Mr. Speaker, I appreciate that the member will support the motion.
I appreciate the suggestions the hon. member made. I think the time for that kind of discussion is during the time the member for Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre has suggested he is considering many changes to the Standing Orders. We are hopeful that this will done with all parties and that the changes will be unanimous or with the consent of all parties. That is one of the many proposals.
The concern I have is that sometimes these questions are urgent. That is one of the four principles. The questions should deal with matters that are urgent. Therefore, there should be flexibility when we raise those.
The important thing is that the ministers stand and respond to the questions and that they in fact respond to the questions.
Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of the motion tabled by the member for Burnaby—New Westminster. As my colleague, the member for York South—Weston, has clarified, the intent of this motion presently being debated is to empower the Speaker to address the breakdown in question period, and consequently, the continued erosion of respect for this place.
Our concern about the lack of serious, informative answers to questions is but one of a litany of concerns we have about the erosion of respectful debate in this place. For example, we have an increasing number of omnibus bills, allowing for very limited debate. Second is the tabling of significant bills, including amendments to criminal law, by private government members, with the consequence of there being limited debate.
Also, as the member clarified, question period is in fact intended to be a one-way street. It is the time in this place when the opposition is provided specific time on the agenda to ask questions of the government of the day, and there is a reasonable expectation that the government will provide timely, informed responses.
How have government members responded to this motion? They have responded by alleging that our motion is one-sided, because it only talks about responses to questions and not the questions themselves. Incredibly, they have proffered that the opposition members merely seek to change question period to their own advantage. If the Conservatives cannot recall similar frustrations they faced while in opposition, perhaps they might give a care to a time in the future when even they are no longer the governing party.
Government members have also proferred that the Speaker has the current power to rule on the content of questions but not on answers. Indeed, the Speaker confirmed this view in his ruling on January 28, 2014, yet added his support for the principles laid down by previous Speakers, including, “But the Speaker must adhere to the longstanding principle that question period is intended to hold the government to account”.
The Minister of State for Western Economic Diversification has argued that granting a power of scrutiny to the Speaker to command relevant responses to questions is unnecessary, as the standing rules were previously amended to allow for late shows. With all due respect to the minister, Mr. Speaker, I can attest from personal experience that this opportunity has been reduced to a hollow right. The ministers choose not to attend to respond, and in my experience, the responses have tended to be uninformative, despite the clear opportunity for the minister to become better informed and respond at this later opportunity.
Incredibly, the member for Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre objected to addressing “one-off” amendments to the Standing Orders, this from a member who has repeatedly defended the tabling by his party of one-off reforms to important statutes. He then went on to advise that he is working on comprehensive changes to the standing rules.
As the member for Toronto—Danforth has pointed out, our party is more than enthusiastic about participating in an all-party, thorough review of the Standing Orders. Will the government undertake any or all such reforms, and will they be by unanimous consent and not imposed through government majority, as has been its practice? As the member for Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre has suggested, will his substantive review of the Standing Orders proceed with all parties and be agreed upon by unanimous consent? That is what is important.
It is important to consider that when the OGGO committee tabled a close to unanimous list of recommendations for the government to reform the estimates and spending reviews in this place, the minister rebuffed a good number of the recommendations that could have ushered in a more thorough, inclusive review process.
Finally, a number of government members objected to the practice of opposition members posing questions repeatedly on the same subject. Would it not be terrific if more ministers provided a full response at the outset?
My colleagues and I take very seriously our duty to both our constituents and all Canadians to raise questions to the ministers of the crown on critical matters, matters of great importance to Canadians. Far too often members of Parliament have raised questions in the House, on behalf of constituents, regarding the failure of the government to respond to inquiries.
That is regrettably the situation that has arisen in this place that has required the official opposition to bring forward a formal motion explicitly proposing a change to the House procedural rules to explicitly empower the Speaker to require relevant responses to questions.
The Minister of State for Western Economic Diversification has today expressed her preference for self-governance of behaviour by the ministers in tailoring their responses to questions. At least this is consistent with the government's policy on self-governance in all other ways.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice complained that members of Parliament too often repeat the same question. Why is that? It is because of the failure to respond to the prior questions.
As my colleague has clarified, this motion we are debating relates specifically to question period, when the Prime Minister and his executive, the cabinet, has the responsibility to provide constructive responses to questions presented about matters impacting Canadians.
It is important to consider that this motion for expanded powers for the Speaker to intervene during question period is not so untoward. The Speaker already has the recognized power to intervene during question period, such as in response to a point of order made following question period that raises an issue about the nature of the question or response, including the use of unparliamentary language.
Second, in practice, the Speaker from time to time intervenes immediately during the course of questions, or even answers, to seek clarified or better use of language.
As laid out in the second edition, 2009, of O'Brien and Bosc, Speaker Bosley, in 1986, when addressing this very issue of guidelines for question period, called for recognition of four principles. I would like to reiterate one of those four principles, the third:
While there may be other purposes and ambitions involved in Question Period, its primary purpose must be the seeking of information from the government and calling the government to account for its actions.
It is pretty clear.
I have long suggested to my constituents, who have expressed frustration to me about the lack of credible, cogent responses during question period, that I may need to table a motion calling for a name change from “question period” to “answer period”. I used to think that this was an amusing concept, but it has become the reality, and I am pleased that this motion is exactly addressing that issue.
I am hopeful that all members in this place will recognize the seriousness of our motion and will vote to restore the credibility of this place in the minds of Canadians and those elected to represent them.
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—”
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to join in the debate. Might I begin, first, by commenting on the remarks of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, the member for Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, whom I work with very closely on PROC. It had a previous review of these actual laws, not a lot of which seems to have found its way into the Conservatives' bill, I might add.
I want to raise the notion of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons saying that the official opposition is being hypocritical. I find it most disturbing that this is an hon. member, in terms of the way he conducts himself at committee, who seems to care about his reputation. He cares about what people think of him, yet he is prepared to stand in the House and actually mislead the House and Canadians when he makes the specious argument that we were trying to cut debate.
It is quite the contrary. My friend from the Liberal caucus was on his feet recently making the same point, and it is true. If we exercise the right, under the rules, to send a bill, on first reading, directly to committee, it is an opportunity for members to work together on the bill at committee before we get to second reading debate and vote. That is for the simple reason that by the time we get to a second reading vote, for the most part the caucuses are determining where they are going on these issues. They have to make a fundamental decision about whether they will vote for or against. It is that stark.
During my time at Queen's Park, we brought in a rule that allowed a reference from first reading for the very reason that it is a good way to go when the whole House wants to work together in a sincere effort to work on a bill. By referring it right after first reading, we send it to the place where we actually sit down, roll up our sleeves, and get some work done.
We were trying to send it with that frame of mind, before we got to where we are now, which is with everybody in their respective corners.
I will comment on that process versus what has happened in the past in this House and in this country. However, I want to be absolutely crystal clear that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons is misleading this House and Canadians when he says that we tried to end debate.
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.
I thank the hon. member for raising this issue. While there is no doubt that it is an important issue for many people, I do not feel it meets the test for emergency debates.
The Chair also has notice that the hon. member for Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre is going to add remarks to the question of privilege raised by the member for Ottawa—Vanier.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with my very distinguished colleague, the member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville.
I could not help but listen to the comments of the member for Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, giving us advice as to which motions we should actually be drafting for discussion in opposition day motions and which other ones would be better than the one we are putting forward. He believes this is such a trivial technical subject that no one could possibly be interested in it.
In fact, the Canadian public is very interested in it. It is interested when a majority government systematically abuses its power and takes a decision of 20 years ago to use as justification for having a 450 page piece of legislation that we have to swallow whole, forcing the House to vote on amendment after amendment, moving closure after closure and making a farce of ministerial accountability. It put pensions in with environmental legislation, with all kinds of other measures that were added into the bill, then it realized in its own administration that it had to amend the law because it had made mistakes because the bill was so mammoth in terms of what it represented.
Therefore, the notion that this is somehow a technical question, a tiny issue with respect to how Parliament operates, is completely false.
Also is the Conservatives' adulation of various Speakers' decisions of the past. The House is master of its own regulations, of its own rules and every Speaker has an obligation to be the defender of the rules of Parliament. However, it is up to Parliament to change its rules when it sees the way the rules are abused by the government of the day. The House needs to change its Standing Orders so members are able to do their jobs, so we are able to hold the government accountable and so we are able, as a Parliament, to do what our constituents expect us to do.
This government loves to tell us that we voted against the measures in Bill S-3, against employment measures and against important government investments.
When the Prime Minister was in the opposition, he said the same things and asked why that was the case and why it was difficult. When so many elements are included in a single measure, the opposition has no choice but to vote against it.
That is why the member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville clearly said that we were prepared for changes to the MP pension plan. We have no problem with that. However, we must insist that, as members of Parliament, we have the right to vote on a measure that changes legislation. But the government's mindset and actions do not allow for that.
The government has taken a tiny exceptional provision, in which governments for purposes of consolidating a discussion on issues that came together but which in fact affected different legislation, which is one thing, to justify wholesale changes to every piece of legislation in the name of saying that it is all part of its economic action plan.
This is the triumph of propaganda over truth. This is the triumph of twisting words and interpretations to justify the unjustifiable. That is why Parliament has no choice but to debate this question. Yes, of course we are going to debate it in a way that demonstrates how two-faced the government is being. When it was in opposition it recognized the impossible position that these kinds of bills could put members of the opposition into. We were asked to consider not one piece of legislation that dealt with one particular matter, but an entire book of laws and amendments and changes that flowed from the overall economic plan of the government. It in fact demolished environmental regulation, changed entirely rules with respect to how many aspects of government legislation would work and brought it all together in the name of one simple, single matter.
This is what happens when governments abuse their power. When the Prime Minister was in opposition, he spoke up against what he saw as an abuse. Since he has become Prime Minister, he has taken zero action to limit the power of the executive in the ways in which he wanted to do. His government has attacked the Parliamentary Budget Officer. The Conservatives failed to listen to the Auditor General of Canada when he criticized their behaviour. The Prime Minister has shown a singular lack of respect for the rule of law outside the purview of executive diktat. He forced the House last session to vote in favour of one bill which should have taken many different bills and the House to have serious discussion on all the matters that were put before us.
Now we know the son of omnibus is about to come before us. We wanted the House to have one opportunity to say to the government, “enough is enough”. When the editorial writers of every major national newspaper and other commentators independent of Parliament say that parliamentary rights and privileges are being abused and that these are terrible practices in which to carry out accountability and transparency, we in this party are going to continue to push this point. If it means embarrassing the government by forcing Conservatives to swallow the words of their leader whole, fine, let them swallow the words and let them understand how two-faced their standards have become as they moved from opposition to government.
Mr. Speaker, I will begin with a petition from a total of 217 constituents of mine from Kitchener Centre. There are actually over five petitions, all of them referencing section 223 of the Criminal Code.
The petitioners point out that the section says that a child does not become a human being until the moment of complete birth, contrary to 21st medical evidence. They call on the House of Commons to confirm that every human being is recognized by Canadian law as human.
I have a petition to similar effect with several dozen signatures from the riding of Northumberland—Quinte West also calling on Parliament to recognize the principle that every human being has inherent worth and dignity.
I have two petitions from the riding of Etobicoke Centre, totalling almost 120 people from those ridings to the same effect.
Further, I have almost 100 signatures on a petition from the riding of Palliser, Saskatchewan, another 25 signatures from the riding of Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre and another 65 signatures in two petitions from the riding of Oxford.
I see I touched a nerve with my friends on the opposite side. That is understandable. No one wants to be called a left-winger. I understand that, it is true. In all seriousness, we as parliamentarians need to ensure that Elections Canada is allowed to do its work, to report back to this place and to determine the veracity of any complaint made to its organization.
I will admit, and I think any member in the House who has been involved in politics for any length of time will readily admit, that from time to time mistakes happen. Sometimes those can lead to misinformation. That is part of the problem that Elections Canada has. Has there been a deliberate attempt to suppress votes in an organized fashion across Canada? Or has there been a random selection of individuals who have contacted Elections Canada about issues that really were not organized voter suppression?
Let me give another example. I will not name the individual or the party. This happened at a provincial level, in a campaign in 2002. I smile when I tell the story because it is somewhat humorous, but it speaks to the fact that sometimes during campaigns mistakes can happen. A particular candidate of a particular party was planning the “get out the vote” campaign for election day. Part of that was having automated phone calls to the candidate's own supporters encouraging them on voting day to get out and vote. It is a valuable technique that every candidate and every party uses to try to make sure that identified supporters actually get to the polling stations and cast their ballots.
The election day chair and his band of volunteers programmed all their identified supporters into the automated call centre. The call centre was to start phoning at 12 noon on election day and go until 7 p.m. at night, to try to capture all of the supporters and encourage them to get to the polls. They programmed it and went home for the evening. What happened? At exactly 12 midnight the phones starting ringing in all the supporters' households. They had made a mistake and put 12 p.m. rather than 12 a.m. What happened? By 3:30 in the morning, that campaign was inundated. The campaign chair was phoned at home, the election day chairman was phoned at home. They rushed in and found that they had made a mistake. They were harassing their own voters and their own supporters.
I will give another example of an honest mistake. In 2004, the year I was elected, I won by a staggering majority of 122 votes in the riding of Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre. However, the outcome was challenged by my Liberal opponent. When Elections Canada sent out the voting cards, with information telling voters where their polling stations were, it did so based on postal codes. Frequently in rural constituencies and rural ridings, a person who may reside in one riding actually picks up the mail in another riding. Therefore, that individual has a postal code in a neighbouring constituency. That is what happened in my case. Hundreds and hundreds of people from my riding were sent voting cards from Elections Canada telling them to vote in a different location. Therefore, my defeated Liberal opponent rightfully went to the courts and got a court challenge to try and see whether there was a case to be made for a byelection, to overturn the election results.
As it turns out, not one person who was given incorrect information cast their ballots at the wrong station because in rural Saskatchewan, as I am sure it is in rural Canada, everyone is fairly familiar with where the closest polling station is and they normally go there regardless of what someone has told them to do.
However, my point is that Elections Canada made an honest mistake. Should that be considered voter suppression? I would suggest that if the opposition had its way, it would try to characterize that as an organized attempt if it had not been for Elections Canada doing it. It would be an organized event by the Conservative Party to suppress the vote. Sometimes mistakes happen.
I am not suggesting for a moment that the thousands of contacts made to Elections Canada were frivolous, untrue, or, if true, were as a result of a mistake. However, I am saying that there are many things that could have happened in the last campaign that could explain some of the problems that we apparently are seeing outside of Guelph.
I merely ask all members to wait and allow Elections Canada to do the investigative work it is allowed to do, compelled to do and qualified to do. I know we will not see that co-operation from members opposite because this is a partisan environment. However, at the end of the day, I am absolutely convinced that we will find the results that state that there were no organized events by our party, and I honestly hope that those results will show that there was no organized attempt by any other federal party to engage in voter suppression.
Before I conclude, I want to deal with one more aspect of the motion before us today from my hon. friend from Hamilton Centre and that is another misconception being promoted by the opposition. It is saying that in the most recent report tabled in this House from the Chief Electoral Officer, the government overturned, overruled or rejected an option provided by Elections Canada and the Chief Electoral Officer with respect to compliance audits.
The facts are that in his report to the procedure and House affairs committee, the Chief Electoral Officer made two recommendations. Overall he wanted to see compliance and proven compliance by all federal parties with election rules and law. We completely agree. To that end, he forwarded two options. Option one was that Elections Canada itself could engage in compliance audits. It would get all of the financial information from all federally registered political parties and do a compliance audit to see whether all of the rules were adhered to. Option two was that the parties themselves would be required to conduct an independent compliance audit to verify that they had followed all election rules.
We agreed to option two because we believe that it is incumbent upon the federal parties that are seeking election to cover the cost of those independent compliance audits. Quite frankly, it is the cost of doing business. I hear arguments from members opposite saying that is being unfair to the smaller parties. That is simply the cost of doing business. Why should the taxpayers of Canada bear the expense of compliance audits when the parties should be covering those costs?
Finally, while I do have great respect for my friend from Hamilton Centre, I must say that the motion before us today is extremely poorly worded in as much that it says:
...Elections Canada investigation capabilities be strengthened, to include giving the Chief Electoral Officer the power to request all necessary documents from political parties....
The Chief Electoral Officer has the ability now to request documents from political parties. How can we expand his capabilities for a power he already has?
The motion is too broad and too vague but we will not oppose it because we, more than any other party in this place, want to see Elections Canada do its work and report back to the House with the results of its investigation.
Or a telegraph company.
I understand there has not been a private bill that has originated in the House in a few decades, which is probably why this section of the Standing Orders has not been updated. We have heard today about some other areas we need to update, whether it is the fine for a stranger in the House or whatever else. There is a need to take a look at modernization.
I am really interested in the upcoming review. There will be a lot of work done at committee. We have always worked fairly well in that committee. I would like to say it is because of the chair, but truly it is not. It is because of the work of all members. I want to mention what some of them said here today.
The member for Hamilton Mountain started us off and was very eloquent and passionate. She might even have been critical, but she did it with passion. She said that time is the currency of Parliament proceedings and the Standing Orders regulate how we use that time. It was a very profound thought and I will be sure to share it with her when she goes a little long at committee. She also mentioned that a debate on the Standing Orders is a lot like watching paint dry. I think it is a little more exciting than that, but having listened to the speech by the member for Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, she may have had it right.
I would like to also thank the member for Westmount—Ville-Marie, who also sits on the committee and is a very active participant. He said we should make sure we look at the complex parts of the questions that are being asked. Sometimes it is more important to ensure that we are not creating unintended consequences by fixing something in the first place. The committee will take great care to do that.
The member for Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre is always a great speaker in the House. He suggested today that the Standing Orders were like the rule book on how the game is played in the House. I thank him because often he brings us back to the ground in committee by talking in the way that people back home might understand. When we are talking about Standing Orders, it may not be easy.
The member for Kitchener—Conestoga was also very eloquent in his speech today, as he is in committee. I would like to thank some of the other members on the committee, such as the member for Louis-Saint-Laurent who spoke today. We are really happy with her contributions. The member for Windsor—Tecumseh is also a fantastic member on the committee. The member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine has also been a great addition to how we can work together on a committee.
The Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, as was mentioned earlier, works a little differently. Members have fun, work hard and get the job done. I am looking forward to the next number of meetings on the Standing Orders to make this place run just a little better.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to stand in this place and talk about Bill C-20, our government's bill to move towards fairer representation by population in the House of Commons.
When Bill C-20 is passed, hopefully in a few days, it will be a fulfillment of a long-term commitment by our party to try and ensure that we get fairer representation by population in this place. I say “fairer” because I do not think we could ever achieve perfection in terms of population and representation that would be proportional to all provinces and fair to all provinces. In fact, some estimates suggest that if we were to look at exactly fair and accurate representation by population, we would need over 900 members in this place. Clearly that is not acceptable. It is not acceptable to our government and it would not be acceptable to the Canadian public.
However, we have recognized the fact that some of the faster growing provinces, specifically Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta, have been significantly under-represented in this place for many years. That is because the status quo formula that deals with population increases of provinces is flawed. In fact, if we stayed with the status quo, we would see significant under-representation, in those three provinces in particular, from now and into the future. The bill would address that.
We have amended the formula so that now and in the future there would be more accurate estimates of population. The formula would give this government, or the government of the day, the opportunity to increase seats in those provinces that have faster growing populations. That is just a fundamental aspect of democracy. We recognize the fact that a vote in one region of the country should weigh no more than a vote in another region of the country. Unfortunately, currently, that is not the case.
I will give a couple of examples to illustrate what I am saying here.
In my home riding of Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, I represent approximately 80,000 constituents. Yet, here in Ontario, there are certain ridings where the member of Parliament represents well over 170,000 constituents. Members can see that one could successfully argue that my vote in the House of Commons weighs more than the vote of a member of Parliament in Ontario who represents over twice as many people.
The formula we have brought forward addresses that inequity. We have amended the formula to increase the number of seats in those faster growing provinces. As such, members of Parliament would have an opportunity to truly reflect the wishes of their constituents. At the same time, we assure this House and the Canadian people that we will not unduly punish those provinces with smaller, slower growing populations.
The formula we have developed considers an average population size by riding, which is approximately 111,000. The formula would see an additional 30 seats introduced to the House of Commons: 15 in Ontario, 6 in British Columbia, 6 in Alberta and 3 in Quebec. This would bring our total in the House of Commons to 338. More importantly, it would ensure that in the three fastest growing provinces by population, Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia, the number of members would more accurately reflect the population, and that population is how we ultimately determine how many members of Parliament serve in this place.
I do not want to dwell too much on the formula. I think that has been debated long and hard over the past weeks. However, I do want to point out that if we do not address this inequity, we will have a situation where the boundaries commissions will start to do their work in February of next year, and start aligning boundaries based on the old population estimates.
We have to pass this legislation now. We have to pass it in this place and get it into the Senate. It has to pass in the Senate before the end of the year because the boundaries commissions need to start their work early next year. The Chief Electoral Officer of Canada has advised us that if we do not get this legislation passed before the end of this year, it could jeopardize the efforts of his office to get new boundaries and new members of Parliament in place before the next election, scheduled for 2015.
There is a sense of urgency here. That is why I am imploring all members of this place to join with us and make sure we get speedy passage of Bill C-20 before we rise for Christmas.
When the boundaries commissions start their work in February of next year, hopefully they will be working with new population estimates provided by Statistics Canada. These estimates would allow them to better determine not only how many more seats may be required in each province, but also where those boundaries would be. This is an important piece of work. We know that there would probably be instances in the three provinces with the faster growing populations where current members of Parliament might end up in a new riding with new boundaries but not even reside in that new riding. This is where we would need interventions from the general public, members of Parliament and all stakeholders. We would need to try and ensure that not only is there fair representation but also that those problems that might occur through boundary redistribution are dealt with.
Each province will have a new boundaries commission assigned, a three member board to deal with the process of establishing new boundaries. I suggest to all members that they actively involve themselves in this process. They will want to ensure that, when boundaries are to be changed in their province, they have an opportunity to speak to the boundaries commission. They would want to ensure that they are not unduly affected by significant boundary realignment. Not that it would be deliberate, but the mere function of adding seats, for example, 15 more seats in Ontario's case, would change boundaries significantly.
In the case of Ontario, where one member of Parliament may be serving over 170,000 constituents, there is a very real possibility that riding would then become two ridings. Depending on where the member of Parliament resides in that riding, he or she could find himself or herself as a sitting member of Parliament, but not in the riding that he or she once had. Therefore, all members should pay particular attention to the process.
I want to point out one other unassailable fact. In Canada, we pride ourselves for being one of the most progressive democracies in the world. We pride ourselves for ensuring that all of our citizens are well represented by their members, whether at the federal, provincial or municipal level. If we do not pass Bill C-20 and deal with the fact that our population is growing rapidly, we will have a situation where our citizens are under-represented and do not have an effective voice in the House of Commons. This is something that we will not allow to happen. That is why Bill C-20 has been brought forward for consideration by the House.
Finally, while Bill C-20 may not be a perfect solution, it is a far better solution than the status quo population by representation legislation. We are trying to ensure that not only do we address the inequities today, but also that we address the inequities as we move forward.
Ten years from now, when we go through the next boundary realignment, the formula that we have introduced in Bill C-20 will ensure that those provinces that have faster growing populations will get the representation they deserve.
The electoral district of Regina--Lumsden--Lake Centre (Saskatchewan) has a population of 65,885 with 49,937 registered voters and 148 polling divisions.
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