moved that Bill , be read the third time and passed.
He said: Mr. Speaker, here we are arising to debate at third reading the fair elections act. This has been an excellent process in considering the democracy that we have been fortunate to inherit from our ancestors in this country, to build upon its foundations and to make it even better.
Today, we have before the House the fair elections act, a bill widely supported by the Canadian people, based on the principle of fairness and universal suffrage. It would make it easier for law-abiding Canadians to vote and harder to break the law. It would make it easier for law-abiding Canadians to contribute more financially to democracy while making it harder for special interest groups to break election finance laws. It would make it more difficult to vote illegally or fraudulently while giving new opportunities for Canadian voters to cast their ballots conveniently throughout an election campaign.
The bill has been subject to a great deal of debate, a variety of opinions, and some modest amendments, which built upon the foundations of the original document; so let us review now the final product that the House will consider with its vote on the bill tonight.
To start with, Canadians would be required to bring ID when they cast their ballots. In the last election, it was possible for people to arrive at their voting location without a single piece of ID and cast their ballot by having someone else vouch for their identity. Identity vouching would be no more. Every single Canadian voter would be required to bring ID showing who they are before they vote.
Beyond that, there would be a safety valve in the system to help those people whose address may not appear on their identification. For example, in communities throughout rural Alberta, Canadians often have driver's licences that do not contain a home address, but rather a post office box. That creates complications at the voting booth. In such circumstances, or ones like it, the voter would be allowed to co-sign an oath with another voter from the same polling division who does have ID and proof of residence in hand, to confirm the residency of the voter.
There would be a list of oath takers, and Elections Canada would be required by law to check that list for duplicates. Duplicates would of course be evidence of multiple voting. If that occurred, it would automatically be sent over to the commissioner, whose job it is to investigate breaches of the Canada Elections Act. Signing of a false oath or using oaths to vote more than once would subject a voter to a $50,000 fine or up to five years in prison.
There would also be a mandatory external audit to examine whether or not Elections Canada followed all of these procedures. That is particularly important, considering the abysmal record of the agency in managing the vouching process during the last election. The agency had roughly 50,000 irregularities linked to vouching last time, and 165,000 irregularities throughout the organization in other areas of its management on election day. This mandatory external audit would hold the agency accountable for this kind of mismanagement and these sorts of irregularities. That is an enormous step forward. Those protections were not in place in the last election, nor was a mandatory ID required.
The presence of ID would ensure that we know who people are before they vote, so that if they, for example, misused, abused, or misled in the taking of an oath, we would be able to track them down afterwards, having actually seen their identification.
Under the status quo, people who used vouching to commit voter fraud might never have been tracked down because they never provided ID and their identify is therefore not even registered in the system. These new safeguards would prevent against abuse, and they would embed a very simple principle into our system: if people want to vote, they must present ID.
I realize that this position is contentious within the House. The NDP and the Liberals believe that people should be allowed to vote with no ID whatsoever, that they should be able to walk in and have someone vouch for their identity. I disagree, and so do Canadians. Before I even announced that there would be some amendments to this bill, 87% of Canadians believed that identification should be required in order to vote. We agree with that 87%.
In addition to requiring ID, we would eliminate a form of identification that has proven unreliable and susceptible to abuse. In the last couple of elections, the agency has allowed voters to use their voter information card as a form of ID. This card is error-ridden. It has millions of mistakes. Some voters even get more than one of them, allowing for multiple voting to occur.
In the last election, there were errors with 12%, or roughly 1 in 6, of these voter information cards. Even today, the Chief Electoral Officer says there is a roughly 6% error rate within the voter information cards. That percentage might not sound like a lot, until we consider that there are 25 million voters in Canada, so off the top of my head, 6% equals almost 2 million errors in those cards. That presents an unacceptably high level of risk. As a result the fair elections act would end the use of the voter information card as a form of ID.
Furthermore, the fair elections act would close financial loopholes that have allowed some powerful interests to get around the donation limits. Some years ago, the House of Commons passed into place, with a great deal of consensus, restrictions on the amount that people could give and the sources from which those funds could come. Corporate and union money was no longer allowed. Individual donors were restricted to $1,000 a year. With inflation, that is about $1,200 now.
The problem is that some have found loopholes. Liberal leadership candidates, for example, took enormous loans from powerful interests and just never repaid them. In essence, those loans are identical in their effect to illegal donations. For some reason, Elections Canada did not pursue an investigation into this breach of the law, and these Liberals were allowed to get away with that practice.
New Democrats, on the other hand, were particularly creative. They invited people to leave enormous donations in excess of the donation limit in their testaments or in their wills. The NDP received hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations bequeathed to them because the limits did not apply to dead people. Although dead people cannot vote, they can contribute under the status quo. The fair elections act would put a nail in that coffin and end the practice of dead donors. From now on, wills and testaments would be subject to the same donation limits as those applied to living Canadians.
All this is designed to end the abuse and the loopholes that have permitted big money to creep back into our electoral system. We understand that big money can drown out the voices of everyday Canadians. That is why our laws would attempt to restrict the flow of that money. It is so that parties can never take enough money from one donor to require them to be indebted to that donor with their public policy decision making.
These rules, whether to prevent voter fraud or to keep out unacceptably large donations, would be useless without enforcement. That is why the fair elections act would strengthen enforcement by making the chief investigator of election law independent. We would be giving him sharper teeth, a longer reach, and a freer hand.
Sharper teeth means that he would have tougher penalties for existing offences. A longer reach means that he would have many new offences to crack down on big money, voter fraud, and other forms of abuse. A freer hand means that he would be completely independent.
Right now, the commissioner is subject to the control of the CEO. The CEO picks his staff, directs his investigations, hires him, and can fire him at any time without cause, according to the law. This is not independence.
The fair elections act would give the commissioner control of his own staff and his own investigation, and guarantee that he cannot be fired without cause. That is the kind of independence the Canadian people expect from a chief investigator. I expect that independence would vastly improve the quality and consistency of enforcement that Canadians enjoy in their electoral system.
One of the best ways to ensure that people do not break the rules is to make those rules known and consistently applied. For example, if the agency were to allow a practice for many years and then change its mind suddenly, as it has been known to do, then it is hard for political actors to know which set of rules they are supposed to follow. As a result, the fair elections act would require the CEO to issue legal interpretations and advance rulings on requests from political parties.
For example, if a party is unclear as to how the agency would enforce a certain rule, it could send a request for an advance ruling to ask the CEO if its plan to do a, b, c, and d would be allowed. The CEO would be required to respond within a confined time period, and the party would then be able to use that advance ruling to carry out its actions in compliance. The ruling would be binding on Elections Canada.
In other words, the agency would not be allowed to tell a party that something is allowed and then change its mind after the fact. Furthermore, it would set a precedent so that all parties could follow the same practice as one party had been allowed to do. In other words, there would be one set of rules for everybody. This is a massive improvement and it represents the use of an ounce of prevention instead of a pound of punishment.
The democracy we enjoy should never be taken for granted. All of us have been given this sacred opportunity to choose who shall govern our country. Unfortunately, many Canadians choose not to exercise that right. One of the biggest obstacles to voter participation, according to Elections Canada, is a lack of basic information about how to participate.
Now most Canadians understand that they can vote on election day. That knowledge is widely understood. However, half of young people are not aware that one can vote before election day. A poll by Elections Canada showed that three-quarters of aboriginal youth were not aware that they could vote before election day, through an advance ballot, a mail-in ballot, or by going to the Elections Canada local office on any day throughout the campaign.
That knowledge would be useful in helping people get out and vote who are too busy, out of town, working, or having family or health obstacles. That is why the fair elections act would focus Elections Canada's advertising on where, when, and how to vote.
In fact, with the passage of the fair elections act, the agency would only be allowed to advertise on the basics of voting. That is a change from the system right now, and it would ensure that the information the people of Canada receive from their election agency is relevant to their role.
Finally, for the vote to matter, it has to be honoured. Under the status quo, Elections Canada is able to attempt to remove a member of Parliament, through suspension, from the House of Commons if there is a financial dispute over election spending.
I think all of us agree that if someone flagrantly and deliberately breaks election law in order to be elected, that person should be suspended, but we have to make sure that the allegation is in fact true before reversing the decision of thousands of voters by the edict of one agency head. Therefore, the fair elections act will allow any member of Parliament whose financial claims are disputed by the agency to exhaust all levels of legal appeal in the courts before the CEO can come to Parliament and ask for that MP's suspension. This is altogether fitting and proper. It is not right for an agency head to attempt to overturn the results of a democratic election and to cancel out the votes of tens of thousands of voters unless and until a judge has agreed with the allegation the CEO has presented. The fair elections act will imbed that required judicial proceeding in place, rather than the current system, which is undemocratic and unfair to voters.
We in this party and in this government believe that voting should be as easy as possible. That is why we are adding an additional day of voting during which Canadians can show up and cast their ballots in advance, in case they are not able to do so on election day.
This is a summary of the changes we are putting forward before the Canadian people. They have been widely debated and thoroughly considered in the committees of both the House and the Senate, and now we move forward to decision day. Having had all of this debate and having considered some modest but fair changes, it is time for people to decide.
This bill will allow Elections Canada to focus on its core mandate of running elections fairly and efficiently while removing from its mandate aspects that really do not belong with the agency at all. It is a major step forward for democracy. It will protect the independence of our elections, and it will allow the Canadian people to have full confidence in the apparatus constructed to carry out the vote on election day.
I invite members of all parties, having carefully considered it, to vote in favour of the fair elections act tonight and to celebrate it as a step forward in the evolution of Canadian democracy, building upon our long-standing traditions and democratic heritage to move our country forward into the future of its democracy.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to orient my remarks in the following way: first, to briefly situate why there was so much concern when the bill was initially tabled in early February and in the months leading up to major concessions by the minister, not the minor or modest amendments that he just referred to; second, to outline what those amendments were that constitute a major victory for civil society and the opposition in making a bad bill less bad; and, finally, to go through 10 points about what still remains in the bill that makes it a bad bill unworthy of the support of this House.
On the first point, it has to be said that from the beginning, our worry was that the dozens of new provisions and changes in the bill created a tapestry that, in the result, whether or not by intention, would favour one party in the next election and lock into place a series of principles that were not themselves fair, despite the name of the act, the “fair elections act”. There was no better sign for those well aware of what the government is capable of and of the bill itself than the fact that on April 10 two very highly respected Progressive Conservatives joined in signing a statement about their concerns and about why the bill should actually be killed. Those persons were David Crombie and Allan Gregg.
This legislation is a blatant attempt by the Harper government to stack the deck in favour of the Conservatives in the next federal election.
These are two extremely knowledgeable members of Canadian society, one of them a former mayor of Toronto and a former Progressive Conservative minister and the other a deeply connected pollster and marketing person. Both these men knew what the current government was capable of. They read the bill, they understood it, and they used very strong language. “Stack the deck” is something that clearly suggests an effort to create an unfair elections act, the opposite of the title of the bill, the “fair elections act”.
With pressure from all sides—from civil society, from a vigorous opposition effort, from academics speaking out, and, I have no doubt, from a certain number of Conservative backbenchers who, either as a matter of principle or as a matter of feeling the pressure, weighed in—a number of major concessions were announced by the minister and indeed delivered upon in amendments at the procedure and House affairs committee.
I will list them. By listing them, I hope I convey how major they are and how the government was forced off of some elements that were at the very heart of the effort to “stack the deck”.
First, there was a fundraising exemption. Parties would be allowed to exempt from their campaign expenses all the costs of contacting previous donors from the last five years in order to raise more money from them. All the costs associated with that would not have to go into campaign costs. All kinds of reasons were given as to why this was a huge, unlimited exemption to the campaign caps at election time. That was removed.
Second, the government added to the original bill, Bill , the fact that central poll supervisors would henceforth be de facto appointed by the first-place party's candidate or the first-place party going into the next election.
The central poll supervisor is in many ways the most important person at any given poll. The fact that this would unbalance the existing system—which unfortunately is already politicized, in that the deputy returning officer and the poll clerk are each appointed by the first-place and second-place parties respectively—was something that produced major concern. There was no logic as to why this should be the case. That was removed in one of the so-called modest amendments of the minister, but it is an amendment that I nonetheless would prefer to characterize as a major concession.
We have just had an exchange where the minister acknowledges that vouching for identity in and of itself is no longer part of Bill and remains so, but vouching for an address, which is the absolute key problem that had occurred when the vouching provisions of the Canada Elections Act were removed, has been restored.
That was not a modest amendment. That was a major victory for civil society and for the many witnesses who took the time and trouble to explain to Conservative members at the procedure and House affairs committee, to the media, and ultimately to the minister why the elimination of the current vouching provisions in the Canada Elections Act were deeply unfair and disenfranchising.
Fourth, there was a bordering on ludicrous limit on how long calling service providers and others had to keep data with respect to voter contact in the new voter contact registry. When Bill was initially introduced, it was to be only one year, which is barely enough time for information to come out in some context that there is a problem needing investigation. The minister caved with respect to the keeping of scripts and audio records. That was increased from one year to three years.
Many other problems remain with this voter contact registry system. I would call this a modest amendment, but nonetheless a significant one.
Fifth, the government heard early on that Bill 's elimination of the public education and information programming role of Elections Canada, especially targeted toward disadvantaged groups and those more likely to experience difficulties in voting, was an abomination. I knew early on that this was one area that a lot of Conservative Party backbenchers had great trouble with. I could have predicted from the beginning what would happen, which was that the public education role for Elections Canada was restored, albeit only for primary and secondary school students. All of the other outreach activities that Elections Canada had engaged in over the years or could engage in in the future have remained prohibited by the current version of Bill .
Nonetheless, at least allowing a student vote and analogous programs to continue to be supported, funded, co-organized, and partnered by Elections Canada constitutes a major victory on the part of civil society, which very much put this issue near the top of its concerns.
Sixth is the fact that Bill contained no provisions that are necessary in a bill, for technical reasons, to allow communications between the Commissioner of Canada Elections and the Chief Electoral Officer after the commissioner would be moved from Elections Canada to the Director of Public Prosecutions. That was rectified by putting in communications authorizations. They are minimal and do not go as far as we wanted, but they are nonetheless important.
Seventh, it was very clear that the new section 18 of the Canada Elections Act was written in such a way that the Chief Electoral Officer would henceforth be prohibited from communicating with the public other than to provide information to the public on a very narrow set of functional questions, such as where one can vote, how one can vote, and what identification one can use to vote. The reason was that section 18 was worded to say that the Chief Electoral Officer shall “only” communicate about the following. Therefore, there was great concern that, whether intentionally or not, it had been written in a way that meant the Chief Electoral Officer could communicate on nothing other than that in the future.
Early on, the minister said that was not the intention, and when he announced his other concessions, he said that the Chief Electoral Officer could communicate freely in his own capacity. When the time came for the amendments at the procedure and House affairs committee, it was never expressed that the Chief Electoral Officer could communicate freely henceforth, but the way in which section 18 was rewritten satisfies me that the result would be that he could now communicate freely. I only wish the government had agreed to an NDP amendment to make that clear for the sake of certainty. However, I will go on record here, as I did at the committee, to say that it is clear from the record that the Chief Electoral Officer would now be able to say whatever he wants in whatever context, in Canada or outside of Canada.
Finally, of the concessions made by the minister, there was a very puzzling provision in Bill that basically said the Commissioner for Canada Elections could not begin an investigation until he or she had reasonable grounds to suspect an offence had been committed.
Anybody involved in the criminal law or investigative sphere knows that is a standard not for beginning an investigation but for receiving things like orders for wiretaps or other kinds of investigative measures. However, in common law and in every other investigative context, all investigative officers need is a reasonable suspicion to start an investigation.
That was changed in committee, and I am willing to concede that it was simply a mistake on the part of the drafters, although a puzzling one that I cannot understand being made by anybody who understands how criminal law investigation works.
The point is that a number of major concessions arose as a result of fierce opposition, an engaged civil society, and either persuaded or somewhat fearful backbenchers, who obviously weighed in with the government.
I would like to now move to why, despite all those concessions, there still remain so many problems with this bill that it does not deserve our support, quite apart from all of the process concerns about how it was generated and how even the amendments process was non-consensual, in that not a single opposition amendment of any substance was accepted. Despite the concessions that I mentioned earlier, there are so many problems that it deserves not to see the light of day. I will briefly now indicate 10 points.
First, the current Bill on which we are about to vote today would continue to eliminate the power of the Chief Electoral Officer to implement public education and information programs designed to enhance knowledge of our electoral democracy and to encourage voting. It would only bring back one context, and that is for primary and secondary school students. All other public outreach would remain prohibited.
Second, Bill would prohibit the Chief Electoral Officer from authorizing the use of voter information cards, or VICs, as a piece of voter identification to be used not on their own but alongside a second piece of identification. It would do this despite the fact that such cards are a method of enfranchisement that were introduced because of concerns about limited forms of identity showing address and despite the fact that smoother administration of voting on election day resulted from their use in various contexts in 2011. It would be prohibited despite there being no evidence whatsoever for believing these cards are, or are likely to be, a source of fraud. This remains the case, no matter how many times the minister gives an example of a hoax that was attempted by the television show Infoman that never actually reached fruition.
Third, Bill would require that the Chief Electoral Officer and the Commissioner for Canada Elections must now get the permission of government officials in order to remunerate experts and investigators whom they find necessary to hire on a temporary basis. Previously, they could have direct access to the consolidated revenue fund. Now the CEO would have to go through the Treasury Board and the commissioner would have to go through the Director of Public Prosecutions.
Fourth, it refuses to legislate powers that are necessary for full compliance with, and enforcement of, the Canada Elections Act, in light of the experience with fraud and breach of other electoral law rules in the elections of 2006, 2008 and 2011, notably, the power of the CEO to require registered parties to provide receipts accounting for their election campaign expenses and the power of the commissioner to seek a judicial order to compel testimony during an investigation into electoral crime.
Fifth, it unnecessarily transfers the commissioner to a government ministry, the ministry of the Attorney General, and away from the current location within the office of the Chief Electoral Officer, who is, I will remind the House, an officer of Parliament. This thereby creates corresponding negative consequences for the effectiveness of commissioner investigations and for the complementary roles that the Chief Elector Officer and his or her staff and the commissioner and his or her staff play in securing compliance with the Elections Act, well ahead of and well beyond the relatively limited number of contexts in which their focus is enforcement.
Sixth, the commissioner is fettered in ways that other investigative agencies are not. In particular, he or she is required to inform suspects if they are under investigation, and he or she is prohibited from explaining to Parliament and Canadians why an investigation has not led to charges of prosecution.
Seventh, it leaves serious loopholes in the voter contact registry system that is to be administered by the CRTC, which is a welcome addition to the Canada Elections Act, but which does not go far enough. The loopholes include: the fact that the voter contact scripts for live calls and audio recordings of robocalls do not have to be conveyed to the CRTC; the fact that no person or group is under any obligation to retain phone numbers of persons called, let alone to convey those numbers to the CRTC; and the fact that no affirmative obligations are placed on the CRTC to proactively inform the commissioner if and when a CRTC employee suspects wrongdoing. I speak obviously not of wrongdoing on the part of the CRTC, but on the part of the actors who have to report to the CRTC.
Eighth, the Canada Elections Act, through Bill , retains a politicized system of appointing deputy returning officers, poll clerks and registration officers as elections officials or officers for election day. As such, the Canada Elections Act does not grant Elections Canada the full authority to appoint all elections officers on the basis of merit, with corresponding detrimental effects for Elections Canada's capacity to minimize election day irregularities through more timely recruitment and training for elections officers. It is one of the major outcomes of the Neufeld report saying that the ability of Elections Canada to appoint all elections officers would be the single most important way to enhance the capacity of elections workers to minimize irregularities that the government from the beginning tried to leverage as evidence of fraud, which it was not.
Ninth, is the problematic provisions relating to voter identification that create the danger of harassment and intimidation of voters, because identity documents can now be inspected by party scrutineers. They also dissuade people from actually vouching for an address because of the fear that the requirement that the person must have known personally the person being vouched for is very unclear as to how long and how well the voucher must have known the elector.
Finally, it increases the role of money in politics through unjustified increases in donation limits and also by creating an unworkable banking loan system that would actually, in ways that are too complex to explain, benefit well-resourced candidates and parties.
Therefore, I would like to move a reasoned amendment. I move:
That the motion be amended by deleting all of the words after the word “That” and substituting the following:
this House decline to give third reading to Bill C-23, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and other Acts and to make consequential amendments to certain Acts, because, amongst other things, it:
(a) was rushed through Parliament without adequately taking into account the concerns raised by over 70 expert witnesses and hundreds of civil society actors that speak to a wide array of provisions that remain problematic in this bill;
(b) prohibits the Chief Electoral Officer from authorizing the use of 'Voter Information Cards' as a piece of voter identification to be used alongside a second piece of identification, despite such cards being a method of enfranchisement and promoting smoother administration of the election-day vote and despite there being no basis for believing these cards are, or are likely to be, a source of voter fraud;
(c) refuses to legislate the powers necessary for full compliance with, and enforcement of, the Canada Elections Act in light of experience with fraud and breach of other electoral law in the 2006, 2008 and 2011 general elections, notably, the power of the Chief Electoral Officer to require registered parties to provide receipts accounting for their election campaign expenses and the power of the Commissioner for Canada Elections to seek a judicial order to compel testimony during an investigation into electoral crimes such as fraud;
(d) eliminates the power of the Chief Electoral Officer to implement public education and information programs designed to enhance knowledge of our electoral democracy and encourage voting, other than for primary and secondary school students; and
(e) increases the influence of money in politics through unjustified increases in how much individuals may donate annually and how much candidates may now contribute to their own campaigns, thereby creating an undue advantage for well-resourced candidates and parties.
Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak today to a very problematic bill that may put Canada in a very difficult situation down the road.
I will begin by trying to put the bill into context, the way I see it. After the last election, Elections Canada launched investigations into some of the practices that came to light during the election. I am talking about the mechanism one political party had created in order to get around the spending limits for national campaigns. The party would lend money to riding associations or local campaigns, which would then transfer the money to the central party to spend on advertising. This was the famous “in and out” scandal. Naturally, this led to a lawsuit, and the party was found guilty of breaking the law and had to pay a fine. This left a stain on this party, which is now in power.
The other incident began shortly before the last election. In a new approach to running an election campaign, the party would suppress the vote and reduce voter turnout in an effort to get its own candidates elected. The thinking was that it might have the better team or a better machine to get out the vote, so if it succeeded in discouraging others from voting, this would increase the chances of its candidates getting elected. I am referring to the robocalls.
By the way, this is a misnomer because in the riding that I have the pleasure of representing, people did not receive a robocall. They received a call from a person who gave them false information. That happened a number of times. I asked everyone who notified me of this to sign an affidavit. Everything I received I passed on to Elections Canada and the RCMP.
For example, a woman of a certain age had lived in a building for about 60 years. When there is a municipal, provincial or federal election, the polling station is always in the building. On election day, the woman received a call informing her that her polling station had been moved. She laughed at them, called them idiots and told them that she had already voted in her building and that what they were trying to do was wrong. That was one of the women who signed an affidavit in front of a lawyer. This complaint was sent to Elections Canada, and there were others.
This whole affair left a very bad taste in Canadians' mouths and put a black mark on the political party in power. It may have generated interest in amending the law. Canadians and parliamentarians called for amendments. In his reports, the Chief Electoral Officer called for changes to the law and the government promised to make some.
The previous minister had told the House that the bill would be introduced in a few days. We learned that he consulted his caucus and instead of introducing the bill the next day, as he was supposed to, he went back to the drawing board. With the last cabinet shuffle, the appointment of the new caused quite a stir among Canadians.
As we know, the minister who introduced the bill is another sort of person, someone who is a little more acerbic and a little more partisan.
This resulted in the bill to amend the Elections Act, which was introduced a while ago. Canadians and MPs began to react. I would like to remind members of the reactions to the bill from right across the country.
The Cape Breton Post said:
Conservatives’ Fair Election Act anything but fair
That was in February.
An Edmonton, Alberta, newspaper called Le Franco published an article titled “Election Tension Intensifies”. The article said:
The 242-page fair elections bill was rushed through, even though it will have a significant impact on the democratic process. The bill, introduced on February 4, fundamentally changes the rules.
A headline in The Gazette read:
Bill could end vote drive campaigns
Elections Canada ads failed, minister says
A National Post headline read:
Electoral officer slams reform bill at meeting, vows not to resign
That article was written by Glen McGregor.
The Gazette said:
Anti-vouching provisions unconstitutional: critics
Fair Elections Act measure could affect the young, seniors and aboriginals
In another article in The Gazette, Andrew Coyne wrote:
What election problems do Tories want to solve?
The Winnipeg Free Press said:
Election bill helps Tories exclusively
The Chronicle Herald said:
Former watchdog slams electoral reform bill
Another headline in The Chronicle Herald read:
There are a few nuances here and there.
Another headline in the same newspaper read:
New Fair Election Act: not exactly as advertised
The National Post said:
Electoral reform based on mistrust
New bill removes chief electoral officer's power
An article in Le Devoir was titled “The Poisoned Ballot Box”.
A headline in La Presse read: “Ottawa wants to remove the CEO's power to investigate”.
Those are the reactions we saw across the country. Well-known and well-respected individuals even made some surprising comments. The first was Preston Manning, who was quoted in The Globe and Mail on March 1, if I am not mistaken:
Conservatives are increasingly not viewed as the party that most champions democratic values....
It was Mr. Manning who said that.
This created a situation in which we were forced to ask ourselves some questions. Some changes made to the law were completely unacceptable.
I was there when the Chief Electoral Officer spoke to the committee on March 6. I listened to his statement and shared it with my constituents. He tore apart the bill as it had been introduced.
Members will recall a situation we had never seen before. One of the country's top newspapers, The Globe and Mail, published scathing criticisms of the bill in five editorials—one a day. The following Monday, another editorial was published, entitled:
Many people across the country shared the same opinion. They were not satisfied with the bill the government had introduced. There was a public outcry. Many organizations started petitions, as did the opposition parties in the House. As a result, the government realized that there might be a problem. The minister often quoted the Neufeld report in his answers in the House. He used the report to support an argument contrary to what the report was actually saying. It became clear that he was hurting his own party. Earlier, I listened to what the member for said. I agree with him.
Some members likely exerted pressure within the government caucus. Others shared their opinions anonymously. This led the minister to change his position and make some amendments. I believe that 45 amendments were proposed in the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.
All of these amendments were accepted by the government majority. However, approximately 150 amendments were proposed by members of the committee belonging to the opposition parties. I believe that only one of those amendments was accepted and it was a small amendment regarding a technical error in the bill. All of the other amendments proposed by the opposition parties were rejected. Members of NDP, the Liberal Party, the Bloc Québécois and the Green Party, as well as independent members, consulted their own constituents. Canadians reacted very strongly, so these members tried to amend the bill so that the unacceptable provisions would not be included in the Canada Elections Act.
Of course, amendments were made. I agree with what has been said. The bill has been improved somewhat, but not enough. That is where things stand today. Yesterday evening, we voted for two hours. That whole time, the government majority systematically rejected all the other amendments, even though many of those amendments made a lot of sense. They would have strengthened the Canada Elections Act and Canadian democracy. They would have protected Canadians' rights. Those amendments were not accepted.
Other troubling incidents have occurred throughout the process. Sheila Fraser, the former auditor general of Canada, made a rather strong statement. She said:
“...it really is an attack on our democracy....”
The government's reaction was vicious. The Conservatives accused Ms. Fraser of being a spokesperson for Elections Canada and of being paid to say what she did. However, she earned the respect of all Canadians during her 10 years as auditor general of Canada. She did a remarkable job that affected all of us, as a government. I really must commend the work she did as Canada's auditor general. She has a great reputation, yet the government, or some of its spokespersons, were quick to try to destroy her reputation. It really is unbelievable. There is clearly a problem when something like that happens.
The government may well have realized that resistance was mounting when they saw how the Senate would react, in advance of the study of the bill. They heard fairly strong comments from their own senators, who said that certain amendments would be appropriate. That is how we got to where we are now.
I would also like to point out that it was at that point that the government was quick to introduce a time allocation motion: the guillotine. At that time, we were just beginning to perhaps see, or hope to see, some openness to make this bill acceptable to Canadians and to parliamentarians. However, the government said no, that it was done and that we had to vote. There would be one day of debate at the report stage, which was yesterday, one day for third reading, which is today, and it will be over tonight.
I certainly intend to support the motion of the hon. member for , seconded by his colleague from , not to go ahead with this bill and pass it because I think that passing it would be a step backward, not forward, as the minister claims.
There is a list of proposed amendments, which are correct, but also a list of shortcomings in the bill that still does not recognize voter cards as a piece of identification. It is only recognized as proof of address. Voters can use it if they have someone there with them, but that is not always the case.
Elections Canada's role is seriously limited. It is unacceptable to separate the Chief Electoral Officer and the commissioner by sending the commissioner to a government agency where he will lose the independence of being an officer of Parliament.
Increasing the limit for contributions to political parties, just like the $25,000 contribution, I believe, that candidates can make to their own campaigns, is good for the wealthiest people in our country.
That is not a direction the government should be heading in. On the contrary, I do not think anything should be changed, unless the limits are reduced. Yes, that is challenging for political parties, but it forces them to open up to the public and encourage people to get involved in and contribute to their movement. That strengthens democracy and makes people feel like they are living in a country where their voices make a difference. I wish the limits had not been increased, but that is what will happen.
There is another thing that is really bothersome. Elections Canada has, over the years, developed a fabulous international reputation. I have had occasion to travel in a number of countries, Africa in particular, where there are electoral commissions.
These temporary or permanent electoral commissions are rather clumsy, poorly organized and highly controlled by governments.
These bodies are problematic, and the people rely quite a bit, when they have elections, on external bodies, and I have heard about Elections Canada's fabulous reputation in terms of going there to help.
Under the former chief electoral officers, Mr. Kingsley and Mr. Hamel, Elections Canada was able to build a solid reputation over the decades. However, if the bill before us today is passed by the House and the Senate and receives royal assent, it is a step backward. This will weaken Elections Canada and its ability to ensure that the electoral process is sound and transparent. This agency is supposed to be independent and report to the House, not the government. The agency has the ability to enforce legislation and, when that legislation is violated, to conduct investigations and impose penalties. The agency is asking for investigative powers, which it will not have, to maintain its reputation.
If this bill is passed, I think the government is going in the opposite direction and taking a step backward. This will weaken Elections Canada and its national and international reputation. It blows me away to see a government do this.
This was one of my responsibilities when I was a minister. We made a minor change to the criteria for redistributions. To make this change, I consulted with the officers of Parliament and with the opposition parties. That is how we went about amending the Elections Act. We did not go about it in a cavalier fashion as we are seeing today. The minister misinterpreted a report and made claims that were the opposite of what the report said. He made some amendments only because he was forced to do so, but he rejected all the other amendments presented by the opposition.
I hope that some of their members will heed the call to vote against this bill and that it will not become law.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for .
It is a privilege for me to rise in the House to speak to the importance of the fair elections act, also known as Bill . Today I will be focusing on the important measures taken by our government to protect democracy and to ensure the integrity of the voting process as well as on our commitment to combatting big money and minimizing the possibility of fraudulent voting.
We are very fortunate as Canadians to be able to exercise our right to vote through our democratic system. Sadly, in many countries, the voices of their citizens are frequently stifled by dictatorships and/or communism. We often hear news of fixed or rigged election results in these countries, which result in civil unrest, division, and violence. This is why our government fully commits itself to protecting the core Canadian values of democracy, fairness, accountability, and transparency through the fair elections act.
Our Conservative government is focusing on the Canadian value of democracy and it will continue to do so.
I believe that the bill will strengthen the integrity of the voting process. We continue to build on our record and, under the leadership of our government, we have taken action and introduced the best measures to protect and improve the electoral system. Complicated rules result in unintentional breaches and discourage ordinary people from taking part in democracy. That is why the fair elections act will make election rules more clear, predictable and easy to follow.
In order to follow the rules, parties must know what they are. The fair elections act will ensure that they know what they are by requiring the Chief Electoral Officer to take appropriate action. To ensure that the laws reflect the reality of the overall election process, an advisory committee of political parties would be created through legislation. It would be composed of the Chief Electoral Officer and two representatives of each registered political party.
The role of the committee would be to ensure that the views of the parties represented are considered in administering the election laws. Its mandate would be to provide useful advice and comments on any administrative or legislative issue related to the law or the administration of elections by Elections Canada.
The bill establishes that the committee's advice and recommendations are not binding on the Chief Electoral Officer. It should be noted that Elections Canada would have the power of final interpretation, but that the committee would safeguard the independent administration of elections. The committee would examine the Chief Electoral Officer's interpretations and suggest improvements when necessary.
However, we should understand that there is no perfect election system. Even though Canada has a particularly solid democracy, there are always things that can be improved. We believe that the measures I have just mentioned will help fine-tune the system.
Our government continues to take action when it comes to improving our voting system. In light of accountability and transparency, the fair elections act would help combat big money to encourage small donations and to eliminate taxpayer-funded handouts. This would also keep special interest groups, such as unions or individuals with deep pockets, from drowning out the voices of everyday citizens.
We believe that political parties should interact and engage with the public to advocate their cause, to be meaningful to Canadians, and to seek their financial support. This means that political parties and candidates need to be engaged, committed, and most importantly, relevant to Canadians so that they will make contributions from their own hard-earned money.
Political parties need to do their own fundraising and utilize resources at their disposal to encourage individuals to come out to vote. That seems like a win-win to me. As MPs who hold public office, we have a responsibility to keep ourselves and those around us accountable.
All of us here must lead by example come election time. The spending limit, although increased by our government from $1,200 to $1,500, would help political candidates do just that. Along with ensuring accountability, this spending limit would allow Canadians to make meaningful contributions to the parties they support.
Although I appreciate and listened to the views and concerns of the members opposite on the matter of vouching, it is my opinion that they do not understand that the majority of Canadians agree with our position that a person must show identification to vote.
I can assure this House that we are committed to strengthening our voting process and procedures. We will take the necessary action to reduce high levels of irregularities, which have been noted in studies, resulting from a process known as vouching.
It is indeed reasonable to ask people to produce identification prior to their casting a vote. When Canadians pick up a parcel at a post office, they are asked to produce a valid piece of ID. When Canadians embark on a plane, they are asked to produce a valid piece of ID. When Canadians set up new bank accounts at banks, they are asked to produce a valid piece of ID.
My point is that if one requires a piece of ID for many day-to-day dealings and activities, it is entirely reasonable that one would produce a piece of ID to prove one's identity to vote. What the opposition clearly does not understand is that Canadians agree that this is, indeed, entirely reasonable.
Our government has made the process simple, accessible, and clear for Canadians. There are currently 39 forms of authorized ID to choose from to prove identity and residence. I will not go through the list, for the sake of time, but I can assure members that it is extensive. That there are 39 forms of approved identification facilitates the ability of Canadians to show who they are.
What the members of the NDP and Liberal Party need to do is lay aside their ideological opposition to the fair elections act and a matter such as this and instead recognize that the measures are fair and reasonable and are considered to be so by Canadians.
To conclude, I would like to express my unwavering support for this bill. It is a remarkable initiative, especially when we consider that no one other than the Conservative government could achieve such an objective. Moreover, we worked with opposition members and, as a result, we made amendments to an already solid bill. We then introduced the improved version.
This bill will simplify our voting system and will protect Canadians from abuse of campaign donations—big money—and fraudulent phone calls. Our government is committed to protecting core Canadian values by applying this law. Unfortunately, the NDP and Liberals have always voted against these important initiatives.
As an MP, I often think about the importance of democracy in Canada. I sincerely believe that this bill is firmly based on the idea of an accountable, transparent and impartial democratic system for this country. I invite opposition members to join with us in supporting the bill, which is designed to defend our democratic system and improve the voting system.
Canadians want accountability, transparency, and fairness. This is what we are delivering through the fair elections act.
Mr. Speaker, I, too, am rising today to address Bill , the fair elections act, and some of the very significant and beneficial reforms that it is making to the Canada Elections Act and to the conduct of elections in this country.
I will run through a couple of things, and if I have time within my ten minutes, I will go through some of the amendments that were made in committee, amendments that I think show a genuine commitment on the part of the government and on the part of the responsible minister to take into account a wide range of inputs and to alter the bill in order to make it better reflect those inputs.
Let me start with what I think are the four key themes of this legislation. As someone who sat through all of the many hours of committee hearings on the bill and who has been involved in one form or another in every stage of the process of its adoption and amendment, it seems to me that these four themes come out very clearly.
First, there is an attempt to limit the influence of big money. This is a continuation of a theme that began when Jean Chrétien was Prime Minister and donations were limited to $5,000 per person. Before that there were no limits on how much an individual could donate. Anybody who has an interest in these things can look at the records of Elections Canada to see the enormous donations, to the tune of quarter of a million dollars, from major institutions. That was changed. It was tightened by this government in its first term, reducing the amount of donations to $1,000 and eliminating all forms of corporate and union donations.
The bump upwards in this piece of legislation, in the fair elections act, to $1500 is merely a reflection of inflation over that period of time. I should add that we have done a few things, entirely non-controversial but I think very beneficial. This bill eliminates the possibility of the one kind of giant donation that still exists out there, the donation in the form of a bequest.
A few years ago, the New Democrats received a donation in a bequest, in a will, of over $300,000 from a single individual. Clearly, this kind of very large donation, which could, in theory, allow for donations in bequests in wills of up to millions, would destabilize a political system in which every other input of cash has been reduced. I think that is a very significant step that this bill has taken.
Second, we have greater certainty in the administration of elections and of the rules. Elections Canada is now required to prepare rulings in advance. It cannot make retroactive rulings. The rules are this now, but we also say that in the past they have changed from what we said they were in the past or what a reasonable person might have thought they were in the past. It is bound by their own rulings. It is no longer in a position to sign compliance agreements with a party, as it did with the New Democratic Party following its convention and following the large corporate donations that were given in the form of sponsored advertising at that convention for a very large consideration. The compliance agreement is a secret. The CEO knows what it says. The New Democrats know what it says, and none of them want to reveal it to the general public. That cannot happen any more. That is vital for the rule of law.
Third, there is greater integrity and protection against voter fraud. Much has been spoken on that subject; I will only say that I think the measures taken here are reasonable, balanced and, especially once the amendments occurred, do everything they can to ensure that there is fairness and that the restrictions that are placed on the ability of people to vote without identification are applied with as a light a touch as is realistically possible. I applaud the minister for having made those amendments.
Fourth, there is greater knowledge by Canadians of what their rights are under the law. Canadians have the right to vote, not only on election day, but also in advanced polls. They have the right to vote at the returning office throughout the election period, or most of it. They can vote by mail. If they are visually disabled, they have the right to go in and vote with a secret ballot through the use of an ingenious template that lets them know that their candidate is the candidate whose name is listed third. They have to count down one, two, three, and tick off that ballot. It remains their secret ballot. That is a very clever solution for a minority of the population, but I know, and members can check the Hansard of the committee hearings, that the representative from the Canadian National Institute of the Blind did not know that right existed.
My point is, Elections Canada has done a very poor job, a really poor job, of informing people of all the different ways in which they can exercise their franchise.
An examination of Elections Canada's own reports on the subject indicate that youth in Canada, the group with the lowest voter participation, indicated that one of the primary reasons they do not vote is because they do not know where to vote. They do not know and are not given that voter information card because they moved recently. The absence of the voter information card, which is Elections Canada's way of attempting to assist youths to find out where to vote, was cited as one of the key reasons they did not vote.
If information such as how to get youths onto the voters list, how they can vote in advance, and all the rights that we have were publicized properly by Elections Canada, I make the modest suggestion that we would see youth voting rates go up substantially and the voting by disabled people and others go up substantially. The CEO is now mandated to engage in a series of these kinds of acts of publicity which in the past, as I said, he had not done to nearly the adequate level.
The bill has been the subject of a great deal of debate including a motion that was put forward by the New Democrats under the name of the member for about a month ago in which they expressed particular concern with regard to the ability of certain groups in society to vote if there were requirements that they prove their identity and their place of address. They cited in particular three groups. I want to talk about how the amendments to the bill have dealt with these three groups.
The three groups they mentioned were seniors living in residence, long-term care in other words; aboriginal people, and I think by this they meant aboriginal people living on reserve, although that may not be exactly how the motion was worded; and finally, students living in residence on campus. They felt these groups were potentially deprived of their franchise, if we read the rhetoric of the NDP, which was a little overwrought at the time.
Even in its original form, I think the bill was pretty good at dealing with people in these categories, but the amendments to the bill did a significant amount to ensure that these individuals would be able to cast their vote. I would add to these people another group that was not mentioned in the NDP motion and that is the homeless. All of these groups have one thing in common and that is that they have moved their residence recently or else are residing in a place where having the normal forms of identification such as a driver's licence or bills they would pay are not readily available. Therefore, they find themselves unable to prove their place of residence.
In some of these cases it is obvious that the person is in residence where they say are. The best example of this is a senior living in long-term care. These are often closed facilities. People cannot come into them because of the fear of spreading pathogens. The notion that someone could show up claiming to be John Smith who lives down the hall is preposterous, yet under the existing legislation there is a problem that no one is available who can vouch for them. The administrators were unable to do so. There is a provision for attestations to be given, but for reasons of their own, these residences have on occasion been reluctant to issue such attestations.
The impression I had from listening to testimony is that homeless shelters are in general better at this. There appears to be a problem where full use of the attestation provisions in the current law is not exercised as much as it should be on some aboriginal reserves. That would vary from one reserve to the other, but the point is that in dealing with the issue of identity, the bill, through its amendments, specifically through amendments that were made to section 143 of the bill, would allow the use of attestations as a proof of residence on a more widespread basis.
Some people have called it a kind of vouching for residents. I am not sure that is exactly the right way of putting it, but what happens now is that voters can vote with two pieces of ID that prove their identity and a written oath as to their residence, providing that another elector from the same polling division, who has proved his or her identity and residence by providing documentary proof, takes a written oath as to the elector's place of residence.
People still have to prove they are who they say they are, but they do not have to prove their place of residence the way that would have otherwise been required. That has now been adjusted and taken care of through this amendment to the bill. That is very significant and it deals with the fundamental issue, which is not that people would be unable to prove who they are, but rather they could not prove where they live. There were a number of very empathetic examples and in my last five seconds I want to give one example.
A witness at committee offered the example of a woman who has had to flee her home and is now living with a relative because of an abusive relationship with her spouse. She would be unable to prove her new place of residence. That person, it was suggested, would have been unable to vote. That was a legitimate concern, and it would now be dealt with through this amendment to the law.
We have done as much as can reasonably be done to ensure that every Canadian will be able to vote, while still ensuring proper security against improper voting by those who are either not eligible to vote, or who are voting in the wrong constituency.
Mr. Speaker, to begin, I would like to say that I will be sharing my time with my hon. colleague, the member for . I would like to take this opportunity to say that it is an honour and a pleasure for me to share my time with a member who is so active, eloquent and involved.
Unfortunately, I often have to say that my democracy is suffering. The electoral “deform” bill that we are discussing today, which was concocted by the Conservatives, is another step in the Conservative government's slow destruction of our democratic institutions.
Allow me to provide a bit of context so that people can understand what is happening. Ever since the Conservatives won a majority of the seats in Parliament—and I would like to emphasize that is a majority of seats—which they achieved in our parliamentary system without having the support of the majority of Canadians, they have been attacking the institution of Parliament itself by imposing a record number of gag orders. It is fairly ironic that we are discussing a fair elections act under another gag order. That is what is happening with a bill that is so important that, according to British tradition, it must be developed and passed by an all-party consensus. Even knowing that, the Conservative government has the nerve to limit debate. It is unbelievable.
In the past, we have also seen the government prorogue Parliament in an abusive manner. We know that the Conservatives refuse to work with the opposition parties, even though—it is important to remember— they represent the majority of the population. We know that the government has attacked our officers of Parliament and that it recently attacked the Supreme Court itself. The Conservatives will stop at nothing. The government has also muzzled public servants, scientists and civil society organizations. The Conservatives have fought tooth and nail against anyone who dares to have an opinion different from their own.
Incidentally, Elections Canada is among the institutions that have been attacked by the Conservatives. We saw it again this morning with all the accusations and innuendo the minister responsible for the election “deform” bill hurled against Elections Canada.
The bill, as proposed, was another of these attacks. What it all boils down to is an attack against Canadians and their right to vote. In my opinion, this attack is a logical extension of the robocalls, which sought to prevent people from voting, given that the Conservative database was the source of those calls.
Fortunately, these same Conservatives pulled back on some particularly problematic aspects of the bill because of pressure that we, the NDP, put on them and because of the exceptional work by my colleagues from , and . It is extremely important to mention that it is also thanks to and very likely because of all the Canadians who stood up and to everyone who spoke up, wrote in and signed petitions to oppose the Conservative scheme.
As an aside, there were a lot of constituents from the riding who spoke up and took action. I would like to thank them today and salute their commitment and determination. I would also like to say that, as always, it is a great privilege for me to be their voice in this House.
Together, we managed to make the Conservatives backtrack on some important issues.
In particular, they backed down on vouching to enable voting and on polling supervisors. With their bill, the Conservatives were trying to politicize the polling supervisor appointment process even more. It makes me wonder who would benefit from that.
Obviously, the entire bill was designed to benefit the Conservatives. For example, in the case of fundraising campaigns, more and more contributions were going to be allowed to fly under the radar, if I can put it that way, and not be taken into account. That would have increased the power of money even further in the context of elections. There was a victory there, too. Together, Canadians and their spokespersons in the opposition, the NDP, managed to make the government backtrack on that.
We made a few gains with respect to educating the public to encourage people to vote, which is an extremely important issue in Canada, as it is in many countries around the world.
We managed to make these gains, which is a good thing, but there are still a lot of major problems, unfortunately. I could talk about many issues remaining in the bill, but what concerns me in particular is the powers of the Chief Electoral Officer. As I said, we made small gains in public education, but they are small. There is a big difference between what is in the bill before us today and what the Chief Electoral Officer used to be able to do. Now, he will basically be able to promote voting to students in elementary and secondary schools. I do not have anything against that. That is very good, but why not promote voting to college and university students, who are of voting age and will vote in the next election? That makes absolutely no sense. Why would the Chief Electoral Officer not be able to encourage young people who are able to vote to do so? That is quite something.
In addition, the Chief Electoral Officer will not be allowed to partner with other groups to raise awareness and promote voting. He will not be allowed to partner with groups such as Apathy is Boring, an extraordinary group that I know well because I had the opportunity to meet with the founders of the movement. This group does an outstanding job with young people between 18 and 25 years of age. However, game over, they can no longer work together.
That is rather ironic, because it means that, under the new provisions, Elections Canada will have to cancel Canada's Democracy Week, which it used to organize. Once again, that speaks for itself. In effect, Canada's Democracy Week will be cancelled because the Conservatives do not like it. That is quite something.
The Chief Electoral Officer will also need the approval of the Treasury Board to hire technical experts. I just love that. Picture a party in power that committed a bit of electoral fraud—of course, I am not referring to anyone in particular. The Chief Electoral Officer needs technical advice to investigate the situation, and a Treasury Board minister, a member of the party in power, can deny the request. That is totally absurd.
The government is limiting the Chief Electoral Officer's existing powers and, at the same time, is refusing to grant him the new powers he needs to do his work, such as the ability to request financial documents from political parties or to compel witnesses to appear.
We were able to fight back and prevent some of the damage, but there is still work to do. I cannot vote in favour of this bill.
Mr. Speaker, I congratulate my colleague for her spirited and passionate presentation on the unfair elections act. I believe we are debating the amendment moved by the member for in which he proposes that we decline to give third reading to this legislation. I entirely agree with my colleague.
By way of introduction, I would like to comment on the process and comment on the implications of this legislation for my riding of Victoria.
I am deeply proud of my fellow citizens in Victoria. I had a sign on the window of my office on the main street of Victoria asking people to come in and sign a petition registering their concern with this legislation. I can say without fear of contradiction that the number of people who came in was extraordinary, and they came from all political walks of life. Members of all political parties came in and expressed their disdain for this proposed suppression law that the bill clearly has become.
Progressive Conservatives such as David Crombie and Allan Gregg expressed their concern earlier with the bill, indicating that it was a blatant attempt to suppress votes. That was loud and clear in one of the meetings that was held in my riding. Business people, wealthy people, poor people, and people from all political parties expressed their deep concern over the bill.
I was very proud of the people of Victoria for speaking up against this atrocious legislation. As I said, people from all political parties and from all walks of life expressed their concern.
It was the elephant in the room when in question period the could not bring himself to utter the words “Sheila Fraser”, who said that the bill was an attack on our democracy. That refusal to even acknowledge someone Canadians hold in such great esteem was an indication of what the Conservatives thought of her commentary. They then trivialized her, saying that she was being paid or something. Those statements were made to take away from the serious concerns that this great Canadian had expressed.
Our leading newspaper, The Globe and Mail, published five editorials in a row, ending with one that said “Kill the bill”. Newspapers across this country and speakers on the radio said the same thing in different ways in speaking to their parts of the country. It became clear to Canadians that it was not just the official opposition that was doing everything it could to stop the bill.
I am so proud of my colleague from , who filibustered in committee. I am proud of the enormous work that was done by the member for and the member for . This upheaval in Canada was astounding. Civil society, academics, people on the street, and people in all walks of life were rising up and saying this travesty must stop.
I was pleased that the government accepted some of the proposed amendments that were made by the official opposition. We made 100 of them. Of course, the Conservatives let their ideology undermine this once again, and they shut us down in committee with only half of our amendments debated, something that should cause Canadians deep concern. However, perhaps that is not surprising, given the track record of the Conservatives in breaking elections law, overspending, the in-and-out scheme, attempts to suppress opposition votes, and so forth.
For the to say that the Chief Electoral Officer was “wearing a jersey” was shocking to a lot of Canadians. This is an officer of Parliament who is only appointed after consultation with other parties in the House and who enjoys virtually the same kind of independence that judges do. The statement was shocking because the Chief Electoral Officer was only doing his job, and people understood that. He was trying to prosecute Conservatives for their rule-breaking. That was his job, but perhaps he did it too well, and that is why that attack was levelled against this officer of Parliament, a development that lot of us found very concerning.
The minister said this morning that the bill is widely supported by Canadians. He has not been to my riding of Victoria to take that position. If he had seen the people on the streets demonstrating against the bill, if he had come to a meeting I organized that had hundreds of people in attendance from all walks of life, he would not have said that.
The changes that were made, some of which I would like to comment on, are very good in some cases. I agree entirely with the minister's suggestion that the bill now incorporate advance rulings and legal interpretations that other parties could use as precedents. I salute that as an effective amendment and something that we should support.
However, I still do not understand the government's perspective on voter participation as it is reflected in this bill. We have a crisis in our democracy of young people not voting. It is a shocking statistic to see that two-thirds of people under the age of 30 do not bother to show up and vote, yet the effectiveness of this bill in trying to promote voting would be limited to high schools and elementary schools. What about the university sector? What about the outreach that the Chief Electoral Officer was trying to achieve? That seems to have been shut down in the face of what is our biggest problem, which is not voter fraud but voter participation. That is something that needs to be addressed, since the agency can only advertise the basics of the election. I am distressed that it continues to be a problem in this legislation.
The Chief Electoral Officer can suggest that MPs be suspended for disputes over election spending irregularities, but apparently now that can only happen when the entire appeal process has been exhausted. Therefore, even in cases of glaring, obvious errors and overspending problems, we presumably would have to wait until it got to the Supreme Court of Canada, which in some cases might mean the person would be elected for his or her entire term, given the way our appeal structure works. In at least some circumstances, that seems to be inappropriate indeed.
In his presentation, my colleague from Toronto—Danforth characterized this as a bad bill that is less bad now. I would say it is a terrible bill that is simply now a bad bill in light of the amendments.
As two prominent Progressive Conservatives, David Crombie and Allan Gregg, have said, this is a blatant effort to stack the deck for the Conservatives. I think Canadians understand that.
For example, the fundraising limits have been raised in this legislation. The fundraising limits now suggest that individual contributions would go from a $1,200 maximum to a $1,500 maximum. Clearly that would favour the party that receives the biggest contributions. That would be the Conservative Party. As well, it would allow candidates to contribute up to $5,000 to their own campaign. I wonder who that would favour. That would be the Conservatives.
Every NDP amendment to remove these provisions was categorically refused by the government. Those concerns are still with us.
Many speakers have talked about the unnecessary separation between the Commissioner of Canada Elections, Elections Canada, and the Chief Electoral Officer. As the minister said, there is administration and there is enforcement, but since the commissioner agreed with that and wanted it, it is hard for us to understand why that change was necessary. According to the old adage, “If it ain't broke, don't fix it”.
In addition, powers were also sought for the commissioner to compel witnesses, as in section 11 of the Competition Act and as is done in other provinces and other countries routinely. That was also sought by the commissioner; the government, of course, would have none of it and moved it outside of the Elections Canada apparatus. It now, at the last moment, has to change it to have information-sharing agreements to deal with the problem it created in the first place through an absolutely unnecessary and uncalled-for amendment.
In conclusion, I would support the amendment of the member for that we decline to give third reading to this bill. I wish we were not in this state. I wish the government had not moved closure to limit debate on one of the most fundamental bills in our democracy, but here we are, and I sadly rise in utter opposition to this voter suppression legislation.
Mr. Speaker, it is my great pleasure to rise today to speak in support of Bill , the fair elections act. I would like to take this opportunity to outline how this bill would be a great benefit to our democracy.
Our government understands that the integrity of Canada's voting system is paramount to our democracy. It is vital that we protect the integrity of the system, so that everyday Canadians remain in charge of our democracy. That is why the bill has been met with support by Canadians from coast to coast to coast.
My hon. colleagues have spoken at length about the many facets of this landmark legislation. The fair elections act would ensure that our elections are fair and democratic. As members of all parties, we are entrusted by Canadians to act in the interests of protecting the integrity of our electoral process. The fair elections act would provide all members an opportunity to uphold that obligation.
I would like to add that the government undertook extensive consultations in drafting this legislation. The bill brings to light concerns raised by Canadians, various groups and think tanks, Elections Canada, and parliamentarians themselves. The fair elections act addresses those concerns and would improve the system by introducing a new standard of consistency.
We promised to examine the bill with openness to ideas that would strengthen this common sense bill. That is why on April 25 the government announced it would support amendments to the fair elections act.
The committee has had a long and extensive study of Bill . There have been 15 meetings, amounting to roughly 31 hours of study. In addition, 72 witnesses appeared at committee to offer insight into how we could further strengthen this bill.
I would like to begin by discussing the issue of vouching. First, I want to emphasize an important element of the fair elections act, which is the changes it would make to the identification process. As it stands, the current system has been unable to preserve the integrity of the electoral process. In fact, serious errors of a type the courts consider “irregularities” that can contribute to an election being overturned were found to occur in 42% of cases involving identity vouching.
Overall, the Neufeld report estimates that irregularities occurred for 1.3% of all cases of election day voting during the 2011 federal election. More than 12 million Canadian citizens cast ballots, and the audit indicates that the application of specific legal safeguards, in place to ensure each elector is actually eligible to vote, were seriously deficient in more than 165,000 cases due to systematic errors made by elections officials.
Averaged across 308 ridings, elections officers made more than 500 serious administrative errors per electoral district on election day. These levels are just too high. We must recognize that a fraudulent or illegitimate vote has the same mathematical effect as denying honest Canadians their constitutional right and privilege to cast a ballot.
The Neufeld report cites cases of fraudulence and irregularities that are far too high. We cannot let the electoral system continue on its current flawed trajectory. That is why the fair elections act would finally end the use of vouching as a means of identification.
Our government believes that it is important to let every eligible voter cast a ballot. By the same token, we believe that fraudulent voters should be ineligible to cast a ballot. The safeguards that current laws established to halt fraudulent voters were violated in 50,735 cases, 42% of the time, in the 2011 election according to Elections Canada's own compliance report. We cannot continue to abide by the current vouching procedures and expect different results in future elections.
It is evident that changing times have brought about changing threats to the integrity of the electoral process. That is why I am pleased with the direct manner in which the fair elections act would proactively keep up with changing conditions.
The fair elections act represents a giant leap forward in ensuring that the integrity of the electoral process is upheld.
The bill would require voters to choose from some 39 pieces of acceptable identification to prove their identity and residency. Photo ID would not be required. However, simply having someone vouch for a voter's identity, without so much as a utility bill to back it up, would no longer suffice.
While the fair elections act would require people to show ID proving who they are before they vote, we supported an amendment to help people whose address is not on their ID. If someone's identification does not have an address on it, they would need to sign a written oath of residence. Another voter with fully proven ID would be required to co-sign the oath, attesting to the voter's address. This would only be required for people whose identification does not have an address.
This is one of the reasons why Canadians overwhelmingly support the bill. In fact, 87% of Canadians believe it is reasonable to require someone to prove their identity and address before they can vote.
As a resident of Ontario, I recently had the opportunity to apply for a new OHIP card in my riding of Don Valley West. In applying for Ontario health insurance, one must provide proof of citizenship, proof of residency, and support of identity. That is three pieces of identification. With that level of scrutiny required for an OHIP card, it is only right to support a bill that requires a similar level of identification be provided for voters in our federal elections. What our government will not support is the opposition suggesting that people should not require any ID to vote.
This is another reason why Canadians are on board with the bill. According to an April 24, 2014, Ipsos poll, 70% of Canadians believe it is acceptable to eliminate vouching and require voters to personally prove their identity and address before voting. Our government believes that in a democratic country all eligible citizens have the right to participate in making the decisions that affect them. The fair elections act would ensure that an honest vote is not denied by fraudulent votes. The fact is that the fair elections act represents a giant leap forward in ensuring that the integrity of the electoral process is, in fact, upheld.
Another important element of the bill is that it would separate the Commissioner of Canada Elections and the Chief Electoral Officer. Quite simply, the Commissioner of Canada Elections should not serve at the pleasure of another official. He should have control over his staff and his budget, and no one should have the power to dictate what he investigates. It just makes sense that the commissioner should not work for one of the entities he might investigate. This is in keeping with basic fiduciary accountability and standards that government departments and institutions use to ensure their functions are carried out properly and ethically.
Our government understands that separating administration from enforcement is vital to upholding the integrity of our electoral process. That is precisely why the fair elections act would house the commissioner with the director of public prosecutions. There, elections law enforcement would be held under the auspices of a strong commissioner. We have made him completely independent by giving him authority to investigate offences. The commissioner would also be afforded full independence with regard to being in charge of his own staff and his own investigations, as well as a fixed term of seven years, in which he could not be dismissed without cause. We gave him new offences to help him in his investigations, such as obstructing an investigation and providing false information.
Our government also supports an amendment that would give the commissioner the unrestricted ability to begin investigations by removing the bill's proposed evidence threshold before the commissioner may begin an investigation.
Working in different entities, our government understands that a line of communication between the Commissioner of Canada Elections and the Chief Electoral Officer would be required to perform their duties effectively. As a result, our government supports an amendment that would allow the Chief Electoral Officer and the Commissioner of Canada Elections to exchange information and documents.
Meanwhile, the CEO currently has the power to adapt provisions of the Elections Act during emergencies. It is highly unusual to give an unelected agency head the power to rewrite any section of an act of Parliament. Our government believes that the purpose of this power should be limited to protecting the right to vote, which is in line with basic democratic principles.
In addition, members of all parties have complained that the rules are unclear and complicated. Complicated rules cause unintentional breaches and intimidate Canadians from taking part in democracy. That is why the fair elections act would make the rules for the Chief Electoral Officer clear, predictable, and easy to follow.
The fair elections act would continue to equip the CEO with key responsibilities, especially as they relate to educating voters. That is why our government supports an amendment with regard to the education mandate of the Chief Electoral Officer. The Chief Electoral Officer may communicate with the public. Where he advertises to inform electors about the exercise of their democratic rights, he can only do so on how to be a candidate; when, where, and how to vote; and what tools are available to assist disabled electors. Further, the CEO may support civic education programs for primary and secondary schools, something that I know in my riding is a very important element.
I am pleased with the direct manner in which the fair elections act and its amendments would establish ethical and fiduciary investigative independence that is in line with good governance.
Another essential element of this bill is that it would redirect Elections Canada back to its core mandate. As recent elections have shown, Canadians are participating less and less in the voting process. In my constituency of Don Valley West, 67% of eligible voters cast a ballot in the last federal election. Federal voter turnout, however, was even lower at 61%.
Since Elections Canada began promoting voter participation campaigns, turnout has actually plummeted from 75% in 1988 to a low of 61% in 2001, where it has stayed. The facts show that Elections Canada's campaigns are not working. As a result, the bill would amend section 18 of the Canada Elections Act to focus all of Elections Canada promotional campaigns on two purposes: informing people of the basics of voting—where, when, and what ID to bring—and informing disabled people of the extra tools available to them to help them vote and participate in their democracy.
Let me be clear. Elections Canada would continue to be the organization responsible for the administration of our elections. However, the job of generating interest would be left to aspiring candidates and parties. Government bureaucracy should continue to focus on administrative functions and leave the duties of generating interest to the parties and the candidates. That is why the fair elections act would allow parties to better fund democratic outreach with a small increase in spending limits, while imposing tougher audits and penalties to enforce those limits. Aspiring candidates and parties, not a government agency, have a duty to reach out to voters, to inspire them and give them something worth voting for. It is time for the agency to get back to the basics, while political parties get down to the work they are prescribed to do.
Finally, the fair elections act would introduce additional measures to crack down on lawbreakers and fraudsters. These would strengthen the penalties for election lawbreakers, including introducing prison time for serious offenders and tougher fines for rule breakers. For example, anyone caught bribing or obstructing an election official could receive upward of five years in prison, and anyone who makes a false statement could be fined up to $50,000. Investigators would also be afforded more extensive capacities to fulfill their mandates; a number of new rules would close loopholes, crack down on influence of big money, and help stop the election fraud that jeopardizes the system. This includes enhanced protection for voters against robocalls, cracking down on voter fraud by prohibiting vouching, and banning the use of loans used to evade donation rules.
In addition, the would introduce guidelines for clear and transparent tracking and records retention of telemarketing, which would help prevent rogue calls and voter deception. It would also introduce measures to track mass calls to protect voters and prevent fraud by creating a mandatory public registry for voter contact services by telephone. The fair elections act would make it an offence to impersonate an election official and increase penalties for deceiving people out of their votes. That is why the fair elections act is a major improvement of the status quo.
It is clear that Bill is not only constructive, but very reasonable, and we are moving forward.
In closing, the bill would make it harder to break the law and easier to vote, not to mention it would close loopholes to big money. Election laws would be tough and predictable, but easy to follow. Life would be harder for election lawbreakers, and easier for honest citizens, who merely wish to take part in their democracy.
Our government continues to be a leader when it comes to enforcing greater accountability in politics. When we first took office, we passed the most comprehensive anti-corruption legislation in Canadian history, the Federal Accountability Act. This important legislation increased oversight, cracked down on lobbying and expanded transparency in government spending. Now, through the , we are building on that strong record in helping to ensure that Canada's democracy remains strong and that its integrity remains upheld.
The is an important step forward toward greater transparency and accountability in our elections. These meaningful changes would help strengthen Canada's electoral system and ensure that our democracy would remain in the hands of everyday Canadians.
That is why I vote in favour of the . I hope my colleagues on both sides of the House will join me in doing the same.
Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives are yet again showing their contempt for our democracy by restricting debate on a bill that addresses such an important issue as electoral reform.
Bill would make significant changes to the quality of our democratic institutions without in-depth public consultations and without the expert opinions of the Commissioner of Canada Elections and the Director of Public Prosecutions, or even the Chief Electoral Officer.
This bill is quite simply a partisan stunt on the part of the government, which sees this bill as a way to hold on to power. This bill is an attack on the democratic rights of vulnerable groups.
Now, in order to vote, a voter is able to present their voter information card or show up with someone who can vouch for their identity. However, the wants to eliminate that possibility because he claims that:
...one out of six electors may get a card with the wrong address. That allows some to vote in a different riding than they live in, or to potentially vote more than once.
Instead of fixing this problem, the government chose to eliminate this option altogether, which will have some serious consequences for some groups. During the last election, Elections Canada made a special effort to use voter information cards in various situations, in order to make it easier to vote for certain segments of society who have lower voter turnout, such as aboriginal people living on reserves, young people on campuses or seniors living in seniors' residences.
The provision allowing someone to vote with a voter information card along with a piece of ID, which will be abolished, was used successfully during the last election and it received an incredible amount of positive feedback.
The minister certainly loves to claim over and over that a person will be able to use 39 different pieces of ID to prove their identity. However, what he is forgetting is that only a few of these pieces of ID show a person's address. I repeat: only a few. For example, a health care card does not have an address, nor do passports and student cards. I could go on. As a result, a number of people will have to present two documents to have the right to vote, and those documents will have to be from the list.
As we all know, voter turnout in Canada is plummeting. Why is the government making it more difficult for seniors, students and aboriginal people living on reserves to vote by prohibiting the use of the voter information card as proof of address?
I am also concerned about another related factor. This bill prevents the development of electronic voting. From now on, Elections Canada will have to seek Parliament's approval to set up pilot projects of this kind. The purpose of Elections Canada is to improve our electoral system. Electronic voting would allow seniors and people with disabilities to vote, but again the government is turning a deaf ear and restricting Elections Canada's work.
The government is amending the law in its favour by changing the funding rules. This is a thinly veiled attempt by the Conservatives to serve their own interests by increasing the maximum annual donation from $1,200 to $1,500. The Conservatives are doing the exact opposite of what they say they are trying to do, which is reduce the influence of big money in elections.
The fact that candidates will be able to invest $5,000 in their own campaigns will give those with the ability to do so a significant advantage. What kind of democracy is that?
The NDP proposed close to 100 amendments to improve this bad bill. None of the substantial amendments proposed by the NDP were accepted by the Conservative Party, which of course had a majority in committee. One of these amendments sought to remove the provision on funding. Unfortunately, it was rejected, much like most of the NDP's amendments.
In a move that showed their contempt for Canadian democracy, the Conservatives shut down the work of the committee that was examining the electoral “deform” bill when half of the amendments proposed by the NDP had not even been debated yet.
Since this government came to power, it has done nothing but restrict Canadians' rights. It abuses its majority to impose bills that are not in the best interests of Canadians.
This is another sham of a debate. The Conservatives have once again imposed a time allocation motion, which prevents us from conducting an in-depth examination of this elections bill. The way the government is behaving and preventing us from fulfilling our parliamentary mandate is shameful. We are being silenced. The government must know that it needs a consensus to change the Elections Act. It should not be resorting to the tyranny of the majority to impose changes that serve its own needs.
Mr. Speaker, excuse me, but I would like to let you know that I am going to share my time with my colleague from .
The Conservative government wants to make the voting process more difficult for the most vulnerable Canadians, especially those who do not support their ideology. It is a form of discrimination that calls to mind some American practices under the Bush Republican presidency.
How can we encourage Canadians to participate in their country's democratic process when their institutions are broken?
Obviously, I oppose this bill, and I encourage my colleagues to do so as well, in the name of democracy.
Mr. Speaker, I would describe today as a very dark day. In fact, it is the last day of debate on Bill , the government's electoral “deform”, as we rightly refer to it.
This bill was not introduced with a view to better protecting our democracy and our electoral system. Changes are being made to benefit the Conservatives in the next election. Tactics include voter suppression and the ability to continue to get around the election rules without the slightest concern.
What the government is doing today is outrageous. It is steamrolling over the opposition parties. This is actually the first time in Canadian history that a government has used its majority to impose its views and anti-democratic changes, without coming to an agreement with anyone, with any of the opposition parties or members of civil society. Everyone is against this bill; that is unanimous. Seldom have we seen all segments of civil society join forces to speak so strongly against a bill.
The content of this bill is anti-democratic. In addition, true to form, the Conservatives trampled over and circumvented our Parliament's democratic procedures in the way they introduced and debated this bill in the House. Showing contempt for Canadian democracy, the Conservatives once again imposed time allocation motions, which means that debates were limited. In fact, this is the first time I have been able to speak to the bill. I have not been able to do so previously because debates on bills are constantly being limited. Some of my colleagues definitely would have been interested in speaking out against this terrible bill.
Furthermore, the Conservatives put an end to the committee's study of this electoral “deform” bill, even though half of the amendments proposed by the NDP were not even debated.
Furthermore, the first draft of this bill was extremely outrageous. This one is a bit better, but it is still outrageous. This shows that the government has no respect for its democratic institutions. It proposed amendments that elected members of Parliament themselves had submitted during the parliamentary committee's study. It wanted to change Canadian democracy by first studying this bill in the Senate. It is rather ironic that the government would propose amendments in the Senate and that an unelected chamber would make changes to our democracy. That is absolutely ridiculous. Furthermore, this shows what kind of respect this government has for its democratic institutions.
The Conservatives rejected the amendments that would have given investigators the tools they need to combat election fraud, that would have kept Elections Canada independent from government and that would have given the Chief Electoral Officer the right to encourage Canadians to vote.
The did not even consult the CEO on this bill. He misled the House during question period. He indicated that he had consulted the CEO, but that was absolutely not true.
The minister has been going after Elections Canada for years, and more recently he has been going after the Chief Electoral Officer by undermining his credibility and attacking him, as he has done with all the officers of Parliament. That is absolutely outrageous and disgraceful on the part of a government.
The minister has been going after Elections Canada for years. He says that this agency is biased because it has criticized the Conservatives' non-compliance with election laws. They were caught with the in and out scandal. I want to explain to Canadians what that scandal involved. In Canada, each party has a maximum amount for election spending. They circumvented this maximum by diverting funds through riding associations that had $90,000 maximums but where the party had no chance of winning. These associations were made to pay invoices that should have been charged to the national party. The party was circumventing the law.
The Conservatives got caught and pleaded guilty. This bill will allow them to keep circumventing election laws without being concerned about the Chief Electoral Officer or the commissioner, even though he has some investigative powers. The Conservatives want to get rid of all of the measures so that they can keep bending the rules illegally without the slightest concern. We need to keep in mind that the Conservative database was used to send voters to the wrong polling station.
Instead of complying with election laws, the Conservatives decided to take direct aim at Elections Canada by limiting its investigative powers, even though they voted in favour of the motion we moved in 2012 that called for more investigative powers for the Chief Electoral Officer. Elections Canada's powers were completely eliminated, thus allowing the Conservatives to keep bending the rules without a care in the world.
Our party, all of the opposition parties and Canadians in general oppose this bill. Canadians from coast to coast voiced their disapproval. Faced with such a public outcry, the Conservatives had no choice but to back down on some fundamental aspects of the original bill.
We obtained a number of concessions, which proves that the NDP is a strong opposition, worthy of being the government in waiting. Soon, we will no longer be waiting because we will form the government in 2015. I would remind the House that in the wake of the robocall scandal, it was the NDP that demanded changes to the Elections Act, notably to strengthen the powers of the Chief Electoral Officer, not weaken them as the government is currently doing.
The NDP is there to protect Canadian democracy. We stand at the ready when the government attacks our democracy. We are there to make sure the government is accountable to Canadians.
One aspect of the bill that the government partially backed down on is the Chief Electoral Officer's ability to participate in public education campaigns to increase voter participation, which is plummeting. The government wanted to see those numbers drop even further in the next election so that it would increase its chances of getting re-elected.
The Chief Electoral Officer will no longer have the authority to educate Canadians about the importance of voting. From now on, the Chief Electoral Officer will only be able to publicize certain aspects of the voting process, namely, when and where to vote. Unfortunately, they are limited to just that. The Chief Electoral Officer will no longer be allowed to reach out to certain groups to help them encourage voter turnout among the people they represent.
We feel that public education is an essential function of the Chief Electoral Officer and that these changes will certainly not help boost voter turnout, but will instead have the opposite effect and lower turnout among young people, seniors and aboriginal groups living on reserves. All these groups will have more difficulty voting because, in a way, their right to vote will not be recognized.
Canada's Democracy Week, which was organized by Elections Canada, is a glaring example. From now on, Elections Canada will no longer be able to organize this important week to raise awareness about democracy.
Furthermore, the Chief Electoral Officer will have to ask the Treasury Board for permission to hire private companies to help in conducting an investigation or drafting reports like the report on the robocalls case. The government will be interfering in the work of an officer of Parliament, who must have complete independence from the government. The Treasury Board's control is unacceptable.
As I mentioned previously, one of the bill's main objectives is voter suppression. Someone using a voter information card as proof of address will be prevented from voting under this bill. That provision will create serious problems for Canadians who have difficulty providing proof of address when they go to vote.
Students, seniors and aboriginal communities are affected by this change.
Since I do not have a lot of time left, I just want to say that we have been strongly opposed to this bill from the start and will continue to be until the end. In a few hours, we will continue to denounce this dishonest strategy the government is using to try to secure its re-election.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to rise in this House to speak about Bill .
Over the past few months, the opposition parties have been tirelessly trying to portray the fair elections act as undemocratic and sinister. Before the bill was introduced, even before they had had a chance to read it, they were against it. They have consistently tried to misinform Canadians about why the government was implementing Bill . They have tried to build a narrative of the government ramming legislation through without proper consultation or investigation. Quite frankly, nothing could be farther from the truth.
It seems to me that the opposition parties have forgotten how our legislative process works. I would like to use my time today to highlight two issues. First is how the progress of Bill thus far exemplifies the integrity, utility, and efficacy of our legislative system. Second is what Canadians have really been saying about Bill C-23, not the fabricated stories the opposition parties have been desperately trying to sell.
The 2011 election saw several irregularities. While courts recently determined that nothing illegal had been done, Canadians, Elections Canada, and our government were concerned about the integrity of our electoral system and the process by which any irregularity would be investigated and prosecuted. This was the true motivation behind the fair elections act.
Although the opposition parties like to throw around alarming phrases like “voter suppression tactics” and other wild descriptions, this bill started out like any other. A problem was identified that needed a government legislative fix. There is nothing controversial or new about this. This is how our democracy has functioned for nearly 150 years.
Before Bill was introduced, the government spent a great deal of time examining the various issues raised by Elections Canada, as well as court cases related to the robocall scandal and other irregularities. I myself was inadvertently, and quite frankly, unnecessarily, dragged into the robocall case by the Council of Canadians. The court found, after close investigation, as we had stated all along, that nothing illegal had been done by any of the MPs involved.
If Elections Canada had sharper teeth, this entire investigation could have been completed more quickly, saving thousands of taxpayers' dollars. If Elections Canada had only had the proper investigative tools from the get-go, it would have been straightforward to discover the evidence, if any existed. Only charges with substantive evidence would have progressed, and countless hours of the court's time and taxpayer resources would have been saved.
Since Bill was introduced, the opposition parties have been trying to misinform Canadians by stating that the government had not consulted with Canadians or experts. They have continuously tried to convince Canadians that this bill was being rammed through Parliament without any debate or proper investigation.
Let me provide the House with some facts about what has actually transpired on Bill . In committee, the bill has had a long and exhaustive analysis. There have been over 15 meetings, amounting to roughly 31 hours of study, with testimony from over 72 witnesses.
In addition, Canadians have continued to voice their concerns to their MPs, who have duly consolidated these concerns and have informed the minister and his department accordingly.
In my riding of Nipissing—Timiskaming, I have received input from 45 constituents. As people wrote in, the overwhelming majority of concerns were focused on one particular part of the bill, and that was the elimination of vouching. As their MP, I communicated this to the minister. The was always open to the feedback I shared on behalf of my constituents.
In addition, the Senate conducted its own study of the bill and conveyed to the minister its thoughts and concerns. What was the result? On April 25, the government announced that it would support amendments to the fair elections act in anticipation of the clause-by-clause review of the bill by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. These amendments included voter identification and vouching, the mandate of the Chief Electoral Officer to include engaging the public on voting, the appointment of central poll supervisors, fundraising exceptions that would constitute an election expense, and several others.
While the opposition continues to pine and misinform Canadians, our government has methodically, in combing through the bill, listened to Canadians and experts and has made modifications that better reflect expert insight and essentially what Canadians want. That is not controversial or sinister. That is, quite frankly, democracy in action. In fact, I am currently in the process of sending correspondence to every single one of the constituents who expressed concerns about the bill to inform them about the details of the amendments so that they know that their letters, calls, and emails played a direct role in the legislative process of fine-tuning the bill before it becomes law.
Here are some of the details. First is voter identification. The bill would allow an elector to vote with two pieces of identification that prove identity and a written oath as to his or her residence, provided that another elector from the same polling division who proves his or her identity and residence by providing documentary proof also takes a written oath as to the elector's residence. This new measure would allow those who do not have identification proving their residence to register and vote on polling day.
Second is the public information and education mandate of the Chief Electoral Officer. The bill specifies that the Chief Electoral Officer may communicate with the public, but where he advertises to inform electors about the exercise of their democratic rights, he can only do so with respect to how to be a candidate; when, where, and how to vote; and what tools are available to assist disabled electors. Further, the Chief Electoral Officer may support civic education programs for primary and secondary schools.
Third is the appointment of central poll supervisors. The legislation would retain the current appointment process for central poll supervisors.
Fourth is the fundraising exception and what constitutes an election expense. We are eliminating the proposed exception as to what constitutes an election expense in the case of expenses incurred to solicit monetary contributions from past supporters.
Overall, thanks to input from experts, Canadians, and legislators, 14 substantive and 45 technical amendments have been introduced by the to further improve the quality of the fair elections act.
Now that we have an appreciation of how Bill has carefully gone through analysis, consultation, and revision, I can briefly discuss what Canadians outside the Ottawa bubble have actually been saying about it.
A recent Ipsos poll conducted on behalf of CTV demonstrated that the overwhelming majority of Canadians believe that it is entirely reasonable for voting to have identification requirements. We require Canadians to have ID to drive, travel, purchase alcohol, and do countless other tasks. Canadians recognize the good common sense in requiring identification for one of the most fundamental acts citizens can do, and that is elect their government. This makes abundant common sense.
This poll demonstrated that 70% of Canadians believe that it is acceptable to eliminate vouching. This reflects the desire of Canadians to ensure the integrity of their electoral system.
Canada is a very tolerant and diverse society. If resident non-Canadians want to vote, they are always more than welcome to apply for citizenship. However, the responsibility of choosing our federal government belongs to citizens and citizens alone, and we must protect that important privilege from those who would seek to abuse it.
The opposition parties protest that ID requirements would disenfranchise some Canadians. For example, they argue that ID requirements would make it more difficult for students to vote. This is a perfect example of the kind of fearmongering and misinformation the opposition has been propagating. All Canadian universities and colleges issue their students ID cards. These same cards can be used to vote.
However, the issue of ID raises a more important question. If the right to vote is reserved for Canadian citizens, how does one prove that he or she is a citizen? ID requirements are just good common sense. However, and although it is highly unlikely, for citizens who do not have access to any of the 39 pieces of acceptable ID, including basic and easily obtainable documents such as bank statements, hydro bills, or library cards, we have retained vouching as an assurance, because we recognize that improbable does not mean impossible. We want to make sure that every citizen who makes the effort to come out and cast a ballot has a reasonable way of proving his or her status as a citizen. This would ensure that no Canadian citizen would be deprived of the right to vote.
Citizens who could not obtain the necessary ID could request that another voter from the same poll vouch for them, but this person would have to first prove their identity and would only be able to vouch once.
This change to vouching is in line with the March 6 recommendations of the Chief Electoral Officer, when he said, “vouching procedures should and can be simplified.... The need to rely on vouching should also be reduced”. We agree with that.
This amendment is a perfect example of how the bill has been fine-tuned through the legislative process after extensive review and consultation. In fact, for all the sound and fury the opposition has been making about Bill and how allegedly outraged the majority of Canadians are, the same poll indicates that some 23%, that is one out of every four Canadians, are closely following the issue. Clearly, this reflects the fact that most Canadians have come to the conclusion that the fair elections act is nothing but common sense, a common sense response to some very serious issues.
The opposition parties have tried to mislead Canadians by calling Bill C-23 a scheme intended to disenfranchise voters. This is simply not true, and Canadians know that it is not true. Sixty-one per cent, six out of every 10 Canadians, disagree that Bill C-23 is a scheme, and only 15%, fewer than two in 10 people, strongly agree.
Finally, when asked if requiring voters to personally prove who they are and where they live is essential to eliminating potential fraud in our electoral system, 86%, nearly nine out of every 10 Canadians, agreed. Only one in 10 Canadians disagreed with that statement.
There is evidence that the opposition parties are desperately trying to distract Canadians from the fact that they have no policy or plans of their own, except for possibly a $21-billion job-killing carbon tax. They have tried to mislead Canadians into thinking that this is a scheme and that the majority from coast to coast are upset about it.
As I said throughout my speech, over the past few months, only 45 constituents in my riding of 96,000 have raised concerns about Bill . The majority of these concerns dealt with vouching. That issue has now been put to bed.
Once again, the opposition opines and fusses instead of making meaningful and critical positive contributions to our legislative process.
I would certainly like to commend our for his principled commitment and leadership of guiding Bill through the legislative process.
While the NDP and the Liberals have tried to misinform Canadians about the contents of the bill, how it was drafted, how it continues to be fine-tuned, our government has attentively listened to Canadians, experts and legislators in order to improve the fair elections act.