Mrs. Anna Terrana (Vancouver East, Lib.)
moved that Bill C-307, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act (polling hours), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Madam Speaker, today I would like to discuss my private member's bill, Bill C-307, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act (polling hours). This bill provides that every polling station on election day will close at the same time regardless of the time differences across the country.
As you know, Canada is a large country where distances sometimes make things a lot more complicated, in spite of new technologies and means of transportation.
The fact is that when British Columbians are waking up, Canadians living in St. John's, Newfoundland, are having lunch. The time difference is a major problem for all those who travel, and more so for westerners on election day.
In British Columbia, results from the Atlantic region are in just after 4 p.m., while those from Quebec and Ontario are known an hour later. In British Columbia, where the population is much smaller than in eastern and central Canada, this means that voters always feel excluded from the federal election process.
Many British Columbians feel they are second class citizens. They feel alienated. They have felt alienated all along. The other western provinces have the same problem, although not as much as British Columbia.
It is not right that such a large part of Canada is left out of a process that touches all of us and determines the future of our country. For this reason I have tabled a bill that provides that every polling station on election day will close at the same time regardless of the time differences across the country.
The current elections act gives the following provisions: Section 79(3) provides that elections be held on Monday or Tuesday. Section 109(5) requires that polling hours be from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. across the country. Section 324 carries exceptions for constituencies with two or more time zones. Section 160 asks that ballots be counted immediately after closing of polls. There is no provision for delay. Section 328 says that it is an offence to publish election results in any area before voting ends in that area.
In my bill changes would occur in the hours of voting. They would increase from 11 to 12 and the times would be as follows: B.C. from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Alberta from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Saskatchewan and Manitoba from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Ontario and Quebec from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; the maritime provinces from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; and Newfoundland from 11.30 a.m. to 11.30 p.m.
After discussions with the Chief Electoral Officer who asked that the hours not be increased from 11 to 12 because of increased costs, I am proposing that we vote for 11 hours as it is done today and that voting from Ontario to the maritimes be from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and from 11.30 a.m. to 10.30 p.m. in Newfoundland. In this case British Columbia would receive the Atlantic Canada results around 6 p.m. or 6.30 p.m. which would be acceptable. What is disconcerting is getting the Quebec and Ontario results before the closing of the polls in British Columbia.
Generally speaking, this proposal is acceptable. We know that, in Ontario and in Quebec, 10 p.m. is not very late in the evening. A lot of people start relaxing at this time. However, my colleagues from the maritime provinces tell me that 10 p.m. or 10.30 p.m. is too late in Newfoundland.
If this bill is referred to a committee today, we will have an opportunity to review it and make appropriate changes if necessary. There is a lot of opposition to the idea of voting at the same time and not counting votes until all polling stations are closed, because those working in polling stations located in eastern Canada would
have to wait for a long time. Moreover, we do not want to stop the publishing of results, something which is clearly an offense under the act. The problem comes up every time an election is held.
Only two bills have been presented in the past to change the system. In 1982 Bill C-113, on staggered hours, was tabled and went only to first reading. In 1988 Bill C-79, to establish the prohibition of election results before polls are closed, was tabled and did not make second reading.
Complete staggered hours across the country would not solve the problem. What we have to achieve is to have all of the results from B.C. to Quebec, including the territories north of those provinces, announced at the same time, that is, after 10 p.m. Only the maritimes and Newfoundland would be allowed to announce results earlier, after the closing of polls in those provinces.
In 1989 the Lortie commission recommended changes to the voting hours. In 1991 the report of the special committee on electoral reform recommended that we vote for 10 hours and that those hours be staggered. This solution would not solve western Canadians' sense of alienation and lack of participation. I do not think that people who reside in the central and eastern provinces and in the territories are aware of the difficulty western Canada faces at every election.
It must also be realized that British Columbia is experiencing the fastest growth in the country and that its population accounts for 13 per cent of Canada's overall population. The only poll on the issue was held in 1990. Seventy per cent of those who took part in it said voting hours were a problem, including 41 per cent who considered the problem to be a serious one that had to be corrected. As well, 50 per cent of the participants were in favour of making changes to the system, with 29 per cent strongly supporting such changes.
Yesterday, delegates at the Liberal convention voted unanimously in favour of such changes. As you can see, there is a general consensus. We realize that Canadians care for their country's well-being and for each other. I spoke to a lot of people regarding this issue, and the vast majority of them support the idea. Even newspapers and media people are in favour of this change, and I am grateful to all those who reacted positively to the idea.
The Ottawa Citizen stated: ``Think of how western voters will feel if for once they can go to the polls at dinnertime without knowing Ontario's vote has determined the winner. From time to time Parliament is faced with legislation which is inherently sensible''.
Some people may think that 10 p.m. is too late, but remember that in British Columbia we will only be able to vote until 7 p.m.
instead of 8 p.m. That is the difficulty of administering a country that goes from the Pacific to the Atlantic to the Arctic. Remember that this difficulty presents itself only every four to five years and Canadians are able to adjust themselves to these kinds of changes.
I hope this bill will continue to be a lucky one and that we can give it royal assent before the next election. On election day I am sure people in the western provinces would celebrate and would feel a part of this big country of ours when at night in front of the TV they are informed of the election results at the same time as people in the rest of Canada. For the first time in the history of this country they would then feel that they count.
Madam Speaker, if you were to seek it I believe you would find unanimous consent to change the reference of Bill C-307 to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs instead of the Standing Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs.
Subtopic: Canada Elections Act