House of Commons, 26 April 1896, Canadian Confederation with Alberta and Saskatchewan

4671 [COMMONS] 4672


Mr. MARTIN moved second reading of Bill (No. 22) further to amend chapter 7 of the Revised Statutes of Canada, being the North-west Territories Representation Act. He said: Mr. Speaker, this Bill is for the purpose of changing the law in the Northwest Territories with regard to voting at elections. I explained the provisions of the Bill very fully on the first reading. In the North-west Territories the Franchise Act is not in operation. Two years ago the Government, when applying the provisions of the Election Act, with regard to voting by ballot to the North-west Territories, dealt with the question of a voters' list. Prior to that time, there practically was no voters' list in the Dominion elections there. A voters' list was prepared, but, under the provisions of the Act, any person entitled to be an elector could have his name added to the list on election day; so that, for preventing any one from voting or enabling any one to vote, the list was of no account. In 1894, when the provisions with regard to the ballot were extended to the North-west Territories, the provisions of the law with regard to voting there were not changed. that law providing for a purely manhood suifrage; that is to say, every person who was a British subject, who was twenty-one years of age, and who had resided a certain time in the electoral district, was entitled to vote. entirely irrespective of any other qualification. When that Bill went to the Senate, a provision was added, the result of which was to provide for a list of electors in the Territories. which, like the list of electors provided by the Franchise Act. was to be final. I may say that that very fundamental change in the law was never discussed in this House. When the amendments came back from the Senate, it is true, they were duly passed by this House, and appeared, as all such amendments do, in the Journals : but no one reading them would know what the effect of them was. I fancy that most of the members of this House thought they were immaterial changes, as most of them really were; but one amendment repealed section 44 of the old North-west Territories Representation Act, which provided that an elector might vote, on having his name put on the list by the deputy returning officer on the day of election. I myself did not observe the change in the law. I may say that in the debate that took place upon the Bill before it went to the Senate, several members discussed this question as to the advisability of leaving the law as it was, and it was thoroughly understood that it should be left as it was. The attention of the House was drawn to the position in which the law was up there as to voters' lists, and I myself took the ground that the voters' lists was an immaterial matter entirely in the Territories, on account of the existence of this particular clause, which practically allowed every voter to vote, whether his name was on the lists or not. I remember stating that we might as well save the expense of a voters' lists, under the circumstances. But it was claimed by one of the members from the Territories that the list was necessary because without it it would not be possible to poll all the votes within the time limited by the Election Act. This very vital change was made in the Senate. I think it will be admitted by the House that changes of this kind should not be made in the Senate. This is one of the matters surely which should originate in this House—an alteration in the law with regard to the constitution at this House. It does seem to me that it is going very far for the Senate to undertake to make that vital change in the law. Of course, it is quite 4673 [MARCH 26, 1896] 4674 true that the Senate has the power to make a law of that kind and send it back here for approval ; but it was entirely unexpected   that they should think of making any such change, and I think it was very unfortunate   that they should have undertaken to do so. It has since been explained in this House that the changes made in the Senate were made at the instance. I understand. of Senator Perley, who acted at the suggestion of the hon. member for East Assiniboia (Mr. McDonald) ; and I understand that the hon.   member for East Assiniboia is the only representative from the Territories who advocates the change. I understand the reason he gives is the possibilities of false voting. personation anti repeating, which, he claims, are very prevalent in the Territories. We have not the pleasure very often of hearing from the hon. member for East Assiniboia in this House, and I think, if he desires to add to the legislation of Parlia ment, he should do so in this House, and not through the medium of a friend in the Senate. The matter was first brought fully to the attention of this House when. in 1895, the hon. Minister of the Interior (Mr. Daly) introduced a Bill here to remedy some slight errors that were made in the legislation of 1894 : and upon examining these changes, it appeared quite evident what a change in the law had been made the previous session. Very serious protests were made against the change in 1895, The hon. Minister was urged very strongly by the hon. member for Bothwell (Mr. Mills) and other members on this side not to press it. and I think the position taken by this side was agreed to by the hon. member for West Assinihoia (Mr. Davin) and not objected to by any hon. member for the Territories. The hon. Minister declined. however. to accede to this protest ; and as the matter was only brought to the attention of the House in the dying days of the session of 1895, we had no opportunity of really discussing the question. In the meantime, public attention in the Territories had been directed to the matter, and the North-west Territories assembly passed a resolution, which I read in full on the first reading of this Bill of mine. In that resolution, they drew attention to the very unfortunate position in which the Territories would be placed at an election on account of this change, and they urged that one of three things be done,—either that the Franchise Act applicable to the rest of the Dominion should be put in force there ; or that the territorial law with regard to elections should be adopted; or that the law should be put back where it was. This resolution was introduced in the North-west Territories assembly by Mr. Insinger, member for the northern part of Eastern Assiniboia, and was supported unanimously by the assembly, a majority of which are supporters of hen. gentlemen opposite. I may say also that the amendment by which it is proposed to adept the old system as one of the alternatives, was suggested by Mr. Haultain, who occupies the position practically of Premier of the Territories. and who is also the candidate, on behalf of the Government, for the constituency of Alberta. Under these circumstances, the hon. member for West Assiniboia (Mr. Davin) introduced Bill No. 20), which has not yet had its second reading ; and not knowing that that hon. gentleman had the matter in hand. I likewise introduced the present Bill for the purpose of carrying out the desires of the assembly and of rectifying what I thought was a very unfair law. I may say that it is quite impossible, at this stage in our hismry. to attempt to apply the Franchise Act to the Territories, because there is not now sufficient time to provide a list under that Act. Then as to applying the territorial law, there would perhaps be no very great objection to that, except that it is not in accord with the policy of the Government to adopt a provincial law with regard to voting. We had at one time the assurance that such a policy met with the approval of the late Sir John Thompson while he. was leading this Government; and we were in hopes, during the last session he was in the House, that he would carry out the suggestions which had fallen from us, at different times, of the advisability of adopting that principle, namely, of recognizing the provincial franchise and electoral lists for this House. So that, practically, if we a re to rectify this wrong it comes down to the re-enactment of section 44, in order that a man who is entitled to vote may know whether his name is on the list of voters or not. And the reason why the assembly were so unanimous in condemning the change in the law, and the reason why I think I can appeal confidently to this House to make the change is that there are no sufficient delays provided for, and it is quite impossible, in the nature of things, to provide sufficient delay in making this list to enable both parties fairly to get their names upon it. The list is not to be made out at all until a proclamation is issued for an election. As soon as that proclamation issues, the Government appoint ennmerators for each polling division. The enumerator makes a list for the polling subdivision. He has nothing to commence with except what knowledge he may have of the subdivision. It is not necessary under the law for the Government to appoint a resident of the polling subdivision, and it might happen, and it would happen, probably, that the enumerator would have very little actual knowledge as to which electors should have their names upon the list. However, he is to do the best he can and, certainly, if he were a partisan, and were inclined to use his position for the purpose of aiding his party he would have unlimited opportunities to do so. He could make the list in any way he sees fit, putting on names or leaving them off as he wished. And no delays are given, such as 4675 [COMMONS] 4676 would afford an opportunity to either party to really get the list right. The list is to be made up in eight days only before the polling, that is, it is completed the day before nomination. It is then posted—written out, for there is no time to print it—in two places in the polling subdivision. quite impossible for the electors to know where it is posted. no provision concerning that appears Act. So it is a mere matter of chance whether the person entitled to he an elector sees the list. or not. But if he has the good fortune to see the list posted up, and tinds on examining it that his name is not on the list, he must make application within six days, that is two days before the election, to the enumerator to have his name put upon the list. But first he must find the enumerator : there is no place fixed where he can he addressed. As soon as the list is put up the enumerator may leave the subdivision, in fact, he may never have been in it at all. If the citizen can find him. he has the privilege of saying to hint : You have omitted my name from the list. But the enumerator is not: hound to pay the slightest attention : he may leave the list uncorrected, and there no means to compel him to correct it. There are no provisions, as in the Franchise Act, for the posting in schoolhouses of the list and for distributing it, giving everybody an opportunity of learning whether his name is on the list or not, and giving every person time to make proper application to the revising ottieer to get his name upon the list. As I said before. it is practically no list at all. It simply leaves it in the hands of the men appointed by the Government to do as they see tit. I suppose we have no right to assume that these gentlemen will not do their duty. but that is very little protection. In the matter of the voters' lists. it is most important that every elector should have a fair opportunity of proving his right to be upon the list: and if he proves his right there should be no such provisions in the law as would ensure that natne going upon the list. But no such provision appears in this Act. For that reason, I have felt it my duty to call the attention of the House to the matter, and so has the hon. member for West Assiniboia (Mr. Davin}. A few days ago, when the Government announced their intention of taking Mondays and Thursdays. I drew their attention to these Bills, and I was assured—  at any rate, the hon. member for West Assiniboia stood in his place and stated—that the Government intended to introduce an Act for the purpose of making this matter right. No such Act has been introduced,  and, as time is passing, and we are getting close to the end of the session, and as there is a large amount of business to be done— practically no Government business has been done yet—I am much disappointed at not seeing a Bill upon the Order paper for the purpose: for the assurance given by the hon. member for West Assiniboia as to the Government's intention was corroborated. I am not sure by whom but I think by the hon. Minister of Justice Mr. Dickey. And if that course is adopted—of course I do not suggest that the Government do not intend to adopt it—it will he very satisfactory indeed to the people of the North-west generally. The only suggestion that I have to make is that, the Government having decided to do it, it will be advisable that it shall he done at an early day in order that the measure may go to the Senate with time to he passed there and so heeome law. I would ask that my Bill be read a second time in the meantime, and then allowed to stand. the committee stage not being taken now, so that the Government may have an opportunity to bring down their measure.
Motion agreed to,and Bill read the second time.


Canada. House of Commons Debates, 1875-1949. Provided by the Library of Parliament.



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