Resuming debate, the hon. member for Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington.
On July 16, 2014, the government tabled “Government Response to the Fourth Report of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development, 'A Weapon of War: Rape and Sexual Violence Against Women in the Democratic Republic of Congo — Canada’s Role in Taking Action and Ending Impunity'”.
This report contained 12 recommendations that notably called on the Government of Canada to continue championing the role of women in international peace and security and working toward greater respect for the human rights of women in countries of concern, particularly the Democratic Republic of Congo. The government response to the standing committee's report welcomed the committee's findings, agreed with most of its recommendations, and addressed all of them comprehensively.
Promoting the role of women in international peace and security and enhancing respect for women's rights and their well-being are key priorities of the Government of Canada. That is why Canada not only champions the end of sexual violence against women and girls but also demonstrates leadership in international efforts to promote the role of women in bringing about peace, rebuilding societies after conflicts, improving maternal, child, and newborn health, and eliminating child, early, and forced marriage.
Allow me to speak of our multi-pronged approach in these areas. The government is continuing to advocate for the empowerment of women in decision-making processes, including in peace processes. We have and will continue to encourage the full and equal participation of women in international peace and security and to encourage new governments in fragile states and in countries in transition to democracy to increase the number of women in key leadership and decision-making positions.
We have taken a leadership role in international efforts to foster the effective implementation of the United Nations Security Council resolutions on women, peace, and security, including by continuing our leadership advocacy and coordination role as chair of the group Friends of Women, Peace and Security at the UN in New York.
Canada is deeply concerned about the plight of sexual violence survivors in the Democratic Republic of Congo, especially in the context of conflict in the east. Canada has regular exchanges with the government of the DRC on a range of human rights issues, including sexual and gender-based violence. Canada also makes its positions and concerns known to the DRC through multilateral fora.
Canada is encouraging the government of the DRC to review its national legislation in order to eliminate discrimination against women and to foster greater respect for women's human rights. As part of the UN universal periodic review of the DRC in 2009, Canada recommended that the government of the DRC arrest and bring to justice those who perpetrate sexual violence.
In 2014, Canada also recommended expediting the reform of the judiciary and the security system to improve access to justice and the protection of the population as part of a national strategy to fight violence against women and girls. Canada collaborates and engages with the UN, donors, and other members of the international community to support projects and initiatives that benefit the DRC and involve its government, notably through field presence in the country and the Great Lakes region.
In the past eight years, Canada's Stabilization and Reconstruction Task Force, also known as START, has contributed more than $19 million for projects specifically related to sexual and gender-based violence in the DRC and other countries, including Colombia, Afghanistan, and South Sudan. In 2013, the former minister of foreign affairs announced a further $5 million for projects to prevent sexual violence in conflict by supporting, for example, the documentation and prosecution of sexual violence crimes. Furthermore, in October 2014, the former minister of foreign affairs pledged a $10-million contribution to address sexual and gender-based violence in ISIL-affected areas.
Canada's efforts to fight sexual violence have been producing results in the Democratic Republic of Congo since 2006. Over 60,000 survivors have accessed health and psychological support and care. Over 15,000 survivors have acquired new skills and can sustain income-generating activities. Over 800 perpetrators have been convicted.
Canada's contributions strengthen coordination and partnerships among all stakeholders involved in preventing and fighting sexual violence, notably provincial authorities, local administrations, the judicial system, police forces, civil society organizations and communities. By building capacity and a responsibility for fighting sexual violence locally, Canada is helping to ensure that the Congolese authorities and Congolese society in general have the means to sustain the above mentioned gains made.
In 2014, Canada also provided $24.7 million to respond to humanitarian needs in the DRC. This includes assistance for projects with humanitarian partners whose activities include support to the survivors of sexual violence. These partners include Doctors Without Borders, which provides health care for conflict-affected populations, including survivors of sexual violence; and the International Committee of the Red Cross, which works to address the health and psychological needs of sexually and gender-based violence survivors. This assistance to the DRC is complemented by funding to improve the humanitarian systems' overall response to sexual and gender-based violence.
Canada has provided $1 million in support to the International Organization for Migration to strengthen protection in refugee camps, especially as it concerns the prevention of gender-based violence. The $3 million in support provided to the United Nations population fund is also building the capacity of the humanitarian system to prevent sexual and gender-based violence, and to improve the quality and accessibility of gender-based violence-related services during humanitarian crises.
In 2013, the Government of Canada contributed $4.5 million to six Canadian organizations working with local partners in DRC, including on issues related to victims of sexual violence in those areas affected by conflict.
Canada takes a regional approach in the Great Lakes Region by working with 11 African women's organizations in Burundi, Rwanda and Congo to address women's rights and promote peace. An additional $5 million has been provided to the ICRC in 2014, especially to improve its capacity to prevent and reduce sexual violence in five countries, including the DRC.
Canada recognizes that the resource rich developing countries must harness their resources to achieve economic growth and poverty reduction. However, extractive operations often take place in complex operating environments, including in countries with weak governance capacity and where corruption and conflict are prevalent. This is why the government has worked with the private sector and civil society organizations to enhance responsible resource development and transparent governance in the extractive sector globally.
Canada strongly supports international efforts to sever the link between natural resources and conflict and to advance initiatives that help extractive sector companies respect human rights.
As a founding member of the Kimberley Process, Canada remains fully supportive of its objectives to increase accountability, transparency and effective governance of the trade in rough diamonds. Given the relevance of our diamond sector as well as the sustainability of the industry as a whole to reputational risks, Canada is a strong advocate for improved collaboration on enforcement of the certification scheme among member countries, including the DRC, as well as the broader reform efforts to ensure the continued relevance and credibility of the Kimberley Process as a whole.
Promoting the role of women in international peace and security, enhancing respect for women's rights and providing protection against sexual violence are key priorities for our government. We have and we will continue to address them vigorously and comprehensively.
Mr. Chair, I will be splitting my time with the member for Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington.
It is truly tragic that in 2015, the House finds that it must again recognize the pervasive existence of anti-Semitism in Canada and around the world. Despite the best efforts of parliamentarians and private citizens, and the vigilance of determination of organizations such as B'nai Brith Canada, the Jewish community's foremost human rights agency, which has been active in Canada since 1875, anti-Semitism, humankind's original hatred, remains alive and hatefully well in Canada and abroad.
B'nai Brith Canada's most recent annual audit of anti-Semitic incidents, from April 2014, revealed that Canada-wide incidents of vandalism and violence increased by 21.6% and 7.7% respectively over the previous year. Frank Dimant, who has just retired as the CEO of B'nai Brith Canada after 36 years, said of the audit:
The sustained level of antisemitism in Canada when taking a ten year view which shows a 49% jump should be of great concern to all Canadians.
However, Mr. Dimant feels that numbers are only part of the story. He said:
What we are hearing from callers is a growing sense of dread among Canadians...hatred of Jews has veered so far into normative discourse that it is no longer seen as wrong.
Canadians can remember brief periods in recent decades when we might have thought, wishful thinking, perhaps, that anti-Semitism was a vile phenomenon of the past, but then came a resurgence of both classic and hybrid hate. In my riding of Thornhill, there is anti-Semitic vandalism and graffiti, with swastikas over the Star of David. In Montreal, there have been firebombings of Jewish businesses and the desecration of Jewish cemeteries. Anti-Israel rallies during periods of Middle East tension have deteriorated into openly, and in some cases, violently anti-Semitic events in Calgary, Mississauga, and Toronto. Of course, on university campuses, not all but on far too many, there is Israel Apartheid Week.
Israel Apartheid Week and the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement represent hybrid anti-Semitism. Proponents and propaganda for IAW or BDS say that they are not anti-Semites and have nothing against the Jewish people but are merely against Israel, the Zionist state, the Zionist entity. “Zionist” has become the hate-mongers' code word for “Jew”.
Our government has consistently supported Israel's right to defend itself. The only democracy in the Middle East is under constant threat and regular attack by terrorist entities and quasi states, not to mention the threats both tangible and bombastic from Iran.
Israel may not be perfect. Our government also recognizes the principle of fair criticism. However, as the Prime Minister has said:
...whatever Israel's shortcomings, neither its existence nor its policies are responsible for the pathologies present in that part of the world.
I was proud to be a member of the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Antisemitism. I believe that members will hear in greater detail about this area from my colleague from Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, but in closing, I would like to refer to a central conclusion of its inquiry panel report. It pointed out that criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitic in itself but that denying its right to exist or seeking its destruction can be considered anti-Semitic acts.
The panel also recommended that police forces across Canada be better trained to deal with anti-Semitism, that universities do more to counter Israel Apartheid Week, that education regarding human rights be a bigger part of welcoming programs for new Canadians, and finally, that the House foreign affairs committee study the United Nations':
... over-emphasis of alleged human rights abuses by Israel, while ignoring flagrant human rights abuses of other member states.
Just as I believe that vigilance is the price of freedom, so too is eternal resistance essential in the fight against anti-Semitism and in the defence of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.
Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. There have been discussions among the parties and if you seek, it I think you would find unanimous consent for the following motion, which was seconded by the member for Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington and the member for Ottawa Centre. I move:
That the House remember the violent crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square on its 25th anniversary, express its deepest condolences to those who lost friends and family members in the massacre, call upon China to account for those who remain missing, call for the release of those who continue to be imprisoned, and urge the Government of China to abide by international human rights standards and to engage in ongoing and open dialogue with its people about the tragic events of 25 years ago.
Mr. Speaker, it is great to stand and speak to the fair elections act. As the chair of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, I have gone what seems many months not being able to say too much about what I was, I will not say forced, but forced to sit and listen to, but it certainly was a long study. I was proud to commit the time to try to move forward and work together with the members of the committee on this piece of legislation.
I would like to start with the fact that the members of the committee worked very hard together and worked fairly well together. Sure, we had our rough points, but we worked pretty hard.
If you will indulge me, Mr. Speaker, the member for Louis-Saint-Laurent contributed well and even had to celebrate her birthday at a night meeting of the committee, so we thank her for that sacrifice, also the member for Toronto—Danforth and the member for Hamilton Centre whose voice rings in my ears even when I am away from this place. There was the member for Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, the member for Wild Rose, and the member for Etobicoke Centre. A great fill-in member, the member for Oxford was there a lot. The member for Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington and the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands spent a great deal of time with us at committee to look at this legislation and move it forward.
We know it was long hours and I am told it was around 31 hours of study at committee. As the chair, one must pay attention and the hours seemed much longer than 31. Some 72 witnesses appeared at committee. On top of that, there were many more briefs from people who were unable to attend or who sent us briefs with their opinions. We had witnesses by teleconference from Australia, more than one from the United States, and from across Canada by teleconference and in person at the committee.
Every witness who was asked for by every party in the House to attend was asked to come. Those who could, did. Those who could not, sent briefs or at least shared with us their information. We wanted to make sure that we gave every opportunity to each person who asked could those good people attend.
From the beginning the committee set a date for the completion of its study by motion to the committee, so it was not a surprise to anyone at committee when we were going to end. The pile of work heading toward that date sometimes seemed like it would not move, but it did. The reason for the date for the conclusion is that the Chief Electoral Officer had told us ahead of time the election legislation coming forward needed to be in his hands by a certain date so that by the election 2015 in October, he would be able to run an election on that piece of legislation. We set the date.
All members knew of this deadline. Some chose to use their time for other purposes, some for much longer debate than perhaps was needed, but all in all, we shared good information with each other. As a committee, I am very thankful we were able to work together and at the end of the day, take a pretty great piece of legislation and make it even better with some amendments that we were able to move forward.
Let me discuss some of those. Canadians have spoken. The information we are hearing from them, certainly on the voter identification side, is that they are reasonably pleased with where we are headed. I can say now what I heard in my riding while in coffee shops, at church suppers and yes, I do attend the odd one. People would come to my constituency and ask questions about the fair elections act. There are a number of people who watch this on TV and say they know I am the guy from the fair elections act.
Yes, I know; I have a cult following out there now, but even in my own constituency office, I was able to share with them where we are headed.
My constituents would say, “What about this voter ID thing?” I would say, “Well, I know you as a good Canadian citizen. What part of it is bothering you?” They said they had heard that some people would not get to vote. I asked them if they believed that people in Canada, in a modern democracy, should be able to go to the polls and not have to prove who they are. Every person I spoke to in my riding, bar none, asked what I meant when I said that people could vote without proving who they were. What did I mean when I said that no identification was needed?
I told them that was the difference.That was what we were discussing at committee. What we were trying to deal with was whether it is okay for people to come in and have someone else say who they are, or whether they should have to pull out something and say, “This is who I am and this is where I live”.
We have made an amendment to the bill to help with this last part about saying where they live. We did that because we think that if someone can say, “Hi, this is who I am”, then someone else at the same poll who has identification could help them with the part about where they live.
Many people in the riding during that time talked about how there are 18 months until the next election. If someone knew right now that they did not have the identification that they needed, could they not go and get it? We even heard this from some of the testimony at committee.
There are some great community groups out there. I think it was the London Homeless Coalition member who told us at committee that the organization had a whole group that does nothing but help people get ID, because people do not need ID just for this. It is really important to them and they really want to make sure that people can vote, but the organization worries about people needing identification for some other basic things in life, so it has a group that helps people find identification.
Voters and constituents in the riding suggested that with enough notice of what the requirement might be, people should be able to go out and get ID in order to vote. Both of the parties across from me require ID to vote in specific party functions in their parties. Members of both opposition parties must show ID if they want to pick a leader, and the great citizens of Elgin—Middlesex—London at least agreed with me at the time that it would probably be a good idea to have to show ID to vote.
While we were at this committee, many people were following us, whether it was on CPAC or in other ways. A high school group in my riding was following closely on CPAC, and after one of the meetings, I had a meeting with them by Skype. I love to get out and speak to all the high school groups that I can about what the job of a member of Parliament is like.
This high school spent a great deal of time following this committee, and because of the length of the meetings, I could not always be in my riding, so I met with them on Skype one day. Online, we went round the room, and I asked if there was anybody there who could not vote tomorrow. They all said no, that ID was or could be available to them if they wanted to go out and get it, and that they could certainly get it by the October 2015 deadline.
Again, we can make a great piece of legislation even better by amending it to include taking an oath. If a person goes to vote and can prove who they are but not their address by showing ID, and they are at a polling station with someone else who has ID displaying who they are and where they live, both of them can sign an oath attesting to the address of the person who does not have the ID with an address on it.
As one of my constituents who I believe was a farmer said to me, “I can get all the ID I need to go vote, yet other people could go into a voting station without all that ID. Why don't they just do the same work I did to get it?”
I also wanted to share that there have been a number of elections over the years I have been on this committee, and after every election the Chief Electoral Officer sends a report to our committee for us to review. I have now been through three of them, perhaps four, and three times the Chief Electoral Officer sent us a group of recommendations to look at. Many of the recommendations over the years from the Chief Electoral Officer for additions or changes to the Elections Act are in fact in the fair elections act. I wanted to make sure we shared that also.
While I am talking about the Chief Electoral Officer and his powers, his ability to run elections, we should compliment Elections Canada on what it does. In my riding, there are over 200 polls. There are 308 ridings across this country, so Elections Canada runs an event that has many points of interest and many places someone can go. Hopefully it gets all the people to the right place at the right time, which is part of why I think the great suggestion is that Elections Canada spend the majority or all of its time telling people when and where and what time to go vote.
Many of the surveys that we heard during this study and have heard at procedure and House affairs when looking at previous Chief Electoral Officers' reports tell us why people do not vote. The question is always asked after every election, after the votes are cast and we are all here. Elections Canada does a pretty good job of doing surveys itself or of hiring other people to do surveys to find out whether an individual voted, and if not, why not. In every case the leading answer was, “I was really busy. I did not find the time”. In this piece of legislation we have created another whole day of pre-election dates that we can now vote on.
Many citizens say in those same surveys that they did not know they could go to the election office and vote at any time during an election. They say they did not know there was a special ballot or that there were different election days. They thought that they had to show up on election day but did not really know where it was. That is why they did not vote, so telling people where and when and what ID to bring is pretty important.
I was searching through the paper on the weekend, trying to decide what else I might do. I was in the movie section, and there were some great ads for movies. The ads told me what time the movie started and what theatre they were at. Based on that, I could make my decision about what I might do that evening. There was no place in the ad that told me why I should go to see that movie. It might have listed who the stars were, and that might help me make up my mind. However, I think it is our job as the 308 men and women in this House to really provide the why to voters. It is our job to tell people why they should come out and vote for Joe. or why they should come out and exercise a ballot at any time.
It is not clear that it is the job of anyone other than the political people in this country to do the why. If Elections Canada does a great job of telling people the where, the when, the ID to bring, the different methods, the visit to the returning office, or the using of the special ballot for voting offshore, that would be one job absolutely taken care of. They can leave it up to us to talk about the why.
As I said, I spent some time in this job talking at schools. I love going to schools and talking to students about my job as a member of Parliament, which, by the way, is the best job one could ever have, and we certainly share that.
I mentioned in my statement about even using Skype to talk to high school classes. We have asked the Chief Electoral Officer to keep that in place as another way of making a great bill better. There was an amendment to ask Elections Canada to please keep things like the student vote in place. I have been active, and I know many of my colleagues from both sides of the aisle have been very active, in student votes in past elections. We get high school students talking about how elections work, what they look like, what it takes to be a candidate, and then they actually hold an election at the high school level. We get them very interested in being voters from that point on.
I am glad with the changes allowing the Chief Electoral Officer to use a program called “Student Vote”. Getting it back into the schools is a fantastic change in this piece of legislation.
One of the other things we talked a lot about and heard about at committee was something we heard about more before the legislation came forward and maybe less afterward. It was using the CRTC as a way of watching and regulating voter contact. I think I can safely say that in the last election—and I will try to underestimate it—I made about 200,000 phone calls in my constituency. We had two town hall meetings calling every house in the riding, and then there were a number of others, whether it was to get out the vote or to tell people about advance poll day. We called just about everyone there too. A great number of phone calls were made in the riding. Did I ever hear from anyone from CRTC? No, because if there are rules and we follow them, this is not a problem.
If the phone call comes in and it is “Hi, I'm Joe Preston. I'm your Conservative candidate, and I—”
Resuming debate? No.
Accordingly, I invite the hon. member for Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington for his right of reply. The hon. member has five minutes.
The hon. member.
Mr. Speaker, I have been in this House now for approximately 10 years. In that decade, I have witnessed a couple of Speakers being elected, all by private ballot, and I thought the exercise was certainly necessary. It was revised back in the mid-1980s, as research tells us, and I would like to reflect back on the history of this House.
One of my Conservative colleagues mentioned earlier that we should never change the Standing Orders lightly. Even though the motion seems fairly modest in its reach, at the same time we have to be very careful. However, there is a long history to this.
In the House of Commons Procedure and Practice, the version by Marleau and Montpetit, we can see the history of the election of the Speaker from 1867 up until 1985. Typically the convention was that a name was proposed by the prime minister and everyone voted. We could see who voted for whom in the election for the Speaker. Normally the nomination put forward by the prime minister, which in the early days was seconded by a leading minister, was usually accepted. Granted, there usually was a majority, but even in cases where there was a minority government, it seemed that the recommendation put forward by the prime minister and seconded by the leading minister of the day was accepted by the House and there was no tumultuous debate that followed.
In later conventions, although not written down, there was a consensus as to who the Speaker should be. The name was still brought forward by the prime minister, but by this convention it was seconded by the Leader of the Opposition, which is a far more beneficial way to bring respect to the House, and for all members, despite what party or caucus one might sit with.
This method made it much clearer as to who the Speaker should be, and there was no debate. If it was seconded by the Leader of the Opposition, then the vast majority of the House, not just the simple majority of the House, were in favour of a particular Speaker. However, we must bear in mind that this was all done through a recorded vote. Everyone was able to see where their member of Parliament or their colleague was on a vote.
In the 1980s, we realized that a vote would be better among colleagues as to who would be the most unbiased person and could administer the House as Speaker. It is not just speaking in the House and making sure the Standing Orders are followed, but there is the administration of the House over its functions and employees.
At the time it was thought that there should be a secret ballot, that we should not be coerced into voting because of what the leader of any particular party felt about who the Speaker should be. Therefore, the institution of secret ballot was brought in, and I think that was all for the better.
Recently there have been talks about having secret ballots for other positions, such as committee chairs, which by extension have the same type of job description when it comes to being unbiased. Members can see the pattern here. Any position that is assumed by a member of Parliament, such as the Speaker of the House, assistant Speaker, Deputy Speaker, or in the case of committees, the chairs or vice-chairs, it is the same sort of function. One cannot be biased towards any particular policy, and certainly not biased towards any particular party represented in this House. Therefore, a secret ballot is apt.
There was also a bill put forward and tabled in this House on the election of committee chairs by the same method, and I support that as well. I mean, if we are going to have a function of electing the Speaker by secret ballot, which has been our practice since the mid-1980s, then obviously the committee chairs, by extension, should have the same sort of thing.
History tells us that over the past while, we have not had a lot debate, but as my colleagues have pointed out, there has always been an election, with the exception of 2005, I think it was, when Speaker Milliken was acclaimed. We have had these elections, and they go on for a period of time. In the last election, when our current Speaker was elected, there were four candidates. It went on for quite some time, with the counting.
The procedure by which we do it is if a candidate does not gather a simple majority of the votes, another vote takes place. The person who finishes last, or who has the least number of votes, is dropped from the ballot. It is similar to the way parties elect leaders.
Speaking of parties, that has been the function of electing the leader of a party for quite some time, where someone needs a majority vote to attain the leadership. In positions as important as that, a simple first-past-the-post system would not suffice. There has to be a situation where someone gets the majority of the votes, which is more than 50%. That is a responsible way of looking at it.
As a matter of fact, I do not mind going on the record to say that maybe that is something we should consider for democratic reform. As the critic for democratic reform, something I support is the preferential ballot idea.
A lot of people ask what the preferential ballot is and how it works. The preferential ballot is something we have been using for years, but we have never used it in a preferential ballot way. Allow me to explain. We have always voted, and voted again if necessary, to achieve a simple majority, which is 50% plus one. Doing it by preferential ballot, however, means that we are doing all of our voting up front. For example, in a typical party leadership election, if someone does not get more than half the vote, whoever gets the fewest votes is dropped from the list, and we vote again. Once that person is dropped, we vote once more, so back to the ballot box we go to cast our vote. If our candidate is still in the race, chances are that we will vote for that candidate again. If our candidate has been dropped because that person finished last, we now have to vote for someone else, or we may choose not to vote at all. In most cases, obviously, we would vote again.
On a preferential ballot, we rank the candidates. If we were asked who we wanted to be the leader of our party, we would say, “I want this person. She is my choice”. If that person is not elected, is not successful, and is eliminated from the ballot, who would we like to be the leader after that? Basically, we are saying that if our preferred candidate, or first choice, is eliminated, we would choose the person who is our second choice.
Doing that saves a lot of time, because there is no going back to the ballot box, which takes quite some time. Even in a national election, it takes 12 hours. What we are saying is that all of this being done up front would save us a lot of time. In many cases, one's vote would not change. Does it mean that we would have to go over our second, third, and fourth choices? We could simply indicate one choice if we wished, but if our candidate were eliminated, our vote would no longer count. That is exactly what we have here.
I would like to congratulate the member for Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington for doing this. Some would say that it is a mild measure, but it is a measure that is necessary. Preferential ballots are becoming very popular within the scope of parties, so why can it not be within the scope of this House? By amending the Standing Orders, we would be allowing preferential balloting to take place.
I would like to say that we will be voting in support of this. Again, I thank the member for Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington for bringing it forward.
Mr. Speaker, I am rising to join this very interesting debate so far on the motion put forward by the member for Toronto—Danforth.
I want to review the wording of the motion as a starting point, because although the debate has ranged around the suggestion of the mover that the entire fair elections bill is utterly without merit and has nothing redeeming about it, that is not what the motion he put before the House said.
The motion before the House made reference to three very specific proposals within the proposed legislation and then identified several very specific groups that, as argued in the motion, would be selectively disenfranchised. It says:
That, in the opinion of the House, proposed changes to the Elections Act that would prohibit vouching, voter education programming by Elections Canada, and the use of voter cards as identification could disenfranchise many Canadians, particularly first-time voters like youth and new Canadians, Aboriginal Canadians and seniors living in residence, and should be abandoned.
The assumption I am making is that the hon. member feels that those three groups, or four groups if one chooses to consider as separate categories first-time young voters and the first-time voters who have just recently become Canadian citizens, are selectively negatively affected by this proposed legislation. I will address those assumptions.
I want to start by pointing out some of the assertions that must be made as we cross the first column dealing with all those groups that might be deprived of the ability to vote. Here one assumes that he means de facto disenfranchisement, not de jure disenfranchisement. If that were the case, this would be an unconstitutional proposal.
All those groups in the first category or column, namely, youth, immigrants, seniors living in residences, and aboriginal Canadians, are linked with the specific problems, including the end to vouching, the provision stating that the voter identification card or voter information card cannot be used as ID, and the limits on the Chief Electoral Officer's ability to carry out advertizing programs. These can be linked so that in each case there is a problem occurring because of each of the reforms.
I would maintain that on its surface that is not a plausible hypothesis. I will give a couple of examples that will make this point. Vouching is presented as something that, if it is not permitted, will cause seniors living in residences to be unable to cast ballots. That is part of the assertion being made here.
That clearly cannot be true. In the last election, the 2011 election, there was a controversy over whether the Etobicoke Centre election had been won by the Liberals or the Conservatives. The issue revolved around the fact that senior citizens living in closed access residences and who were therefore serviced by a mobile poll could not vote because the existing rules did not permit any vouching for them.
Vouching can only occur when another person who lives in the same poll vouches for the person. So they were already excluded from any vouching. Had vouching been permitted, one assumes that this issue might not have arisen.
There is nothing in this bill that takes away a vouching proposal dealing with senior citizens living in closed residences, who are specifically mentioned as one of the enumerated groups most at risk under this proposal.
Not only is it not part of the status quo that these individuals can be vouched for, but as far as I know the hon. member is not proposing that we change the rule and permit vouching where one person at a mobile poll can vouch for another, or people who live outside of the mobile poll can vouch for people who live in the mobile poll.
Perhaps he is suggesting that, but if he is making that suggestion or is planning to make it, he has not done so so far. He might actually want to comment on that.
I mention that because when the member introduced the motion today, I specifically asked him about that issue. What about the seniors who, in Etobicoke Centre, could not vote, could not be vouched for? Is there some solution?
This is a population where I think, unlike many of those who are actually vouched for in real life, it is highly unlikely that person A is going to turn up to vote ineligibly in person B's place. We can see how a mobile poll is one spot where people cannot simply walk in off the street and say, “Hey, I'm a resident of this facility. I would like to vote.”
I mention that as one specific area where his proposal just does not make sense.
I want to turn to another example, the voter identification card. I keep on saying “voter identification card”. It is the “voter information card”. The motion suggests that if the voter information card could be used as a piece of identification, it would make it possible for individuals living at these residences to vote. The suggestion is also made that if it could be used for this purpose, it would ensure that some young people would be able to vote. I want to comment on this.
I am looking at a report issued by Elections Canada itself, the 2011 general election national youth survey report. In the summary of findings, it divided youth in Canada into five sub-groups and asked why participation rates were as low as they were. The five groups included aboriginal youth, ethnocultural youth, unemployed youth not in school, youth with disabilities, and youth in rural areas. For three of those groups, ethnocultural youth, unemployed youth, and youth with disabilities, not receiving a voter identification card was indicated as one of the primary reasons they were not participating.
Just to make the point, the voter information card is not being received by many of these people. This is exactly why they are unable to determine where they should go to vote. It is highly unlikely that use of this card as a piece of identification would make it possible for them to cast a ballot. So, no disenfranchisement is going on here at all.
On the contrary, it appears to me that there is an indication that in both of these cases a different problem exists, one that is not addressed by the rhetoric of the opposition today, and one that unfortunately does not seem to be addressed by the Chief Electoral Officer, even though he submits a report after every election in which he tries to point out ways we can improve the electoral system.
What is missing is an adequate system of databasing Canadians, determining where they live and who is able to vote in what location.
The voter identification cards are given to voters on the basis of the preliminary list of voters. We hear the Chief Electoral Officer telling us that he has a list of voters that is over 90% accurate. Now, if we turn that around, that means that 8% or 9% of it is inaccurate. That is a large number of voters.
However, the voter ID card is not based upon the final list of electors. The final list of electors, as every candidate knows, does not get issued until a couple of days before the election. A day or two before the election, we can get this list, usually only on paper, not actually in electronic form, although that might differ in some ridings. Up until that point, both the candidates and Elections Canada are relying on the preliminary list of voters, which, by the Chief Electoral Officer's own testimony in his report on the 41st general election, is only 84% accurate.
Just to be clear about this, I am looking at his report on the 41st general election. On page 28, the Chief Electoral Officer says that “The preliminary lists for the 41st general election included 93 percent of Canadian electors, and 84 percent of electors were listed at the correct residential address”. This means that 16% of voters, if they received any card at all, received it at the wrong address or were present when the card for the wrong person came to their address.
He goes on to say that “The currency of the lists in 10 ridings was estimated to have dropped to less than 75 percent”. He does not tell us what ridings he is talking about and this is a major frustration for me. The CEO is far from transparent when it comes to providing information of this sort. We, and the committee that oversees him, have to prompt him over and over again to find out this kind of information. He does not make it clear if the 75% was 75% of people who were at the correct address. He did not even know who the 25% of voters were in certain ridings. I am not sure which of those two things he means.
The point is that the preliminary list is very problematic. It is more problematic in certain ridings than in others. There are some, and I suspect mine would be one of those ridings, where it is very good as a consequence of the fact that fewer people move and there is more security in the sense that old information will be reliable information.
The Chief Electoral Officer's list is suffering from significant database problems. As anybody who maintains a database knows, there is a very high error rate, over time, and it gets worse as old information is unreliable. Simply acknowledging this is a problem and reporting on it openly would be helpful. Instead, we have to parse this information from the Chief Electoral Officer and he tries to develop methods of dealing with the problem that essentially boil down to saying that we will continually widen the basis on which we will accept that somebody is able to vote whether that individual can prove eligibility or not.
In the case of the election in Etobicoke Centre, which is the most studied example we have, many people voted. Nobody is arguing that they voted fraudulently. Many people voted who were not accounted for in a way that ensured they were eligible and that this could be demonstrated after the fact, thereby potentially putting the outcome of the election at risk.
As we know, the Supreme Court ruled on that case. In the Opitz v. Wrzesnewskyj ruling, a four-person majority of justices said that the election should not be overturned on that basis. A three-person minority, headed by the chief justice, decided on the contrary, that the election should be overturned because of the unreliability of the accounting for the voting, despite the fact that nobody was asserting that fraud occurred.
When we hear the sponsor of this motion and many others in the opposition benches saying that there is no problem with fraudulent voting, I am not sure whether that is true. The fact is that the record-keeping is so bad we cannot tell, or at least we cannot prove anything. What we do know is that even in the absence of fraud, mistaken voting is potentially going on, and the potential for elections to be overturned or controverted is considerable.
Justice McLachlin, along with Justice LeBel and Justice Fish, dissenting, determined that:
The federal election in the riding of Etobicoke Centre should be annulled because of votes cast by individuals who were not entitled to vote under the Act.
They did not state that the individuals were voting fraudulently.
What happened here was that the definition of the word “entitled” came under dispute, and in the end the one-person majority of the court argued in favour of a wider interpretation of the word “entitled”. We came very near to seeing an election overturned as a result of that.
In consequence of the fact that there was a court case under way, Harry Neufeld was commissioned by the Chief Electoral Officer to write a report dealing with these issues. In his report, he concluded that the number of irregularities that occur under vouching amounts to something in the neighbourhood of 40% of all incidents of vouching nationwide. He has a breakdown for a number of different things, such as the general election and the number of byelections. On the whole, the number comes down to somewhere in the neighbourhood of 40%. It may be as low as 25% in one of the byelections.
Clearly, the issue of vouching that occurs in a way not allowing for a proper follow-through to confirm that everything was done in a valid manner is very high. That is a serious problem.
I am going to turn now to a few examples from my own life to make the point about what is wrong with using the voter information card as a method of determining whether a person is eligible to vote. I have three stories. Two of them I have given before in committee and one I just learned about today.
The first story comes from the election of 2004. When my riding boundaries were changed, we had a new deputy returning officer down in Napanee, at the far end of my riding from where I live, who inherited a substantial chunk of the riding and was unfamiliar with how things worked. When they merged the database, a large number of erroneous voter information cards were issued. This included the issuing of three voter cards to Scott Reid. At 142 Arthur Street, my house, I received a voter information card for Scott Jeffrey Reid, which is me. I also received one for Scott Reid and one for Jeffrey Reid, and I was living alone at the time. Clearly, there is a problem when that sort of thing happens.
As I pointed out to the former chief electoral officer, Jean-Pierre Kingsley, when he appeared at a committee shortly after that, I could have taken one card and voted at the returning office. They would have struck my name off the list. I could have then taken the second card and gone to the advance poll. My name would have been struck from another list. Then on election day, I could have voted at the third place and my name would have been struck off the list. No one would have been the wiser. I would have been using a piece of identification that had been issued in triplicate to me. That is my first example.
Here is my second story. After that point I moved, got married, and at the new house, which is about 100 yards on the boundary between the riding of Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, which I represent, and the riding of Carleton—Mississippi Mills, I wrote down my address as being at that street address in Mississippi Mills, Ontario. My wife, my ex-wife actually, but at the time we were married, wrote down her name and same street address at Rural Route 1, Carleton Place, which is also correct. Both addresses are correct and both will cause the mail to be delivered to the same address. They both have the same postal code, obviously. However, Rural Route 1 starts in Carleton Place and goes into Mississippi Mills, so we got voter identification cards that told us to go and vote at two different locations in two different ridings.
Here is an interesting question. Had we not spotted this problem, had she gone and voted in the wrong riding, would that have been voter fraud? I do not know. It was Elections Canada's fault because it has an inadequate database. It was not her fault that she had a voter card telling her to vote in the wrong constituency but relying on a card and assuming it is accurate. Also, her name would not be picked up as one in the error rate that Elections Canada cites, when it says it is 84% accurate and only 16% wrong. There is another error that is going to lead to people voting mistakenly if they use the voter information card as the basis for their vote. Also, having a second piece of ID with her address would not solve that problem.
The third story comes from my legislative assistant who told me today as we were discussing the bill that in the last election, he and his wife had just moved and received voter information cards addressed to the people who had lived in the house before them. They are of British ancestry, but the people who had lived in the house before them were of Vietnamese ancestry and the names were obviously Vietnamese. His wife went to the voter station, taking the card along because it told her what location to go to. When she got there, she went in, holding the card in her hand, and was issued a ballot and told she could vote. It was not her card, but it was being treated as a piece of identification. That is how lax security is when it comes to the use of the voter information card as a piece of identification.
Is there a problem with its use? Absolutely. That is why it was not permitted as a piece of ID, except on an experimental basis in the past. However, the Chief Electoral Officer said in his report to Parliament that he would expand its use nationwide, something he had not done in the past. That is now being prevented because it is unwise.
Far from being about disenfranchisement, as the member suggests in the motion, this is actually about keeping our system open, fair, honest, and competent.
I would remind hon. members to direct their commentary through the Chair.
Questions and comments.
The hon. member for Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington.
Mr. Speaker, the hon. member has obviously been talking to the people at Revenue Canada who do my taxes every year, because they always challenge the fact that I claim that I donated $1,200 to the Conservative Party and $1,200 to the Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington association. I had to dig up my figures and send them in a couple of years ago. It challenged my contribution to the Scott Reid campaign. I could not find the receipt for it, but I pointed out that I am Scott Reid and the Elections Canada website shows that somebody at my address with my name donates to the Scott Reid campaign, so either I really did donate or I hacked into the Elections Canada website and changed the information there, in which case it would want to charge me with something more serious.
With regard to the $1,500, as I understand it, that is just keeping up with inflation. I should point out, though, that one of the first acts of the Conservative government was to lower the donation rate from $5,000 to what at the time was $1,000 per person. It has since crept up due to inflation. Only real human beings could make donations, not corporations or unions. That was a big change. That was down from $5,000, which was where the Chrétien government had put it. I thought the Chrétien government did a good thing.
Before that, if we go back and look at the situation a decade ago or a decade and a half ago, there were quarter million dollar donations from corporations. A large part of what was being done was chasing these donations, having giant fundraising dinners and so on. It really was an inferior way of organizing things. Nothing happening now bears any resemblance to that world, nor does the money donated now have any resemblance to the, frankly, corrupting influence money had back at that time.
Mr. Speaker, I am rising to join the debate here. I have listened with considerable interest to the foregoing discussions, some of which, to be honest, seem a bit histrionic given the nature of the subject matter we are dealing with.
I have spent over a decade on the procedure and House affairs committee. Normally, people ask me how I manage to pull through on such an uninteresting committee and how I keep myself awake. However, as members can see, there is fun, travel, and lots of histrionics involved in all of this stuff, apparently.
The motion proposes to have the committee do three things with regard to Bill C-23, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act.
First of all, the motion proposes to hear witnesses, and it provides what I think is a very reasonable list of them:
…witnesses from, but not limited to, Elections Canada, Political Parties as defined under the Canada Elections Act, the Minister of State who introduced the bill, representatives of first nations, anti-poverty groups, groups representing persons with disabilities, groups representing youth advocates and students, as well as specific groups which have been active in society on elections rules….
It is all good, and I can think of others that I would add to that list.
The motion has three things, and I will drop down to the third, which is:
…proceed to clause-by-clause consideration of this bill after these hearings have been completed, with a goal to commence clause-by-clause consideration for May 1, 2014.
This is probably a reasonable timeline more or less, and one could quibble over that. However, in general, I do not think it is an unreasonable timeline.
Then, in the middle of the motion, is to have the power
…to travel to all regions of Canada, (Atlantic Canada, Quebec, Ontario, Northern Ontario, the Prairies, British Columbia and the North), as well as downtown urban settings… and rural and remote settings, and that the Committee request that this travel take place in March and April 2014….
As a member of the committee, I would get to join in on this road show. Putting aside the small quibble that I never considered northern Ontario to be a separate region of Canada on a scale with, say, Quebec, I find it to be a fairly reasonable layout of the different parts of the country we could go to. The trouble with travelling around this way is that it would not improve our ability to hear from witnesses who have worthwhile, intelligent things to say.
I had the good fortune to be on the last travelling road show of the procedure and House affairs committee about a decade ago. I think I am the last person still on the committee who was on it at the time we travelled, in that case, all over the planet to hear about ideas for electoral reform. We divided the committee into two groups. Some of us went off to Australia and New Zealand while others went off to Germany and Scotland to look at their electoral systems. We were looking at alternative electoral systems to what Canada had at the time, and still has.
I wrote about my experiences in an article, which I happen to have a copy of here, called the “Road to Electoral Reform” from the Canadian Parliamentary Review in the autumn of 2005, in which I made the following observation:
On February 1, 2005, committee members (including me) voted a travel budget of $289,695 for the European and Antipodean trips. Later, while the committee was abroad, one committee member…complained to the media about the large size of the travel budget.
It was not I who complained but a member who at the time was sitting as a Liberal and who now sits as a New Democrat. However, I concurred at the time and I still concur with the assessment that we did not get value for money on that occasion. I assume we can travel more inexpensively this time, were we to do so, than we did travelling all over the world.
For one thing, the committee insisted on travelling business class. I am sure we could all agree to travel coach, at best, and perhaps by some other means of locomotion. There was a fair bit of expense, partly because, as all such committees do, we had to ship translators, clerks, and all kinds of people, to make sure that we could function as a committee wherever we happened to be. However, it seems to be a lot of expense for not much benefit.
In the intervening years I have chaired the international human rights subcommittee. We hear frequently from experts who come from all corners of the globe by means of video conference. We have seen video conferencing vastly improve from where it was 9 or 10 years ago. We have people, not just from first world countries, but from other countries, who come in loud and clear. The fact is that we can hear from people from more or less anywhere without the need to travel, and we can provide them with simultaneous translation and so on.
Now, this is significant because we regularly hear from two different witnesses. In fact, the week before the break, we heard from one witness in Ottawa and another witness by video link at the same time We got two for the price of one in the allotted hour. We cannot do that when we are on the road, unless we also have video links on the road with us, which would be an additional expense. I cannot see how we would improve our efficiency with that.
The fact is that when we are dealing with issues like problems relating to urban groups, downtown areas, or remote areas of the country, we are going to get a lot of common issues. We are going to get distinctions too, and we will best see what those issues are if we have an interaction of the sort that can be done electronically. All of this can be done better without travelling than it can be done when we are travelling.
For example, there could be a goal to look at some form of infrastructure. If we were going to consider whether a new tunnel had to be blasted through the Rocky Mountains to accommodate a rail line, I could see the point of travelling. I cannot see the point of travelling for this sort of situation.
There was a very interesting case before the Supreme Court about a year and a half ago, in which a former Liberal member of this place, Borys Wrzesnewskyj, challenged the election of a current member of this place, the member for Etobicoke Centre. The Supreme Court heard the case, which had to do with whether it was legitimate for individuals at a seniors' residence that has closed access—these are the very elderly who have 24-hour care—and who voted in the absence of someone vouching for them, ought to have had their votes counted.
Interestingly, in that election it was the Liberal position that they should not have been allowed to vote because no vouching had taken place. That is the opposite of the position that is being taken today.
However, the interesting thing about this is that the Supreme Court of Canada held hearings in Ottawa and it was able to do so without having to travel to the site. Now that court and other courts have, on very rare occasions, travelled on location. Courts might do this sometimes for murder investigations, for example. However, in this case it did not feel the need because there was no need.
The issues that we are dealing with are issues that can be dealt with best by doing it here in Ottawa. That is a very clear example.
In the midst of saying this, I overheard a member pointing out that it was a split Supreme Court decision. That is correct. In fact, there was a majority and a minority. I am not sure how that relates to the question of whether it had to travel. First, good Lord, if we could not allow split decisions, nothing but unanimous votes could occur in this place, let alone the Supreme Court, so I cannot imagine what the member's objection is.
However, no one objected. No one on the Supreme Court, or anywhere else, objected to them holding these hearings in Ottawa. It was the best place to listen to these arguments.
I sometimes hear people using such extraordinary language in this debate that one would be left with the impression that they are talking about the kinds of civil rights abuses and voter rights abuses that took place in the American south prior to the 1960s.
I am looking at a petition that is available online where people are encouraged to write in about Bill C-23. It has made incorrect assertions.
Under Bill C-23, Voter ID cards will no longer be accepted. This will prevent thousands of students, seniors and Aboriginal people from voting.
Actually, under Bill C-23, the card that reminds people to vote will not be accepted as ID. That is very different from what is being implied here, that somehow people's identification would no longer be accepted. Of course, this would not prevent anybody from voting.
In the example I just gave of Borys Wrzesnewskyj saying that the current member for Etobicoke Centre should not be allowed to sit here, what he was saying is that we insist that individuals be deprived of their right to vote if they do not meet up with the highly technical definition, and highly restricted version, of their right under section 3 of the charter to vote. That is the position that the NDP has defended. The broader position that one has a right to vote has not been taken into account.
The NDP uses this kind of language. Here is another example from the same petition:
Bill C-23 makes it much harder for students, seniors, aboriginal people, and low-income Canadians to prove their right to vote, and will prevent many thousands of Canadians from voting.
The fact is that many people have distinct issues that can make it difficult to vote. These people include seniors, some of whom do not have the kind of ID that we often think of, such as a driver's license; students; aboriginals; and, I would mention, disabled people, particularly people with mobility issues.
I would add other groups to the list as well, such as people who have recently moved. The NDP motion makes no reference to people in suburbs. I guess I can see why the NDP has forgotten that the suburbs even exist, given the amount of electoral success it is having there. Recently constructed suburbs across the country have not been properly enumerated. In every election, this is where there are the greatest problems.
When I was first elected, I remember very distinctly that in Kanata, a suburb of Ottawa, Morgan's Grant was an area that had just been built. It is not new anymore, but it was in 2000. One polling station was set up, which included something like five or six times as many voters as any of the other polling booths at that location. The result was that after the poll shut, it took over an hour for everybody to go through and vote, simply because Elections Canada had not been aware that so many people were living in the area, which on their maps was still empty fields.
All of these people have genuine problems related to exercising their ability to vote. What these people need to know is how to exercise their franchise. How can they learn that? They can learn that if Elections Canada runs advertisements advising them how to exercise their franchise, for instance, if they have just moved into a location and have not received a voter card, or if they have been asked to go and vote on the voter card at an address that is wrong. That happens a lot. We hear all kinds of talk about how the Conservative Party was ostensibly trying to send people off to the wrong locations.
Let me tell the House about what happened in my constituency. When the riding of Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington was set up in 2004, people who lived in the town of Perth were told to go and vote in Perth Road Village, which sounded good. The local returning officer was unfamiliar with Lanark County, which had been added to the riding. However, Perth Road Village is the road from Kingston, Ontario, to Perth. Perth Road Village is an hour's drive from Perth. Therefore, residents were told to go and vote in a place that they literally could not get to.
What do people do in a situation when Elections Canada has told them to go and vote in the wrong place? What do people do if they go to the polling station they are used to going to and there are no forms to fill out so that they can vote at a location other than the one they normally vote at? Are they deprived of their ballot, their right to vote and their franchise? Those are the kinds of questions they should be answering for people, but of course, they do not do that.
Their advertising right now is all about why people should vote. We have all seen these ads from various elections. I suspect that they are extraordinarily ineffective at getting people out to vote. The ads are all about why it is people's fault that they are not getting in a vote, why they are not motivated enough to get out and vote, and why they should be motivated. If they were better human beings and better citizens, they would be out there voting. That is nonsense.
The primary reason for people not voting is that they do not know how to.
The Chief Electoral Officer does not go around knocking on doors, but during elections I do. We have all had this experience, I suspect. We knock on the door, but the person does not come down, at least not immediately. Then we realize that the reason it did not happen is that the person is an elderly shut-in on the second floor who cannot get down until a son or stepson or whoever comes and carries him or her down the stairs, or perhaps someone was changing a diaper. How are those people going to get out and vote? Letting those people know how they can vote at advance polls or how they can vote by mail, et cetera, can be an enormously valuable exercise. That is being offered.
I mentioned the highfalutin rhetoric suggesting that somehow people are being deprived of their right to vote and that somehow we face a civil rights crisis of the sort that existed in the American south. I find this deeply offensive, and I took the time to go and look up a couple of examples of the abuses that went on in that part of the world in that era to make the point that nothing of the sort exists here.
I have with me a couple of Louisiana literacy tests from the 1950s and 1960s. These were collected by a man named Jeff Schwartz, who is a former volunteer with the civil rights group Congress of Racial Equality. He has been collecting and archiving and putting online some of the forms that were used in various southern states in order to ensure that African-American voters could not participate.
The courts had agreed in the United States that it was reasonable that people had to have at least a grade 5 education or had become knowledgeable to that level in order to exercise their citizenship rights. By the way, no such rule exists in Canada. There is no requirement that a person be literate in order to vote. That is a very important distinction.
However, that requirement could then be manipulated. Local authorities could test and see whether an individual was fit to be registered to vote. The authorities would exercise these tests in a highly arbitrary manner designed to ensure that every white voter, no matter how ignorant or illiterate he or she might be, would get to be registered, and that every African-American would be excluded, no matter how intelligent, articulate, or well educated that individual might be.
Having looked at some of the questions on this test, I can say we can forget about a grade 5 education. I have been in five degree programs, including two Ph.D. programs. I have taught university and I have published two books, and I cannot figure out the answer to some of these questions.
For example, here is a question from the Louisiana form:
Write every other word in this first line and print every third word in the same line, (original type smaller and first line ended at comma) but capitalize the fifth word that you write.
What is the right answer to that question?
Question 9 from this list states, “Draw a line through the two letters below that come last in the alphabet”, and there is a series of letters.
Question 10 states, “In the first circle below write the last letter of the first word beginning with “L” , and there is a series of circles.
Another question is “Cross out the number necessary, when making the number below one million.” That is interesting. Does it mean the number below 1,000,000, which is 999,999, or does it mean to take the number with all these zeros and scratch them all out to get 1,000,000? Of course, this was designed to ensure that if I were a white guy and got it wrong, it would be right, and if I were an African-American guy and I got it right, I would be wrong anyway.
By the way, the literacy test mentions that “This test is to be given to anyone who cannot prove a fifth grade education” and “Do what you are told to do in each statement, nothing more, nothing less.” That is an important caveat that makes sure someone will fail. It continues: “Be careful as one wrong answer denotes failure of the test.” Imagine if that was on a driver's test. We would have no drivers in Canada. It then states, “You have 10 minutes to complete the test.”
I could go on and on. If I get the consent of the House, I would love to table these items so that members can examine them. If not, I can provide the email address.
My point here is there have been genuine abuses of the rights of voters. I have given an example from the United States, but we can find examples from other countries, including this one.
No such abuse is being considered or has been considered by any party that is here. The fact is that we have a good system, but we want to make it better by doing a series of technical amendments to how elections run in Canada. It would benefit the country and it would benefit democracy.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to participate in today's discussion on Motion No. 489 on the process for electing the Speaker of the House of Commons.
My colleague, the member for Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, has a keen interest in the functioning of this chamber and the rules and processes that govern the House of Commons. I believe he has brought forward the motion with the objective of strengthening one of the key processes in which we participate as members of the House of Commons; that is, the election of our Speaker.
For nearly all of us, voting for the Speaker at the beginning of a Parliament is the very first task we perform as parliamentarians. I thank the member for Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington for bringing forward this motion for debate. While my colleague's motion is quite detailed, I think it is worth summarizing some of the key elements of the motion.
First, for the benefit of those who may be following the debate, it is worth reiterating the present secret ballot system that is used to elect the Speaker as it is currently set out in Standing Order 4. Essentially the process starts with a list of candidates, which includes all members except ministers, party leaders, and those members who have withdrawn their names from consideration.
When it comes time to vote, members of the House write the name of the candidate of their choice on the ballot. After the first round of voting, if no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote, the candidate with the fewest votes and all candidates who receive less than 5% of the vote are removed from the ballot, and a second round of voting takes place. The rounds of voting continue until one candidate receives more than 50% of the vote.
Motion No. 489 would instruct the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to study and, within six months of the adoption of this motion, table a report regarding the advisability of implementing a preferential ballot for the election of the Speaker.
I should probably also acknowledge my support as far as the preferential ballot is concerned, because I was elected in my own nomination through a preferential ballot.
To give the committee something to study and work from, the member for Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington has kindly set out in his motion a very specific and comprehensive proposal to replace Standing Order 4 with a new process for electing the Speaker. Being an independent entity, the procedure and House affairs committee would be free to recommend any changes to the proposal, I am sure.
It is worth noting that my colleague's proposal does not do away with every aspect of the current system. The ability of MPs to not put their names forward for consideration to be Speaker and the rule that no debate or questions of privilege are allowed during the election of Speaker would be retained.
The key elements of the proposed preferential ballot system are as follows. Members would be provided with a ballot paper that contains the full list, in alphabetical order, of the names of those members who are to be considered for the position of Speaker. Rather than voting for a single candidate, members would be able to rank their preferred candidate, their second preferred candidate, and so on.
After the single round of voting, the Clerk would count the number of first preferences recorded in the ballots, and if a candidate had received a majority of first preference votes, then that person would be declared elected. If, after the first count, no candidate had received a majority of first preference votes, the Clerk would eliminate the candidate who received the least number of first preference votes from further counts. For these ballots, the Clerk would treat each second or lower preference as if it were a first preference for the next highest candidate in the order of preference who is not eliminated. This process would be continued until a candidate had obtained a majority of the votes.
The motion sets out further details, but what I have just highlighted is the crux of the proposal of the new system. It would allow for a single ballot to be cast by each member, and eliminate the need for multiple rounds of voting. I believe the member for Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington made it quite clear about the amount of time in history that many of these votes have taken and the exhaustive process.
While I would not want to speak for the member for Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, I see a simple question in the motion. Is there a benefit to be gained by eliminating the potential for multiple rounds of voting and possible jockeying for the position of Speaker? Quite frankly, as I mentioned just a moment ago, historically there has been quite a bit of time consumed by that very action.
I would be remiss if I did not take a moment to address the importance of the motion that we are debating today.
As we all know, the role of the Speaker is key to the proper functioning of this place; therefore, the election of the Speaker should not be taken lightly in any way, shape, or form.
With regard to the importance of the Speaker, it is worth quoting from a source that the Speaker would know all too well, House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition, which states on page 307:
It is in this spirit that the Speaker, as the chief servant of the House, applies the rules. The Speaker is the servant, neither of any part of the House nor of any majority in the House, but of the entire institution and serves the best interests of the House as distilled over many generations in its practices.
Bearing the significance of this quote in mind and the key question at the heart of the motion, we must decide whether the current system for electing the Speaker needs replacing, and specifically whether it should be replaced by the proposed preferential ballot system.
Again, the key question is whether this is a study that procedure and House affairs committee should undertake.
It is worth noting that already in this session members have decided to adopt two motions that would require the procedure and House affairs committee to study potential changes to the Standing Orders. Motion No. 431, regarding the election of committee chairs, was passed by the House on February 5, 2014. Similarly, Motion No. 428, which calls on the procedure and House affairs committee to recommend changes to the Standing Orders to permit electronic petitions, was passed by the House on January 29, 2014.
On top of those studies, the procedure and House affairs committee is also undertaking a general review of the Standing Orders, both under its own initiative as well as under a motion passed by the House in October 2013.
If Motion No. 489 were to join these other motions at the procedure and House affairs committee for study and the committee ultimately recommended changes to the Standing Orders, I feel it is worth reiterating a key message that came up during the previous debates on Motions Nos. 431 and 428.
The rules of the House are carefully balanced, based on parliamentary principles and traditions, and reflect the interests of all members. Changing these rules should not be a trivial matter. Rather, prudence, due diligence, and wide support among members are needed before making any significant changes to the Standing Orders.
Today's discussion is an important part of the consideration of the motion. I know that all members will take any proposed changes to the Standing Orders seriously. No doubt we will hear members from all sides bring forward their own questions and comments that will eventually shape the debate on Motion No. 489.
In closing, I go back one last time to what I see as the key question that arises when I compare the current secret ballot system for electing the Speaker and the proposed single preferential ballot system set out in Motion No. 489: is there a benefit to be gained by eliminating multiple rounds of voting? I believe that a preferential ballot would greatly increase efficiency over the present exhaustive ballot process we now use.
The next question, though, is whether the system would be strengthened by members' casting a single ballot that contains a clear ranking of their preferred candidates. Although I am clearly in support of Motion No. 489, I am not sure I can stand here today and give a definitive answer to that question. However, if today's motion were to be adopted, then the procedure and House affairs committee could undertake a closer examination of the proposed preferential ballot system and other related considerations and make that determination as a committee that is the master of its own destiny.
Mr. Speaker, I listened closely to what the member for Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington had to say. He said at the beginning of his remarks that there are valuable assets in this legislation. No one is denying that.
The problem is that in the broad approach to the legislation, the ability of the Chief Electoral Officer, as we would say in farm terms, is having his or her legs cut out from under them. Their ability to do their job on overall elections concerns is being taken away from them. The good things in the bill are being nullified by the damage that is being done to the Chief Electoral Officer.
If the Commissioner of Elections Canada is no longer appointed by the Chief Electoral Officer, who is appointed and accountable to Parliament, and instead would be a government appointee through the Director of Public Prosecutions, then that kills the whole ability for the Chief Electoral Officer to do the job of finding the many things that have been found in elections since 2006.
That is the problem. The assets are nullified by the broad approach that the government is taking in destroying the ability of the Chief Electoral Officer to do his job. Would the member not agree?
Mr. Speaker, if you will indulgence me a little, for more than six months, our committee has been looking at the electoral boundaries from coast to coast. I would like to thank the committee for its hard work and its teamwork on this project.
I would like to thank our clerk, Marie-France. She is the best. Michel and Andre, our analysts, got the report right and in as good a form as we possibly could. I would also like to thank our junior analyst, Charles, who was there for one day. All of the other committee supports and translations have been superb throughout the whole long process.
I would like to thank the more than 100 MPs who presented to our committee, and I would also like to thank the members of the committee, the members for Louis-Saint-Laurent, Hull—Aylmer, Skeena—Bulkley Valley, Toronto—Danforth, Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, Oxford, Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, Brampton—Springdale, Richmond Hill and Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley. They are a heck of a team, and they got it done well.
I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the 61st report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs in relation to the report on the Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission for Ontario.
Mr. Speaker, that is a very good question.
First, I would like to explain to the House that my riding is called Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, and after redistribution, it will be Lanark—Frontenac. So, it is impossible to have a riding named Lanark—Lennox—Addington, because Frontenac is in the middle of the other counties.
But the question of the age of senators may be more important. It is true that there is an upper limit on the age of senators as well as a lower limit. In our Constitution, the upper limit is 75 and the lower limit is 30 for the youngest senators. I believe that a more modern, reformed system should eliminate both limits, but it will be up to the voters to decide.
I lived in Australia during the 1990s and, there, some elected senators were under 30. In fact, the party leader of the Australian Democrats was under 30. That shows that the ability to be a senator is not limited to those over 30. If it is possible in Australia, then it is possible in Canada.
When the Chair gave the floor to the hon. member for Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, it was noted there were 10 minutes before question period; however, the hon. member will have 10 minutes remaining for presentation, to be followed by 10 minutes of questions and comments following question period as well.
Mr. Speaker, it is a great privilege and a delight to speak to Bill C-45, the final implementation of the budget act, the jobs and growth act. It is titled, “jobs, growth and long-term prosperity”. The reason we chose that title is that the focus of this bill is for just that: for long-term prosperity, for jobs and for growth.
We have heard the numbers countless times. On our side of the House, we are reminded that since this government has been in office and since that horrendous crash in 2008-09 when so many jobs were wiped out, not only here in Canada but across the world, there has been an increase of 820,000 net new jobs. That is an outstanding number.
We also hear the statistics that we rank among the highest in the G8 nations, that we are in the best fiscal position and that we are among the highest in growth in G8 nations.
That does not say there is tremendous growth. We know that in the world today there has been an enormous slowdown. Yet repeatedly, for the last number of years, Canada has managed to hold a position and to build some strength in that position, as well.
We also know that when governments get it right, when governments help create healthy climates, jobs are created. That is the main focus of this government and the reason we have focused so much on those areas. We do that by, first, listening.
I have the privilege to serve on the finance committee. We are involved in budget consultations at this point. We meet every night, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. We meet from 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. We ask people and groups from right across this country to come in to speak to us and to tell us what they feel this government has to do to be successful, to grow those jobs, to get those people back to work, to help young Canadians who are coming out schools, be they high schools, colleges or universities, to get jobs. We listen to these groups and these people.
We listen to industry. Again, I was fortunate, in the first four years I served in this House, to serve on the industry committee. In the industry committee, again, we invite industry; we invite labour; we invite all these groups to tell us just what we can do as a government to make things work.
It is people who create jobs. It is businesses that create jobs. Governments create healthy atmospheres.
We listen to business groups, we listen to labour and we listen to the experts. We learned great lessons from the member for Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington last Friday. He gave us a little essay in the house on Keynesian policies and how many governments today—most governments in the western world since before World War II—embarked upon that kind of plane where governments were told they need to spend to stimulate the economy. I think most of us would probably agree with that, but we have had a bit of runaway Keynesianism.
There was another school of thought at that time, the Austrian school, the Mises, that taught it is the responsibility of governments to maintain and make sure their books are in order. We did, and we do what the experts suggest we do. The first thing they tell us, repeatedly, is to get government spending under control, eliminate the deficit.
It is a fact that this government is concentrating on lowering government spending. We do not agree on both sides of the House. Often times, we hear it is the role of government to spend more, to spend our way out of a recession or that, rather than cut spending, maybe we ought to raise taxes.
We hear repeatedly, not just from businesses—obviously businesses do not want to be taxed and corporations do not want to be taxed—but we hear from the experts, the economists, that it works in reverse and ultimately when businesses and corporations are taxed, they take that cost and add it to the cost of products. Then we become uncompetitive in the world. Therefore, our goal on this side of the House is to make sure tax level does not become a burden and to make sure we do not impede growth.
One of the other things we heard repeatedly was to reduce red tape. Red tape is something that stagnates growth. It causes frustration in the marketplace. We have to eliminate those things that impede growth. I have spoken about a number of those areas, one of them being red tape. However, there are other things that governments do, oftentimes with the right intention, but we find out down the road that they cause more problems than they solve. Businesses asked that we not overburden them with taxes and regulations and that we open up the marketplace.
Canada is a trading nation. We are a nation that does a pretty good job at producing certain things. We are strong in extraction. We have a very rich resource sector. We are strong in service sectors, telecommunications and banking, and we do a good job in financing. We are able to export those to other countries. However, oftentimes there are trade barriers that pop up and make those things difficult for our companies. Therefore, our Minister of Trade has been extremely busy on a trade mission.
Let me read something he said:
In less than six years, [we have]...concluded trade agreements with nine countries: Colombia, Honduras, Jordan, Panama, Peru, and the European Free Trade Association member states of Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. Canada has also begun deepening trade and investment ties with the largest markets in the world, including the European Union, India and Japan.
The European Union has 500 million people.
Most recently, we announced in October that Canada has formally joined the trans-Pacific partnership, the TPP trade negotiations. This is a trade agreement under negotiation by 11 countries, which now include Canada and Mexico. The other members include Australia, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam.
Canadians can see that we are opening up these opportunities. This gives our companies, our people, an opportunity.
The Speaker is telling me I am running out of time, so I am going to talk about what is really near and dear to me, and that is the bridge to strengthening trade act. We have inserted a provision in the omnibus bill that allows for a bridge across to the United States in my neck of the woods, Chatham-Kent—Essex. Why this is so important is that we are a trading nation. The town of Leamington, which is part of my riding, has an enormous greenhouse industry. Two hundred trucks leave Leamington greenhouses bound for the U.S. every day. More than 70% of the greenhouse industry goes to the United States. There are 223 greenhouse operations in Ontario, and Leamington is home to the largest concentration of greenhouses. There are over 1,500 acres under cover. They tell me that one acre is equal to ten times the production on normal land. It is imperative that those goods get across to the United States. We need that crossing. Therefore, we have put a provision in the budget that would allow for its speedy construction.
I was also very privileged to be able to announce the gateway, the section of HIghway 401 to the bridge. Last year in August the government announced we would spend $1 billion. A very important part of the budget is the trade issue. It is very important in my riding.
I encourage the opposition to look at those great benefits, not only for the country but for areas like Chatham-Kent—Essex, where it is so important that we continue this trade.
Mr. Speaker, in his questioning earlier of the member for Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, the member mentioned that the demise of rights and democracy has left us with very little in the way of bringing democracy to the people of that country because we no longer have an independent agency on the ground to do that. One of his responses was that we could undertake Farsi language broadcasts. However, as part of the Conservative budget the broadcasting of Farsi languages or any other language for that matter from CBC, through Radio Canada International, is now gone. It has been cut. We cannot do it anymore. If anybody thinks we will be able to get information via the Internet into an oppressed country like that, they have another think coming.
Would the member like to comment further on that?
The electoral district of Lanark--Frontenac--Lennox and Addington (Ontario) has a population of 117,389 with 88,966 registered voters and 262 polling divisions.
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