31 would have been the NDP's amendments to restore the Canada Elections Act to the vouching provisions that are there, that we've lived with in this country until Bill , but by virtue of the line conflict, we won't be able to move them so we'll discuss vouching in the context of this amendment. I wanted to be on record that those two amendments can't be put forward.
This is welcome, although it also has problems in scope. It's welcome in the sense that the committee did indeed hear among its 71 witnesses a lot of groups and representatives of groups who very articulately set out why it was that removing vouching from the Canada Elections Act could impact them, large numbers of different sectors of society. We already knew about 120,000 people had vouched in the 2011 election, and a face was put on that in committee, I would say, for a good chunk of the folks who would have needed to vouch.
At that level the outcry across Canada about the removal of vouching appears to have had an effect. I can only say I welcome and am glad the government is putting forward an amendment to their withdrawing of vouching that institutes a vouching by address system whereby one piece of ID plus vouching is going to allow people to vote.
I have a couple of concerns I want to flag and see if we can talk through them and get to the point of a possible very small amendment.
I'm not sure if people following the committee remember we had testimony from a Professor Abe Oudshoorn, who works with the homeless in London, Ontario. He described an organized process of vouching in London. Social workers and community workers on the day of the election will take clients who show up at their agency to polling stations and vouch for them. He later explained this meant they would obviously have to pair them up for their specific polling divisions because you can only vouch within your polling division.
This was made easier for a number of elections in one of our biggest agencies. The London InterCommunity Health Centre was a polling station, for example. Staff there were kept busy vouching. He predicted by the end of the day it was very hard to find a London social worker who hadn't vouched for somebody.
He explained it as follows. This was part of our testimony:
When a person experiencing homelessness but without identification enters an agency and expresses an interest in voting—often the agencies have a sign that says, “Ask us how you can vote”—they are connected with someone who can vouch for them, whether it's someone who works in the agency or another person who's homeless who's also said that they would like to vote. They will be accompanied by someone who can vouch for them at the polling station. This is made simpler in our community because one or more of the serving agencies use our polling stations and it makes it a little easier for everyone in terms of the walking.
The reason I've taken the time to set this out is that one of the provisions in amendment G-5 that sets out the conditions for vouching adds a threshold that doesn't currently exist in either the law or the practice of vouching under the Canada Elections Act.
I'm referring to new proposed subparagraph 143(3)(b)(ii). It basically says that one of the conditions of being able to vouch for somebody.... Actually, there are two paired together on the second page of the amendment:
(ii) they know the elector personally,
(iii) they know that the elector resides in the polling division,
At the moment, the law effectively is only the second one, (iii). They know that the elector resides in the polling division because it's taken as a given that when you know that, you actually know the person sufficiently to know that. There's no test for how well or how much better you know the person other than knowing that.
By introducing “they know the elector personally”—
Adding the language “they know the elector personally” is new and it seems they want it to be a little bit additional to the idea they know that the elector resides in the polling division.
To me this is a problem, because it opens up the ability of whatever officer on election day to be able to start asking, “Do you know this person personally?” and make judgment calls. What does “personally” mean? For how long, and in what context?
I can see absolute chaos, as well as potential unfairness. Inconsistency of application is one form of unfairness and then there's the unfairness of turning somebody away because an elections officer says, “You haven't known them for a year. You haven't known them for a week. You just met them an hour ago.” But you reliably know they live at that address because the social agency that has paired you up with them has indicated that they use your services. I think the openness, the generality of this, is going to produce a real problem of application.
I have a second concern. Mr. Richards may remember we had a bit of a discussion on this. Under the current Canada Elections Act, the sections on vouching, there is basically the idea that what I was calling citizen-to-citizen vouching is completely acceptable. The idea is you know the person, where they live, you've come to know them enough that this is the person who lives where you're vouching for them and that's all that has ever been required.
I'm hoping it's not an intention, and I can't imagine it's an intention, but this is by result potentially an anti-homeless clause, because if you use a system like the one described for London or anything that's similar to it, there's a danger that the threshold of knowing the person personally won't be met. The citizen-to-citizen vouching has literally been written out of the possibility by using the word “personally”, and whether that means you live in the same division and it's family, you live in the same division and it's a neighbour, you live in the same polling division and it's somebody else who somehow you know personally, whatever that might mean, I just think it goes far too far for what is otherwise an openness of spirit to everything else that was heard in the days of testimony.
I'm hoping that through some further discussion we can find a way. I will be wanting to amend this to excise it because I think it's completely unnecessary to start with, and then I do believe it can create barriers. I'm hoping that the other side will look at my concerns and say that's not what they intended and therefore we can work with this, and let's see what we can do.
I wanted to flag one last thing about this. Let me take a step back. In the 2011 election, roughly 900,000 or a million people were able to vote, legally able to vote by authorization of the Chief Electoral Officer, by using the voter information card as proof of address alongside a piece of valid ID. Some figures suggested over 400,000 actually did it that way.
We know that one of the government's amendments to the Canada Elections Act in Bill is to get rid of the use of voter information cards. So we have, let's say, 400,000 people who use these and we don't know what percentage of them can easily find that piece of ID with an address to replace the voter information card, but we do know that this new system will allow them to come out with their ID and if they can find somebody voting at the same time or somebody they know, they can have them vouch.
What percentage of those 400,000, along with the 120,000 who vouched the last time who could find a piece of ID, are going to need vouching?
I actually think there's a big potential for additional red tape here because—and I'll explain this later when we get to voter information cards—a decent percentage of those 400,000 who use the VICs will remember that they did so. A decent percentage of them probably couldn't find a piece of address ID, and the only choice for those people now will be vouching. This will create potential logjams and all kinds of pressures on some polls if that turns out to be the case.
What's the solution? That we happily embrace the government's amendment, hopefully getting rid of this knowing personally business and we keep voter information cards, because then, what will that do? That will accomplish exactly what Mr. Neufeld recommended in his report.
Let's diminish the amount of vouching that's needed. One way to do that is to increase the use of voter information cards and make them generally available.
If the voter information card is available, you don't get to the vouching fallback here for many people because they will actually be listed and will be able to use the voter information card. Some of them will be able to find other pieces of ID with their address; I recognize that.
There's a danger, however, that this well-intentioned amendment, the government's version of vouching, address vouching, will potentially add to the numbers of overall vouching because the VICs are gone. If the government is content with that, then I just hope Elections Canada can find a way to make sure that they're ready for the pile-up that might occur at some polling stations. I think the easiest way, again, is to replace it to make sure the VICs stay, as well as this amendment.
However, there will be people who will not be able to vote because we heard good testimony that made sense just as a matter of logic, that there are some people in society who, by the time an election is called, can't lay their hands even on the one piece of identity that would then allow for vouching, plus they would have to find somebody to vouch. There will be cases, and it may not be nearly as many as otherwise would be the case if this weren't brought in, but because the right to vote is a constitutional right, every possible effort should be made to allow anybody entitled to vote, to vote.
We have to be aware that, as Mr. Lukiwski said, the vast majority would be able to vote using this, and the rest of the provisions, the showing of ID. But he accepted, by using that expression, that some people won't, and that, ultimately, is what the current vouching provisions in the Canada Elections Act are intended to be there for, as the final safety net.
That's also why there are scholars who have begun to write about why not having that kind of final—let's call it—full vouching ability could lead to.... The absence of that may be declared unconstitutional.
I'm delighted to see this. I really do think that the government's bringing vouching back into the Canada Elections Act is a positive. I actually thank the government for doing that, for having bent to pressure, frankly, but hopefully members of this committee also conveyed all the testimony they heard, and that played a role.
After having set out the context, I'm hoping we can have some discussion on this “they know the elector personally” business.
Mr. Chair, the purpose as I understand it of the section of the amendment that would become the new proposed subparagraph 143(3)(b)(ii) containing the words “they know the elector personally”, is to make sure that some of the basic qualifications one must have in order to vote are fulfilled.
Knowing that someone resides in a polling division is also required, and this is of course a good start. We need to know as well that the individual who is being vouched for is eligible to vote based on their criteria. You have to be 18 years old to vote. You have to be a Canadian citizen to vote. Now I will grant that there are many people who are obviously over the age of 18. I might submit myself as a case study in this regard. I do want to say for the record that I was carded once after I reached the age of 40—true story—but I have a suspicion that I looked not like a youth but rather like a liquor inspector. Anyway, that's my guess.
Be that as it may, there are people, and students are an excellent example of this, who may or may not be of voting age. Often they will look younger than the voting age when in fact they're over, and the reverse. This is a reasonable thing. You have to know the person personally in order to determine that. A person can easily establish their identity through a piece of identification without being able to establish their age. Likewise, considering the large list of types of identification that are acceptable, including everything down to utility bills, most of these things do not include date of birth, nor do they include citizenship. Indeed I am hard pressed to think of anything other than a passport that actually serves as identification as to your identity that also indicates whether you are a citizen of Canada.
These are two things that are accomplished in this particular case. I, too, kept careful records of the witnesses who came before this committee raising concerns about individuals who would not be able to vote if vouching were removed and not replaced with something. I am hard pressed to think of a plausible example that qualifies. The example that had the greatest resonance with me was the example offered by one of the witnesses who asked what happens to a woman who has left a violent and abusive husband and is now residing outside her home. Initially, I thought she was making reference to somebody residing in a shelter for battered women, but she said later on that what she meant was someone who's living with her sister.
Using either of those two examples, the individual is unlikely to have literally no identification at all. In the event that she's at the shelter for battered women, she is very likely to have or to be capable of getting an attestation from the administrator of that home. In the event she's with her sister, there are any number of pieces of identification that don't attest to her address but do attest to her identity that she would either have or would be capable of getting in fairly short order. Remember, the CEO has the ability to create new identification that would allow her to establish this. I'm not actually saying he will do this, but he could do this if he wanted to. For example, he could allow that famous prescription bottle that is used in British Columbia to be used. I'm not recommending that necessarily, but it was suggested to us as a possibility.
Establishing some form of identity is fairly reasonably established. Remember that her sister, using this example, can vouch that she is indeed someone she knows personally. The only people I can imagine falling into the category of where no one knows them personally.... It doesn't say intimately, you'll notice. It says personally. The person is not just introduced to you that day.
I'm struggling. You have to be literally outside your community and outside your community in a way where you have not established any knowledge because you are an extraordinarily recent arrival, as in within the last few days or less than a week, I would think.
I'm struggling here. I guess one could argue that a homeless person who has just arrived in a municipality has this problem. But don't forget that for all people, including homeless people, there's the option of voting at the returning office, at the advance poll, and on polling day, to say nothing of a number of special balloting options.
I am not suggesting that these are easy options to access. Nothing is easy for you when you're a homeless person, but the point about them is that they're spread out over time chronologically, meaning that you're not likely to be someone who is not known personally to anybody at all, even if you're a homeless person.
I suppose if we conjured up an example of somebody who lives in the woods, unknown to other human beings, and who emerges on voting day, we would indeed have hit somebody who would not qualify to vote under this.
Now I want to go back and point out what is fundamentally wrong with Professor Scott's argument and indeed with the entire argument that the opposition has been making from the start. Their argument is that the right to vote under section 3 of the charter is sacrosanct, and I'm willing to concede that is true. It is so sacrosanct that if we can find one example, no matter how preposterous, anywhere in the country, we should therefore expect the Supreme Court to overturn every single measure required to ensure that people who are not eligible won't be voting. We have to strip away all security, all potential to avoid fraudulent voting.
I know their argument, their additional argument, that there is no electoral fraud in Canada—none, zero, nothing, nada, rien, ever. They point, I suppose, to the 2011 election from which there were no prosecutions, and the 2008 election from which there were no prosecutions.
But I make the humble suggestion that in a country where many millions of people vote across the country, with inadequately trained personnel—we all concede that occurs—with inadequate voters lists—we all concede that, including the CEO, who points out that the voter information card has a 14% error rate with regard to identity.... The voter information card is issued on the basis of the preliminary voters list, not the final voters list, which admittedly is improved. The rate is over 20% in ridings he has chosen not to identify for us. I would argue that there is indeed, in some situations, fraudulent voting. We just can't track it.
Numerous members of Parliament, from literally all parties—Liberal, NDP, Conservative, and Bloc Québécois—when we were dealing with the piece of legislation that came prior to some amendments to the Elections Act that came in 2006, all stated that fraudulent voting was a concern. All of them did.
This is the goal: to strike a reasonable balance. I think we have gone an extraordinary distance to ensuring that no plausible scenario can exist, as opposed to the implausible, and we can always invent something. Another example that occurred to me was that of someone who was kidnapped by aliens and returned to Earth just on election day, and their ID was out of date or was kept by the aliens. Who knows? But no plausible scenario exists in which an individual will be unable to cast a ballot during the writ period given all of these safeguards that are in place, including the ones that are here, including the numerous safeguards that have been in existence for some time, such as the existence of advance polls, voting at returning offices, and so on.
That's a tall order for a short man.
I'll try to get away from repetition because a lot of stuff I wanted to say has already been said by Mr. Scott.
I want to talk about the amendments following this that obviously will not go through, but the idea about vouching, to me, was something that was fundamental to any great democracy, in order for people to vote. I always found it a bit disingenuous when people—well, when the government primarily—would say, “You don't need to show this type of ID just for this”, whether it was cross-border shopping or whatever it is you wanted to do. None of that would prove to be an inalienable right. This is an inalienable right, however, as stated in section 3 of the charter. For that reason I thought the testimony, and I won't rehash all that was said in testimony, was such compelling evidence. Not only was it compelling, it was so overwhelmingly of the same opinion. In my 10 years of being here, I have never seen stronger coalescence of opinion around one direction since coming here.
Again for the sake of brevity and repetition, I want to stress how I think that in the next election we will face some serious problems and complaints, especially from one segment of the population that I know exists as a majority in my riding, seniors. This voter information card has been relegated by the government as something of a tool that was used to circumvent rules—whether it was irregularity or fraud, I'll let them decide—but I simply found it so egregious to turn their backs on something that was a fundamental piece, a pathway, to exercising a democratic right.
I remember going to many seniors' homes and asking people to vote for me. They would talk about voting and all that, and that card was prominent in their rooms, in their houses. It was somewhere where they saw it every day. This was a ticket to their own democracy that they exercised, and I think in the next election it will continue to be that. I genuinely hope that by changing this there will be some program, quite literally. Maybe Elections Canada should do this. I don't know if the government has thought of this. You should write on this voter information card in bold letters, “You cannot use this piece of identification for voting”. It needs to be in bold letters, because we will have problems if that's not done.
I want to reiterate what was said earlier by Professor Scott about the importance of these voter information cards. I know that's repetitive, but I honestly believe it is very, very important that these VICs remain as important as they used to be, and if anything, make them stronger. Again I reiterate, you had best tell the Canadian public that his thing is no longer a piece of ID for that third pillar, which is to prove your residence.
I don't understand why they decided to push ahead, eliminate the element of the population that they have some suspicion of, and try now to reverse engineer mistakes they think they have made.
Thank you for your time.
Chair, certainly, first off, I would concur in my colleague's remarks. She's absolutely right. Make no mistake that there are going to be problems with this.
However, the first thing I want to say is that this not just an ordinary flip-flop. This is a flip-flop of historic proportions. This is a double backflip somersault with a twist in terms of flip-flops.
Before I get to my argument, the first thing I want to say very clearly is that had there been proper consultations in the beginning with all the people who we ultimately heard from, who convinced the government through public pressure to change their position, we could have avoided all this.
If they had simply knocked on the door of the Chief Electoral Officer, the elections commissioner, and a few other experts, we could have avoided all of this. This is what happens when governments bring in legislation that significantly changes important things and they don't consult with anyone. This is the kind of thing that happens.
Let's start at the beginning. If everyone recalls, the government started talking about this because there was so much fraud, because there was so much potential for fraud. In fact, the minister was reading out Mr. Neufeld's report, holding it up and saying, “There's the proof right here. It's in the report. Mr. Neufeld did this study, this expert study, and here's what it said.”
What did Mr. Neufeld say when the minister used his report to say that there was either widespread fraud or the potential for widespread fraud? Mr. Neufeld said, “I think any fair-minded person who reads that report would come to the conclusion that he”—meaning the minister—“has not been fair in his assessment of my findings.” He also went on to say, “there was no evidence of fraud whatsoever”. He also said that he had “only been privy to a handful of cases of voter fraud” in his career.
That was the argument. That was the foundation the government laid out for denying vouching. Then, of course, we all heard the minister's talking points. They were repeated here for a while, but anybody who has followed this closely saw those talking points soften up just a little. Line by line they sort of disappeared, and as time went on, they stopped defending....
Then they went back, and now we're here with this amendment, and it needs to be said, the in particular.... I don't normally mention the Prime Minister at the committee level, but I have to tell you, I sit right across from him and he's been getting up every day when he has the chance and saying that the NDP has this extreme position that people can vote with no ID.
Meanwhile, the vouching available in the last election meant exactly that. People could walk up with no ID and they could get someone to vouch for them, and Mr. Neufeld's report said, “there was no evidence of fraud whatsoever”. So there's nothing extreme about saying that maybe we should use the same vouching system that let the current be elected Prime Minister.
Now, it's cute, if you'll notice.... I'll be shocked if they utter the word “vouching”. They won't use the word “vouching”, but that's what this is. They've brought it back because they knew they had to. It was not going to stand, so they tried to find a clever little way to make it look like it's not really vouching while at the same time they spin out a political message that the NDP has this extreme position about people voting without ID. Of course, they don't mention the fact that this is exactly how he became , and that this system was in place, and that the experts who reviewed that election said, “there was no evidence of fraud whatsoever”.
So why was this even brought in? Get ready for your tin hat throw-out comment, because this is exactly the sort of the thing that the Republicans in the U.S. are doing, and it's about voter suppression. Make no mistake about it. These little things they're throwing in here, like “personally” and a couple of little factors are all meant to hang on to as much of the voter suppression technique as possible, because it works, unfortunately.
Rather than just being up front, because they have no idea how to be up front; that's just a foreign concept to them, as evidenced by Bill landing here without even asking the Chief Electoral Officer what he thought.... Rather than being up front and saying, “You know, we got the vouching thing wrong. We really did. We're going to go back to what we had because clearly there's no problem.”
That's not what's happening. Instead, they refuse to use the word “vouching”. They say “attestation”. Fine, call it whatever you want, but it's vouching. Somebody is saying, “I know them personally and I know they live there”, and under any definition, that's vouching.
They're trying to be too clever by half. Nobody is going to be fooled. Is this better? Yes. But make no mistake. It's the bare minimum they could do facing the avalanche of public criticism they received not just in Canada but internationally.
Again, it would have been a lot easier in the beginning, or even now, if you'd come in and said, “You know, we got it wrong”. You'd have taken some heat for the flip-flop, but it's the flip-flop with the double twist and the double somersaults and still trying to come out on top, that you didn't go to vouching but you've still got a bit of your voter suppression technique in there. There will be Canadians who otherwise could have voted in the last election, who can't this time because the vouching has been limited.
I have no doubt that tomorrow we'll see the Prime Minister get back up again and talk about the NDP's extreme position. I want to emphasize again that the extreme position the Prime Minister is saying the official opposition has is exactly the system that was in place in the last election. That was fair enough to let get elected, but somehow that's not supposed to be a fair basis to have for the next election. Nonsense. It's voter suppression.
Thank goodness for the integrity and honesty of our officers of Parliament, current and former, including Madam Fraser, who came forward and said that this bill is an attack on our democracy. And there were all those Canadians who came in here knowing how vicious this government is. People are frightened of this government, but they still came down here and they said this is wrong.
Thank you to all of those Canadians who did that. Every Canadian who attended a rally, signed a petition, sent an e-mail, all contributed to getting back some of our democracy that this government was trying to take away in this bill.
We will be up front. Our intent is to vote for this section because it is an improvement. It does reintroduce vouching as an important and positive tool in our electoral system, but we will vote against the clause. At the end of the day, the government is still taking away democratic rights and access to voting that Canadians had in the last election. They will not have that in the coming election. We're going to continue to do everything we can do to get this fully changed.
We're not at the end yet, Chair, although I am getting close.
With regard to the process, we're not at the end yet. We still have to go through these amendments. It has to go back to the House for report stage and third reading, so there's still time. There's still time to push them to do all of the right things. If we can get half a loaf of democracy, which is a shame in Canada that we get half a loaf of democracy, we'll take it.
We will continue to persevere so Canadians can have their full loaf of democracy, which they not only deserve but they had in the last election, and this government is going to take it away in the election coming up.
Thank you, Chair.
I appreciate that, Mr. Chair. As you know, I have a number of amendments on the same point regarding vouching.
My short comment is really in response to some of the argumentation from my friend Scott Reid. In the balancing between the citizen's right to vote and the perfection of the process, in other words, excluding someone who had no right to vote versus the importance of someone who has the right to vote voting, the Supreme Court of Canada was quite clear in the Etobicoke Centre case.
I'm not going to make a long point, I'm just going to quote from page 100 of the majority decision of Rothstein and Moldaver, “The current system of election administration in Canada is not designed to achieve perfection, but to come as close to the ideal of enfranchising all entitled voters as possible.”
Scott was referring to balancing. It isn't a level balance. It isn't a spirit level. The balance is that the overwhelming priority, the ideal, is to ensure that everyone who is entitled to vote can vote, and that if in the process of achieving that ideal a few people vote in the wrong place, or vote where they weren't entitled to, that's not an issue to the Supreme Court. The issue under the charter is that every entitled person be allowed to vote.
I will just remind Scott Reid how large a part of the Green Party voting base is people who just wandered out of the woods or were abducted by aliens, and I hope he'll be sympathetic in future.
Voices: Oh, oh!
I appreciate that, Mr. Chair.
I have two amendments I'd like to propose.
As I started out by saying I would, I would hope to persuade the government, but I'm not sure we have. I think it's important before I table the amendments to realize that hanging over people's heads when vouching, of course, is the potential of being prosecuted. That's what the oral advice that's referred to in the provision is intended to signal, that the person knows when they vouch for somebody there is the potential to be prosecuted.
That's as it should be, because the system does require that kind of enforcement piece. I understand why the government has that. But if somebody is then told, “Here's one of the criteria. You have to know the elector personally; otherwise, do you know the oral advice I just gave you? You could be prosecuted,” my worry is not just the outside alien examples of my friend Scott, it's whether the average person will take a step back and say, “Okay, well, I can attest to the fact that the elector resides here, but what do you mean by, that I know the person personally?” They're going to ask the poll clerk or the deputy returning officer or the central poll supervisor, and they're not going to be able to tell them.
Mr. Lukiwski, in his answer to Madam Latendresse, at one point said “I know who you are,” and then said “I know you.” Those are two very different things.
I'm not sure how anybody in the election day worker system will know how to answer that question. Do you know what the result will likely be? People will say, “I'm not signing this. Do you mean you could prosecute me because somebody determines that I don't know them well enough? I've known them for the last two weeks. I just moved in next door. Is that enough?”
I just think that the disincentive potential, when people know that this is a criterion and they can be prosecuted for it is where we have to see the issue.
Now, I think Tom may have laid his hands on a possible solution because he answered the question by saying it's an attestation. If we could somehow find a way for this to be rewritten or amended to say you still have to swear this, so it relies on your own sense of good faith and honour, whether you know this person personally, what does that mean? You swear to that, but this is not part of what you can be prosecuted for. You could be prosecuted if, by chance, somebody was able to prove that you did not know that the elector resided in the polling division, it turns out the person did not and you knew that. That's a much easier thing to prove than whether you knew them personally.
What I would like to do is move an amendment that would say, “That Bill C-23 be amended in clause 48 by adding after item 143(3)(b)(v)”—so that means by adding there subsection 143(3.1)—“(3.1) No one may be prosecuted for any offence under this act on the sole basis of not having complied with item 143(3)(b)(ii).” That is the provision that says they know the elector personally.
It stays as a standard. It taps into the sense that Scott's been talking about, the sense of honour that we prefer to bring. What we prefer to think of is what voters bring to our system. Just as when a person swears in court to tell the truth, the average person would take it seriously enough, but they would also have the protection of knowing that for that one thing, they can't be prosecuted.
If what I've just suggested isn't accepted or a wording that's technically better, then I think you're going to have this huge dissuasive effect for anybody willing to step up and vouch. It will cast a fairly wide penumbra, not just in an aliens landing with tinfoil hats scenario. People are going to say, “I don't know that this satisfies knowing a person personally and I'm not willing to put myself on the line by vouching. Nobody in this polling station can tell me what it means.” And no wonder; it's quite subjective and abstract.
That's the amendment I would like to move. I don't know if I've properly worded it in a way that anybody else can improve on.
I'll be very brief as opposed to my colleague Mr. Christopherson. I won't play up to the cameras, but I will point out a couple of things that he tries to continuously—
The Chair: Not helpful, gentlemen.
Mr. Tom Lukiwski: One is that the NDP position, let's be quiet clear, is that they are in favour of people with absolutely no identification being able to vote. That is simply not the intent of this bill, nor will it ever be.
In fact, even though he tries to characterize the government's amendment G-5 as being a monumental climb down, I would point out to him that 87% of Canadians polled agree with us, that you should have some form of identification before you're able to vote.
This continued discussion and the continued mischaracterization that all Canadians agree with the NDP and the opposition's position on vouching is absolutely inaccurate. They disagree and they disagree greatly. So let's get that out on the table, Mr. Chair.
Also, what we are attempting to achieve with this amendment is not a form of vouching, because vouching merely means you can vote without identification. You have to have ID. Everybody who votes in an election, once the fair elections act is adopted, will have to show some sort of identification, pure and simple, as opposed to the NDP's position, where no ID is needed.
Now David, I know you want to try to get camera time again, but it's my turn to speak. I ask you for your consideration.
Mr. Chair, I'll try to be brief as well. Mr. Lukiwski made some of the comments I wanted to make.
Certainly there's no question, despite the claims of the opposition, this is not something that is simply held by the or even his caucus, but this is something that 87% of Canadians believe is very reasonable, that someone show identification to prove who they are in order to vote. They claim to have concerns about some of the points in this particular amendment when we talk about knowing the elector personally. I want to be clear that what we're talking about here is the ability for someone to prove who they are, and then for various reasons—it may be that a box number is what's on their ID, or other reasons—be able to attest to their residence. What we're doing here is obviously an amendment that would allow for a sort of double oath, a co-sign of an oath, where they're signing an oath attesting that they are in fact qualified to vote and that they do live at the residence that they say they do. They would find, of course, another qualified elector who has voted with the proper identification to co-sign that oath with them.—of course, the penalties are made quite clear and are significant—so that Canadians can be confident that the person is actually residing where they are claiming to reside and the co-signer of their oath confirms that.
The one concern that was brought forward by the opposition was the idea that somehow an oath...the fact that one of the conditions was knowing the elector personally. They seem to have some concerns about that.
I might turn to our experts and ask them some questions. I'll sort of ask a series and they can respond at the end.
Obviously, the taking of an oath is a fairly well-known and common practice within our society. This is something that's done quite commonly when signing legal documents, when someone is served a legal document, for example. I know I've personally witnessed this practice. It's very common. One of the things you're attesting to when you sign an oath is that you do in fact know the person personally. That's a fairly commonly known thing within society. Usually, when we talk about legal documents where you're signing an oath, one of the things is that the person is of the full age of 18 so they are qualified to sign a document. That's one of the things here. Of course, that would apply in the case of an election as well. Obviously, to be qualified to be an elector, they would have to be of the full age of 18 or older.
In this amendment there are a couple of things that are quite germane to co-signing the oath of the person. One is obviously knowing them personally. The other one is knowing that they reside in the polling division, because that's obviously what they're signing the oath to attest to, that they know the person, that they know they are a resident in the poll.
In terms of dealing with the oath itself, I would ask first if you could confirm for me that it is a fairly common practice and is fairly well known within law what an oath entails and what it means, and that the provision of knowing the person personally is something that is quite clearly understood in law. Could you confirm to me what the penalties are for falsely signing that oath?
I would point out as well that government amendment G-6, which talks about the new subsection 143.1(1) and talks about the fact that the oath itself would be in this provision, indicates, much like the current section 143.1 in the act—
No, I'm actually skipping ahead for the purposes of—
The Chair: You're talking about the next one. Okay, I just wanted to make sure.
Mr. Blake Richards: Yes. Thank you, Mr. Chair, for clarifying that, but I am skipping ahead to that simply because it would obviously indicate that if it was passed, what it says is that when the person is signing the oath, the person working at the polling station would orally advise the oath taker of the qualifications for electors, and then it goes on to talk about the penalties. Obviously, when it talks about knowing someone personally—although it is quite clearly known in law what that means—it would obviously also indicate that the person, because they're saying that they're aware of the qualifications in order to vote, is going to be indicating that they know the person well enough in order to know that they are qualified to be an elector, so they would obviously know that they're of the age of 18, that they're a citizen, that they meet all the qualifications in order to vote.
I've asked a series of questions with some explanation, but what I really wanted to know in regard to the signing of an oath—something that is quite common in society, and the idea of knowing someone personally when you're signing that oath is something that's fairly well established and commonly known—is what the penalties are for falsely signing an oath.
Third, when we look at government amendment G-6, talking about the fact that they're explaining what the qualifications for electors are, it would obviously indicate that when they're signing it they're of the full knowledge that this person is in fact qualified to be an elector. That would be what they would essentially mean to know them personally. Would that be accurate?
We'll try to answer some of those questions in order.
If you look at government amendment G-5, subparagraph (b) that's being proposed, it essentially says that they are attesting to the elector's residence on oath in writing in the prescribed form and then sets out some elements that have to be part of that prescribed form, so essentially, part of what you're swearing an oath to. Then it sets out those elements, one of which is that they know the elector personally. Essentially, it's saying that they're swearing that they know the elector personally, as well as where they live, which is essentially the purpose of what that attestation is for.
Then the offence for a false oath is set out later in the act. In terms of the taking of oaths, while I wouldn't say it's quite common in the act you do see it multiple times in terms of how it's used to prove something. That offence already exists in the Canada Elections Act as it is now and the punishments that fall for it are being increased under the fair elections act.
The maximum punishments would be, it can be proceeded with on either a summary conviction or indictment. For a summary conviction the maximum punishment would be $20,000 in fines as well as imprisonment of not more than one year. If there's conviction on indictment, which is a very serious criminal offence, it would be a fine of not more than $50,000 and imprisonment of a term of not more than five years or both.
In terms of a false oath, in order to prosecute something like that, the person would have to have knowingly signed that false oath. They would have knowingly felt that they did not know that elector personally. They would have known that elector did not reside where they were attesting to that they resided. It's a threshold that would have to be met.
Yes, I think it's quite clear that knowing someone in this case would be obviously knowing that they're in fact qualified to be an elector. You know them well enough to know that they're 18 years of age, know them well enough to know they're in fact a citizen and they're qualified to vote.
Obviously, it also indicates that they're qualified to vote because they do reside in the polling division that you're saying they reside in. They've also signed to attest to that themselves, so it's a co-signing thing.
With this amendment, essentially what we're doing is we're ensuring the principle, which the vast majority of Canadians obviously quite strongly believe in, that you must prove who you are. This is where the NDP is completely out of step with the vast majority of Canadians without question in taking the position that they do, that you shouldn't have to prove who you are in order to vote. Of Canadians, 87% have been quite clear they expect that. That's still expected under this act with this amendment.
What is allowed, of course, is for you to co-sign. It's quite clear that someone would know the person personally and know they reside in the polling station or division and that they're qualified to vote. That is, in fact, what would be happening here.
I think this is something that obviously has the full support of Canadians. I would ask the NDP to come along with what Canadians expect and support those Canadians who expect that. It's a very reasonable expectation.
Mr. Chair, I'd like to move the follow-up amendment, but I also think it's important, for clarity, to know that when Mr. Lukiwski refers to the Ipsos Reid poll that said that 86% of the people believe that you—
Mr. Tom Lukiwski: It's 87%.
Mr. Craig Scott: Well, the one I have says 86%, but I'll give it to you. Eighty-seven per cent say that you must have ID to vote. In fact, the question asked—and 86% agreed—was whether “requiring voters to personally prove who they are and where they live is essential”. That was the concept they were asked about. It's a very different thing from ID. Vouching is one method of proving who you are.
The same poll said that 52% agree that the elimination of vouching will “unfairly take the vote away from people like students and the poor”. So it's absolutely impossible for the people—
An hon. member: Well, well, well.
Mr. Craig Scott: —in the 87% to believe that the question they were asked is about whether you have ID. The question was on proving who you are. No wonder 87% reasonably thought that proving who they are and where they live is essential.
I think that's a fairly important correction.
The subamendment that I'd like to move, Mr. Chair, to amendment G-5 is a short one. It's that Bill , in clause 48, in proposed subparagraph 143(3)(b)(ii), be amended by replacing “they know the elector personally” with “they know the elector”. This would eliminate the word “personally”.
Since we've lost on the other amendment, I'd like again to give the government a chance. This is much closer to the examples that even Mr. Richards was just giving. I hope the government would come halfway by understanding our argument about why the word “personally” is superfluous, especially when the examples given by Mr. Richards included the question, “Do you know the person well enough to know where they live?” which is already there as a criterion.
If we eliminate the word “personally”, I honestly think we have something resembling a fair meeting of minds. I don't think the concerns we've been presenting have been unreasonable. In a context in which the government has yet to vote in favour of a single opposition motion, I would really welcome some support on this one.
I hereby move that subamendment.
Mr. Chair, I'd like to move NDP-27.
We're on page 25 of the bill. We've moved on to the voter information cards now that we've restored a form of vouching, vouching by address. The voter information card is what this clause seeks to re-establish in a limited sense, because it seeks to give the Chief Electoral Officer back the very power he already has by saying as follows:
For greater certainty, the Chief Electoral Officer may authorize as a piece of identification for the purpose of establishing the elector's address a notice of confirmation of registration that is sent under section 95 or 102.
That's the act's way of talking about the voter information card. Let's not talk about the technicalities; that's what it intends to do.
Voter information cards, as everybody is well aware, are cards that are produced through the intersection of multiple databases that Elections Canada has access to, including driver's licences in every province, so they automatically include whatever level of accuracy exists in those databases—tax records, citizenship records, and the list goes on. It's no wonder the Chief Electoral Officer testified that in his view it is likely that the voter information card is more accurate than the driver's licence.
One of the reasons we should think about the problem with driver's licences is that Elections Canada has an active, proactive approach to updating its list. It's not an enumeration approach anymore; it's doing what it can to keep lists current. Whatever gaps do occur in a mobile world will occur as people move.
For a lot of driver's licences these days, at least in Ontario, the time period on them is a minimum of five years, if not longer. People move around, and I can tell you that from experience.
This is my time for anecdotes. We've heard a lot of anecdotes in the last two months from colleagues on the other side. This is my anecdote. I won't name them, but I have quite a few friends who will confess to having a driver's licence and driving on it even after they've moved and they may not have gotten around to notifying the authorities.
I think that's not an uncommon thing. With driver's licences there will be lags. This is not on purpose. These people were not planning to break the law. They were just taking a little extra time. It's an example of why the driver's licence...although it's the gold standard in the system, if you have one. It has your address. It's listed as the kind of photo ID plus address plus name where you can vote with it alone. The voter information card list already builds in driver's licences.
The second point I need to make very clear is that in the last election, a major pilot project, which we heard about—“pilot” is the wrong word—a major authorization was given by the Chief Electoral Officer for somewhere around 900,000 people to be able to use the VICs in three or four situations—aboriginal reserves, college and university campuses, long-term convalescence homes, and seniors residences. Indeed this is what happened, and in different contexts, a large percentage of those authorized to use the VICs did indeed use them. The report was that it sped up and simplified the process greatly. The report's back. What it allows you to do is not to vote just with the VIC; you're supposed to be bringing another piece of ID that's on this list, this famous list.
Mr. Chair, do you remember how many are on this list?
As long as you have one of the authorized 39 pieces and the VIC, which was primarily authorized to show address, then you could vote.
One of the reasons for the project was that in fact the requirements for the new ID requirements only entered into force after amendments in 2006 and 2007 to the Canada Elections Act, before which there actually was pretty much a trust-based system of voting in this country in terms of ID not being necessary.
What it did is it produced enough evidence that people were not voting, not even going to the voting stations, because they were either confused or couldn't find the pieces of ID to put together, and it was decided that the VIC, which already existed as a notification of registration, could be used and authorized as a form of identification for this purpose. It worked as a major initiative. It led to—now didn't lead directly to, but in Mr. Neufeld's report, he had two corresponding recommendations. He had a bunch of recommendations about how to deal with irregularities, including better training and recruiting, but he ultimately said that one of the other goals should be to reduce the amount of vouching needed, not to get rid of vouching but to reduce the need, and one way to do that was to increase the availability of the VIC as a second piece of ID to show address, and that led to the Chief Electoral Officer saying It is indeed his intention to authorize the use of voter information cards in the next general election.
Perhaps completely unrelated to that, Bill was tabled in the House of Commons and eliminated the ability of the Chief Electoral Officer to authorize VICs, not just in the case of the 900,000 who were able to in 2011, but every Canadian who would have been able to use it in 2015.
The last point is that one of the kind of anecdotal scenarios in the last two months has been the multiplying VIC, the VIC that ends up in somebody's hands with the name in more than one way, with the formal possibility being suggested that the person could thereby try to vote multiple times. Another scenario has been the VIC that travels in groups, in lobbies of residences, and is picked up and somehow or other, in the fictional imagination of one Conservative MP, is then distributed to others who can then vote with them.
The problem with these scenarios, apart from there being no evidence it ever occurs along those lines, is that you need a second piece of ID to vote. You need to produce the ID that shows your name, your identity, that then gets used with the VIC. You would have to be motivated not just to say, “Ah, I can vote with this VIC, and I'm not going to vote in my own name.” You'd have to be that kind of person too, because you're not going to show up at the same polling station and vote twice under different names. The VIC would have to have been sent or get in the hands of somebody who otherwise can't vote, or doesn't want to vote in their own name, and then you'd have to be motivated to forge the second piece of ID.
Not likely, and so therefore it's not that surprising that the minister in the House, I believe it was Monday, giving all the examples to back up his claim that people receiving multiple VICs voting multiple times could not be backed up by virtue of the fact that the only two examples he continues to be able to give is of a satire show, Infoman, charting two people who ostensibly tried to vote with two VICs, but—you know what?—could not, and I won't go into the details about why they could not. So there are, in fact, no examples available to the minister of people using VICs fraudulently.
Yet, we have a proposal by the government to get rid of, certainly, the most accurate piece of federal ID as one piece of ID that can be used in tandem with another. It cannot be used on its own, according to the current system.
All this is, really, is an attempt to return the law to where it was and also, I hope, to avoid huge chaos in 2015, when all the people who were first introduced to the fact they could formally use VICs as part of their voting will now have to be reprogrammed to make sure they do not try to vote in that way this time and instead look for other pieces of ID. Many of them will be able to find these, with different degrees of effort, but certainly, let's say, at least in the thousands will not.
I'd like to move this amendment NDP-27, to achieve the return of voter information cards as something the Chief Electoral Officer may authorize.
Mr. Chair, I'd like to speak against this amendment.
As I've pointed out on a number of occasions in the past, notwithstanding the strange claim that this is the most accurate piece of identification in the Canadian arsenal of identification, the reality is that the Chief Electoral Officer, in his own report following the last election, observed that there was a 14% error rate as to addresses in the voter information card. He indicated that there was about a 10% error rate as to identity, so for one in ten persons, the system has the wrong person.
He also indicated that there was over a 20% error rate in 10 constituencies across the country. He did not specify which those constituencies were, but in the past we've seen that in Trinity—Spadina, just to take one example, where there was a special investigation subsequent to the 2006 election, there were literally thousands of people who had to be dealt with and signed up on election day because they weren't on the voters list.
Remember that the voter information card is, by definition, only as good as the voters list. What the CEO seems reluctant to state, but it's a fact, is that the voter information card comes from the preliminary voters list, not the final voters list, which actually is more accurate. But the voter information card, if it's used as information.... You know, something that tells me I should go and vote at this poll and that has an 80% chance of being right is.... In fact, I don't think it's that good, but it has an 80% chance of being right as to where I should go to vote. That's the information function.
As an identification function, what if your driver's licence in certain parts of the country had a 20% chance of identifying you not as Joe Preston, but as some other person, and some other person as Joe Preston, not you? You might be upset when you learn that you have had your driver's licence and your ability to drive revoked because somebody else was caught driving under the influence one time and was fined. That's pretty significant.
The voter information card was never intended to serve this purpose. The CEO conducted a series of experiments in its use as a kind of identification in a number of locations, as he said, on aboriginal reserves—not all aboriginal reserves in Canada, but some of them, quite a large number—in some seniors residences, in long-term care residence facilities, and finally, on campus. He reported considerable success in two of the three locations.
The success rate was very low for students, but it was interesting to see how he calculated his results to give the illusion that they achieved greater success than they actually did. He said, “Here's the number of people who turned up to vote, among these groups that we were testing, who carried the voter card with them.” That does not mean that x% of these people, of potential voters, were identified using this card. What it means is that of those who actually turned up to vote, x% brought it with them. I can't remember the exact numbers. It was in the 70% to 80% range, I believe, for the first two named groups. It was much lower for students.
Now, if you take another survey instrument that was done by the CEO, the study of youth voters and why youth do not participate, lack of a voter information card was cited as a reason that they don't vote by three of the five subgroups of young people who were not voting.
The voter information card is useful only for those who get it. There's a high error rate, where those who are getting it are not actually getting a correct card. Others are not getting it at all. They don't seem to be included at all in the CEO's statistics. It's yet another frustration for us, as the de facto board of directors trying to watch the professional management of Elections Canada, when we get these statistics that are denying us information that seems to be designed as much to hide that agency's incompetence as to reveal what it's doing.
In short, Mr. Chair, I was alarmed to learn that the CEO was intending to expand this experiment to the entire country. I am relieved that the option no longer exists.
On that basis, I'll be voting against this proposed change.
All right. The fact is that I considered it totally disrespectful, and I don't think they would have done that to anybody in a uniform or anybody with a fancy title unless it was somebody they didn't like. Then all their saluting, respect, and honour, and “that's who we are” goes by the wayside as they treat someone like the Chief Electoral Officer with such disrespect.
Now, I expect the government to tune out, because they don't care what the Chief Electoral Officer has to say. Otherwise they would have asked him what he thought before they wrote the bill. But here's what he said when we brought him in and forced the government to inject some democracy into this process:
In fact, with an accuracy rate of 90%, the VIC is likely the most accurate and widely available government document. The VIC is based on regular updates from driver's licence bureaus, the Canada Revenue Agency, Citizenship and Immigration Canada, and various other authoritative sources. During the election period, revision activities at the local level also increase the accuracy of the VIC.
—contrary to what the government suggests—
This likely makes it a more current document than even the driver's licence, which is authorized by law and used by the vast majority of voters.
He also said, “The legislation...”.
Actually, before I do that, I want to pause for a moment. I'll come back to that quote. It's short, Chair.
The government went nuts all through this whole process whenever we called it a voter identity card. They insisted it had to be a voter information card, and yet, all the evidence we had, Chair, all the evidence, including the quote I just gave from someone who is an officer of Parliament....
Unless one of the government members wants to say he's lying, I'm prepared to accept as a fact that it has 90% accuracy. It's more accurate than any individual government document. Why is that? Because the voter information card is derived from all the databases. Any one of your precious 39 pieces of ID is not as good as the voter information card, which has access to all those government databases; hence the position of the Chief Electoral Officer that the voter information card is 90% accurate and likely the most accurate and widely available government document.
Again, if the government were really interested in having more people vote to increase the number of voters, then they would make it easier by accepting the voter information card—and this is not one, but I just made this up to hold something. It's already mailed out. It has the address. People know they should get the change made if they want to vote, and they do. That's why Mr. Mayrand said that the revised list is even more accurate.
I'll continue with Mr. Mayrand's quotation. It is short, Chair:
The legislation authorizes Elections Canada to establish the list of acceptable forms of identification. Following the first election where the new identification rules were in place, we did a test and we used the voter information card in some very specific places, such as reserves, shelters, long-term care facilities and student residences.
Interestingly, that sentence was some of the most compelling testimony we heard from individuals and organizations representing Canadians in terms of where they live.
To continue quoting the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada:
Evaluations showed that almost 68% of those people used the voter information cards. We found no indication of fraud or other offences, and people told us—including the administrators of shelters and long-term care facilities—that the cards made voting easier.
That's the last thing this government wants to hear, because their whole goal is to suppress that vote, to have as few Canadians as possible go out and vote so that their targeted system will give them another majority.
The last sentence in the quote is, “Voters and administrators appreciated it.” I'm not aware...well we had one, I'll give you that, but I think that was on vouching, not the voter information card per se, but I give the government one. There was no one else who came in and supported the government's position on voter information cards.
Make no mistake. Having the voter information card become a voter identification card is one, the most accurate, two, the easiest to use, and three, would likely lead to more Canadians voting. So why doesn't this bill do that? The answer is that they want fewer Canadians to vote. They have such a highly technical laser beam system that they know that if they can just keep everybody...they can ram this through. It's not unlike what they're doing in the United States, the Republicans and their ID laws that are being challenged all the way to their Supreme Court. That's where all this is coming from. That's why, if anybody wonders why the government's defying political gravity doing something that nobody supports, it's because it does meet their partisan objective.
My last point is this, Chair. People are going to walk in on election day. They're going to walk into their home and they're going to make sure that they grab their voter identification card. There's going to be a whole lot of people, especially if it's a nice day and voting is within a couple of blocks. They're going to grab the card and they're going to head out, and they're going to go and vote. They're going to show up at the voting station and they're going to say. “Here's my voter information card, and oh yes, there's my name on the list right there so I'm all set to vote”, and they're not going to be allowed to vote unless they have ID. The government is going to say, “Well, all they have to do is go back home, which is two blocks away, and come back.” True, but we all know human nature. We know how hard it is to get people to go out and vote once, never mind go back to the polling station again if they've been refused. They're going to be so frustrated standing there saying, “Wait a minute. I have a card from Elections Canada that has my name and it's accurate. It has my address and it's accurate, and I'm standing here in the voting station where I should be. I can see my name on the list and you're telling me I can't vote.”
Make no mistake. Voter suppression...is any one of these going to tip the election and hand them a frauded election? No, but every one of these changes incrementally has the effect of having just a little bit less turnout across the country, and that's what they want. That's what the American Republicans want, and that's what the Canadian Conservative Party wants. That's why this is here, notwithstanding every expert saying that the best thing to do to improve our election system, and to increase the opportunity and the likelihood that people will vote is to turn the voter information card into a voter identification card and let people vote with that.
I will try to keep it very brief, Mr. Chair.
I wanted to make a few points. I don't think I need to go over.... Mr. Reid covered it quite well. When we talk about the accuracy of the voter information card to be used as identification, there are errors with one in six or more of the cards. We don't have to go over that ground again. That's quite clear, despite whatever the opposition wants to try to claim about its accuracy. That certainly is a troublesome rate of error, and one which I think does create some concern.
The other point I'd like to go over...I won't conjure up the spectre of alien abductions again, as my colleague Mr. Reid did, but it certainly was a good, entertaining example. When he was discussing that, he was alluding to the fact that he was finding it difficult, much as I was, to imagine as we went through the hearings, someone who would not be able to provide the identification required. I noted that throughout the hearings we never heard from a single witness who had indicated that they or anyone they knew would not have been able to vote under the provisions in this bill.
A lot of hypothetical examples were given, but never any concrete examples. The opposition likes to talk a lot about concrete examples. We never heard a single concrete example of a voter who would not have been able to vote, who could not have the ID required. I find it hard to imagine. Having said that, obviously we have just made an amendment here to allow someone to co-sign an oath as to their residence. That I could see as quite a reasonable amendment.
In terms of this card, I have just stated that outside of hypothetical examples, we did not hear from anyone who would have had trouble to produce the ID required, especially now that they can co-sign an oath to attest to their residence.
Furthermore, all the hypothetical examples that were given wouldn't apply to the voter information card because it's mailed to their last known address. We heard an example of a homeless person who obviously wouldn't have any mail. Certainly voter information cards wouldn't apply in that case. The student who is at an educational institution away from their parents' home, yet receives all their mail at their parents' home, but is choosing to vote at the poll where they're going to school, their voter information card would go there. I don't see how it would solve the issue, if one existed, which we certainly didn't establish. I've already identified the accuracy rate concerns.
As to some of the other claims of the opposition that indicated we should be prepared for all these people to show up at the polls next election with nothing but their voter information card, I would also point out that one of the other provisions in Bill requires Elections Canada to better advertise the logistics of voting. That obviously includes things like what identification to bring. Many witnesses came before this committee who indicated they were not aware of what they needed to bring in order to vote.They were quite surprised to learn about some of the possibilities available to them. That obviously indicates a better job needs to be done. That is something this bill requires, something we would expect Elections Canada to undertake, and therefore people would be aware of exactly what would be required to vote. I think that indicates the voter information card need not be used as a piece of identification, and Bill , including the amendment we've just made, would facilitate every voter who wishes to vote to be able to vote in our elections.
In addition to pointing out the statistical problems with the voter information card as a form of identification, I'll just point out again two stories from my own personal experience.
The first was when I received three voter information cards when I was living in a house on my own. One was to Scott Reid, one to Jeffrey Reid, and one to Scott Jeffrey Reid. That indicates a problem with the voters list.
As a second example, when my ex-wife and I were married—that's a while ago because we split up a year ago—we received two voter cards, one for her and one for me, telling us to vote in two different constituencies. That happened because of the way Elections Canada treated our address as the way she had written it down as being at R.R. 1, Carleton Place, in one riding. The way I had written the address down was the street address of Mississippi Mills, Ontario, which is in a different riding. It just happens that the house is close to the riding boundary.
The example Mr. Christopherson offers is the person taking the card and going to vote as they are legally permitted. One of us would have been voting illegally by following the advice on the card. The card was just wrong.
This is all encapsulated in that 14% error rate I mentioned as to people's addresses. This is a pretty significant point.
I also mentioned the example of an assistant I have who received a voter information card addressed to somebody else in his house. He took it down to the polling station simply as a way of finding his way to the polling station. Presumably, the person living at that address ought to go to this place, but the card was issued on the assumption that the previous resident still lived there, etc., etc.
These examples are so widespread that the claim that is made that this is somehow Canada's most accurate piece of ID is either wrong or we have no ID in this country that's actually accurate. It's either one or the other.
LIB-17 has the same thrust, obviously, to restore what I feel is a fundamental piece of identification that has been used for well on 50 years. I didn't speak to the NDP amendments earlier, because I wanted to speak to my own here, which we're trying to do.
Honestly, I feel that, as I've said before, the voter information card—and I think it bears repeating—is such a dependable piece that I'm willing to bet when the government says the vast majority of people out there have no problems with what they perceive to be going on, identification of a particular person, to vouch for that person's ID.... They want people to show ID. I don't think a lot of people out there are exactly aware of what is being proposed here.
What bothers me is the end goal seems to be to get people in mind who they do not want to see at the polls, and reverse, engineer back to how they're going to set up legislation to do this in a very subtle way. I do believe this will come home to roost when you see voting day, and when people show up en masse with their voter information cards, using them as ID and being told they can't.
As I've said earlier, I considered proposing an amendment so that on the voter information card it has to contain the wording, “This piece of paper will not allow you to vote at the polls. You cannot use this as a valid piece of ID”, in bold letters,
both in English and French.
I didn't do that. I didn't propose it, because earlier I said we're being far too prescriptive when it comes to allowing Elections Canada to do their job. I say this here in committee so that Elections Canada will take this advice and do that. I think the government would agree with me. They're going to have to do this, because it is such a vital piece.
You go to a seniors residence or a senior's home, and you will see it taped to their fridge or on the table. During the writ period, that VIC is a prominent piece of mail because they know they've been using it for over 50 years to walk in and say, “This is my direct connection. This is my ticket.” It's like you can't get on the plane without a boarding pass. You cannot vote without this VIC.
They can pretend that's not going to take place. This is why I asked Mr. Richards earlier about the fact that when you do your advertising, you have to state unequivocally that you cannot use this, and here's why.
In my riding, I have 193 communities with over 200 polling stations. If you look at a map, it's just a massive spread of polling divisions across 30,000 square kilometres. A lot of people commute to work for a half-hour or an hour, that sort of thing. I'm not saying my riding is exclusive to this. A lot of people have long commutes. But when they come home from work and they go to the polling division, their community does not have a polling division. Their polling division is 20 kilometres down the road. I would say—I don't know exactly—that would affect somewhere between 30 or 40 communities that do not have that polling division in their community. They're going to return home after work, or wherever they come from—perhaps they're visiting someone—and go to a polling division. They are going to have their VIC, which they picked up in the mail. They are going to try to use it and be told they cannot. They have to prove their residence. Many people realize that doesn't suffice, so now they have to go back home and find a utility bill. Then, all of a sudden, they say to themselves that if they can't vote now, they're not coming back. They're just not going to do it.
Many people have a post office box. There has been some contention as to whether that is going to allow them to vote or not, but no matter. If somebody can prove that only having a post office box will still allow you to vote, there's always that hesitation from the people working in the polls. That hesitation is going to cause them to go away and not come back.
We have seen it. We all have anecdotal evidence, most of which is true. We all know this to be....
Do the people in the government who keep saying that this is not a big deal...? They must agree with me that when they campaign, and they go door to door and inside that door, that voter information card is handy. Even the said he'd witnessed many of them. I'm assuming that part is correct, that he did see a lot of those VICs.
Make no mistake that this is going to be a problem realized on that day. I suspect that after the next election day the government, whoever it is, is going to have to reverse engineer this back to get the VICs back into the business of being a part of the democratic exercise. As my colleague points out, it is something that is updated even better than driver's licences. Federal ID that has an address on it....
I don't want to overstate it, and perhaps it's a little late and maybe I have, but I'd like to think, and it's late, and pardon me, Chair, if this is being repetitive, but this is a fundamental piece of information that puts us towards democracy that people fought and died for, and don't accuse me of being over-dramatic on this because that VIC is a prominent piece. I can tell you, when I tell people, they say, “Well, there's nothing wrong with having to prove who you are in order to vote.” I say, “Do you know that card you use?” They say, “I use it all the time.” I say, “You can't use it anymore.” They're bewildered on why that would be, because it is such a fundamental part.
This leads us to think, if the government feels it's such a detriment and if there's so much fraud and irregularities taking place with this VIC, why would they just get rid of it? Did they not explore the idea of why? All we get is one example of a television program in Quebec that did something. As my colleague also pointed out, think about what you have to go through to take the VIC and use that second piece of ID to produce some fake ID with a signature. Is it really worth that? If you're going to do that, you might as well do something ludicrous like call some random person and tell them that their voting place has changed location.
Mr. David Christopherson: Who would do that?
Mr. Scott Simms: Who would do that?
Mr. Tom Lukiwski: Apparently nobody according to the—
Mr. Scott Simms: I'm sorry, Mr. Wallace. If my speech interrupts your heckling, I apologize.
I would like to move NDP-33.
The amendment would delete proposed subsection 143(3.3) in Bill . The proposed subsection in the bill reads as follows:
A candidate or their representative may examine but not handle any piece of identification presented under this section.
Now, “a candidate or their representative” is effectively shorthand for scrutineers. It's very rare you'll have a candidate bouncing around at every polling station, so it's a representative. What this authorizes is that those who are not actually the desk officers but the people making sure that the process, for your party's sake, for your candidate's sake, is working well can simply say, “Can I see that piece of ID?” They can examine it but not handle it.
I'm not going to say it's a matter of handling; it's just that somebody has to hold it up to them and they can see it. The Chief Electoral Officer brought our attention to this. It was part of his amendments. He suggested that this be deleted, so this is what this amendment does. It would delete those lines, and therefore this new provision wouldn't exist.
I won't give you the number of reasons, just in case I forget what number I gave, but one reason this is a problem is privacy. For average voters there are pieces of ID on the lists, and on maybe expanded lists, that might have information that a person is content that a person at the table could look at but not a random person.
The second thing is it has the potential, and this was actually the Chief Electoral Officer's point, to produce the perception, or the feeling, on the part of the voter of harassment. It doesn't actually have to be harassment for that to occur and for that to produce some kind of a disincentive to voting the next time, or just an unpleasant experience during voting, which has to be avoided at all costs.
The third thing is that it could actually be harassment or intimidation. Let's just say that's unlikely, by and large; I don't assume that average scrutineers will act any more dishonourably than the average voter. We don't believe the average voter is inclined to commit fraud. I don't believe the average scrutineer would intentionally harass or intimidate, but that would be perhaps the result and the feeling.
There's a last thing that's tied to these: lineups. Really, the idea that you have an enthusiastic scrutineer, who does not have to have any bad faith, or simply a scrutineer under instructions to carefully check ID.... It produces lineups. It produces frustration. It could even produce, among people at the end of the line, their deciding not to wait anymore.
Canadians, by the way, however much we are maybe one people who will line up better than others, are not exactly patient when it comes to this kind of thing. People are used to fairly quick voting in this country. This could contribute to a very different experience. There are reports south of the border of the use of asking for ID as a way to create lineups. I would hope we wouldn't get into that kind of scenario, but it's possible.
I would end by saying, Mr. Chair, that I move to delete this new examination of identification documents provision, and leave it in your capable hands.