March 29, 1909 (11th Parliament, 1st Session)


Mr. J.@

CONMEE (Thunder Bay) moved for leave to introduce Bill (No. 112) to amend the Election Act. He said: I may say in respect to this Bill that it is not my intention to press it with a view of its becoming law during the present session. The object of the Bill is to afford an opportunity to a class of citizens to exercise their franchise who could not otherwise exercise it because of the nature of their employment; I refer to railway employees. I am told that there are about 15,000 disfranchised because the duties of their service require them to be absent from the riding in which they reside, and in which they are on the list and entitled to vote;

the object of the Bill is to provide machinery by which this class of men can poll their votes. I am aware that it may be said this opens a wide door, that if this privilege be extended to this particular class of citizens it should be extended to others. I do not hold that view; I do not know of any other class of citizens in a similar position, at least if there are any their number is very small. These gentlemen are fulfilling what is really a public service. The mails must be carried, passenger traffic must be conducted, the train service on the great railways must go on, notwithstanding that it is election day, and these gentlemen are called upon m the performance of their duties to be absent from the riding in which they are entitled to vote, and in which they are on the list. The object of the Bill therefore is to provide machinery to give them the right to vote wherever they may be on election day. These gentlemen are entitled to vote, they have all the qualifications of voters, they are residents of the country, they have homes and interests in this country as well as any other class of citizens, and I think that parliament should provide the machinery by which they may cast their vote, notwithstanding that their calling requires them to be absent from the riding in which they could cast their votes under the Election Act as it stands.
The Bill provides that, at the request of any candidate, elector or electors, the returning officer shall provide such number of polls as are necessary to poll the vote of that class of electors in any riding in which they may be during election day, either in the province in which they are resident or in an adjoining province. It provides that such deputy returning officers shall be appointed by the Clerk of the Crown in Chancery, as may be necessary, and as polls will be held throughout the country on that day. There will be in the majority of cases polls held in sufficient proximity to railway points to enable the train service men to cast their vote in the ordinary polling booths which the Clerk of the Crown in Chancery may select for that particular day, but the deputy returning officer would require additional authority to that which he now possesses, namely, the authority to receive the votes of this class of electors and deposit them in a separate ballot box. It will be an easy matter for the Clerk of the Crown in Chancery to keep in touch with the election in such a way as to be able to nominate a very large number of deputy returning officers without incurring any additional cost, or at all events, very trifling additional cost. It may be that at some divisional points in some of the ridings a special officer would have to be appointed, but even so, the expense would not be very great.
The Bill provides that the Governor in Council shall fix the polling places at divisional or other suitable points along the line of any railway; it provides that the Clerk of the Crown in Chancery shall instruct the returning officer for the particular riding in respect of which a request is made for the holding of such poll, to forward to the deputy returning officers appointed for the purpose, all the necessary ballots, papers, stamps and forms to enable him to hold the poll, and to forward to him a ballot box which shall be labelled in these words: 'Ballot box in which the ballots of voters being railway employees for the riding of shall be deposited.'
Provision is also made as to the procedure under which the elector is to be entitled to vote. He may obtain a certificate from the returning officer which will entitle him to vote at the polling booth named in the certificate. Upon presenting that certificate he may be required by the deputy returning officer holding the poll to sign a declaration to the effect that he is the person named in the certificate. The object of these provisions is to prevent manipulation and fraud at elections. The Act provides for the counting of the votes by the deputy returning officer, and the sending of the ballot box, locked and sealed, the same as in all other cases>
to the'returning officer of the riding affected, who is, under the machinery of this Bill, required to include the votes cast in the respective polling divisions in which the electors are resident and entitled to vote. The effect of this would be that the vote would be counted just in the same manner as if the elector were able to cast his vote in his own riding upon the day of the election. I noticed that when I mentioned that some of the provisions of this Bill were intended to prevent fraud at elections it caused a smile to appear upon the countenances of some of my hon. friends opposite.

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