Madam Speaker, I rise today on this Bloc Québécois opposition day to speak to the important issue of elections during a pandemic.
The motion reads as follows:
(a) the House remind the government that a general election was held in October 2019 and sadly note that more than 1.3 million Canadians...have been infected with COVID-19 and that nearly 25,000 people have died as a result;
The critic for seniors adds here that seniors were the first victims of this pandemic, and that the government should not try to use them in a cheap election ploy by promising them a one-time cheque for $500 in August, just before its target period for launching the election during the pandemic. I will continue reading:
(b) in the opinion of the House, holding an election during a pandemic would be irresponsible, and that it is the responsibility of the government to make every effort to ensure that voters are not called to the polls as long as this pandemic continues.
This afternoon, I will address this issue from three perspectives. First, I will explain the theme we chose for our opposition day, then I will put on my former journalism student's hat, and finally, I will put on my former political science student and confirmed social democrat's hat.
To begin with, I would like to remind the House that the Bloc Québécois does agree with one thing. If there is an election during the pandemic, adjustments will have to be made to ensure that polling takes place in compliance with the public health rules issued by Quebec and the provinces. That is the question though: Should there be an election?
We moved this motion today for several reasons. From a technical perspective, the bill is flawed and contains significant grey areas we have to discuss and debate. From a public health and ethics point of view, holding an election under the current circumstances is not responsible. Here is a specific example.
As the Bloc Québécois's critic for seniors, I am concerned. The bill provides for polling stations in residences for 16 days before voting day. Somehow or other, election workers would have to be there for 19 days. That is not necessary, and we would have liked to change that. Voters have a number of different ways to cast their ballot. If they cannot go to a polling station, they can always vote by mail, as usual.
In addition to the logistical issue, there is also the psychological issue around strangers being in these homes and constantly asking people to vote. We do not yet know exactly how it will unfold, but it is not hard to imagine.
Furthermore, as a former journalism student, I always pay attention to what commentators have to say. I will quote a few of them to show that this is not just a whim of the Bloc, as the other parties would have people believe with their rhetoric. Rather, our motion today is based on the concerns of the people of Shefford who wrote to me, as well as those of other Quebeckers and Canadians.
First, there was Mario Dumont on QUB radio. This is what he said on his show on May 10:
I remember that, at the National Assembly, the advisory committee of the chief electoral officer was meeting in camera because they did not want to have public grandstanding and bickering over the Quebec Election Act. They said that the parties had to agree first…
Invoking closure to pass new election rules for an election that is only a few weeks away is not a good thing…
This may be difficult to understand for the Liberals, who have a tendency to ignore the specifics relating to Quebec and its National Assembly.
Furthermore, on the May 10 episode of La joute, Emmanuelle Latraverse said that wanting to amend a law without going through Parliament was against the rules of our electoral system, which encourages seeking consensus.
The irony is that the Liberal Party has put a gag order on a bill to amend the elections legislation, but the Liberals made a big fuss when the Harper government tried to pull the same stunt. The more things change, the more they stay the same. The Liberals have only themselves to blame for the timing of this legislation. I could name several others who have spoken out in response to what they have heard on the ground.
Still in the media world, in order to gauge public opinion, Ipsos conducted a poll for Global News on April 18, 2021, so relatively recently, and found that 57% of voters believed that an election during a pandemic would not be fair. A Leger poll on April 16, 2021, found that only 14% of Canadians wanted an election this spring, 29% this fall and 43% later. Liberal voters are even more hesitant. Only 6% want a spring election and 26% want a fall election. Sixty percent want it to be later. That is a huge number.
Finally, as a former student of politics, I am very worried. It is well known that every crisis carries two main risks. One is the federal government interfering in the jurisdictions of Quebec and the provinces, and the second is austerity for the recovery. This could be disastrous, especially for our health care system.
I would add to that the serious risk of eroding our democratic systems. That is why it is inconceivable that a government is imposing time allocation in Parliament on a bill meant to frame the democratic rights of the people.
Let us not forget the context for introducing Bill C-19. Since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020, there have been questions about holding an election in this particular context given the minority status of the current government. Using the current provisions of the legislation, general elections were held in New Brunswick, British Columbia and Saskatchewan and two federal by-elections were held in Ontario.
Then there is the example of the provincial election in Newfoundland and Labrador. We all know what happened there. That election illustrated the risks of holding an election during a pandemic. The rise in the number of COVID-19 cases forced the cancellation of a polling day and the shift to mail-in voting.
In 2019, 61% of Newfoundlanders voted and that rate fell to not quite 51% in the last election, which tarnishes the legitimacy of a government. We need to do what we can to have the highest voter turnout possible. That is what should happen. In a federal election this type of scenario could have a considerable impact on voter turnout.
Let us now continue with our timeline. On October 5, the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada tabled a special report with his recommendations for holding an election during a pandemic. On December 8, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs released a report entitled “Interim Report: Protecting Public Health and Democracy During a Possible Pandemic Election”. The Bloc Québécois issued a supplementary opinion, proof of its usual willingness to collaborate.
The government ignored the work of the committee and introduced its bill to amend the Canada Elections Act in response to COVID-19 on December 10, 2020. For his part, the Chief Electoral Officer considered a range of administrative measures to adapt to operations during a pandemic.
I am going to discuss the impact of COVID-19. Since Bill C-19 was introduced five months ago, we have had only four hours to debate it. Finally, last Friday, the Leader of the Government in the house of Commons indicated that he intended to move a time allocation motion, or closure, with respect to Bill C-19 on the following Monday, May 10, 2021.
After a 45-minute debate on the gag order, there was a vote. The Bloc Québécois and the Conservative Party voted against the gag order but in favour of sending the bill to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. This was followed by three hours and 15 minutes of debate, primarily on the gag order. The Liberals let this bill languish and now they are rushing it through at the end of the session, as we approach the summer break and a drop in their polling numbers.
Furthermore, running a Canada-wide mail-in vote presents some significant logistical challenges and could prevent some people from exercising their right to vote.
In conclusion, the Liberals' gag order on C-19 shows that they plan to call an election during the pandemic. That is how pundits are interpreting this unnecessary legislative manoeuvre. The Liberals are telling us that their political agenda comes before getting everyone vaccinated, helping our economy recover and lifting the health measures and stay-at-home orders. This will not all be wrapped up with a wave of a magic wand at the end of the summer.
I repeat, nobody wants an election. The Bloc Québécois wants all the party leaders to meet, reach a consensus and find common ground. Yes, the Bloc Québécois is a party of ideas.
In our democratic system, we are well within our rights to make demands of the government. The government's job is to listen to opposition proposals to make Parliament work.
We wanted health transfers to go up to 35% of total health spending. That is what Quebec and the provinces called for during the health crisis. We wanted an extra $100 per month for seniors 65 and up. Our asks are perfectly legitimate and absolutely essential. The government chose not to take them into account in its budget, so it is responsible for the fact that we voted against that budget.
We have always said that if it is good for Quebec, we will vote for it, but if it is not good for Quebec or if it is against our interests, we will vote against it. We made our intentions clear well in advance.
If the government had been sincere, it would not have hidden everything or tried any excuse to trigger elections to gain a majority. It would have listened to us and would not have settled for a budget that announced a host of electoral promises. In fact, many of the measures it announced will not be rolled out until 2022, after the next election. Is that a coincidence?
My leader, the member for Beloeil—Chambly, reached out to the government and suggested organizing a private meeting, inviting anyone the government chose. They could have met in an office and tried to reach a consensus, without resorting to closure—