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


Alan Webster Neill



I agree very much with the
remarks of the last speaker (Mr. Brown). I wish to say a few words on behalf of an element that has not been dwelt on to any extent this afternoon, and that is the large country district. I know little about conditions in the city, for I am not familiar with them: I am talking solely about conditions that prevail in the large scattered areas in British Columbia, in which the hon. member for Cariboo (Mr. Fraser), the hon. member for Skeena (Mr. Hanson), the hon. member for North Vancouver (Mr. Munn) and I are interested.
The Prime Minister (Mr. Bennett) is right when he says that impersonation has been largely done away with in British Columbia by the system of signing your name when you go to vote, but he is not on such sound ground when he holds up British Columbia as an object lesson as regards the other features of his bill, because he has not copied British Columbia; he has taken only a small portion of their act. Let me show the difference.
As far as I can judge from this legislation, there is to be a revision once a year. That is not the way in British Columbia, although the minister suggested that it was. There is a permanent voters' list in British Columbia, but it is revised every three months, and that makes a great difference, and before the election is held there is a special court of revision. The court is held within a few weeks of the election. I do not remember what the period was in the last provincial election, but it was only a matter of weeks before the election that the court of revision was held. The list formerly was revised every six months but now it is revised at intervals of three months, so that voters can get on the list.
The minister did not advert to the fact that British Columbia makes some provision for the man who has moved and is not on the list in the district in which he resides. We have a system of absentee voting which is not suggested under this legislation. That absentee vote permits a man who has moved from one district in which he is registered into another district where he is not, to vote in the latter. He cannot afford the money to go back to vote in the district in which he is registered

Franchise Act
and therefore he is allowed to vote in the district in which he is residing, though not for the candidates in that district but for the candidates in the district in which he is registered. The absentee vote is placed in a special envelope.
As other hon. gentlemen have asked, what are you going to do with a man or woman who comes of age or is naturalized during the interval of one year from the time of the last revision? The principal objection I take to that part of the legislation is this. We have a large transient population in British Columbia; nowhere in Canada more than in North Vancouver and in the district I represent does this situation prevail, and possibly in Cariboo to some extent, though I am not so sure about that. There is, however, a large transient population all the time, and not only are these people moving from place to place but they are, so to speak, in permanent transition. That is to* say, they make their winter homes-loggers and fishermen-in Vancouver, New Westminster and other places, and when the season starts in the spring they move over to the district I represent. Under the old legislation now in force they could vote in our district provided they had been there sixty days before the election; but under this system they will not be able to vote anywhere. If they are registered in Vancouver they cannot afford to go back there to vote and they will not be allowed to have an absentee vote, so that it will mean the disfranchisement of hundreds of voters in the district I represent. It would be putting it extremely moderately to say that not less than ten per cent of the usual population of the district I represent will be disfranchised if the legislation now proposed goes through. I am being extremely moderate when I say ten per cent. The same thing is true of the fishermen. The fishermen has his home in one place, but by the very nature of his occupation he has to follow the fish; he goes up the coast, and formerly he would register in the place where he was likely to be during the sixty days preceding the election. Now he will register once for all and will thereby be disfranchised.
There is a third point which was highly commendable in the dominion act and which will be done away with now, and that is what is known as swearing oneself in on election day. Suppose an enumerator, through carelessness or malice aforethought or for some other reason, neglected to put a man on the voters' list; or suppose he did not happen to be there at the time the enumerator made up the list. By the dominion act the voter could go on election day and take an
oath, provided he got someone on the list to vouch for him, swearing that he had been sixty days within the electoral district and so many days in the particular polling district, and he would be allowed to vote. He was sworn, and if he made a false affidavit he could be followed up and punished. That system has not been abused to any extent worth mentioning. Now, as the hon. member for Acadia (Mr. Gardiner) says, the first principle of such legislation should be to see that every man who is qualified and entitled to vote gets his chance; but under this legislation that will be very far from being the case.
One other thought. I see the minister taking notes. I hope he will particularly take note of the question of dealing with transients and also with that of having the revision take place oftener than once a year. I notice great stress was laid on the desirability of shortening the period before an election. When the hon. member for Acadia approved the action of the government he received considerable support from my friends to the right and it seems to be a general feeling that a shorter period is desirable. It is desirable principally for those who live in cities where a man can go and address a meeting of two thousand people every night for a fortnight and thus cover his electors. That cannot be done in a rural district. In my constituency there will be something like 150 polling stations at the next election; there were 108 at the last one. Presumably it is proposed to cover that ground in twenty-eight days. If you count out Sundays, that will mean six and a half meetings every day, which is an absolute impossibility. The average meeting in the riding I represent would run about forty people to each; the very highest would not be more than from 350 to 400 and the smallest would be a dozen, perhaps twenty. You would have to go by launch possibly twenty miles to meet those twenty people and it would be impassible to hold more than one meeting in one little place in one day. It is proposed to compel candidates to cover an area with 150 polling stations in twenty-eight days, or it might be twenty-one days, as the Minister of Justice intimated. How can this be done? Is it fair to the candidates? Is it fair to the member? It may be said that the member has as good a chance as anybody else, but hb has not, because his opponent may be busily canvassing the district while we are sitting here. This proposal puts a handicap upon the sitting member.
Again, reference was made to Great Britain. I do not think one could get a poorer illustra-
Franchise Act

tion in this case than to quote Britain as an example. Compare the vast spaces of the districts in the prairies and British Columbia and then point to Britain as a suitable illustration or something to copy 1 That was not the attitude of hon. gentlemen opposite when they were talking about the marketing bill. Then they found a thousand reasons that on account of the compact, small, and highly populated area, they did not think it was appropriate to use certain standards or principles. This is a case where there cannot be any possible comparison between conditions in Great Britain and those in Canada.
By the way, someone said that it was necessary, and surely it is a sound principle, that people should be or have a chance to be informed before they cast their votes. The only way in which they can be informed, unless by reading partisan newspapers, is by hearing the candidates, and if they did so, they would at least have a run for their money.. How can that be done if the election is to be oarried out in twenty-four or possibly twenty-one days in an area such as I have mentioned in British Columbia? My district has over 2,000 miles of coast line with little settlements scattered along it. There are only 100 miles of railway in it and most of the travelling has to be done by launch or motor car. I quite agree with the idea that a shorter period is desirable for a city election, but justice must be done; the law must be made to apply to all cases, and I strongly protest against the injustice that will be done in those three instances I have indicated. I shall only repeat that I am thoroughly familiar with the subject so far as my district is concerned and I have no 'hesitation in saying that this proposal means the disfranchisement of hundreds of electors.

Full View