The House resumed from May 22 consideration of the motion that Bill , be read the second time and referred to a committee, and of the amendment.
Mr. Speaker, I rise this evening, in spite of the shameful time allocation motion, to speak to the elections modernization act at second reading. I think that the “elections modernization” part of the title is a bit much, since one of the main changes is to restore the voter card as a valid piece of ID. I will get back to this point.
I want to start by saying that it is shameful that the government has resorted to a gag order on this matter. In a former life, I sat in another Parliament, the Quebec National Assembly, which unfortunately uses the British system. Never would a government take advantage of its parliamentary majority to change election laws. In 1999, a change was made regarding voter ID. I want to inform my colleagues in the House that this does not enhance the integrity of the vote. The government will not make it easier to vote by simply considering the voter card as a valid form of ID. My colleagues can Google what happened in Quebec in 1998. An organized identity-fraud system was uncovered as part of the Berardinucci case. The court issued two rulings, and since then, voters in Quebec have been required to produce a piece of photo ID to vote.
During the last election, Quebec had no problems with voter identification. Voters in municipal, provincial, and federal elections have no problem showing ID. However, voting is a sacred act in a democracy, and we should not make it too easy. I am hearing talk about the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but voting is not a freedom. Voting comes with a duty, the duty to prove eligibility to vote.
The minister wants us to hurry up. She says this bill will go to committee, where it will be improved. That is not at all the experience I have had with clause-by-clause studies of bills in committee after second reading. What we actually hear is, “Talk all you want, sweetheart, but when your speaking time is up, we will use our parliamentary majority to do whatever we want.” The government votes down amendments and does not improve bills.
In my opinion, on an issue as important as voting rights and election laws, this government should not procrastinate and wait until the last second to try to change a few things in hopes of not looking stupid. When they first came into office, we were facing a major reform to the Canada Elections Act. We even hoped to change the voting system. Anything was possible. What we heard from Canadians can never be taken away from us. That special committee's report went into the trash. It was called a special committee because it was open to all parliamentarians, even those who did not belong to a recognized parliamentary group in the House.
In the debate on changes to the Elections Act, the next logical step would have been to give independent MPs the right to speak and even to vote in that committee. Now the minister wants us to hurry up. I would encourage her colleagues to slow down instead.
People told us that they were fed up with the party line, that the party line was one of the reasons they were so cynical. Government is all about executive power. It is all about cabinet. MPs who want to be ministers are more interested in doing the executive's bidding than honouring their mandate as parliamentarians here in the House. We are legislators, not ministers. We belong to the legislative branch and we represent the people. In a Parliament like ours, legislative power is the foundation of democracy. When my colleagues on the government side exist solely to rubber-stamp whatever the and the ministers tell them to, they are not doing their job. That is why voters do not bother to vote.
It is utter nonsense to say that people will not vote because it is too difficult or because the identification requirement prevents them from voting. During the hearings on electoral reform we held for months, people told us what keeps them from voting. For example, they say that their riding has been red since their great-grandfather's time and that this will not change, or that the riding has been blue since their great-grandmother's time, and this will not change. They are being stripped of their power of representation, and this is why democracy is suffering.
They told us that they want their vote to count. The current government not only proved unable to keep its promise to bring in a new voting system that represents the plurality of representation and ensures that every vote counts, but also went to great lengths to prevent all votes from actually counting, as they would if voters could finance the political parties they believe in through the votes they cast. Voters would then vote in accordance with their beliefs instead of voting strategically.
I have certainly spent a lot of time in my political life criticizing Jean Chrétien, but at least his legacy in politics and in this House was to give voters the ability to vote with conviction because he allowed their vote to finance a political party. That party might not get an MP elected, but that system gave the party the same chance right out of the gate to have its voice heard on an equal footing, in a democratic society, in the democratic debate that is an election. This also enabled the party to have the necessary funding between elections to promote its views.
To me that is democracy in a nutshell, but it is nowhere to be found in a bill that claims to limit spending. It does not even limit the government's pre-election spending. We have fixed-date elections and the government continues to make announcements, to use taxpayers' money to pay for its ads.
Under these circumstances, it is clear that we will be voting against the bill.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to rise to speak to Bill .
I am pleased to rise in debate today, but I regret that it is in the context of time allocation already being applied to the bill. I appreciate that the Liberal side of the House has provided time for my colleague, the hon. member for , and for me to speak to the bill, but I regret deeply the use of time allocation. Because I was not able to get in on the debate on time allocation that occurred before the vote, let me suggest some ideas to the hon. minister, the government House leader, and others as to how we might avoid so many time allocations.
It is my belief that the ability, in votes, of all three of the larger parties, particularly the official opposition and the governing party, to put forward as many speakers as possible on any bill is a black box for our House leaders. Getting agreement is something I will leave to them. I can only assume that when we have a lot of time allocations, the coordination is not going well. I do not blame any one party more than the others. I will just say that it is not a good thing for this place when we have time allocation, particularly on a bill that is important.
I would like to suggest that the Speaker has the power, and could be encouraged by those within this place who want the place to work better, to insist on a rule that has fallen into disuse. That rule is that members cannot read speeches. If no one could read a speech, people in the back rooms could not hand a speech to someone and say, “Go give this speech. You are up next.”
They would have to call enough people forward who had read the bill and understood the bill and were prepared to debate it without notes. I am not saying that there are not many of us who are prepared to do that, but the ability of a House leader, on any side, to decide to play games with this place would be significantly minimized if we went back to that rule, which already exists.
I would urge those who think it is a good idea to perhaps speak to their own House leaders. In that case, I would just have a conversation with myself, but the rest of those assembled here should talk to their whips, talk to the House leaders, and talk to the Speaker if they think it would be a good idea to say that we do not want all the members to just read. I am not saying that members do not get up and read speeches they have written themselves. I know that happens, but a lot of times, people read something they have never seen before in their lives. We can tell by the rapt attention with which they deliver something they do not actually know much about or believe in.
Here ends the rant on how to get this place to work better. If people could only get up and speak based on what they know about a bill, we would get more interesting debates and more civilized debates, and we might have an easier time getting agreement on how many speakers there would be on legislation.
It is really tragic that we are seeing time allocation as often as we are seeing it. I do not think it is healthy for democracy, and I know it is going to be an election issue, with everyone saying, “They did it more. They did it too. They are hypocrites.” We should not live in glass houses if we are going to collect stones.
This bill is good legislation. It is very good legislation. It undoes a lot of what happened in the unfair elections act before the last election, but that does not mean that it is perfect legislation, which is why we should not be hearing from the minister that it has already been discussed at PROC. It should be discussed in this place at second reading, where all members who are engaged in the issue and know about it can participate, because not everyone is on PROC. It is a committee.
We know that Bill , which was excellent legislation, languished for a year and a half. It was tabled when I was still serving on the Special Committee on Electoral Reform, which was one of the more tragic experiences of my life. We were still sitting around the table putting forward good ideas, but then saying, “Oh, the minister has new legislation that just came out that has some of our ideas in it.” That was Bill C-33. It came out in December of 2016, and everything from Bill C-33 is now rolled into Bill .
For those who are not familiar with the bill, perhaps who are watching from home, let me say that Bill did a lot of very good things. I know that the Conservatives will disagree. They like Bill , which they called the Fair Elections Act. What it did was make it harder for Canadians to vote. There is no doubt in my mind about that. I had people come to me who were not allowed to vote.
Bill was focused on the false notion that Canada suffered from voter fraud. However, it is very clear, on the evidence, that the problem in Canada is not people who try to vote more than once; it is people who vote less than once. We do not have any voter fraud that the elections commissioner has ever really been able to find is a problem. Our problem is low voter turnout.
The Conservatives were quite self-congratulatory when we went from an average national voter turnout of 60% in 2011 to a voter turnout of 68% in 2015. They said that proved that the unfair elections act did not decrease voter turnout. In fact, I think it masked what would have been a much bigger voter turnout. Young people mobilized in 2015. There were a lot of efforts to educate people about vote mobs, advanced poll voting, and getting people who did not usually vote out to vote.
I am enormously proud to represent Saanich—Gulf Islands. In 2011, when the voter turnout nationally was 60%, voter turnout in Saanich—Gulf Islands was just a titch below 75%. In 2015, when I was re-elected, voter turnout was just a bit below 80%. Now, that is nothing compared to my friend who is leader of the Green Party in Prince Edward Island, Peter Bevan-Baker. When he was elected, voter turnout in his riding was 93%.
Let us not be satisfied with 68%. We need to see 90% or 95% of Canadians voting and feeling good about the democratic experience. I think getting back the voter registration card is important. Bringing back vouching is important, and so is bringing back the powers of the Chief Electoral Officer to inform people and educate people. Warn people when voter fraud is happening.
Everything in Bill that would undo Bill is to the good and should be passed quickly. As well, I really like the idea that the Elections Canada folks would go into schools and register people who are 16 to 18 years old so that when they get the right to vote, they know what they are doing. They know where to go. They have already registered to vote. That is all in what was former Bill C-33. It is all good stuff. I wish we had already passed it.
Now we are looking at new and additional changes. I wish we had seen more. Clearly, if we are going to protect the privacy of Canadians, it is long past time that political parties were exempted from the Privacy Act. I have never heard a single good reason why we are in a special category, political parties, and Canadians' data is safe with us. Clearly, it is not safe with us. We get hacked. We hire companies and do not have any idea that they will be doing stuff like Cambridge Analytica or some of the ones that mine data and use it for other things. We are not in a position to say that it is good enough to have a voluntary code of privacy practice for every political party that we are required by law to show Elections Canada and have posted publicly.
By the way, I do not think “trust us” works terribly well for political parties. One of the best pieces of legislation from the 41st Parliament, the Reform Act, to bring about reform in this place and reduce the power of political party leaders over their MPs, which came out under the name of the member for , required a change in the Parliament of Canada Act. It was executed. Section 49 is new and requires parties, immediately after the election, to have a discussion in caucus and a vote to decide what the powers of the leader will be. For instance, will the power of the leader include throwing someone out of caucus?
I am reliably informed that even though that is the law of the day, two out of three recognized parties in this place skipped that step and did not think it was important to follow the Parliament of Canada Act, section 49. I am deeply dismayed that this took place. All MPs in this place should ask their party leadership if they did that. Did they file the letter with the Speaker? They should ask to see the letter filed with the Speaker to comply with section 49 of the Parliament of Canada Act.
On to the other things in Bill . I hope the government will be open to amendments. As I said, this is good legislation. It does take on things like pre-writ spending. However, why are we allowing any pre-writ spending on televised election ads that bombard Canadians with negative messages and attack ads. It is good to regulate spending before an election. Let us just say that between election day and the next time a writ drops, no one is allowed to spend any money on political ads. There is not an election going on, so no spending. I will be bringing forward things like that as amendments.
Why are we increasing the spending ability of third parties? I would love to see us go in the direction of many countries around the world, including the U.K., which prohibit spending for electronic political ads of any kind at any time. It is very useful legislation.
There are many things I would like to suggest need more work in this legislation. Getting it to committee is important, but not so important that we should have time allocation in this place.