Mr. ANGUS MacINNIS (Vancouver South) moved the second reading of Bill No. 16, to amend the Dominion Elections Act, 1934.
He said: Mr. Speaker, this amendment to the Dominion Elections Act is similar to an amendment which I moved on the third reading of the bill last year. The purpose of the amendment is to extend' the privilege of voting by absentee ballot to the men in the unemployment relief camps. Voting by absentee ballot was not in the Dominion Elections Act up until the act of 1934. The privilege is restricted to lumbermen, miners, sailors and fishermen. The purpose of that provision is to allow men to vote by absentee ballot who are unavoidably away from their polling division or electoral district on election day. The Dominion Franchise Act made provision for the registrating of the men in the unemployment relief camps, and I am quite satisfied that the government had in mind that they should have every opportunity of exercising their franchise. I will read the section dealing with that so that hon. members may have it clear in their minds that there was no intention, so far as the act itself was concerned, to deprive these men of their franchise. Rule 9 of subsection 2 of section 3 of the Dominion Franchise Act reads as follows:
Notwthstanding the provisions of any other of these rules, time spent by a person at any unemployment relief camp, or in any institution or refuge maintained, either by public or private moneys, for the relief of distressed or unemployed persons, shall be deemed to have been spent by that person in temporary absence from his last place of residence as determined pursuant ito these rules, and if there be any such place of residence or home, either of himself or of any member of his family, to which he could return, he shall, notwithstanding his presence in such unemployment camp, be registered at such place or residence or home, and moreover no person who is registered as an elector under this act shall merely because of
Dominion Elections Act
time spent by him at an unemploylment relief camp, or in such an institution or refuge, lose his residence qualification in the electoral district in which he is so registered.
I think that makes it quite clear that the government and parliament had in mind that these men should have the opportunity of exercising their franchise. But a peculiar circumstance in connection with the men in the unemployment relief camps is that most of them are away from the constituency in which they are registered. At some of the camps in the interior of British Columbia, for instance, no doubt a great many of the men come from Vancouver or New Westminster or neighbouring constituencies. It is impossible for these men to leave the camp and go into their own electoral districts to exercise their franchise on election day. So that while provision has been made for registering these men presumably for the purpose of allowing them to exercise the franchise, conditions are such that it is impossible for them to do so. They are, as a matter of fact, in just the same position as those for whom provision has been made to vote by absentee ballot. I remember that in the debate on this question last year the hon. member for Comox-Alberni (Mr. Neill) made this statement:
It is no crime to have to earn your living away from home and by the methods I have indicated. There is no suggestion that these people are of a low standard because they have to go away to earn their living. Surely they are entitled to a chance to vote.
He was referring at the time to lumbermen, miners, sailors and fishermen. Now I take it that what holds for these occupations holds equally well for the men in the unemployment relief camps. It is no crime at this time to be unemployed. It may be inconvenient, but it certainly is not a crime.
The amendment would apply only to such men as are entitled to vote in the particular province in which they live. That is, if a person in an unemployment relief camp in British Columbia is not ordinarily entitled to vote in the province of British Columbia, and is not registered in any constituency of that province, this amendment will not give him that right. He must 'be registered in some constituency in the province before he is allowed to vote.
I think it is very important, Mr. Speaker, that we should give every consideration to these men. They are in rather difficult circumstances, and because of their condition they feel that society is, as it were, against them. We should employ every means possible to disabuse their minds of that idea, ideas which they have every opportunity of
hearing propagated. I was at a meeting only last week where one of the questions asked was: "How can we change the present order by constitutional means when the men who are now in the camps are disfranchised? And this is only a beginning. Next year we might see more of them disfranchised." Now unless we take steps to see that these men are placed at least on the same basis as those already provided for in the act I believe they will have a good case for the statements that are being made.
During the debate on the elections act last year the Prime Minister (Mr. Bennett) said:
If people go about and try to raise passions and prejudices by saying that parliament is endeavouring to take away from persons the rights and privileges they enjoy, that argues ill for democracy and for its future.
But people will do these things as long as we give them an opportunity, as long as we leave any loophole for them to do so. I am convinced that if we are to get out of the difficulties we are in now we can only do so through the cooperation of all our people, and that includes the men in the relief camps.
I noticed in the press a few days ago a statement by the Archibishop of York. The church officials were discussing the problem of unemployment, and this is what the archbishop said:
The great thing is to make the unemployed feel that they still count as members of the community.
I do not know of any better way at the moment to make them feel they are members of the community than to make it as easy as possible for them to exercise their franchise. It is a duty we owe to them, and it will take away any excuse they may have for saying that they have no part in the government of the country. I would therefore ask the house to consider this amendment seriously, to try to see the justice of it, to pass the amendment and extend to these men the privilege which we have already accorded those who are fortunate enough to have employment but are away from their constituency on election day.