Brian Speaks on Bill C-31, An Act to Amend the Canada Elections Act and the Public Service Employment Act

Mr. Brian Masse (Windsor West, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to speak to Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Public Service Employment Act, a very important piece of legislation.

Our democracy is truly the essence of how we define ourselves as a nation and as a people. We all know that the electoral process in Canada needs to be updated. Different provinces and municipalities are looking at Bill C-31.

In general, the New Democratic Party supports the effort behind Bill C-31, but our party cannot support the bill because of a number of specific clauses which we believe will eventually reduce the electoral system in terms of fairness. We believe it will eventually end in a court challenge in that the charter rights of individuals may be exposed in a very vulnerable sense. Hence, the bill could eventually be struck down.

I want to talk about how we can improve the electoral process. Also, I want to speak to the dangers in the bill. The first danger is the bill requires that before voting, an elector provide one piece of government issued photo identification showing the elector's name and address, or two pieces of identification authorized by the Chief Electoral Officer which show the elector's name and address, or that the elector take an oath and be vouched for by another person.

The problem with that is the simple fact that persons with disabilities, the homeless and other disenfranchised voters may not have that type of ID at the time of voting or they may not be able to produce it at the time of voting and they would not be able to vote. In my constituency there are some individuals who arrive at the voting station and use other documents to prove who they are. Sometimes they produce bills from an established body, for example, Bell Canada, with other ID, such as a birth certificate. However, they may not have the photo ID required under Bill C-31. Individuals who did not have government issued ID would not be eligible to vote, despite being able to prove who they are and that they have resided at a particular address for many of years. Also individuals who have no fixed address could be left out of the system. That is very important to note.

In Windsor West, which I represent, there is a college and a university. Those institutions have individuals who may decide to vote in different electoral districts. Students can choose to vote in their home district or in Windsor West where they are studying, where they have a permanent address, but they may not have the identification required because they do not have it with them or they have not yet reached that point in their lives where they have obtained that type of identification. That is important, because the percentage of voters in Canada is steadily dropping. There are a few peaks once in a while, but the percentage is low in terms of individuals being engaged enough to feel that their vote counts and at the same time are willing to come out to cast their ballot.

Before Bill C-31 is considered, we need a full commitment to go back to the census and the enumeration that was done. There is a potential cost in this. No doubt it takes more resources, but I have seen the benefits even in my own consistency.

When we had the complete count in 2000, I was the chair for Windsor and Essex County. Our municipality was engaged in door to door canvassing to sign up people in the electoral district. I represent a population of great ethnic diversity. There are educational institutions as well. A lot of people move in and out of the district at different points in time. That resulted in low enumeration in the past. We did a complete count. We were one of six communities across the country that actually did door to door canvassing.

That was important because of the language issues. We worked with a series of different not for profit organizations, dedicated groups and individuals, as well as municipal, provincial and federal colleagues to ensure that we were getting the best enumeration process possible. The statistical information for the census is important for the electoral end of things.

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The census is also important for funding and for information that we use for a whole variety of social programs and services. It is also important when we are lobbying for some of the changes that are necessary for areas that might require more immigration services or more types of government intervention on issues that are important to Canadians. It also helps seniors, who are being left off the GIS, to get enrolled. The series of net benefits that we get from that investment are very important.

I would argue that a census is one of the first things that needs to be done even before Bill C-31, or in conjunction with it. If we are trying to actually improve the democratic electoral process, a census needs be done to get people out. Bill C-31 is more restrictive in those confines, whereas the census elements are more important to ensuring that the people are being identified.

Another thing that I find interesting about the bill is clause 18. I find clause 18 disturbing in the sense that it would provide a sharing of birthdates with political parties. What would end up happening is that political parties would acquire people's birthdates as part of their return from Elections Canada. I find it completely unacceptable how this amendment got into the bill and why the other three political parties are supporting it. It is a complete invasion of privacy and the bill needs to be dumped on that alone.

We have seen enough in terms of the United States with the patriot act and a series of other scandals involving private corporations that have exposed Canadians' privacy in many different ways. I cannot, for the life of me, figure out why and what type of justification there is to provide the age of a voting person to political parties. That is people's private information. What does it matter if an 18 year old, a 40 year old or 60 year old votes?

I can say, from a party perspective, what the party will do. It will identify people who voted on that day. It will then identify who the people are and then their ages. It will be able to target people and individuals for messaging. I believe it is counterproductive to the renewal of democracy.

Why is it that the Conservatives, the Liberals and the Bloc need to have people's private birthdates? I do not understand that. It is not just for that time that they have it. They will have that list in perpetuity so that they will always be able to define people's needs and target them a lot more strongly because they have that private information.

It is rude to just go out and ask somebody their birthday or their age. People do not walk around the street and normally do that. People seem to want to keep that information to themselves. Why would we then have this bill, an instrument to collect that information and put it into the partisan core of politics of those party operatives? I do not understand that. The bill needs to be dumped just for that alone.

The member for Ottawa Centre has done an excellent job proposing solutions to the bill and has tried to get this clause out but was defeated. He then wrote a letter to the privacy commissioner on January 19, 2007, for which we have not had a response yet. The letter reads:

Dear Ms. Stoddart,

Recently the Standing Committee on Procedures and House Affairs amended and passed Bill C-31, An Act to Amend the Canada Elections Act and the Public Service Employment Act. In its original form Bill C-31 required elector's birth date information to be made available to Elections Canada to use for the purpose of verification of electors. As a Member of Parliament I have concerns about the possible misuse of this information and believe most Canadians would not support this kind of information being shared with Elections Canada. While I have great confidence in the integrity of Elections Canada and all who are employed by them, I do worry that such a large database with such wide distribution would be vulnerable to potential abuse.

The reason for my correspondence is to alert you to my concern and to inform you of a more disturbing breech of privacy.

An amendment was passed in Committee that would also require Elections Canada to share the birth date information of all registered voters with all registered political parties. I believe that this is an abuse of a citizen's privacy; therefore, I politely request that you investigate the implications of sharing this type of information with Elections Canada and most importantly the implications of sharing this information with political parties.

I look forward to your response.

Thanking you in advance,

Member of Parliament

Ottawa Centre

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Once again I must impress upon the public that the bill needs to be defeated on that clause alone. It is something that needs to be taken out. Personal privacy is something we pride ourselves on. For this clause to be added to the bill is a slap in the face of democracy.

The principle of the bill is important in the sense of cleaning up our electoral process but as it is now it would detract from actually encouraging and expanding voter turnout and giving people the opportunity to participate in democracy. For all those reasons we cannot support the bill in its current form.

Mr. Brian Masse:
Mr. Speaker, I believe my colleague is quite right. This is another indication of the very subtle ways of how strongly the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party of Canada have been working quite closely together, especially when it involves some types of reforms.

It does not make any sense. I cannot understand why anyone would want the Conservative Party of Canada or the Liberal Party of Canada to have one's personal information at its disposal for its partisan machines. It makes no sense. Why would people want their information or their son's or daughter's birthdate in the control of those parties? It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. I believe it violates a sense of integrity in our process.

Canadians are looking to having things cleaned up a little bit. They are looking for a better and stronger democracy. They are looking for innovative solutions that will create some excitement, whether it be proportional representation or modernizing the Senate to make it a democratic institution.

Instead, what Canadians are seeing with the bill is that their private information is being handed over to partisan political bodies for their people in the backrooms to manipulate and use to their benefit. It would enable these bodies to contact Canadians for fundraising or to target people for messaging. Political parties want to use all those things to exploit people.

Why does a political party deserve the right to know a person's actual birthdate without the person's consent or the person having a say in the process? People would not even be allowed to exit from this. This is absolutely unacceptable and it is a violation of personal privacy.

The Liberal Party and the Conservative Party should be ashamed of trying to get that information from Canadians who do not want to share it. Why are Canadians not even given the choice to decide why they are being forced to surrender their own personal private information without any discussion or input?