moved that Bill , be read the second time and referred to a committee.
He said: Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the occasion to address the House today on the .
The has three principal objectives. The first is to help prevent non-citizens from voting in federal elections. The second is to require voters living abroad to provide proof of identity, past residence, and citizenship. The third is to create one set of rules for all Canadians voting from outside the country.
To start with the background that led us to this legislation, I would bring members' attention to the Ontario Superior Court ruling in Frank et al. v. Attorney General of Canada. In this case, the court struck down the law that had been in place preventing citizens from voting if they had been out of the country for more than five consecutive years or have no intention of returning. Estimates show that the reading could lead to 1.4 million new eligible voters and an outdated system to administer their votes.
I will now work through some of the individual problems that exist within the status quo and how the bill seeks to address them one by one.
The first problem is that an estimated 40,000 non-citizens are on the voters list. Elections Canada has brought this number to my attention. It has indicated that these lists are not perfect, and that as a result, names of people who have interactions with various levels of governments get into the overall system and inadvertently end up on the list of electors. These people are sent voter information cards that indicate where they can go and vote, although they are not eligible to do so.
The problem is that there will be some who go and vote, even though they are not citizens, because they think that they are allowed. If they get a voter information card that says they should show up at the elementary school around the corner to cast their ballot, logically they would think that they, as permanent residents, are allowed to do that. There will be people among that 40,000 who will accidentally break the law.
There will also be some who might deliberately break the law. With their names being on the voters list, they do not even have to sign oaths asserting that they are a citizens when they go to cast their ballots. It is only those who are not on the voters list who have take an oath of citizenship when they vote.
The solution in the would authorize the to provide the Chief Electoral Officer with the names, genders, birthdates, and addresses of non-citizens who are in Canada so that Elections Canada can cross-reference and remove them from the National Register of Electors. This would be a very difficult and tedious undertaking, I am afraid, but it is a worthwhile one. If it can reduce that number of 40,000 non-citizens to a smaller number, or perhaps eliminate it altogether, we can celebrate that as an improvement in the accuracy of the voters list and the fairness of our elections.
The next problem is that under the current law, Canadians voting abroad do not need to have any proven link to the riding in which their vote is counted. At present, if a person is living in London, England, or Washington, D.C., for example, and wants to vote in Canada, that person can register to vote in pretty much any constituency with which they feel that they have a connection, and that connection will not be verified by Elections Canada. Everyone else has to vote in the riding in which they reside, because the residential link is a critical part of our constituency-based system, but there is a double standard that allows some to pick their riding and do riding shopping, while others have to vote where they live or where they have a residential connection.
The solution is to bring about the same rules for everybody. The way we would do that is by requiring proof of past residence.
Obviously someone living abroad most likely would not have a current residence in Canada, so I think it would be reasonable to ask them to cast their ballot for the constituency in which they last lived before they left the country. The citizen voting act would do that. The bill would require that they prove their identity and their most recent Canadian address, using the same documentation as do voters who live in Canada under the new rules that came in through the Fair Elections Act.
The options would be a photo ID containing a prior address, or any two of the 39 pieces of ID approved by the Chief Electoral Officer of Elections Canada. If none of the documentation has their address on it, the voters would be able to rely on someone who would sign an attestation that in fact they did reside in the riding in which they want their vote counted, and that attestation would qualify as a proof of past residency.
These rules might seem familiar. That is because they are the same ones that the Fair Elections Act brought in. Under that bill, we require people to show ID when they vote, but if that ID does not have an address on it, then they can rely on someone to sign an attestation or co-signing an oath that they in fact do reside in the riding in which they want to vote. We are simply taking that set of rules that we apply within Canada and applying it outside of Canada.
Some might ask about expired documents. If someone has been living abroad for 10 or 15 years, obviously their documents would not be up to date. We have specifically stated in the bill that expired documents are acceptable forms of ID, so if somebody has an old drivers licence that is past the expiration date, it would still qualify as proof of previous Canadian residency and render eligible that voter in the riding where he or she is attempting to cast a ballot.
The next problem is that there is a double standard for voting abroad.
There are two types of voters who cast ballots from abroad. There are those who are resident in Canada but are on vacation or working abroad during the election. Examples are the snowbirds who go down to Florida or California during the winter. They have to vote by something called a special ballot. When they vote, they actually have to apply for the ballot at each election. They have to provide ID to show where they reside in Canada, and then they get a ballot for the riding that they come from. They send that ballot back in the mail, and it is counted in the correct constituency.
By contrast, those who are long-term non-residents, those people who live outside of Canada, do not have any of those obligations. They merely apply to be on the voters list once, and then into perpetuity the ballot arrives in their mailbox as soon as the election is called. This causes a lot of problems.
One problem is that someone could easily have moved. Someone resident in Mexico City might move to another part of the world, but their ballot would still come from Elections Canada to the Mexico City mailbox of someone who has no connection to Canada and should not be in possession of a Canadian ballot. As a result, into perpetuity we would obviously have ballots going to the wrong people, and there is no way of verifying that the address is accurate in that kind of circumstance. The requirement to apply for a ballot for each election is an organic way to keep the list of those Canadians who are voting abroad up to date.
Next we move to the issue of proof of citizenship. The citizen voting acting would require in law that everyone voting outside Canada provide proof of citizenship. This requirement would not apply to Canadian Forces members, but it would apply to everyone else.
Finally, the citizen voting act would apply some audit procedures to Elections Canada to make sure that all of these rules are followed. That process was established in the Fair Elections Act for voting when it occurs within the country. We are simply applying it to all of those who vote from outside of the country.
How does this proposed system compare to other countries around the world? Many like-minded democracies place restrictions on voting by non-residents with limited exceptions for citizens serving abroad.
For example, in the U.K., non-residents can only vote if they have been out of the country for less than 15 years. In Ireland, non-residents cannot vote. If they do not live in Ireland, they do not vote in Ireland. In Australia, non-residents can only vote if they have lived abroad for less than six years and intend to return to resume residence in the country within six years. They must provide either their Australian drivers licence number or their Australian passport number or have a person who is on the federal electoral list confirm their identity—not their address—by signing the application form. In New Zealand, non-resident citizens can vote only if they have been abroad for less than three years. In Germany, non-residents can only vote if they have been abroad for less than 25 years. They also must have lived in Germany for three consecutive months following their 14th birthday.
To avoid getting into all of the details, members can surmise from these examples that among our peer group, Canada, which currently allows Canadians living abroad to vote without restriction, has basically one of the most generous systems of enfranchisement for citizens abroad.
This legislation would not change that, but it would improve the integrity of the system. It would ensure that only citizens vote, that their vote is only counted in the riding from which they come, and that they only vote once. That is basic to the integrity of our electoral system, and the bill would bring the rules for Canadians abroad in line with the rules we have now established for those voting here at home.
That is in essence the proposal we bring forward to the House. I thank the House for this opportunity to address the chamber.
Mr. Speaker, I thank the minister for his presentation. Along with my colleague from , I acknowledge that this may not be the best day for the minister in terms of his health. Accordingly, in the spirit of what we heard from the , I may be a little more gentle than I was intending to be.
Some here might have had a chance to read the piece that came out today in the National Post, where I make it very clear that I do believe—this sounds like how I started the debate on Bill , what we call “the unfair elections act”—that the effect, at minimum, of these changes in Bill would voter suppression of citizens living abroad, and something that I am not sure the minister is fully aware of, namely, that it could create chaos with voting in Canada, because of the changes to a section that would prohibit the Chief Electoral Officer from authorizing any use of ID that basically does not have its origin Canada. I will explain why that could cause those problems.
I will stick with this phraseology that “in the result”, this is the problem, although seeing what has been knowingly put in the bill, I honestly think that the minister has to realize what these impacts would be. I hope that with some of the presentations during this debate and some of the criticisms he is already beginning to receive, he will be open to some serious amendments, including a couple that, to follow his own line, would be quite simple and could actually get rid of some of the serious blocking effects that I see. It is also important to note, although the minister did not really make hay of this in his own speech today, that in the presentation back in December when the bill was tabled, there very much was an effort to spin this bill in a way that created two false impressions. This is important to know.
One is that the press release in the backgrounder made it seem like the government was implementing the Frank judgement, which basically said that citizens away for more than five years now have the right to vote from abroad. It was very unclear from the presentation whether or not the Frank judgment was being accepted. It is important that everyone knows that Bill would not remove any provision in the Canada Elections Act that was struck down by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in the Frank decision. It is still sitting in the statute. The reason for this is that the government has clearly decided it is going to continue to fight to prevent citizens who have been away for more than five years from voting. It is appealing the decision, and it even sought a stay of the trial judgment to try to prevent it from going into effect. The Court of Appeal for Ontario denied that stay.
The fact of the matter is that the government is still actively seeking to keep as disenfranchised Canadians who have been living abroad for more than five years, yet the presentation of the bill made it look like this was somehow an effort to bring things into line. If this were really bringing things in line with the Frank judgment, all the government would have to do would be to adopt the suggestion by the member for in her Bill and simply repeal the same sections the judge found to be unconstitutional in the case. Instead, the Frank decision is being used as a supposed reason for a wholesale change of issues that never arose in the Frank case. It is important to ensure that the Frank judgment does not carry the government along in any sense where people think the government is actually respecting that judgment. It is still appealing it.
Second, the press release directly claims that all Bill would do is to apply the same voter identification rules enacted by the so-called Fair Elections Act, Bill , and extend those rules to Canadians voting from abroad. There is some truth in that. There are some analogues that get brought forward. For instance, the vouching for an address gets brought forward. However, Bill C-50 inserts a new prohibition on the kinds of documents the Chief Electoral Officer could designate as identity documents. It would apply to documents used by all.
The new subsection 143(2.11) would apply to all electors and would basically create additional limitations on what the Chief Electoral Officer would be free to authorize by way of identity documents.
Because of the wording in that provision, this would have impacts in Canada. It would also make it extraordinarily difficult for some Canadians abroad to produce the right kinds of ID that now they have to produce. They would not be able because of this change. This is new. This was not in Bill .
I just want to set the scene by making clear that this is the case.
It is also important to note, to set the scene, although the minister has downplayed it in his presentation today, and I acknowledge that. There was a sign it was not going to go this way. There is virtually no reality to the idea that there is a fraud problem from voters from abroad. The judge in the Superior Court, Mr. Justice Penny, basically said that those kinds of claims were so unreal as to not even constitute a pressing and substantial reason under section 1 of the charter to limit the right to vote.
“Riding shopping” is not something that Elections Canada has ever seen as being a problem. All that happens at the moment is that multiple points of contact are available to increase the chances, the ease with which somebody from abroad can vote. The idea that there is something illicit going on when people choose to vote where their parents live versus choosing to vote where they last lived seems to me to be a spin that is designed to make this look palatable or necessary when there is actually no problem. There is no such thing as “riding shopping”, except perhaps in the minister's imagination.
It is important to clarify that when the minister talks about 40,000 non-citizens being on the register, this was brought to his attention—and I am glad that two years later he is acting upon it—by the Chief Electoral Officer. The new mechanism that would allow the to allow Elections Canada access to the non-citizen database that CIC has would be great. However, it is important to note that we are talking about a fear, by error, that approximately that number of people are on the national register, not on what is, until this point in time, the international register. To get on the international register, one has to actually show one's citizenship.
It is a separate issue that would be dealt with in the bill, but it should not be confused with anything to do with a concern that non-citizens are voting from abroad. I fear that, unintentionally, the minister's emphasis on that could allow people to think this is what is going on. No, the issue is cleaning up the national register for people who are in Canada. That is fine. That one particular piece is a good thing in the bill.
I do feel duty-bound to note that Elections Canada was not consulted on this, except for the discussion a couple of years ago on the issue of trying to ensure non-citizens were removed from the national register where they appeared in error. That will probably prove to be a problem at the time of committee because we will probably hear some very detailed testimony from Elections Canada about many problems the bill would create.
As long as the minister is open, seriously open, to changing them, because these have not been foreseen because there has been no consultation, we might well end up with a productive committee process. If the minister thinks it has all been thought through and that whatever he hears from Elections Canada will not change his mind, then we will have a serious problem. What we will have, in effect, is the minister confirming that the intention here is to make it much more difficult to vote from abroad and that it is not just the unfortunate result of how the act was written.
Let me go to this issue that is the sleeper issue. It is the question of subsection 143(2.11). It is a new provision that would basically create a new prohibition on the Chief Electoral Officer. It says:
|| —the Chief Electoral Officer is not permitted to authorize...a type of identification that has been issued by an entity other than...a Canadian government, whether federal, provincial or local, or an agency of that government; and...an entity that is incorporated or formed by or under an Act of Parliament or of the legislature of a province or that is otherwise formed in Canada.
It is fairly complex wording.
The bottom line, as the minister made clear, is to ensure that ID only originates in Canada, essentially. That seems to be the general idea. The problem, however, is that it has been done in a way that might actually end up creating some serious administrative, and even more serious problems, in Canada.
This new prohibition, which is intended to deal with voters from abroad so they have to somehow produce Canadian-originated ID, is going to have an impact on everybody who shows up on election day in Canada.
What is the reason for that concern? First, “formed in Canada” is not a legally known concept and is not defined in the bill. The question of what an “entity formed in Canada” means is going to produce some serious problems in Elections Canada trying to scope it out, and then having that interpreted on election day by pressed election officials. We really need to ensure that this will be clear. Obviously the intention is probably that organizations like the CNIB are covered, and it is not just documents issued by corporations--for example, utilities bills, et cetera. However, the language is used in a way that is very unclear.
Here is an issue. Now a voter can use a Visa, Amex, or MasterCard bill as one piece of ID to show an address. However, people could show up with it, and the deputy returning officer or the chief poll officer could look at it and ask if Visa is a company incorporated or formed in Canada, is there a Visa Canada, and who has issued the document. The chance of that kind of minute questioning will be a problem, even if it seems far-fetched. It will create serious workability problems. I know for a fact that Elections Canada is concerned about this extra burden and the mistakes that could be made.
The second thing is that it is not at all clear to me that private leases will be caught by this wording, as I asked in my question for the minister. The language is all about corporations, entities or government agencies. There is no scope there for a document that has effectively been issued by an individual, which is what private rental leases are. They are often a form of identification to prove address that students in university tend to use.
The bottom line is that this will create workability issues that I do not think the minister intended to create, but that we will hear about in committee from Elections Canada. The unworkability issue is major.
I am also concerned that some party scrutineers who now would be allowed to ask to inspect identification documents as a result of Bill would see these new rules as an opportunity to ask, more often than they should, for proof that this new provision has been met by whatever document has been presented by somebody showing up.
If somebody shows up with a Visa bill, somebody might ask the deputy returning officer if that is a document issued by an entity formed in Canada. Maybe it is a document issued by an entity doing business in Canada. We can imagine the opportunity for mischief that could occur.
I am being a bit like the minister in that I am looking down the line at what kind of abuse is possible. The minister looks in one place and I look in another. We have to talk about that.
In my remaining minutes, I want to talk about what everybody knows is a big concern. The big concern here is that the new requirements for citizens voting from abroad can be extremely onerous. They can produce delays that can result in ballots not arriving in time to be counted.
The primary problem is the requirement that voters have to register for each election, apply to receive their ballot or register, the same kind of thing collapsed into one, only once the writ has been dropped. People have to be aware that it has happened. They have to register quickly enough in order to ensure that all the mail can occur. As the minister has said, sending in their application, even if that is virtually, and receiving the special ballot and mailing it in and doing that from Dar es Salaam, New Delhi or Sydney, requires time.
There are all kinds of reasons to think that the way the mail service works or the way citizens abroad may be not be immediately on top of when a writ has been dropped could result in timelines that could be almost impossible to make. Currently, people can register in the international register at any time. However, I believe we will hear testimony from Elections Canada saying that currently when people wait to register until the election has been called, there is an increased incidence of the ballot not arriving in time.
A system has been created in this new bill whereby that problematic situation that we already know exists, for some who wait too long to register, get their ballots and mail them in, is now scripted as the only way. Therefore, the delay issue is huge.
We should also not underestimate the problem of ID. The longer people have been away, the chances that they have retained Canadian-issued IDs, apart from their passports, may go down dramatically. In some jurisdictions when people get local drivers' licences, they actually have to hand in their old drivers' licences. People who are hoarders, and have kept every ID they have ever had, may have no problem. However, with no notice, many of the two million Canadians already abroad may already have sort of jettisoned or lost the IDs that they now have to use.
They cannot rely on the Chief Electoral Officer to issue a list of acceptable foreign IDs that go along with proving people's addresses. Let us say people still have to prove their last known addresses in the way the bills wants, but they can use their passports and some foreign piece of ID as corroborating ID. The Chief Electoral Officer is not permitted to allow that, even though a foreign driver's licence is at least as good in proving who one is as a Canadian licence. It has nothing to do with the address, but it does with identity. Therefore, there are serious problems with actually producing two pieces of ID for some abroad that we have to take into account.
Let me now talk about vouching. The bill would get rid of the possibility that people could vote where they would have a strong connection to relatives and would focus only on people's last known addresses. The problem is they have to prove it affirmatively. If people do not have pieces of documentation saved, such as a driver's licence, which in New York state they have given up to the Americans, then they basically will have to rely on this new vouching provision.
The new vouching provision says that people have to provide proof of their last place of residence, so they would have to contact their neighbours and ask them if they remembered them when they were neighbours seven years ago. They would have to ask them to do this attestation. They would need a statutory declaration, see their IDs to prove they are voters, have them fill out a form, get the form back to them and then include it in their package in applying to vote. We can obviously see that the one big problem is the delay this will create. The need to have someone vouch for them within a 35-day election campaign period will already make it virtually impossible to meet that deadline.
The other issue is that all the same rules in Bill apply. A person cannot vouch for more than one individual. If a family of four living abroad can only find one neighbour who still lives where the family used to live and the neighbour lives alone, that neighbour can only vouch for one of them. The other three are out of luck.
Therefore, it is very clear that the issue of how the vouching system would work will not be as relatively easy as it is in Canada when somebody on election days goes with the person to vouch for him or her. The idea of saying that the rules are the same for those voting in Canada and those voting abroad is a very formalistic understanding of equality, because when the same rules are applied to very different circumstances, there is a serious disadvantage in complying with the rules. The committee will find example after example like this and the minister will really have to get his mind around them.
Let me give another example. Students going abroad to get their masters degrees or Ph.D.s quite often are heading off from a previous university. Now, sitting in London, Paris, or New York, they will have to prove that their last residences were in university towns and pretty much the only people who know that was the case are former students, who themselves have moved on. How will a proper vouching system be created for that particular case? It may sound like an imaginary issue, but it is not. When we think about students moving around internationally, they usually move from a university town or an address that they lived at to obtain their education.
What I would say is that in its result, Bill is a clear exercise in suppressing the votes of citizens abroad in a way that is diametrically opposite to the spirit of the Frank judgement, which the minister started out by invoking as the reason for these changes.
In sympathy for the minister and his illness today, as he seems to have the flu, I will not hit too hard any more, but I very much hope that he is not doing this intentionally in the bill. I also hope that, for once, we will be able to make serious changes at committee based on the evidence that there are problems with this bill.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for .
To the consternation of my colleagues, I was not attempting a bait and switch there. I apologize, but I am sure that members have the deepest respect for the member for , as I and his constituents do.
I want to start by saying many of the points have been brought out already, and by way of background I want to say that I am a firm believer in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, where in section 3 it says everyone has a right to vote, providing they are a Canadian citizen and 18 years of age or over. The bill raises a lot of questions as to stifling that ability, and that is why I have questions. As another colleague pointed out, obviously with the majority in the House, this bill will end up going to committee, assuming that all members of the governing party vote in favour of this, and when it goes to committee, serious amendments should be sought. I mean serious.
There is one instance where it is positive. The rest, however, raises many questions, and as my colleague pointed out, may result in some chaos, certainly in the administration of our elections, regarding electors outside of the country temporarily or permanently.
I want to talk about some of the things in Bill . I will get to the Frank decision in just a few moments, but first of all, I want to talk about eliminating the register of electors who temporarily reside outside of Canada and incorporating the information found in it into the register of electors. Basically there is a harmonization process that is going on with the process of special balloting.
When we hear Conservatives and the minister, in particular, talk about the same set of rules for both, a lot is being missed, in the sense that the circumstances are different either way. Remember that what is tantamount or most important is not the administration of this and the efficiency of the administration of this. What is most important is that nobody's rights are violated by denying them the right to vote, which is what people talked about with Bill and now Bill regarding the suppression of vote. That is the absence of any accusations of that being the intent.
Nevertheless, there is a level of suppression that is a continuation of what we had last, from vouching now to this, not to mention what the voter information card dismissal brought about in the last round of legislation.
The bill would require Canadian electors who reside abroad to apply for registration and a special ballot after the writs are issued at each federal election, stipulating that electors may only receive a special ballot for the address at which they last resided in Canada.
There are a couple of things here. What made it easier in the past was that people could register to vote living outside the country. Now they could only do it when the writ is dropped, and as pointed out before, the time period is of the essence here. The time period would become so narrow. Again these are special circumstances where voters live outside of the country, so we are making it particularly hard for them to do that, in light of the fact that they do have the right to vote.
The bill would require an external auditor to report on election workers, compliance with special ballot voting, procedure, and requirements for every election, and add the offences of attempting to vote by special ballot while knowing that one is not qualified to vote. It refers to electors temporarily residing outside of Canada, electors residing in Canada improperly attesting to the residence of more than one elector, and attesting to the residence of an elector when one's own residence has been attested to.
What we look at here is that we know the government wants to cut down on election fraud. We have heard all this before. It does not want to send a ballot to an address outside of Canada that could be picked up by a non-Canadian citizen. At the same time, we are reverting to a previous argument. The theme is a solution that is looking for a problem. Once again we find it within Bill .
One thing that was brought about in the bill—and I will get to this right now because we agree with it—is authorizing the to provide the Chief Electoral Officer with information to help the CEO to delete the names of non-citizens from the register of electors.
We grant that it is a process that should be done and should be looked at. Virtually everyone in the House would agree that this is the type of measure that should be taken for the sharing of information to make sure we can exercise our right to vote.
The history behind people outside of the country being allowed to vote goes back to the First World War. The soldiers who fought valiantly for us while overseas were given the right to vote. That is a natural extension of being a Canadian and living in the country that we do, which is so great and wonderful. That extension still applies. There are extensions for people who work for the Government of Canada, whether they work for the military or several embassies around the world, to be able to vote as they would if they were residing in this country.
The question I have, and it has yet to be answered, is with respect to the families, particularly spouses or partners, who are eligible to vote but face different rules than do the people who are employed by the Government of Canada. That is problematic because they have to go through the process of re-registering every five years and the others do not. Therefore, there are different rules applying to two different people who are living in the same residence in another country for the same reason. I hope that some of the amendments would address this issue as we get closer to looking at it in committee.
In 1993, the rules were changed further to allow more people the right to vote. However, we again had the five-year rule that if they had been outside of the country for more than five years they were not eligible to vote, which is their right, despite the fact they are above the age of 18 and Canadian citizens. The Frank decision recently decided that was not good because it denies those Canadian citizens above the age of 18 who happen to reside outside of Canada, whether long or short term, the ability to exercise their right to vote under the Constitution.
In looking at the Frank et al decision, I see that section 3 of the charter states:
|| Every citizen of Canada has the right to vote in an election of members of the House of Commons or of a legislative assembly and to be qualified for membership therein.
The Frank decision posed this to the government to take action. However, there is some confusion in Bill as to whether that was done. I am not a constitutional expert, but in reading it I have yet to square it as to where the vote of these people who are more than five years outside the country has been protected, because it is not protected at all. I think an administrative nightmare has been created for many of them to do that. In the past they could register once they were outside the country. They cannot do that anymore. They have to wait for the writ to be dropped. That puts them in a tricky situation as far as timelines are concerned. I understand there are some online mechanisms that the minister has pointed to that would remedy this, but by the same token there is still that process.
The verification of signatures for those people outside of the country appears to be absent from this, or I have yet to see it. I hope the minister can clarify the situation. That qualification is no longer there. It would have made it easier to identify and verify those people based on two signatures, one on the ballot and one on the application form, and that would have gone a long way toward helping Elections Canada. That is something we have to look at.
I would also like to talk about vote shopping. The government has stated on several occasions that vote shopping is a problem. For those Canadians who are not aware of what vote shopping is, in its base form, those people can choose the riding in which they want to vote. However, Elections Canada has never stated that it was a big problem or that there was too much abuse and the law had to be changed. I again go back to the theme that it was a solution looking for a problem. Unfortunately, it would impede their ability to vote; it would impede their right under section 3 of the charter. Therefore, in looking at this, we see the government wants to cut down on an abuse that we are not sure existed to any extent, by making it problematic for those who want to legitimately vote in the riding they left when leaving Canada. That raises many questions.
My final point is with respect to this coming into force in only 60 days. I cannot see how Elections Canada can administer all of these rules in that 60-day period.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from for sharing his time and my colleagues in the House for unanimously agreeing to let him do so.
I have some questions about the bill. I happen to represent a riding where possibly one of the higher number of electors abroad cast ballots, given the fact that Foreign Affairs and National Defence headquarters, and many public servants, are in the riding. I have had a number of people write to me from abroad asking, “What gives?”
The first thing I need to understand, and I hope the government would offer a rationale for this, is that it used to be that Canadians living abroad beyond five years could not vote unless they were members of the Canadian Armed Forces, public servants working abroad, or Canadian citizens working for an international organization of which Canada was a member, such as NATO or the United Nations. They and their families could keep voting if they had been there for longer than five years.
Two students in the United States wanted to vote in the last general election and could not, because they had been abroad for more than five years and were not part of the forces, were not public servants, and were not working for an international organization that Canada is a member of, so they were not allowed to vote. They challenged that in court. That is the decision we heard referred to this morning, Frank et al. v. AG Canada. I have read it, and I will quote a couple of paragraphs from it in my presentation.
The reason I am bringing this up is that the distinction that remains standing in Bill is the Canadian Forces. They will be able to continue voting, as they did before, but their spouses and families, and certainly public servants and Canadian citizens working for international organizations, will not.
I have had two people write to me who are working as interpreters for NATO. They are Canadian citizens, and they are concerned now, because the rules under which they used to be able to vote would not apply if the bill were adopted.
What is the rationale for limiting this to the Canadian Forces and restricting, through Bill C-50's measures, the rest of Canadian citizens who used to be able to vote even if they were abroad for longer than five years? That needs to be explained.
I will quote two paragraphs from the decision, because I think they may indicate the nature of the debate here. The magnitude of the vote is not all that much. In paragraph 113 of the decision, it states:
|| I am equally troubled by the notion of what is or is not “fair” to the resident majority of voters. Substantive “fairness” is almost always in the eye of the beholder. To put the issue in context, since the Special Voting Rules were implemented in 1993, a vastly smaller number of non-resident Canadian citizens have exercised their right to vote than expected. Elections Canada estimated at the time that approximately 2,000,000 Canadians were living abroad and planned for 200,000 registrations. In the election that followed, a little over 15,000 special ballots were requested and issued. Over the next several general elections, the number of external ballots issued ranged from a low of 10,733 (in 2011) to a high of 19,230 (in 2000). In the most recent election, in the ten Canadian ridings with the highest number of special ballots, as a percentage of total registered electors in the constituency, the non-resident votes ranged from a low of 0.05% to a high of 0.2%. Also in that election, Elections Canada reported that barely 6,000 votes were recorded from international electors, compared to approximately 26,000 votes from Canadian Forces electors and almost 15,700 votes from incarcerated electors.
The other paragraph I will quote is paragraph 114.
This is comes from the government in its presentation of arguments.
|| The second objective, concerns over electoral fraud, while less vague than the first, is subject to the same frailties. In this case, the government has failed to identify any particular problem with non-resident voter fraud or of non-resident voting causing an undue drain on Parliamentary resources. Indeed, the only evidence of these concerns at all comes from the speculation of a political science professor teaching at the University of Buffalo - State University of New York, who opines that an increase in non-resident voting “could,” “may” or “might” give rise to concerns in the future. The available evidence from Elections Canada is that there are no documented problems associated with non-resident voting.
The reason I brought these up is that the numbers also show quite clearly that 6,000 of two million non-resident Canadians voted versus 26,000 Canadian Forces members. I am wondering if that is part of the rationale with respect to the first question I asked. It would be good for Canadians to know that.
Also, as has been brought up a number of times, there is the matter of delays. It is true that if 36 days, which is the span of an election, is the time that triggers when one can register, it will cause significant problems. One has to wonder if indeed that is not a way of suppressing votes that would otherwise be more likely to be cast. The question asked by a colleague of the member for is quite accurate. Given that we now have a fixed election date law, why can Canadians who are resident abroad who want to vote not start registering now? If the law says that the election is going to be on October 19, 2015, then it would help Elections Canada, it would help voters, and it would help declared registered candidates. They would be able to approach these folks in terms of trying to convince them to vote one way or the other. Why not now, as opposed to once the writ is dropped? That to me is troubling, and I would like to hear the rationale for that, too.
Finally, there is a question about the last address. Why would people have to register every election, when they did not have to before? I am wondering about that. If they are part of the registry, and nothing has changed in their citizenship and so forth, why must they always re-register, and with the same address? What happens if they have lived in an apartment building that is now demolished and the address does not exist anymore? Will they be able to register if the address does not exist anymore? If the apartment building is gone and all their neighbours are gone, how will they get someone to ascertain that they were indeed living there? It is going to be difficult.
I wonder to what extent the Conservatives might be open to amendments to this kind of provision, because I do not believe they have thought things through completely.
Finally, a number of us in this room have been declared candidates for our respective parties. I have always tried to send some material to Canadians residing abroad who are eligible to vote. If that registry no longer exists, and if they cannot register until the writ is dropped, then obviously, the local candidates, of whatever party, will have a difficult time communicating with these Canadian citizens who are eligible to vote, presumably, but who may be in the midst of trying to register. Therefore, we would have no idea of how to communicate with them, and voters will not have any idea of who the local candidates are.
All of these are issues of some concern. I have received, again, a number of complaints from constituents who are Canadian citizens who would vote abroad, and I hope that these will be answered either here by the minister or in committee, either by the government or by Elections Canada. These are serious matters, and if they are not answered, I would think we would not be able to support such a bill.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for .
I am very pleased to rise in the House today to speak to the , which was introduced by my colleague, the .
Our government has a strong record of democratic reform. We ended the per-vote subsidy. We made the House of Commons more representative with the Fair Representation Act. Most recently, we closed loopholes for big money, ensured that everyday citizens are in charge of democracy, and made it harder to break election laws with the . All of these initiatives have strengthened Canada's democracy and reinforced confidence in our electoral system.
Today I am very pleased to discuss our government's latest democratic reform initiative, the . The bill would ensure that everyone who votes is a Canadian citizen, and it would require voters living abroad to follow the ID rules set out in the .
Specifically, the would ensure that only Canadians vote in federal elections by requiring proof of citizenship from everyone voting in federal elections while abroad. This would not apply to Canadian Forces members.
Second, the bill would allow the Chief Electoral Officer to cross-reference the National Register of Electors with Citizenship and Immigration data to remove non-citizens from the voters list.
Third, the bill would put an end to the possibility of riding shopping by ensuring that non-residents receive a ballot only for the Canadian address at which they last resided.
Fourth, the bill would apply the same voter identification rules to all Canadians. Under the , Canadians living inside the country must prove who they are and where they live. Canadians support this requirement, and that is why the would expand it further to residents living abroad.
Finally, the bill would create one set of rules for voting from outside the country. Anyone voting while abroad, whether temporarily, on vacation, or permanently, will need to apply for a ballot in the same way and follow the same rules.
Given the limited time that I have today to discuss the , I am going to focus on a couple of items. First, I will focus on riding shopping.
Currently the Canada Elections Act permits non-resident voters to choose the riding that they vote in. They can select from one of four options. First, they can choose their last place of ordinary residence. Second, they can choose the address of a spouse, a relative, or a relative of a spouse. Third, they can choose the address of a dependent. Fourth, they can choose the address of someone with whom they would live if not residing outside of Canada.
Voters living in Canada do not have such flexibility. They must vote where they live at the time of an election. They cannot choose the riding in which they want their vote to be counted, and justly so.
Geographic representation is an essential characteristic of our electoral process. Canadians in each electoral district elect the candidate who they feel will best represent their interests and those of the community. Particularly in this vast country of ours, territorial-based representation ensures that diverse communities are represented in the House of Commons.
I am sure members may think that when an expatriate voter chooses his or her riding, proof of past residence is required. However, they would be wrong: Canadians living abroad are not required to provide proof to Elections Canada of their last Canadian residence. By stipulating that a non-resident voter's last place of residence in Canada would be their residence for voting purposes, the would end the unfair option of riding shopping and standardize the rules for resident and non-resident voters. This would ensure that each voter has a direct and meaningful connection to the riding in which he or she is voting.
I would now like to turn to the issue of voter identification.
The would ensure that Canadians living abroad would follow the same rules as those living in Canada. The bill would build on the by requiring Canadians voting by mail—both residents and non-residents—to include proof of identity and residence in their application for a special ballot. This requirement is similar to the rules set out in the .
The , adopted last June, contained important measures to reinforce the integrity of the vote by strengthening ID rules. According to Ipsos Reid, in April 2014, when debate about the was at its height, 87% of those polled agreed that it is reasonable to require someone to provide proof of identity and address before being allowed to vote. The would make this requirement consistent for all Canadians, both resident and non-resident.
The same three ID options for voting at the polls would apply to those applying to vote by mail: either a government-issued photo identification with the name or address; or two pieces of identification authorized by the Chief Electoral Officer, one with address and both with name; or two pieces of authorized identification with name and an oath or declaration of residence that is attested to by another properly identified elector.
In the case of non-residents, the attestation process would enable them to provide proof of their last residence in Canada by an oath or declaration. The person providing an attestation would be a fully proven resident or non-resident qualified to vote in the same electoral district as the person applying for the special ballot.
To account for the potential difficulty that non-residents might face in obtaining an attestation as to their former residence in Canada, the citizen voting act would allow the attestor for the previous residence of a non-resident to be qualified to vote in the same electoral district not to be of the same polling division. This is a slight variation to the attestation process for Canadians voting at the poll that was introduced by the Fair Elections Act.
A non-resident Canadian applying for a special ballot must also provide, in addition to his or her own identification proving his or her identity, copies of identification providing the identity and residence of the person providing the attestation.
Standardizing the voter identification requirements for resident and non-resident Canadians removes preferential treatment for one group of voters over another and obviously just makes sense.
Our government recognizes the unique circumstances of members of the Canadian Forces. A completely separate set of rules found in division 2 of part 11 of the Canada Elections Act governs their voting procedures. Canadian Forces members serving abroad can vote at the location they are stationed, and the citizen voting act would not affect those rules.
In conclusion, our government remains committed to ensuring that our electoral system meets the needs of voters, both in Canada and abroad. The amendments being made by the citizen voting act are necessary to ensure the fairness of the electoral process and to ensure that one set of rules applies to all Canadians.
To summarize, the bill would strengthen Canada's election laws by, first, ensuring only Canadian citizens vote in federal elections; second, putting an end to the possibility of riding shopping; third, applying the same identification rules to all Canadians; and fourth, creating one set of rules for voting from outside the country.
These important advancements will bring greater accountability, integrity, and accessibility to Canada's fundamental democratic process. These are common sense legislative changes, so I would encourage all members to support the citizen voting act.
Mr. Speaker, as the member of Parliament for the great eastern Ontario riding of , it is my pleasure to rise in the House today to speak to the citizen voting act.
When it comes to elections, I am pleased to confirm that I have successfully earned the confidence of the people for the last five general elections. It is with gratitude and humility that I thank the electors of my riding for the honour and the privilege of serving them in this place. As members know, the people are always right. I look forward to being given the privilege of continuing to represent the people of after the next general election.
Our government has a long list of important accomplishments, including the bill before us today. I congratulate the for the excellent job he is doing on behalf of all Canadians. I look forward to working with him for many years to come.
This important bill would ensure that everyone who votes in federal elections is a Canadian citizen, and would require Canadians living abroad to follow the same ID rules as those voting from home. It would also fill a void created in the aftermath of the Ontario Superior Court decision in Frank v. Attorney General of Canada, which struck down the long-standing rules on voting while living abroad.
The citizen voting act would build upon our government's ongoing commitment to strengthen the fairness and integrity of our electoral laws. The commitment started from the time we were first elected to government when we brought into law a series of reforms to clean up the stench of corruption, which Canadians refer to as the “sponsorship scandal”.
Unfortunately, Canadians may never find out what happened to the millions of dollars that were stuffed into envelopes, to be secretly passed to Liberal candidates to subvert the democratic process.
Since 2006, we have brought forward common-sense changes that protect Canadian democracy. One does not have to look too far back to recall the Fair Elections Act, which introduced important reforms that require proof of identity and residence to cast a ballot in federal elections.
Our government is committed to treating both resident and non-resident voters fairly and equally. That is why the citizen voting act would make important reforms to the voting-by-mail procedures and would make the process fairer and more consistent. The bill would also address unfair inconsistencies in the special ballot voting system.
I would first like to take a few moments to explain the relationship between the citizen voting act and the ongoing litigation regarding non-resident voting in Ontario.
In May 2014, the Ontario Superior Court, in Frank v. Attorney General of Canada, struck down the legal requirement that, in order to vote in federal elections, citizens residing outside Canada must have done so for less than five consecutive years and have the intention to return to Canada.
For the benefit of those constituents of mine who are currently serving their country abroad as members of the Canadian Armed Forces, I am pleased to confirm that the ruling did not apply to their unique situation and will continue not to apply their service out of country. In the last federal election, my riding received the highest number of non-resident votes in the country, in no small part due to the significant number of women and men from Base Petawawa that is located in my riding. I thank them for their support. I will always watch their backs to ensure that they have the necessary equipment to do whatever their country calls upon them to do.
As a result of the Ontario court ruling, Canadians residing abroad are now able to vote in federal elections, regardless how long they have resided outside Canada, so long as they have lived in Canada at some point.
For over two decades, Canadian law limited, to five years, the length of time someone can be abroad and still vote.
For over two decades, Canadian law limited to five years the length of time someone can be abroad and still vote. We continue to believe that this is fair and reasonable and that non-residents should have a direct and meaningful connection to Canada and to their ridings to vote in federal elections. That is why our government has appealed the Ontario court ruling. Here it is important to make clear that the citizen voting act does not make any substantive changes to the provisions at issue in the Frank litigation. Our government will leave the resolution of the constitutionality of those sections to the courts.
I will now turn to the substance of the citizen voting act. The bill proposes important reforms to the vote-by-mail process that would strengthen its integrity and fairness. Specifically, it would ensure that only Canadian citizens vote in federal elections by requiring all voters applying for a mail-in ballot from outside Canada to provide proof of their Canadian citizenship.
Further, it would authorize the Chief Electoral Officer to obtain information from Citizenship and Immigration Canada that would allow Elections Canada to remove the names of non-citizens from the voters list, or to ensure that non-citizens are not added in the first place. It would put an end to the possibility of riding shopping by stipulating that non-residents can only receive a ballot for the last address at which they resided in Canada, and that they must present proof of that prior residence.
We must apply the same voter identification rules to all Canadians by requiring that everyone voting by mail include in their application proof of identity and residence consistent with the Fair Elections Act. It would create one set of rules for voting from outside the country.
Finally, it would require the Chief Electoral Officer to carry out an audit of special ballot voting after every election.
I will begin by focusing on what I think are the most important measures of the citizen voting act, the proposals that would ensure that only Canadian citizens vote in federal elections.
The National Register of Electors, or the NRE, is Canada's permanent database of qualified electors. It is intended to include only those who are eligible to vote in federal elections, those being Canadian citizens aged 18 and over.
I think we can all agree that the accuracy of the NRE is what is vital to the integrity and the fairness of Canadian elections. That is important to our Conservative government. However, its accuracy is only as good as the data that supports it. Elections Canada estimates that there are approximately 40,000 non-citizens currently on the National Register of Electors. That means that 40,000 non-citizens could receive voter information cards telling them to vote, even though they are not qualified to do so.
To deal with this unsettling issue, the citizens voting act authorizes my colleague, the , to provide the Chief Electoral Officer with information of persons who are not Canadian citizens, including their name, gender, date of birth, and addresses. This would allow Elections Canada to cross-reference the names on the NRE and delete names that are not Canadian citizens.
Let me be clear. This would not be a one-time clean-up of the voters list. The new authority would allow Elections Canada to periodically request information from the to make sure that the list remains up to date. The purpose is clear, to not to allow 40,000 non-citizens to end up back on the National Register of Electors in the years to come.
The bill also makes an important change to require anyone applying to vote by mail from outside Canada to prove Canadian citizenship. Since proof of citizenship is required when travelling abroad, Canadians temporarily outside the country during an election would not be adversely affected by this change. I think we can all agree that this is reasonable practice and should be a part of Canada's election laws.
Collectively, these are important changes that would help prevent non-citizens from voting and should be supported.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by saying that I will share my time with my colleague from , who will also talk to us about Bill .
As the deputy critic for democratic and parliamentary reform, I am honoured to speak today and to have the opportunity to work with my esteemed colleague from , supporting him on a number of files. I also thank the member for for all of the work she has done over the past few years as the deputy critic for democratic and parliamentary reform. I also thank her team, Jean-François and Myriam, who work extremely hard. I will have the opportunity to work with them again in the future.
It is an honour for me to rise to speak to Bill , but it is also a disappointment. Instead of making it easier for people to exercise their right to vote in Canada, this bill attempts to make it more difficult. That is the opposite of what we should be doing as a country. The government should be encouraging people to vote and making it easier for them to vote, whether they reside in Canada or are Canadian citizens residing abroad. The bill before us today will make it even more difficult for Canadian citizens residing abroad to exercise their right to vote.
This is out of step with what other countries are doing. Some of my colleagues gave examples of countries where, rather than making it harder to vote, they are making voting easier and more enjoyable, especially for the younger generation, who are voting less and less. Voter turnout for young people aged 18 to 25 has been between 30% and 40% in some elections. That is very low, and it means that over half of young people do not go to the ballot box to exercise their right to vote. Instead of making it harder, the government should be working on making it easier and more appealing for all Canadians to exercise their right to vote.
Bill , introduced by the federal Conservative government, follows the decision handed down recently by the Ontario Superior Court in the Frank et al. case. The bill we are debating here today is supposed to be the government's response to that court ruling. This response is unsatisfactory, to say the least. The bill claims to be a response to that decision, but it is definitely not the response that we were expecting. Anyone who has read the Superior Court ruling would have expected a very different response from the government. The Superior Court ruling struck down paragraph 11(d) of the Canada Elections Act, which deals with the right to vote for Canadian citizens living outside of Canada for less than five years.
We might have expected a response that extended the right to vote to all Canadian citizens living abroad. That is something our party has introduced before. My colleague from , whom I would like to thank, introduced a bill to extend the right to vote to all Canadian citizens living abroad and to make it easier for them to exercise that right. There are many Canadians—in fact, 2.8 million—who live outside Canada. Unfortunately, not all of them are going to vote. However, if we were being generous, we could say, and I am just picking a number, that an estimated 300,000, 400,000 or 500,000 might vote. It would make a lot of work for Elections Canada, which would have to review all these applications in the 35 days prior to the election.
I will spend a little bit of time talking about these changes because if Bill does pass in its current form, Canadian citizens living abroad will have to register for every election. When an election is called, they will have to send a form and supporting pieces of identification to Elections Canada. They will be able to vote in the election with a special ballot that they will then have to return to Elections Canada within 35 days, which is the time between the day the election is called and the day of the vote. This extremely short timeframe will make it practically impossible to vote.
In order to vote, the voter will have to prepare in advance and be very familiar with the procedure. When the election is called, the voter will have to immediately fill out forms and pay the requisite fees so that the mail arrives at its destination within the requisite period of time. Depending on where one lives in the world, it can be very difficult to send a document to Canada. These steps will sometimes be expensive for people who want to register to vote in a federal election. This will certainly not encourage them to exercise their right to vote.
If someone has the misfortune of having expired ID or ID that is not considered valid proof for Elections Canada under Bill , then someone else will have to vouch for them. That is another aspect of the bill that makes things even more difficult. A person who was fortunate enough to have the required ID still had to go through a three-part mailing process in a very short time during the election period; but if a person has the misfortune of not having the ID requested by Elections Canada under Bill , then they will have to go through an extra step. This is a complex step, since that person has to find someone to vouch for them who lives in the riding they lived in before leaving Canada. The voucher has to prove that the voter is a citizen of the riding in question and attest to the person's identity, citizenship, and right to vote.
This can take a lot of time if that person lives in a part of the world where postal services are limited, which makes it almost impossible to send the necessary correspondence to register on the voting list. This bill is the government's so-called answer to the Ontario Superior Court decision. However, instead of encouraging people to exercise their right to vote, it makes it almost impossible.
I asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister whether the government had conducted any consultations before drafting this bill. He did not answer me, which I took as a no. It seems that Elections Canada was not consulted before this bill was drafted, even though this bill would have a huge impact on the agency. Indeed, Elections Canada will have to process hundreds of thousands of applications in 35 days so that these people can vote before the election date. That is a significant amount of work.
Furthermore, clause 20 of Bill states that the bill will come into force 60 days after the day on which it receives royal assent. It will be a huge amount of work for Elections Canada to do to implement such a system and to conform with the new legislation.
The government is imposing a huge burden on Elections Canada. It does not even seem to have consulted the agency before it introduced this bill in the House.
I would be happy to take questions from my colleagues.
Mr. Speaker, members may have noticed that some of my colleagues and I are fighting a little cold. If we do not seem all there, it is not because we are not interested in this topic.
Bill obviously deals with an important issue. The government addresses the same problems and same visions of democracy that we saw in Bill on election reform—or electoral “deform”, as we nicknamed it.
There are a number of problems with this bill. Before I get into them, I want to give a brief background. This bill came about because of a ruling by the Ontario Superior Court stating that it was unconstitutional to prohibit Canadian citizens living abroad for more than five years from voting in a federal election.
This is an important issue, especially in 2015, in light of the global village phenomenon. We have increased access to other countries and opportunities—this is especially true for young people. I am thinking about young university grads who want to pursue opportunities abroad without ruling out the possibility of returning home. They remain invested in their home community even though they are abroad.
The right to vote has always been essential, because at the end of the day, it is the very essence of what it means to be a citizen. With how easy it is now to find information and follow the events leading up to an election, the right to vote is increasingly important for citizens living abroad, considering the global realities of today's world.
I would like to mention another very important point that also relates to the right to vote, which, as I said, is the very essence of citizenship. The number of Canadian citizens residing outside Canada translates into a lot of money for the public purse because those individuals pay taxes. We all know the famous slogan that served a certain American cause very well: No taxation without representation. This is another important factor that must not be overlooked, beyond the principles of citizenship. Those people pay taxes, and ultimately, they are entitled to have a say in how their tax dollars are used, that is, in the governance of their home country, where they are citizens.
There are a number of problems, but there is one that we already saw with Bill . The government sees problems; some are legitimate, others do not even exist. They are scaremongers. Last time, the government talked about fraudsters, as though there were thousands of fraudsters across the country trying to steal the right to vote from other citizens. Obviously, there were some dubious findings there. The idea was that many non-citizens were trying to take advantage of the right to vote.
Earlier, I heard an hon. member allude to the fact that non-citizens were receiving ballots abroad, as though this happened frequently and there were wide-scale electoral fraud. That being said, some media reports indicated that it was hard to tell the extent to which citizens abroad were affected. If the journalists who were focusing on this issue were unable to dig up these numbers, I do not see how an hon. member can make this observation. What is more, when my colleague from asked the hon. member whether there were any studies to back her comments, she was unable to provide an answer.
The point I am trying to make is that instead moving forward and finding progressive ways to improve our electoral system, the government always takes a step backward. Instead of moving forward, it takes two steps back. That must be extremely frustrating for the people who, like the NDP, want to see a higher voter turnout. That is the problem we saw with Bill , which had negative consequences for seniors, aboriginal people, young people and students. We see the same problem here.
The thing that strikes me the most is the French example. In 2012, I went to France with my colleagues to observe the presidential election.
I was surprised because I did not know that France had elected representatives—senators and members of the National Assembly—who represent constituencies outside of France. They represent French citizens who live outside of France. I know one person in the area, in Gatineau, who is a French citizen. This is a well-established system because French citizens living outside of France even receive campaign material from political parties.
That says a lot about how important it is to the Republic that all French citizens be properly represented, not just French citizens residing in France. This relates to what I was talking about at the beginning of my speech: in the new global village, where more and more citizens are pursuing opportunities abroad but staying connected to and involved in their communities, the governing body should represent not just residents but all citizens, no matter where they live.
As pointed out by my colleague from —who does an excellent job of developing our positions on democratic reform—the French system has another component: the right to vote by Internet. The Americans allow U.S. citizens living abroad to vote by email.
While other countries look for solutions that will make it easier for citizens living abroad to vote, our government seems to be stuck on making it more difficult. A fine example—and that is another problem with the bill—is the issue of people living abroad who serve the government. We think of course of members of the Canadian Forces who are deployed abroad. The government will say that they are still exempt from the five-week period proposed in Bill .
Although the government is not saying as much, this is a step backwards from what was already in the act. I will explain. Previously, diplomats were also exempt because, after all, they also serve the country, Canadians and the government abroad. Now, diplomats will have to follow the same laborious process as all other Canadians living abroad. They do not get a break even though they are abroad to serve their country.
The same is true for military families. It is a good idea and it is important—and I am not being sarcastic here—to grant exemptions to members of our Canadian Forces. However, we also need to think about their families. Some of these members are undoubtedly accompanied by their 18-year-old children. Some have spouses who also have the right to vote. The government is forgetting to look at the big picture when it comes to people who are living abroad.
Today in his speech, the spoke about the team and the public servants who served him abroad. As my colleague from mentioned, people like that, who are working for a minister and serving the crown—it is important to point that out—are also not granted an exemption from this long and sometimes difficult process. As a result, they will have to use courier services, which Elections Canada has no legal obligation to use. They will have to turn to courier services that sometimes take a long time to deliver things and, in some countries, are difficult to use. There are many problems with this.
This once again shows, as Bill did, just how much difficulty the Conservatives have resolving problems, making it easier to access the electoral system and increasing voter turnout. They are once again introducing a bill that makes the process even more complex and forces Canadians to work even harder to exercise their right to vote. The right to vote should be an automatic part of citizenship. The government has the responsibility to make this process easier.
In closing, I would like to quickly mention one more thing, which I did not have time to really talk about. Once again, students are affected. When I was going to McGill, I saw how easy it was for American students to vote, even though they were living in Montreal. However, Bill contains an error that requires any lease used by a student as proof of residence to be for an official university residence.
Students who are going to school abroad and living off-campus as an individual and not in accommodation such as a university residence cannot use their lease as valid proof of identity.
It is because of these types of problems that we are forced to oppose yet another botched bill on an issue as fundamental as our democracy.
Mr. Speaker, I should say first that I will be sharing my time with the .
I am pleased to address the House with respect to Bill The bill deals with electoral reform intended to strengthen the integrity and fairness of our electoral system.
Canada has one of the world’s most generous electoral systems with respect to the right to vote, and Canadians are proud of their democracy. That is why our government is taking measures to ensure the integrity of the electoral process. I will therefore explain how the , which we have the pleasure of discussing today, protects our electoral system.
Preserving the integrity of our electoral system is important. Elections Canada estimates that there are about 40,000 names of non-citizens currently listed in the National Register of Electors. This means that there are 40,000 non-citizens who could easily obtain a voter information card telling them where and how to vote, and could therefore go to a polling station and vote. As we know, that is in fact illegal.
That is why the will authorize Canada’s Minister of Citizenship and Immigration to provide the Chief Electoral Officer with the name, gender, date of birth and addresses of non-citizens, so that Elections Canada can compare the data and remove non-citizens from the National Register of Electors.
The will make it a legal requirement for anyone voting outside Canada to provide proof of Canadian citizenship. The rule does not apply to members of the Canadian Armed Forces, of whom we are extremely proud. I would like to take this opportunity to mention the extraordinary work they are doing against the terrorist threat constituted by the Islamic State in Iraq.
Getting back to the , I would like to talk about another problem that affects the system as it currently exists. Canadians living abroad do not have to prove that they lived in the riding in which they vote. They can in fact vote in the riding of their choice, on the basis of unverified personal or family ties. Voters living in Canada, on the other hand, have to vote in the riding in which they are residing when the election is held. They cannot choose their riding. It is unfair to allow someone who has never lived in a community to vote for the person who will represent that community. That is why the will ensure that Canadians living abroad are bound by the same rules as those who live in Canada.
Canadians living abroad will have to provide proof of their identity and their most recent Canadian address with the same documentation required of voters who live in Canada, namely photo identification with their previous address or two of the 39 pieces of identification approved by the CEO of Elections Canada. If they do not have a piece of identification showing their previous address, voters living abroad may use an attestation as to their previous address produced by a voter in the same riding who has proven their identity.
Like the Canadian public, we believe it is reasonable to require that a person provide proof of their identity and their address in order to be entitled to vote. Canadian residents who happen to be abroad when an election is held, people like the snowbirds, have to apply for a special ballot at each election and produce pieces of identification and proof of residence. It is a different matter for citizens living abroad, who, once they have applied for a ballot for an election, automatically receive a ballot for every subsequent election at their overseas address, even though we do not know whether or not they still live there.
That is why the is so necessary. It will remove this inequality between Canadians by establishing a single set of rules for citizens who vote outside Canada.
The strengthens the rules that apply to special ballots to match the standards of integrity adopted when the Fair Elections Act was passed last June. It harmonizes the rules for voters whether they are temporarily or permanently residing outside Canada.
The contains measures to safeguard the integrity of our electoral system.
To summarize, we will establish a single register, the National Register of Electors, which will be maintained by Elections Canada, for voters who reside in Canada or who are in Canada when an election is held.
The existing information on non-residents will be retained, and all of the information on voters will now be included in the national register. We will ensure that people living outside Canada—other than members of the Canadian Armed Forces—who want to vote have to produce proof of citizenship.
Voters living abroad will no longer be able, as they were in the past, to choose the riding in which they want to vote without showing a connection to that community, and they will be able to obtain a ballot only for their most recent address in Canada. They will be subject to the same rules as other Canadian citizens with respect to identification and proof of residence.
Lastly, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration will be authorized to provide Elections Canada with information about non-citizens so that their names can be removed from the voters list.
Canada has one of the world’s most generous electoral systems with respect to the right to vote. Many democracies like ours place restrictions on voting by non-residents. I am thinking of Ireland, for example, where non-residents cannot vote. Canada is much more generous with respect to the right to vote. It is therefore reasonable to expect citizens living abroad to meet the same identification requirements as those living in Canada.
Since our government came to power, it has worked tirelessly to reform the Canada Elections Act, so that our system remains one of the most respected in the world. Each of the government’s successive reforms have sought to maintain the integrity and fairness of our electoral system.
The is part of that series of reforms and demonstrates once again our government’s commitment to strengthening the integrity and fairness of our electoral system.
Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to rise in the House today to speak to this act, which addresses some important concerns that have been raised in recent court rulings, which have been discussed in debate already today. As well, it clarifies some of the procedures by which certain types of voters participate in our democratic process.
As the debate was going on today, I had the opportunity to listen to a few of my colleagues' concerns and some of the technical questions that were raised. I would like to use the bulk of my speech to try to address some of the concerns raised in the House today.
I was very pleased to hear that there was some general consensus on the need to remedy the fact that, according to Elections Canada, there are approximately 40,000 non-citizens on our voters list at present. My colleague from the Liberal Party, the member for , just asked what some of the recommendations were. I believe that this particular fact was brought forward by Elections Canada. There seems to be consensus in the House on the sharing of information between Citizenship and Immigration and Elections Canada to ensure that only those who are eligible to vote, as per our country's legalities, are actually on the voters list. That is a very positive thing.
Just to clarify for the House, this act would authorize the to provide the Chief Electoral Officer with names, genders, birth dates, and addresses of non-citizens so that Elections Canada could cross-reference and remove them from the National Register of Electors.
One of the things that came up several times, both in questions and in speeches, was that there is no evidence of riding shopping. I want to go back a bit, because through this Parliament, we have had some fairly substantial debates in this House on how the electorate ties into local representatives. I believe that we are even going to be talking about it today with respect to the reform act. That is a very worthwhile debate. How do elected representatives function in this place? How do we do our jobs, and what is the tie between the electorate and the elected representative?
We need to ensure that this particular relationship is enshrined in our legislation and protected. The reason we have 308 members of Parliament here is to recognize the fact that there are different interests in different communities in this great, vast country of ours. The question becomes how we ensure that the integrity of that relationship is maintained. The context of this act addresses that.
Going back to that riding-shopping phenomenon, my question for the House is this: How do we know that this is not happening? Right now, there is no verification process for electors living abroad who are on the international list of electors. As well, because there is no process in place, there is no audit procedure to ensure that compliance rules are being followed. I am actually quite supportive of putting legislation in place that would require the verification of the different voting requirements contained in this bill for that reason. It would ensure that those who are abroad have a tie to their elected representative and would ensure that there is a verification process that every other Canadian citizen who is participating in the voting process has to follow.
Just to clarify, what we put forward as a government in the citizen voting act would ensure that Canadians living abroad would follow the same rules as those living in Canada. The bill would require that they prove their identity and most recent Canadian address, using the same documentation as voters who live in Canada use under the Fair Elections Act.
I was pleased to hear my colleague from earlier today. He stated that it is relatively easy for attestations to occur under the amendments made in Bill . “I believe” was the term he used. This attestation procedure would continue to exist under this particular act. Having this requirement for verification would ensure that we have the data that would ensure both compliance and a link to a particular community and an elected representative in Canada.
There was a bit of a discussion as well about ballots going to the wrong address and whether this was a real problem. We go to great lengths in this country to ensure that the balloting process at on-site elections during a writ is sacrosanct. We have to make sure that ballots are handled with the utmost care. That is the reason we have scrutineers in our election campaigns.
We should be trying to prevent problems and ensuring that a ballot, which gives people a democratic right to vote for an elected representative, is being sent to a correct address. I do not think we should be arguing over whether this is a problem. It is a problem if it goes to a wrong address. This act would rectify that.
The 60-day coming into force period was discussed earlier today as well. With respect to the criticism that there would be no time for Elections Canada to adapt to the new rules, the House needs to understand that what is being proposed in this legislation is an extension of existing procedures and not the reinvention of a wheel.
When I work with my department officials, I always like to give a shout-out to the hard-working public servants within WD Canada. We work toward a goal. We ask what the legislative requirement is. One of the most important roles of the public service is to implement and execute directions from government. We try to put together a project plan. We put resources around that to ensure we have a plan in place to execute the needs of the government direction.
There certainly is a clearly defined need to have this implemented, given that the Frank ruling that came out adds approximately 1.4 million people to our voting list. Therefore, we need to ensure there are procedures in place in short order to protect the integrity of the voting process in Canada. Given the need that has been precipitated out of this ruling, as parliamentarians, I hope we would look at ways to make this happen through committee debate, rather than saying this cannot be done without giving any specific reason.
The issue of the families of diplomats came up. The Canada Elections Act has always clearly spelled out who is exempt from the different requirements for out-of-country voting. The Canada Elections Act applies a separate set of rules for members of our armed forces. They are under different circumstances than many of those who are living abroad. They are deployed in short order. Sometimes they do not know how long they will be overseas or where they will be. We want to ensure that the men and women of our armed forces have every right to participate in the democratic process. That is why there are separate rules for them.
However, it is worth re-emphasizing that this act puts in place a set of rules for voting overseas that is consistent among voters across the country. Whether they are on vacation, or are a snowbird or have moved abroad, they would have one very similar set of rules that would be applied across the board. That is a positive thing. People on vacation have used the special balloting rules without incident for a long period of time. I think it is reasonable to say that those rules can be extended to others, especially those people who have been out of the country for a certain period of time.
There was also some debate regarding the requirement for identification from a Canadian source and whether that would disenfranchise voters. We had this argument with respect to Bill , and I hope there was some consensus respecting the 39 eligible pieces of identification listed by Elections Canada. It is a robust and comprehensive list. That set of identification is also pertinent to this act, and I think in no way disenfranchises people. There are 39 forms of ID. Surely, there is something on that list that can be shown to meet the requirements in the act.
With respect to there not being enough time for people to register, to get their ballot and to vote, people already do this with the special ballot rules. If my colleagues would avail themselves, the special ballot rules are readily available on the Elections Canada website and many of the rules contained in this act are similar. Again, this has been happening with ease for a lot of people.
Out of curiosity, I went to the Canada Post website to see how long it took for a letter to reach its destination. It states that it is four to seven business days for international letters. Given the variety of ways that people can register to vote, be it online, at the embassy or by fax, there is a way for people to get that information and interact.
Therefore, I support this law. It provides great clarity, given the Frank ruling.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise in this place on behalf of the good people of in the great city of Toronto to participate in the debate on Bill .
It is important to the people in my riding. Many people in , in fact many people in Toronto, go back and forth between Canada and their home countries, the countries in which they were born. Many of my constituents live in both places and care deeply about Canada and the electoral process. They are Canadian citizens, yet from time to time over the course of one's life, end up living elsewhere for a period of time.
We already know from the various accounts that we have heard in this place how difficult it is for many immigrant Canadians to receive government services, to access Service Canada, for example, and how difficult and tricky that is for many in our community. We now are seeing another example of how the government erodes the trust of Canadian citizens who are immigrants or Canadian citizens living abroad. This bill is part of a long litany in a grand narrative, the result of which is a deepening lack of trust.
There is also a very adversarial relationship between the government and expert opinion of society and court rulings. In fact, the government has no hesitation in spending money, the dollars of hard-working Canadians, to fight court challenges and to thumb its nose on what Canadian jurisprudence would lead us to.
In this one I am referring to Superior Court Justice Michael Penny who made it clear that long-term expats who cared deeply about Canada should have the right to vote. The federal government, though, did not withdraw its appeal of the Frank judgment when it tabled Bill , even though it wrote its press release and backgrounder on Bill C-50 to make it appear as if it was accepting the Frank judgment.
We have a bill, and it is important that Canadians understand that parliamentarians have been attempting to deal with this issue in a manner that reflects the values of Canadian society, which is that if an individual is a citizen in Canada, regardless of where they live, they have the right to vote.
The government will say, as it did in earlier debates around its unfair elections act, that it is making things simpler and streamlining the system. In fact, we know that is not the case. One would think that when we are faced with the reality of plummeting voting rates in liberal democracies, including Canada, that we would, as parliamentarians, be thinking about ways in which we help facilitate and invite Canadian citizens to participate more fully in the electoral process. However, we are seeing the government, once again, going in the opposite direction, to the extent that organizations have raised serious concerns about this legislation.
Dylan Penner from the Council of Canadians said, “Bill C-50 is a blatant abuse of power. The current government is trying to legislate its way around a court decision it doesn't like”, and we have heard that one before, “to further stack the deck in its favour for the next election”, and we have heard that one before too. He goes on to say, “Rather than accept a court ruling that restores voting rights, the government has decided to change the law in a way that infringes voting rights.”
I would like to add that I will be splitting my time with the member for .
I would also like to quote from the organization Leadnow, which asked the and the to commit to respecting section 3 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees all Canadian citizens the right to vote. It reads:
|| Any further attempt by this government and future governments to overturn the recent court ruling that reaffirms that right will be considered an affront to the democratic rights of all Canadians.
In a sense, that gets to the crux of the issue here.
This is part of a long narrative by the Conservative government in pushing the envelope around democratic rights and freedoms, of obfuscating in and outside this place regarding its intentions. There have been countless inquiries. There have been police inquiries into voter fraud.
In short, Canadians do not trust the government.
We heard earlier this morning from the former minister of foreign affairs about the importance of this place, of the centrality of this place to preserving democracy in Canada, yet time and time again we see a government that is willing to play fast and loose with the rules, in the hope that Canadians who are struggling just to get by in their day-to-day lives will not notice as the government starts stacking the deck in its favour. This legislation is just an example. We have not heard any compelling evidence or arguments from the government to show that is not the case, and here I am talking about the grand narrative.
Over 2.8 million Canadians live abroad. These are Canadian citizens who pay about $6 billion in Canadian taxes. We need to be thinking of ways to include them more easily in our electoral process. That is a project that any government would think important and vital, but that is not what we see here. It is important that we get to some of the nuts and bolts of how these things play out. We have the legislation, but parliamentarians need to hear how these bills would affect people living their day-to-day lives.
Bill proposes to give Canadian citizens only five weeks before an election to complete the process. The citizen must send in the form and Elections Canada has to mail out a special ballot. The citizen then has to mail that ballot back. As one Canadian abroad put it when consulted on the impact of Bill C-50, “With international postal delays being what they are, expats have to use FedEx or other courier services to have any hope of their vote being counted.”
Elections Canada is not legally mandated to do the same. In other words, if Elections Canada sends the ballot by surface mail, voters outside of North America are going to have a difficult time. Even just the timing of this is going to be difficult. One would think that the government would take these issues into consideration, but what do we expect from a government that is seeking to tear down bit by bit our own postal service. I suppose that is what we get.
This legislation is of deep concern to our party. We have a solution in Bill put forward by the member for . I would urge the government to look seriously at that legislation.
Mr. Speaker, we will try to do the best we can in the four minutes left to us to talk about a bill as important as Bill .
To begin, I want to commend the exceptional work done by my colleague from , who, on behalf of all of us in the official opposition, is trying to make sure that democracy continues to be alive and real in this wonderful country.
I am both happy and sad to rise. I am happy to do so on behalf of the people of Gatineau and to have a moment to speak to Bill . At the same time, I am sad to see that Bill C-50 is being described as a response to a decision of the court. Once again, this shows me that this government has a strange way of responding to decisions of the courts. Every time, I am gobsmacked.
Frank et al. v. Attorney General of Canada was decided in the context of section 11, paragraph 11(d) of the Canada Elections Act. It stated that every Canadian citizen who had been absent from Canada for at least five consecutive years could not vote in Canadian federal elections.
In fact, what Justice Penny tells us in Frank is simply that the principle stated in section 3 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees every Canadian the right to vote, without limitation. There is no exception depending on the context; it is an intrinsic right of every Canadian citizen. This is the primary method by which we are able to speak democratically in this country. It is the right to speak in the context of an election. It seems to me that this principle was obvious. The court made the decision that had to be made: that the right to vote cannot be taken away from Canadian citizens. We are talking about Canadian citizens. We are not talking about people who have no ties to Canada. They may not be in Canada, but they are Canadian citizens. What did the government do? It introduced Bill .
As I listened to the debates all morning, I was pleasantly surprised. I would say I was somewhat surprised because people sent me messages on Facebook, including a message from one person in particular. We know that in paragraph 11(d), to which I referred just now, there was in fact an exception relating to the military. The person in question said that all the rules obviously will not apply to our troops—and I am very pleased to know that—but this will not necessarily be the case for the family members of military personnel. That is a double standard.
I have some difficulty with that example and with others as well. What Bill does is leave us with different kinds of citizens.
I agree with all my colleagues who have spoken in the House and said that, insofar as we can, we must do everything in our power to make access to the vote as easy as possible—not to encourage ways of hijacking democracy, but to enable the most possible people to express their democratic choice. We might say that this government has a lot of trouble acting that way.
The bill tells us that it is in response to the court’s decision, but the decision says that people may not be prohibited from voting. What are the Conservatives doing? They are prohibiting people. I truly have a lot of trouble understanding how this government reads the decisions of the courts. In any event, they have continued to appeal the case.
I know my time on a subject this important has unfortunately already expired. However, I will certainly have an opportunity to speak to this issue at greater length.