June 13, 1934 (17th Parliament, 5th Session)


Hugh Guthrie (Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada)

Conservative (1867-1942)


I should like to offer
some explanation in regard to the resolution which you have just read to the committee, Mr. Chairman. As is well known, the present Dominion Elections Act, as it appears in the statutes of Canada, is in the nature of a composite act. It declares the franchise of those persons who are entitled to vote at dominion elections; it also provides for the preparation of voters' lists; third, it provides for the conduct of the election itself.
After an experience under the present act from the time of its original passage in 1921 to the present, I think I am within the judgment of all sections of the committee when I say that the act as it now stands has been proved cumbersome, dilatory and expensive and it has been thought proper to introduce new legislation for the purpose in the first place of having in this country a basic electoral list which will at all times be available in case either of a dissolution of parliament or of a necessity of filling vacancies in the representation in this house as they occur from time to time. Under our present act it requires about sixty days after the dissolution of parliament before the election machinery can all work satisfactorily throughout the dominion and enable us to have a general election. It is true that probably fifty-three to fifty-four days might suffice provided that there be no miscarriage; that all the cogs of the machinery fit accurately and that no mishaps of any kind occur. In the case of byelections the information which I have received from the chief electoral officer is that fifty, or perhaps forty-eight days in a near at hand, compact riding, would suffice for the purpose. It has also come
to my knowledge that in the United Kingdom they have a much more expeditious method than we have in this country of bringing on a general election. It is true that distances in the United Kingdom are not very great as compared with those in Canada, but on the other hand they have there a population of over forty million or more than four times as great as ours. I have been told that in the United Kingdom they can dissolve one parliament and seat another in three weeks' time. They have at all times available a final and complete voters' list which can be and is utilized the moment parliament is dissolved.
It has been thought by the government that it would be well to devise some improved method to bring on a general or a byelection in this country in much less time than is necessary at present. The proposal is that the government introduce a bill for the purpose of establishing the franchise of electors for dominion purposes and at the same time of providing for the making and completion of voters' lists which shall be regularly revised and kept up to date and which shall be available at a moment's notice in any part of Canada should a general election or a byelection take place. Under the scheme which is contemplated by the motion now before the committee it is hoped a franchise and voters' list act may be passed through this house and that under the new legislation a general or a byelection may be held in not more than twenty-eight days and possibly in twenty-four or twenty-five days.
The proposal is, briefly, to appoint for the dominion a franchise commissioner who shall have general charge of the franchise and of the preparation of the voters' list; that a basic list shall be undertaken immediately after the prorogation of the present session; that it shall be the duty of that franchise commissioner to appoint in each constituency a revising officer who shall have charge of the preparation and revision of the voters' list in each riding; that the basic list shall be made in the first instance by enumeration. Provision will be made also when the bill is brought down, for the revision of the basic list before the revising officer himself and when the revision has actually taken place and been completed the revising officer will certify the list as revised and return it to the franchise commissioner at Ottawa who shall have custody of all revised lists. This shajl constitute the list of voters throughout Canada until there is a subsequent, completely revised voters' list. The suggestion is that the list shall be completely revised every twelve months. The first list will of course
Franchise Act

form the basic one; subsequent lists will be a matter of correction and revision where names are to be stricken from or names are to be added to the then existing list, but each year there will lbe a final and complete list deposited at Ottawa. These lists when returned here shall be printed by the printing bureau at Ottawa for use as may be required on the dissolution of parliament or in case of byelections.
Mr. Speaker, I have now made a general statement of the purpose of the bill which it is intended to introduce. There is no very great variation from the present system except in the matter of the appointment of one commissioner to take general charge, one revising officer in each riding and one enumerator, or more if it should become necessary to appoint more, in each polling division. There is a difference in the present proposal in regard to the method which is adopted in urban municipalities. In an urban municipality we have adopted in principle the clause which has for some years been in force under the statute of British Columbia; that provision is that an applicant for registration in an urban division shall sign a statement at the time he applies to be put on the list. The statement is merely that the applicant possesses the qualifications of an elector, but the important feature about the statement is the signature of the applicant. That signed statement will be placed at the disposal of the returning officer in the appropriate subdivision upon polling day and it will be there for the purpose of identification if necessary of a voter who appears there to vote and who may not be known to those who are in attendance at the polling booth. The voter may be asked to sign his name. This system has been in force in British Columbia for a number of years and I understand has worked very well. To a large extent it will do away with what in Ontario we are accustomed to call "plugging" and in the province of Quebec what I believe they call "telegraphing," and for which in other provinces they term impersonation. It is with the idea of doing away with impersonation, or at least minimizing it, that this particular provision will be included in this bill.
There will be another noticeable feature in the bill applying to cities which have mail delivery and where the street addresses of people are known, the voters' list shall be a geographical list rather than an alphabetical list, that names shall be arranged according to streets and numbers, so that one can see at a glance just who and how many are upon

the list for each house upon any street. This system is now in vogue in Ontario, and I believe it has worked well. It has been suggested that in addition to a geographical list an alphabetical list should also be made. Well, the question of expense is the only one to give us any concern in that respect. I have had an estimate made of the cost of an alphabetical list, if we decide to have one in addition to the geographical list. It would cost in the neighbourhood of S300.000 extra, which is a serious consideration, although I admit it would be very convenient to have both lists available at the polling booth or during the election campaign.
I do not think I need go further in explaining the general purport of the franchise act which will be introduced in due course. But this I desire to say, that in regard to this measure we have had some conferences with my right hon. friend and the hon. member for West Edmonton (Mr. Stewart) whom he selected on his side and my hon. friend the Secretary of State (Mr. Cahan) and myself upon this side, with the idea that we might agree upon a good many clauses in the proposal which will be submitted to parliament in the form of a bill. A draft measure was prepared early in the month of May. It was intended that this draft measure should form the basis for discussion, because I think it would be the view of all parties and all members in the house that in this instance we should produce a measure which will prove acceptable in all quarters of the house, one that is fair and above board in every respect. With that end in view a draft was prepared as a basis for subsequent discussion and conferences. The draft was originally in typewritten form, and I asked the draftsman to prepare a sufficient number of printed copies in order that we might have them available when the conferences took place. Two conferences have taken place, I think the first was on Wednesday, the 23rd of May, and the second on the following Monday. And I must say that in my opinion these conferences proved exceedingly satisfactory. We did not agree upon all points but we did agree upon many points and upon many clauses of the bill. There are still some features for discussion, and no doubt for debate when the bill is introduced. However, there is one point, which I wish to emphasize, namely, that the draft which was under discussion when these conferences took place was purely by way of suggestion, purely as a basis of discussion, to see how far we might agree. It was not intended that these proposals constituted

Franchise Act
a bill, not even a draft bill, although for the purpose of the conferences a limited number of copies were printed. Two of these copies were handed to my right hon. friend and two retained by me, and I think the other one was retained by Mr. O'Connor who was the draftsman of the measure. At our first conference and as our first decision, we decided unanimously to strike out subsection 3 of section 4, a clause which provided that those who were not familiar with either the English or French language should be disfranchised. We unanimously agreed to strike out that proposal, and it was struck out and has not since been considered as far as I know by anyone.
Our second conclusion-this is a memo I made at the time-was in regard to a clause that provided that Doukhobors should not be entitled to vote. Perhaps before dealing with this subject I had better say a word further in regard to the subject of the French and English language. The house is aware that under the Naturalization Act in this country every person who is naturalized and receives his certificate is entitled to exercise all the privileges of a British subject. But there is also a provision in our Naturalization Act that a man shall not be naturalized unless he is familiar with either the English or the French language. I think it is a matter of some comment that there are in Canada considerable numbers of people who have obtained naturalization certificates and who have no familiarity with either the French or the English language. This has been a matter of comment in the courts of this country, I know it from reading many criminal cases that I have to read. I find that interpreters are constantly employed. Now I have no doubt that the fact of that clause appearing in the Naturalization Act was the reason for placing a somewhat similar clause in the proposed franchise act, which clause, however, by agreement of all parties, has been stricken from the proposal in regard to the franchise measure.
In regard to the section which proposed the disfranchisement of Doukhobors, my right hon. friend immediately raised an objection, and I think we all agreed with him, that that clause could not stand in the form in which it had been drafted. The Doukho-bor situation is in itself a peculiar one. It was never intended I think on the part of any one to disfranchise the Doukhobors in Canada, but there were reasons why some special attention should be given to that part
of the Doukhobor population which resides in the province of British Columbia. Our experience with the Doukhobors in that province has not been very satisfactory, far from it.

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