Speech – 2024.06.17 – Bill C-65 – MP Pensions and Electoral Participation


Bill C-65 – MP Pensions & Electoral Participation
2nd Reading
June 17, 2024

Mr. Len Webber (Calgary Confederation, CPC): Madam Speaker, today I rise to speak to this bill, Bill C-65, the electoral participation act. However, I like to refer to it as the electoral ousted Liberal pension act. Some of my colleagues refer to it as the NDP-Liberal election pension protection act.

As a member of Parliament, though, Madam Speaker, I am deeply committed to upholding the principles of democracy and fairness, and I must voice my strong opposition to this legislation and to its detrimental implications for our political system. At the heart of my opposition is the proposal, or the provision, in this bill to move the election day to a later date, to solely benefit certain members of Parliament in qualifying for their pensions. Literally, this bill is a cynical attempt by the Liberal government to move the election day from October 20 to October 27 next year. This would then result in 80 MPs getting a pension or qualifying for a pension because they will have reached the required six years of service. Long story short, this is a bill aimed at giving pensions to losing Liberals at the next election. In fact, of the 80 MPs, there are 32 Conservatives, 23 Liberals, 19 Bloc Québécois and 6 NDP MPs who would benefit from this proposed election day change.

However, my colleagues, Canada’s Conservatives, are very much opposed to this change, even if we are the party that stands to benefit the most. It is not only the Conservatives here who are opposed, but also many others who have not voted Conservative in the past and who are opposed to this bill. It is specifically because of the change in the date of the proposed election. This proposal is not just a procedural tweak. It strikes at the core of what it means to serve in public office with integrity and accountability. Elections should never be scheduled to line the pockets of losing MPs. We all knew the rules when we came here, and we ought to abide by them. One cannot change the rules just because one is losing the game. This is what I certainly see occurring here.

It is rather disgusting, in my eyes.

Let me be clear about this proposal in this bill. By shifting the election date, the Liberal government is manipulating the electoral process to serve the interests of a select few MPs who are nearing their forced retirement. This undermines the democratic foundation upon which our country stands, and it reflects poorly on the House as a whole. It has never been okay to change the rules for personal benefit. I even question if those 80 MPs who stand to benefit would be in a conflict of interest when the time comes to vote on this bill. Perhaps they should not be voting on this bill. Perhaps they should not even be speaking to this bill. That is food for thought for colleagues and food for thought for perhaps the Ethics Commissioner.

If the motivation to move to the final election day is actually motivated by an intent to avoid provincial elections or cultural holidays, then the Liberal government should look at moving it up instead, and make it happen sooner so that it does not look so cynical in the eyes of the taxpayer. In fact, we here on the Conservative side of the House, would be happy to move it up maybe a year or even this summer. Let us have it during the stampede. Would that not be a celebration of the stampede, to win the election? Most Canadians are ready to cast their ballots now and not to drag it on for another year and a half.

With respect to existing legislation and to the other additional measures proposed in this bill, Canadians are offered significant alternative ways and days to vote in general elections. I am talking about advanced polls, perhaps.

That is an alternative, absolutely. Advance polls exist; they are held on the tenth, ninth, eighth and seventh days before an election day. In fact I have rarely voted on election day, and I have found that advance polls are a very effective way of guaranteeing making one’s vote count. Leaving one’s vote to the last days could have some risk, of course. A person can find themselves sick or otherwise unable to attend a polling station, due to weather reasons, a vehicle breakdown or whatever. Advance polls tended to be less crowded also, compared to on election day, which is certainly appealing to me. I hate crowds, so get me in on an advance poll any day for an election for sure.

There are other methods of voting also. People can vote by mail. They must complete an application for the registration and special ballot by mail. They have to do it after the election is called, however. Canadians living abroad can apply any time. They can apply now to vote by mail in a future election, whenever that may be. People can also vote in person at any Elections Canada office across the country when an election is called; they can do that until the sixth day before election day.

If someone is on holiday in Charlottetown and they live in Calgary, for example, they can vote in Charlottetown. They just have to go to an office there and must also, again, complete an application for registration and a special ballot. They have to show their identity and where they live, and they can get a ballot. There are many options, many opportunities and many ways to vote during an election.

I want to talk a bit now about voter participation. Voter participation in Canada, as most of us know, has fluctuated greatly over the time we have been a country. In 1896, for example, only 62.9% of Canadians voted, but the following election, on November 7, 1900, saw the rate rise to a near record of 77.4%. That was when Mr. Wilfrid Laurier was re-elected. He was re-elected to a second majority government then. That was the ninth Parliament of Canada. There were 128 seats. He won over a Conservative, Charles Tupper.

Back then, 77.4% of Canadians participated. The rate of voter participation did not drop below 62% for the next 100 years, so it was fairly high. Since then, there has been a persistent drop in voter participation. In 1988, voter participation started its decline from 75.3% to a rate that now, in the last few elections, has hovered in the low to mid-60s. There is no question that in recent years, voter turnout has been a pressing concern in Canadian elections.

The fact remains, though, that if someone does not cast their vote, the person who does is the one who speaks for them. As the saying goes, those who do not participate in the democratic process are destined to be ruled by those who do. We also have heard it expressed that if someone did not vote, they do not have the right to complain. I certainly have said that to many people whom I have talked to who come to me to complain about the current Liberal government or to complain perhaps about some of the work I do in my constituency. I ask them, “Well, did you vote?” If they say no, I say, “Well, you do not have the right to complain to me.”

However, we can take some satisfaction in knowing that Canadians are traditionally better at turning out for elections than our neighbours to the south. The 2020 election in the U.S. had a record turnout; it brought 66% of the voting population out to vote. Historically, though, American elections are often decided with less than 50% of the population.

For many years, the focus on increasing voter participation has focused on additional voting opportunities and alternative voting methods but it has not worked out as hoped. One must honestly ask why voter turnout continues to go down as the number of opportunities to vote has only increased. The downward trend in voter participation indicates a troubling disengagement among Canadians, and youth in particular, from their democratic process.

Youth voter turnout in Canadian federal elections remains lower than the turnout of all other age groups. The most common reason for not casting a ballot is that many youth are just not interested in politics. They are disengaged. There is no hope for young voters with the current economy the way it is, the way the Liberal government has decimated our economy.

I am pretty confident, though, that voter turnout at all ages and in all age groups will dramatically increase in the next election as people look to make sure change happens in Ottawa. There will be a desire to get rid of a government that has a new scandal by the day and a phony NDP opposition party that sold its soul to keep the Liberals in power this long.

I also think we need to focus on instilling the importance of voting as a civic duty. Let me share part of a speech that I gave a couple of years ago to new citizens. It was at a citizenship swearing-in ceremony in Calgary at the Telus Spark Science Centre, close to the zoo, for those people who want to know where it is.

I said, at the swearing-in ceremony, “Today, you raised your hand and took the oath of Canadian citizenship. Today you become part of the Canadian story—a land of many people from many lands with one shared goal—a better Canada.

“Now, you will be able to participate in our great democracy. No matter your political stripe, you all now have a treasured duty to participate and make Canada even greater.
“Embrace your new citizenship, cherish what it means and enjoy what it provides.

“Your new citizenship carries with it many responsibilities—to better your community, to help your fellow Canadian and to proudly represent our nation around the world.”

We need to instill in Canadians new and old that one has a duty to participate in our democratic process. We need to show people that elections do matter, that their voice is heard and that they have the power to determine who leads their country. We owe it to those who fought for us in past wars and those who died on distant battlefields to ensure that we have that freedom today, the freedom to vote.

Finally, in conclusion, as parliamentarians, we have a duty to uphold the highest standards of transparency and accountability. We are entrusted by the people of Canada to represent their interests and safeguard the democratic values upon which our country was founded.

Bill C-65, the bill we are debating here tonight, in its current form would fail to meet those standards. Let us be honest with Canadians. This is not a bill about increasing voter participation; it is a bill that is aimed at giving pensions to losing Liberals at the next election. It is disgusting. It is self-serving behaviour that is likely the cause of voter apathy in this country more than anything else.

The bill prioritises short-term gains for a handful of MPs over the long-term health of our democracy and the trust of our citizens, so I call upon my fellow colleagues across party lines to join me in opposing the bill, Bill C-65. We need to stand together in defence of democratic principles and the rights of all Canadians, so let us send a message, a resounding message, that we are committed to a political system that values integrity, fairness and above all else, the public trust.