Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Surrey—Newton.
I recall when the whole issue of amending the Elections Act first arose under the previous government. Ever since that time, the notion of amending the Elections Act seems to have revolved around the issue of voter fraud. All we heard about in the previous Parliament was how new rules needed to be brought into play in order to prevent voter fraud.
Then during debate on this bill, Bill C-76, what has mostly come from the official opposition is again a focus on voter fraud. I wonder if this kind of discourse does not breed an unfortunate misperception on the part of the public as to how our electoral system works. That has been the tack the official opposition has taken. Essentially, their discourse is focused on the issue of the voter identification card.
Ironically, voter fraud is not a problem. It is really a bogeyman.
The only recent incident of voter fraud that I am aware of is the robocall incident in which case a Conservative volunteer, Michael Sona, went to jail for his role in that. I remember campaigning on the last weekend in 2011 when my campaign manager called me in a bit of a panic saying that we were getting calls in our office from people who had gotten calls saying that the location of their voting station had changed. I do not know how many calls were made in my riding but some were obviously made and they were made across the country as well.
I would like to focus on an article in The Globe and Mail on the issue of voter fraud. It is an article by Denise Balkissoon, in reference to the U.S. experience, which is relevant because our systems are comparable in many ways. She stated that:
Meanwhile, the threat of voter fraud has always been manufactured. One study that focused on impersonation found 31 provable instances between 2000 and 2014, during which time more than one billion American votes were cast. This August, a Department of Justice investigation into the 2016 election process in North Carolina found that, out of almost 4.8 million ballots, 500 had been cast by ineligible voters. Most were people with criminal records, who didn’t know their records prevented them from voting….
Therefore, those people in North Carolina were not attempting voter fraud. They just thought that they had the right to vote, which I guess they did not in that circumstance.
Meanwhile, the focus on voter ID is really motivated by a desire to dissuade voting, to suppress voter participation. I read a quote before, which I will read again, from Professor Carol Anderson, who wrote a book, One Person, No Vote, a play on the well-known phrase. She states that, “The most common tool [of voter suppression] … are laws around identification: Crackdowns on what can be used as proof of address are often indicators of suppression.”
By not allowing the voter identification card to be used as ID, the so-called Fair Elections Act made it just a little bit harder to vote, tilting the balance away from voting for some because we know that in some cases people get frustrated if they feel that somehow there is an impediment to going to vote or a minor inconvenience. Some people will decide not to vote in that election. We know that is some of the thinking that occurs sometimes. The Fair Elections Act’s prohibition on the Chief Electoral Officer’s ability to run programs to encourage voter participation is another example of this attempt in the previous amendment of the Elections Act to discourage voting. Bill C-76, I am glad to say, moves in the opposition direction, in the direction of increasing democratic participation, of expanding rather than reducing the franchise. I will give some examples.
Bill C-76 encourages voting in the following ways.
First of all, it allows the use of the voter identification card once again. It does not mean that individuals can just go to the polling station and show the card and get to vote. They have to prove who they are with identification. It usually requires a second piece of identification.
A second example of how we are proposing to expand the franchise to vote is by allowing employees of long-term care facilities to vouch for multiple residents, which makes sense. In a long-term care facility there are usually one or two people attending to a number of residents. They know who these people are. They know their families. They know quite a bit about them. It makes perfect sense to allow that person to vouch for multiple residents. It is a common-sense change.
The bill proposes to allow the Chief Electoral Officer to sponsor voter awareness campaigns. To think that somehow the Chief Electoral Officer is advocating for one party over another is one of the conspiracy theories that have been born around the issue of amending the Canada Elections Act.
The bill proposes to create a national register of future voters to get youth engaged in the electoral process early, long before they reach voting age. That makes a lot of sense. I just met an hour ago with students from St. Thomas High School in my riding. They must have been about 15 or 16 years of age. I told them about that aspect of the bill and they seemed quite excited, as did their teachers, around the possibility of registering ahead of time before they reach voting age.
Another example of how we propose to expand the franchise is by expanding the right to vote of one million Canadian expats abroad. It would no longer be required to reside outside Canada for less than five consecutive years nor would it be required that a person intends to return to Canada to resume residence in the future in order to vote.
Last but not least, the bill proposes to make voting quicker and easier by allowing voters to vote at any table in the voting station rather than wait at a specific table.
Expanding the current use of mobile polls during advance polls to better serve remote, isolated or low-density communities is just another example of how we want to make voting easier. We want people to vote. We want to expand their democratic franchise.
We would be making it easier for people with disabilities to vote, which of course is the right thing to do. For example, assistance at the polls is currently only permitted for persons with physical disabilities. Bill C-76 would make assistance available irrespective of disability, in other words, whether it is a physical or an intellectual disability. An elector would be able to be assisted by a person of his or her choosing. Currently that is not possible.
Many people with disabilities have a particular caretaker whom they know and trust. They would be allowed to have that person help them with voting as opposed to arriving at a voting station and being told the voting station will assign a person to help them out, which can be intimidating to some individuals.
Currently, a transfer certificate is only available for people with a physical disability when the polling station is not accessible. Bill C-76 would make it available irrespective of the nature of the disability and irrespective of whether the polling station is accessible. Further, the Commissioner of Elections Canada would have the flexibility to determine the application process for the certificate in a way that is less challenging for an elector seeking accommodation because of a disability.
The current process for persons with disabilities to vote at home would be extended irrespective of the nature or extent of the disability.
Finally, Bill C-76 proposes to establish a maximum reimbursement of $5,000 per candidate and $250,000 for political parties that take steps specifically to accommodate electors with disabilities and reduce barriers to their participation in the democratic process.
I am personally proud as a Canadian of the progressive values in Bill C-76, when it comes to implementing the rights of people with disabilities to participate in the electoral process.
Bill C-76 would strengthen the electoral system against fraud, including in the context of the new digital technologies that we are now seeing can disrupt election results based on the influence of false information and manipulation. In other words, the bill would empower the Commissioner of Elections Canada to seek judicial authorization to compel testimony in order to ensure timely and thorough investigations and it would authorize the commissioner to lay charges.
We are strengthening the bill to protect against voter fraud and we are expanding the franchise. I am very pleased and proud of that as a member of Parliament and as a Canadian.