Bill C-31, An Act to Amend the Canada Elections Act and Public Service Employment Act
I speak strongly in support of the amendments at report stage put forward by my colleagues from Ottawa Centre and Vancouver East. I thank both of them for their long term work on the issue of full participation in elections in Canada in terms of both democratic reform and fair elections. Both the member for Ottawa Centre and the member for Vancouver East have been long-time and strong advocates for the participation of all Canadians in the electoral process, particularly marginalized Canadians, to ensure they do not lose their franchise in Canada. I know the amendments that they have put forward, which we are debating at this point, have come out of that experience and work.
New Democrats have very serious concerns about the bill. As has been heard over the course of several days of debate on it, we are very concerned about what this does to the electoral process in Canada and how this affects the most marginalized people in our communities. We want to ensure that we have a fair electoral system and one of which we can be proud and in which we have confidence.
There has been constant talk from the government, and from the Liberals and the Bloc, that the bill is about stopping opportunities for voter fraud. It is not about stopping voter fraud. It is about stopping the opportunities for voter fraud, and that is because it is hard to point to exactly where the problem is with the current situation. Where exactly is the problem with the current voting process and with presenting oneself on election day to vote?
The Chief Electoral Officer was asked that question directly at the committee when he was testifying in relation to the bill. What he said was very interesting. He said that there had been a few isolated incidents of attempted voter fraud, but nothing systemic or large scale. He said that there were some investigations underway, but there were no current charges. Over the course of the last few days, we have constantly heard about the need for this, but we have never really heard very many specifics about the record of charges or convictions around voter or electoral fraud in Canada. That is because there have been very few, if any, convictions for voter fraud in Canada.
We keep hearing about anecdotal evidence. The previous speaker from West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country talked about anecdotal reports. That is all well and good, but I do not think we develop legislation based on anecdotal reports. We need to develop legislation out of real experience and real problems that exist in our communities and with legislation and law in Canada.
Anecdotal reports just do not cut it. We have all heard those kinds of reports. Sometimes I think they are stimulated by partisan competition between electoral parties and scurrilous charges that have nothing to do with the reality of the process at the time of an election.
I really believe the bill sets out to try to solve a problem that does not really exist. It is a phantom problem of the opportunity for electoral voter fraud. It is kind of like the need for the big foot rabies protection act. It may exist, but it may not and we had better get to work solving it right away. I do not think that is a way in which we should be proceeding in the House.
Other issues are far more important in terms of electoral reform, but we have not spend any time on them in the House. Nor did the committee spend any time on them.
The whole question of proportional representation is something that Canadians know goes to the heart of the problems with our electoral system. It goes to the heart of improving our electoral system. Yet we have not been spending time on figuring out a way to implement that in Canada to ensure that all political ideas in Canada, all political ideas that Canadians hold, are represented in Parliament and that groups are represented, all ethnic minorities and racial minorities, and that women are represented in numbers representative of their place in our communities.
We need a system that takes those kinds of considerations into account and we do not have that now in the first past the post system. We need to ensure new approaches to government rather than the winner takes all approach that we have now. I think there would be spinoff benefits for that.
Some people say that we will be in an endless minority government situation. I do not fear that. I believe we will learn new ways of doing politics that stress cooperation and coalition building. I also do not fear the models of other countries where there is a proportional representation system. People sometimes say, “Do we want a Parliament like Italy?” It does not seem to me that Italy has collapsed as a country because of the wide representation in the Parliament of Italy.
People do not seem to recognize that Israel has a very fine tuned proportional representation system. Yet the Parliament of Israel, The Knesset, has never failed to act in the national interest of Israel when push comes to shove.
Those are good examples to remember. There are different ways of doing politics than the one where a party does not receive a majority of votes cast by Canadians, but it gets a majority in the House and then runs roughshod over all the other political ideas that are of importance to Canadians.
We should have spent more time on this legislation, ensuring that there was universal enumeration at each election. We all know, those of us who have run in campaigns or who have organized political campaigns, that there are huge flaws in the permanent voters list. An NDP suggestion to go back to a universal enumeration at each election was defeated as Bill C-31 was being considered in committee.
That is the crux of the matter. We have heard about huge numbers of voters being left off the list at elections and the problems that those have caused on election day. We need to go back to a system that ensures that each time we have an election in the country we seek out all the potential voters and ensure they are on the list, so they can exercise their franchise.
Some simple measures, which do not need legislation, would go further to deal with potential voter fraud. We could have done, and I think we could still do under the current provisions of the current electoral law, measures such as putting voter cards in sealed and addressed envelopes, so the information on a voter postcard or voter card could not be viewed or copied by other people. A measure such as that would be a significant step toward preventing the opportunity for voter fraud, one that does not require this legislation nor new legislation.
I also want to talk about the provision of the bill that was added on an amendment, I believe, by the Bloc and supported by the Liberals. Now it seems the Conservatives have caved in and are supporting it as well. It is the birthdate information that will be collected as part of the building of the voter list and it will be distributed and shared with political parties.
I am not at all concerned that Elections Canada officials and employees have access to that information as part of ensuring a fair electoral process. However, huge difficulties with an amendment that would see this information provided to all the parties. It is a huge invasion of privacy. It is an invitation to identity theft.
There is no need and no justification for political parties to receive this information. There has been chatter in the hallways of Parliament that MPs are looking forward to having birthdate information so they can call constituents on their birthday and wish them a happy birthday, or so political parties can more finely tune their polling or their distribution of political information in constituencies. There is absolutely no need for that kind of invasion of privacy. It is a huge grab of private information by the political parties.
The restrictions around vouching are unacceptable. We heard a criticism of serial vouching. In many neighbourhoods and communities that will disenfranchise many people. The fact that there will have to be a person who is on the voters list in that poll to vouch for another person and that this person can only vouch for one person will limit the access of many people to the voters list and to exercise their franchise. There is no excuse for that kind of limitation.
We should be doing what we can to encourage people. If there is a person who is working in that area and who knows people and where they live, there is no reason why they should not be able to vouch for more than one person.
We see a steady decline in voter turnout. We need to take measures that work toward increasing the turnout. The legislation goes in the opposite direction. It increases unfairness and reduces the ability of people to participate in the electoral process. For that reason I cannot support the bill.
Mr. Thierry St-Cyr (Jeanne-Le Ber, BQ):
Mr. Speaker, I would like to put a question to my colleague from the NDP. He spoke about the fact that no one was ever prosecuted in Canada for voting illegally, spinning that as a sign that all is well. What that shows, in my opinion, is that there is a problem. It would be rather unrealistic, and perhaps naive, to think that there has never been anyone anywhere in Canada who voted illegally. In Quebec, “Infoman” Jean-René Dufort has reported that it was actually possible to vote more than once.
The reason no one was ever prosecuted is simply that it could not be proven that an individual voted more than once because that individual did not identify himself or herself. In the event that a voter is listed twice on the voters list and this list shows that an individual by that name came out to vote, it is impossible to prove that this individual did come out and vote twice. All that can be established is that two individuals voted under the same name.
Does my hon. colleague not think that, on the contrary, ID should be required, as provided in the legislation, so that people who vote illegally can be prosecuted? How can it be established beyond a reasonable doubt that an individual voted twice if that individual was never required to show any proof of identity?
Mr. Bill Siksay:
Mr. Speaker, I believe we would go farther if we did a proper enumeration and had a good voter's list. We would go farther if we had a voter's list that was created at every election rather than the permanent voter's list that we have now that we know is deeply flawed.
I also believe that we need to ensure that we have the resources available to pursue issues of electoral fraud when they crop up. There are lots of people in all of the polling places such as representatives of Elections Canada and representatives of political parties. Not all political parties take the opportunity to scrutinize the process seriously. During my years as an election volunteer, I was the only representative of a political party at a polling place scrutinizing the process. All of us have an obligation to watch the system more carefully and scrutinize the process. We have the resources in the current law to deal with any of the problems that crop up.
The measures in this legislation disenfranchise people and seek to address a problem that we have not identified clearly as a problem. I just do not think that is the way to go.
Hon. Jay Hill (Secretary of State, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, the New Democratic Party seems so concerned about disenfranchising voters. We want to ensure that everyone possible has the opportunity to vote. I think that is clear. It is not just the NDP that is concerned about that.
As we travel around the world encouraging other countries to become more democratic, we have to ensure that our system is beyond reproach. We have to ensure that our system has the highest possible voter integrity. I believe, and I think most Canadians would believe, that some responsibility rests with the citizen.
I find it a bit ironic when we strongly advocate that other nations ensure their voters are identifiable, that they are citizens of that country when they cast their ballot to ensure there is absolutely no opportunity for voter fraud, yet somehow in Canada we shy away from that. We think that is unacceptable. That would appear to be a discrepancy. I would ask the member to comment on that.
Mr. Bill Siksay:
Mr. Speaker, I do not think anybody is shying away from that responsibility. Legislation currently exists in Canada that guarantees a fair process and guarantees to punish those who would seek to manipulate the system unfairly.
The Chief Electoral Officer in his own testimony said that there were very few investigations and hardly any convictions. He said there were no current charges concerning electoral fraud in Canada. The systemic problems in our system are not as serious as others would have us believe. I think we are talking about a phantom problem. We are removing people from their franchise by--