Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise on today’s opposition day motion.
The NDP is asking this House to direct the work of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs that, during its consideration of the Fair Elections Act.
While I wholeheartedly support the need to consult with stakeholders and Canadians about the important issues raised in the Fair Elections Act, I believe it is the responsibility of the Committee to decide how it will conduct itself and how it will structure its hearings.
I am confident that the Committee will ensure a thorough and comprehensive hearing of the Fair Elections Act and will make every effort to hear all who are interested in this important matter.
The communications technology available makes it very possible to hear from a wide range of individuals wherever they may be.
I will therefore be opposing the motion and encouraging other members to do the same.
The Fair Elections Act
The Fair Elections Act is a vital piece of legislation that proposes comprehensive changes to the Canada Elections Act.
The Fair Elections Act will ensure everyday citizens are in charge of democracy, by putting special interests on the sidelines and rule-breakers out of business.
The bill also makes it harder to break elections law. It closes loopholes to big money, imposes new penalties on political imposters who make rogue calls, and empowers law enforcement with sharper teeth, a longer reach and a freer hand.
The Fair Elections Act will:
-Protect voters from rogue calls with a mandatory public registry for mass calling, prison time for impersonating elections officials, and increased penalties.
-Give more independence to the Commissioner of Canada Elections, allowing him or her control over their staff and investigations, empowering him or her to seek tougher penalties for existing electoral offences, and providing more than a dozen new offences to combat big money, rogue calls, and fraudulent voting.
-Ban the use of loans used to evade donation rules.
-Repeal the ban on premature transmission of election results, upholding free speech.
-Provide better customer service to voters, and establish an extra day of polling.
-In the case of disagreements over election expenses, allow an MP to present the disputed case in the courts and to have judges quickly rule on it, before the CEO seeks the MP’s suspension.
-Make the rules for elections clear, predictable, and easier to follow.
-Crack down on voter fraud by prohibiting vouching or Voter Information Cards as acceptable forms of ID.
This last provision, cracking down on voter fraud will be the focus of my remarks today.
Each time someone votes fraudulently, they cancel out the ballot of an honest voter. Studies commissioned by Elections Canada demonstrate mass irregularities in the use of vouching and high rates of inaccuracy on Voter Information Cards. Voters will still have 39 forms of authorized ID to choose from, to prove identity and residence. That Fair Elections Act will protect the integrity of the vote by ending risky practices that are prone to errors and irregularities.
The measures included in the Act will strengthen our elections system through reforms that increase oversight, accountability and enforcement, while taking action to ensure the integrity of the vote and to provide greater opportunities for Canadians to vote.
Among the important initiatives included in the Act are measures to combat voter fraud and to increase the confidence of Canadians in the electoral process.
The current provision that allows for vouching in general elections has been used in 2008 and 2011 (as well as in by-elections since 2007).
The Neufeld Report, a study that was commissioned by Elections Canada to examine administrative deficiencies at the polls in the 2011 election, concluded that the vouching procedures are overly “complex” and that this has contributed to irregularities in the polling process.
In fact, the Neufeld Report concluded that among a sample of polls from Etobicoke Centre during the last general election, and in by-elections in Victoria, Durham and Calgary Centre, there were irregularities in 25 percent of cases where vouching was used.
A national sample based on the last election identified that of the cases that involved vouching, 42 percent had irregularities.
As Mr. Neufeld reported, and I quote: “Serious errors, of a type the courts consider “irregularities” that can contribute to an election being overturned, were found to occur in 12 percent of all election day cases involving voter registration, and 42 percent of cases involving identity vouching.” [end of quotation]
Even with increased quality assurance, the report indicates that the problem would not be remedied.
This was identified in the Neufeld Report, and I quote:
“Identity vouching procedures are unquestionably the most complex ‘exception’ process administered at polling stations. The level of irregularities for vouching averaged 25 percent. During two of these elections, quality assurance programs involving Onsite Conformity Advisors (OCAs) were applied. However, vouching irregularities still averaged 21 percent during the OCA monitored elections. This indicates that overly complex procedures cannot be remedied simply by improved quality assurance.” [end of quotation]
Vouching is risky and subject to high levels of irregularities and increased quality insurance would not remedy the problem. That is why our Government took steps in the Fair Elections Act to eliminate this practice.
Voter ID Options
In addition to the elimination of the vouching process, the Fair Elections Act also includes measures to improve the communications to voters about what types of identification are acceptable at the polls.
Canadians are often confused about what forms of ID are acceptable in order to vote.
The Fair Elections Act responds to this by requiring the Chief Electoral Officer to communicate to Canadians what forms of ID are acceptable in order to vote.
Research shows that most electors have identification with their name and date of birth.
The Uniform Law Conference of Canada indicates that, and I quote: “almost all voters have some documentary evidence of who they are and their date of birth…what is often most difficult for a voter to provide is documentary evidence of residence.” [end of quotation]
There are many options to choose from. In order to vote, Canadians can choose 2 among 39 unique forms of ID that show their name and residence.
In addition to proving their name, which almost all Canadians can do, residency can be demonstrated with documentation issued by the responsible authority of a shelter, soup kitchen, student/senior residence, or long-term care facility. These documents include an Attestation of Residence, a Letter of Stay, an Admission Form or a Statement of Benefits.
I believe that virtually all Canadians can meet the identification requirements given the exhaustive options that are available.
I won’t take the time to list all thirty-nine options, but to name a few, a person could use:
- a driver’s license;
- a health card;
- a Canadian passport;
- a certificate of Canadian citizenship;
- a birth certificate;
- a certificate of Indian status;
- a social insurance number card;
- an old age security card;
- a student ID card;
- a library card;
- a public transportation card;
- a Canadian forces identity card;
- a Veterans’ Affairs Health Card;
- a hospital bracelet worn by residents of long term care facilities;
- a letter from a public guardian, public curator, or public trustee; or
- a bank credit card statement.
I have only mentioned sixteen of the thirty-nine options so this provides you with a good idea of how many identification options are available.
While Elections Canada has estimated that as many as 120,000 voters used vouching on election day, these voters could have proven their identity and residence if that requirement and the options available had been explained to them.
The Fair Elections Act will require in law that Elections Canada communicate what forms of ID will be accepted at polling locations.
This important measure will provide voters with the knowledge they need about what identification to bring before they head to the polls.
Voter Identification Card
Another important matter addressed in the Fair Elections Act is the use of Voter Information Cards.
The Voter Information Card is a card that Elections Canada sends during an election campaign to every elector whose name appears on the list of electors.
It informs electors when and where they can cast their ballots on election day or at the advance polls.
A card is also sent to every elector who is added to the list of electors during the revision period.
The Voter Information Cards play an important role informing Canadians about where and when they need to vote.
However, they have not been used as a proof of identification and residency at the polls, apart from some pilot projects conducted by Elections Canada and, there is evidence that their as ID presents proven risks of voter fraud.
Voter Information Cards are regularly sent to electors with inaccuracies that could allow those attempting to subvert election law to use them to vote more than once or in the wrong riding.
An Elections Canada report on the last election showed that roughly one-in-six eligible voters do not have a correct address listed on the National Register of Electors.
The information from the Register provides the information for voters’ lists that is reproduced on the Voter Information Cards.
In other words, 1 out of 6 Voter Information Cards are wrong.
That is why the Fair Elections Act will prohibit the use of Voter Information Cards as a form of acceptable identification.
As I have demonstrated, there are a wide range of voter identification documents that are accepted at the polls and that have a proven level of accuracy.
There is no need to add Voter Information Cards to that list in light of the apparent lack of reliability of these cards for identification purposes.
Canadians must have confidence in the democratic process.
Not only do they need to know how to cast a ballot, Canadians want to be sure that legitimate votes are not cancelled by illegitimate ones.
As I have demonstrated today, the Fair Elections Act goes a long way to ensuring that Canadians will have the confidence in the electoral process that they want and deserve.
With the measures to eliminate vouching and communicate the many types of voter identification that are acceptable at the polls, I believe that the incidences of voter fraud will be greatly reduced.
Together, all of these initiatives have advanced the voter identification process significantly from what it was a decade ago.
Of course, there still remains the important debate that will continue on the Fair Elections Act, which will include the examination of the bill by the Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.
Canadians, interested parties and stakeholders will have the opportunity to make their views known.
I have complete confidence that the Committee will ensure that the study of the bill and the hearings are conducted in such a way as to allow a comprehensive review of the issues.
I do not believe that to accomplish this the Committee needs to be directed by us.
It is for that reason that I will not be supporting this motion and, once again, I call upon all members to oppose this motion.