An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (contestation of election and punishment)

This bill was last introduced in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in September 2013.

Sponsor

Dominic LeBlanc  Liberal

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Defeated, as of Nov. 21, 2012
(This bill did not become law.)

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Canada Elections Act to increase the fines for certain offences under the Act. It also permits the Chief Electoral Officer to contest the election of a candidate.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Votes

  • Nov. 21, 2012 Failed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

Canada Elections Act
Private Members' Business

November 7th, 2012 / 6:45 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Wayne Easter Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand and speak on Bill C-424, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (contestation of election and punishment).

Since the last election on May 2, 2011, a lot of information has come to light about some of the actions that took place during that election. It shows the serious need for this bill.

This bill's proposed purpose, as explained in the summary, is to amend the Canada Elections Act to increase the fines for certain offences under the act. It also permits the Chief Electoral Officer to contest the election of a candidate. In other words, it gives the Chief Electoral Officer standing to take action where he or she sees fit.

Why is there a need for such a bill? Let us look at some of the examples. Daily in the House we see the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs failing to answer questions on events that happened in his riding. He sits on his hands. He claims he is going to outline those concerns and address them next Tuesday in his riding. We will have to wait and see. That is one example.

Another example is the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, the member for Peterborough, who finds his spending actions in turmoil.

The third point I would make is that the former parliamentary secretary to the Prime Minister, the member for Nepean—Carleton, stands in his place daily to defend the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs. Every time that member stands up, I am reminded of the in-and-out scandal of the previous election. That member never talks about the results of the in-and-out scandal and what happened, including the fact that the Conservative Party was fined $50,000 and had to pay back $260,000 for overspending.

The fourth example I would use is that quite a number of the results in a number of Conservative ridings are being challenged before the courts by the Council of Canadians. Actually, there are too many for me to name in my remarks; I would end up not being able to talk about the bill. There are quite a number of challenges now before the courts.

As these examples show, there is a need for some mechanism, a known mechanism, to clearly show candidates running in an election—and that is every candidate, because I do not just want to pick on the Conservatives here—that funny business during an election will not be tolerated, and that there are serious fines in place if such behaviour is proven.

What this bill really does is to put a mechanism in place to give some legislative teeth for action to be taken if there is a problem on the part of a candidate during an election. That would clearly be known prior to elections, and so it certainly should hold candidates more to account.

I will now turn to what those actions are in Bill C-424.

Although I think it is far superior to the American system where so much money was spent in the election, even in our system money still makes a difference. A prime example of that, for the Conservatives who are here in the House, is that the reason for the overspending by the Conservatives by way of the in and out scandal was to use more national advertising to attack and undermine the leadership of the other parties, mainly the leadership of our party. That is why the in and out scandal was invented. It was so they could overspend. While our system is superior, money still does talk.

When we think there is a problem at the national level, certainly the national parties have more means with which to challenge it. However, when there is overspending in a riding or skulduggery happens during an election at the riding level, many candidates do not have the means to challenge that overspending. They just do not have the money to do it.

I will use a recent example just to pinpoint how serious this is.

We are all aware that there was a challenge to the results and the activities in the riding of Etobicoke Centre. Those election results were upheld by the Supreme Court. However, I am not talking about the complaint as such, but the amount of money it took to challenge that in the Supreme Court. The individual who challenged, in that case, had the means with which to do so, but it was in the range of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Therefore, it is easy to see that a number of candidates running would not have the financial means to challenge election results before the courts.

As was said by our leader in his remarks earlier, the cost should not limit the rights of citizens to ensure that the democratic process was conducted fairly. By adding the Chief Electoral Officer to the list of people who can contest an election, we are making it possible for Canadians who cannot afford this process to have another outlet for due process. It is a simple change to the act that says, in instances where election fraud is suspected, the Chief Electoral Officer can pursue it through the courts. The onus should not be on everyday Canadians to come up with vast amounts of money to protect democracy.

In this country, we want to see ordinary Canadians running for office to represent constituents in this place. It should not only be money and those who are backed with money that talk. We put limits on riding spending. We put limits on candidate spending. However, if there is election fraud, or a strong suspicion of election fraud, those citizens need the right and ability to challenge those decisions without facing bankruptcy for having challenged them.

By providing the Chief Electoral Officer with the standing to contest an election, we are putting in place a further safeguard to our democracy. That is what is important. We need to safeguard our democracy. The bill is quite simple in terms of its wording and the changes to be made, but it is quite dramatic in terms of the impact it could have on ordinary Canadians who stand for election. If there is election fraud, they would be able to challenge it.

My last point is that the penalties are there to be seen and could be imposed on those who would get involved in election fraud. I ask the House to support the bill. It is needed for our democracy.

Canada Elections Act
Private Members' Business

November 7th, 2012 / 6:55 p.m.
See context

NDP

Craig Scott Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will respond to the speech from the member for Malpeque. Most of what he said is well worth taking on board. However, in the first hour of debate, we heard a fair bit, including from the side of the governing party, about a concern that the mechanism being selected in Bill C-424 for an additional way to contest elections through the Chief Electoral Officer would involve the Chief Electoral Officer in almost a politicization of his role, that there would not be sufficient neutrality with that mechanism.

The concerns being presented from the governing side were real, in the sense that within the structure of the Canada Elections Act there is a reason to be concerned about whether this is the appropriate mechanism. At the same time, it is important that we actually hear in committee whether the mechanism of using the Chief Electoral Officer to trigger a contestation could actually work. As the sponsor for the bill did note, there are at least three jurisdictions in Canada, those being Ontario, B.C. and Nunavut, that give the power to the equivalent of the Chief Electoral Officer to contest elections. Somehow or other in those jurisdictions, the problem of political neutrality was not seen as a barrier. That said, we do not appear to have a lot of experience with this mechanism to draw upon. There are no controversies, but also no strong indications that if this were ever to be invoked in those jurisdictions there might not be problems.

On behalf of the New Democratic Party, most of our members would be keen to support this bill going to committee, but we are not at all committed at this early stage to this being the right mechanism.

Some suggestions have been raised that maybe the best mechanism is to piggyback on a mechanism that already exists in the Canada Elections Act, which is a referral from the Chief Electoral Officer, in certain instances, to the Commissioner of Canada Elections. That is in the context of various listed offences where the Chief Electoral Officer refers a matter to the Commissioner of Canada Elections to conduct an inquiry, and from that point forward it is up to the Commissioner of Canada Elections to determine whether to go further. There is a linkage there that would suggest that maybe one way of mitigating the concern about politicization is to give the Chief Electoral Officer a role but basically hand over the heavy lifting to the Commissioner of Canada Elections.

The problem is that while this provides something to be built upon, it is not an off-the-shelf mechanism. As it exists now in the Canada Elections Act, under section 510, the Chief Electoral Officer, when he or she refers to the Commissioner of Canada Elections, it is only with respect to offences. The whole idea is to start a possible prosecutions path within the Elections Canada Act. It is not at all about contestation of elections. Something would definitely have to be reworded by way of amendment to the current Bill C-424, if that linkage mechanism were to be chosen instead of the pure mechanism of allowing the Chief Electoral Officer to do the challenging without any role for the commissioner.

There could be another way to go, and that would be that within the current Bill C-424, where the words “the Chief Electoral Officer” have been inserted in proposed subsection 524(1) of the Canada Elections Act, to add “the Chief Electoral Officer” as one actor who could challenge an election. It would simply substitute the words “the Chief Electoral Officer” for “the Commissioner of Canada Elections”, and give that role directly to the commissioner without any role at all for the Chief Electoral Officer.

I am not saying, one way or the other, that having the Commissioner of Canada Elections involved would be preferable to having the Chief Electoral Officer as the trigger for contestation for elections. However, we owe it to the structure of the act itself to look at that possibility.

It turns out that the Canada Elections Act is the only elections act within Canada among all the jurisdictions that has the factor, the Commissioner for Elections Canada, and there is, by virtue of that, a certain logic within our federal act where the Chief Electoral Officer probably does benefit from a greater degree of distance from the enforcement process than exists in any of the other acts within provincial and territorial jurisdiction. If that is the case, it might be that for the federal act, it is more problematic to have the Chief Electoral Officer play this role.

The point is that we could benefit by going to committee to look exactly at what the best mechanism would be. We would be able to learn if there were other mechanisms, for example, in use elsewhere outside of provincial or territorial jurisdictions that might be more suitable or more effective. Indeed, if we learned that, we might well determine that those mechanisms could not be turned to and inserted by way of amendment because they would fall well outside the immediate scope of the bill. However, we would have ended up learning enough, even if we rejected Bill C-424 after the committee stage, to assist the government, perhaps, in determining a mechanism that it could put forth within legislation, legislation I would like to think is under way or close to being tabled by the government. In March of this year the government agreed in the unanimous motion sponsored by the NDP to table elections legislation on certain aspects of the running of elections, yet we have not seen that legislation.

Let us just say that it is very likely that somewhere in the civil service the makings of an election act amendment bill is there and if it takes that much longer, having some committee hearings on Bill C-424 can only help inform government members' consideration of what should go in the government bill.

I would make brief note, without going into detail, that south of the border is a very different model from contesting elections at the moment in our electoral act. We have candidates or electors from the riding in question having the right to challenge an election result. South of the border also there is a list of candidates, electors, et cetera, who have that same kind of right, but all of it is channelled into a very different model whereby there are an independent set of actors, like electoral committee, and then it goes to an election commission and the courts do not get involved until the very end at the review stage.

There might be something to be said for the U.S. model, which again I doubt very much we could bring into the bill by way of amendment, but we might learn that it is a better approach than what has been proposed.

Probably more important in the times we find ourselves, and this is where I would refer back to the speech by the member for Malpeque, we are living in times when we are more and more aware, and let us put it as delicately as we can, of a fair bit of evidence of shenanigans which has come to our attention in the last year or so, especially with respect to the May 2011 federal election. We basically have to consider that we have some evidence now of the costs. This is the first point from the sponsor of the bill that the costs of contesting an election are serious.

The member for Malpeque talked about the specific case of Etobicoke Centre, but I think it is also important that we know that a number of citizens are currently contesting a number of riding results in the 2011 election. I think there might be five ridings or there might be more. Even before the matter had gone to federal court, something like $240,000 had already been spent before getting to court, where it currently is.

Also the second point is that fraud that is common to multiple ridings is something that is much more likely to be caught by a centralized public actor like the Chief Electoral Officer, or the Commissioner of Elections Canada. They are more likely to perceive commonalities occurring across ridings and be able to efficiently compare and marshal the evidence.

Finally, a third factor we have to keep in mind if this ever does go to committee is the Supreme Court case that just came down in Etobicoke Centre where vigilance against disenfranchisement was the leitmotiv, the central point of reasoning in the judgment and how it was that voter suppression actually fitted the problem that the court was more concerned about than the irregularities that were actually before the court in the case at hand.

We have to be aware of everything we have learned about allegations of voter suppression in the last election and understand that the bill before us is meant to achieve a purpose. We would like to see it go to committee, whatever the result thereafter.

Canada Elections Act
Private Members' Business

November 7th, 2012 / 7:05 p.m.
See context

NDP

Pierre-Luc Dusseault Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-424, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (contestation of election and punishment). I want to thank and congratulate the hon. member for Beauséjour, who is the sponsor of this commendable private member's bill.

Bill C-424 has to do with a fundamental pillar of our democracy: the electoral process. As legislators, we have a duty to preserve the integrity of our democratic system. We must cherish and appreciate the good fortune we have of living in a country where fair and free elections are held on a regular basis. Unfortunately, as with everything, some people abuse our system and try to get around the rules that are in place. These malicious people have to be punished in a way that fits their crimes. That is what Bill C-424 tries to do, in part.

Some unfortunate events presumably took place during the last general election on May 2, 2011. I am talking about what is commonly referred to as the robocall scandal. This bill seems to me to have been motivated by this disgraceful incident. This type of fraudulent tactic undermines the public's trust in the electoral system. Something must be done to regain that trust. This bill will help to do that. I would like to talk about the specifics of Bill C-424, so that those watching at home can understand what we are talking about today.

First, Bill C-424 amends paragraphs 500(5)(a) and 500(5)(b) of the Canada Elections Act to multiply the fines for some offences by 10. The fines will thus increase from $2,000 to $20,000 for summary convictions and from $5,000 to $50,000 for indictments.

The type of offences covered by paragraphs 500(5)(a) and 500(5)(b) include delaying or obstructing the electoral process; offering or accepting a bribe; compelling or intimidating a person to vote or refrain from voting for a particular candidate; acting as an election officer without being one; wilfully making a false declaration; exceeding or evading election advertising expense limits; disclosing the vote of a voter one has helped; intentionally and prematurely spoiling an advance ballot; wilfully failing to declare a candidate elected; and wilfully conducting election advertising using government means of transmission. There are thus a number of offences.

This bill affects individuals, voters, election officers—including returning officers—polling companies, candidates, registered associations, party leaders and political parties in general. The types of offences covered by the harsher penalties generally have to do with wrongdoing that could seriously undermine the legitimacy of the democratic process in Canada.

This bill imposes harsher penalties for intentional offences, when a political party, association, voter, election officer, candidate, party leader or individual intentionally breaks the law. Here, the emphasis is on the word “intentionally”. Anyone who intentionally interferes with the electoral process deserves a harsh sentence.

We are not talking about minor mistakes committed accidentally by a campaign volunteer, for I would not want to dissuade anyone who might want to get involved in volunteer work for a political party, but who might fear getting slapped with a $20,000 fine. That would be unacceptable. Rather, we are talking about premeditated fraud committed by organized individuals using sophisticated means to break the law.

At the same time, these offences seriously undermine not only the legitimacy of the democratic process, but also our own legitimacy as the elected representatives of the Canadian public. It is important to note that Bill C-424 does not create any new offences. It merely increases fines. Admittedly, monetary penalties ranging from $2,000 to $5,000, as they currently stand, are pretty minimal.

As a result of the uncertainty caused by the robocall scandal, it is crucial that individuals who want to violate the Canada Elections Act for partisan purposes be punished severely. The NDP believes that, given the offences targeted by the bill and the importance of maintaining the integrity of our electoral system, it is in the public interest to impose fines that reflect the seriousness of the crimes committed. Fines that are increased tenfold would be a good way to discourage anyone who might consider deliberately breaking the law for partisan purposes.

Second, the bill seeks to increase the powers of the Chief Electoral Officer. The NDP supports this initiative to give the Chief Electoral Officer the authority to contest an election if he or she notes any irregularities. We do believe, however, that this needs to be explored further in committee. As my hon. colleague from Toronto—Danforth just mentioned, we do have some concerns regarding this measure to increase the powers of the Chief Electoral Officer.

At present, only an elector who is eligible to vote in a given riding or a candidate in that same riding can file a complaint with the Commissioner of Canada Elections if he or she feels there are any irregularities.

When there are reasonable grounds to believe that the law has been broken, the Commissioner of Canada Elections can refer the matter to the Director of Public Prosecutions, who decides whether or not to prosecute. Generally, a lengthy process ensues and can last several months or several years.

By allowing the Chief Electoral Officer to act alone, we are simplifying the process a bit. Our support for granting the power of contestation to the Chief Electoral Officer complements the motion we moved last winter on enhancing the powers of the Chief Electoral Officer and Elections Canada. We believe that this measure is good because such legal processes take a lot of time and money. My two colleagues mentioned this earlier, but just look at Etobicoke Centre, where it took a very lengthy process before a decision could be made. The average person probably would not get involved in such lengthy legal wrangling.

However, the Chief Electoral Officer has the necessary resources for such processes. What is more, it would be easier to contest elections in a greater number of ridings, in the event of widespread electoral fraud, as in the case of the robocalls, which affected several ridings. It would be difficult to have a voter or a candidate from every riding contest the election. Contestation would be easier if only one agency could contest several ridings at a time, in cases of widespread fraud.

Some government members have expressed concern over the Chief Electoral Officer's partiality if he had such contestation powers. That is why we believe that it would be worth asking him the question in committee. That is one of the reasons why we support the bill at second reading. We will have to see how this bill can be improved in committee.

As my colleague mentioned, we also have some concerns. If the Chief Electoral Officer had more powers, then things would have to be regulated a little more. Under specific circumstances, where there is clear evidence of irregularities, contestation could be possible, but only after the implementation of a specific process whereby the Chief Electoral Officer would show that he has tangible evidence related to a fraudulent situation.

My colleague from Beauséjour pointed this out in his opening speech on October 3:

This approach is entirely consistent with other electoral systems in Canada such as in British Columbia, Ontario and Nunavut, where the chief electoral officers are able to contest the election result in a particular electoral district.

Therefore, the precedent for such power has already been set in two provinces and one territory. As I mentioned earlier, we must ask the Chief Electoral Officer this question when the bill is at committee stage. I hope he will attend with the support of the government.

In the interests of thoroughness, Bill C-424, which was introduced by the member for Beauséjour, deserves to be examined in more detail in committee. The bill is a good starting point, but we must continue to improve it.

The NDP supports sending this bill to committee. I hope that the Conservatives will also support it, which would allow for more in-depth study. It speaks to the integrity of our democratic system. I would be shocked if the Conservatives were to vote against the bill.

We anxiously await the committee's findings. This is a matter of public interest. The many allegations of wrongdoing during the last election clearly illustrate that this harms democracy in Canada. In light of the recent election scandals, we must take immediate steps to improve the Canada Elections Act and to regain the trust of Canadian voters. It is our duty, and this bill is a good start.

Canada Elections Act
Private Members' Business

November 7th, 2012 / 7:15 p.m.
See context

NDP

Francine Raynault Joliette, QC

Mr. speaker, imagine how surprised I was to learn that the famous Pierre Poutine was from my riding. What an honour it was to find my region on page one of the major newspapers. What a pleasure it was to learn that hidden behind a name normally used for a high-calorie meal from these parts was a heart of stone, a pebble in the shoe of the march towards democracy. Pierre Poutine and the robocalls, what a story.

While there may be a humorous side to all of this, it should not be forgotten that this crisis still taints the results of the most recent election and undermines voter confidence.

I have often wondered why my riding was picked to set in motion what was to become one of the greatest crises of trust in our electoral system. Mostly, I asked myself how we could improve that system.

Here today, I would like to speak on behalf of greater electoral transparency and to deter future scandals. Although Pierre Poutine supposedly comes from my riding, we all know that he has probably never enjoyed his eponymous dish at the local Henri restaurant. If the goal of those who caused the scandal was to use robocalls in a riding where the Conservatives had no chance of winning, I can reassure them that they have no more chance of winning now than they had before the last election.

At any rate, the fact is that Pierre Poutine still cannot rest easy. The scandal could surface again in one of the ridings that the Conservatives actually care about. How about a Brian Smoked Meat, a Lolita Steak Haché or a Roland Pâté Chinois?

To prevent the recurrence of scandals like these, Bill C-424 contains some worthwhile solutions. As Pierre Poutine’s member of Parliament, I will explain some reasons for supporting the bill at this point and give my recommendations for the next steps.

The current trend is towards widespread voter cynicism. It can indeed be difficult to find enough good reasons to go and vote given the various forms of electoral fraud that people are talking about. People have a right to expect that political parties should meet a number of essential criteria, including integrity, transparency, honesty and the desire to serve the public good. In view of these expectations, it is fully understandable that some people are reluctant to take the trouble to vote. That is why in my view Bill C-424 is a step in the right direction. It would increase the level of trust that people have in their political institutions.

While cynicism is a problem that can be combatted by adding safeguards to the electoral system, it will take more than just holding candidates to account to eliminate all the forms of fraud that currently affect the system. At the moment, an individual or an organization can challenge the validity of an election, but the ensuing legal action can take months or even years. In the meantime, any candidates who have been challenged will continue to sit, meaning that they are still entitled to talk about and vote on bills that will affect people's everyday lives.

If Canadians find that legislation can be voted on by people whose very presence in the House is being challenged, how can they be expected to abide by these laws? Needless to say, it is all part and parcel of everyone's social contract. If everyone is prepared to comply with existing laws, it is because they have been enacted in accordance with a democratic process and, in the end, they contribute to the welfare of the community. It would be ill advised to attempt to breach any of the clauses in our social contract.

Another point in favour of Bill C-424 is that it provides for some serious fines. At the moment, anyone convicted of fraud has to pay a fine of $2,000 to $5,000. When the spending involved in an election is taken into consideration, such fines can hardly be considered a deterrent, particularly in view of the fact that since 1992, 68 people have been convicted of such offences.

This can be considered a large number of convictions given the number of elections that have been held. However, one must not lose sight of the fact that the people in question have only a very small fine to pay. There might have been far more convictions if Canada's Chief Electoral Officer had the power to draw up legislation against irregularities. Who is in a better position than the Chief Electoral Officer to identify irregularities? It would therefore be appropriate to give him all the resources required to legislate against improper conduct while remaining appropriately independent of any political allegiance.

It is also worth repeating that the Chief Electoral Officer himself argued that the current sanctions are insufficient to deter those who commit fraud. As an Université de Montréal graduate put it:

The current punishments do not fit the crime. For example, some aspects of the law may lead to prosecution, yet administrative sanctions would be more effective and could be implemented more quickly.

In my view, we should remember that the Chief Electoral Officer himself is aware of the weakness of the rules currently in force. It is now up to the government to decide whether the Chief Electoral Officer should be given broader powers to address the situation. Are we to allow Canada to continue to vacillate on such an essential issue? I believe that Bill C-424 is a step in the right direction, as it raises the fines from $2,000 to $5,000 to $20,000 to $50,000. That should be enough to make any party member as ungentlemanly as the so-called Pierre Poutine think twice.

Following the robocalls scandal, the Conservatives supported the NDP motion on strengthening the powers of Elections Canada last spring. Bill C-424 is an opportunity for the House of Commons to work together to eliminate election fraud and enhance the exercise of democracy. That is why I am eagerly looking forward to having this bill discussed in committee to get Canadians interested once again in participating in democracy.

Canada Elections Act
Private Members' Business

October 3rd, 2012 / 6:20 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Beauséjour, NB

moved that Bill C-424, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (contestation of election and punishment), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak today to private member's Bill C-424, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act.

The bill would strengthen the federal electoral system to ensure all citizens would have access to due process in the case of contested elections as well as prevent, we hope, the repeat of the potential electoral fraud on a wide scale, which has marred Canadians' confidence in the last general election.

This bill accomplishes two very important things.

First, it would add the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada as somebody eligible under the law to contest an electoral result. Under the current law, and based upon the prescribed grounds in the act, an electoral district result can only be contested by an elector who was eligible to vote in that district or a candidate who ran as a candidate in that district as well.

As we have recently seen, contesting an election is a very expensive proposition and something many Canadians simply cannot afford. By adding the Chief Electoral Officer to the list of people who can contest an electoral result, we are making it possible for Canadians who cannot afford this process to have access themselves to the courts.

We are in no way seeking to alter the burden of proof in contesting a result or changing any other evidentiary requirement. We are simply giving the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada standing to bring an action before the courts, as could any eligible elector or candidate.

In addition, in circumstances where electoral fraud is suspected in more than one riding, this bill will permit the Chief Electoral Officer to better investigate the allegations.

Under the current system, if centralized fraud that affects a number of ridings is committed, Canadians in each individual riding must challenge the election before the courts, still as individuals.

While the act itself may be centralized, the only means available to these people to address the crime is limited to the electoral boundaries.

If the Chief Electoral Officer can challenge all of the electoral results, he or she will be able to ensure that no person or group can hide behind this technical detail.

This approach is entirely consistent with other electoral systems in Canada such as in British Columbia, Ontario and Nunavut, where the chief electoral officers are able to contest the election result in a particular electoral district.

Second, the bill would simply increase the fines for obstruction of the electoral process, for example, on a summary conviction from currently not more than $2,000 to not more than $20,000. For conviction by indictment, as members well know, the current legislation prescribes a fine of not more than $5,000. This bill would increase that to $50,000.

Canadians need to trust our electoral system and its integrity. Anyone who tries to undermine that trust and cheat the system must know that the consequences will be significant. The intent of this clause is to provide an even stronger deterrent to people who might think about cheating our electoral system.

Therefore, two very simple changes are being proposed.

The first aspect is the Chief Electoral Officer will have the ability at law to contest an electoral result in a district. Obviously, this will be done following a thorough analysis by Elections Canada, which is very conscious of the legal requirements of such a contestation.

The second aspect of the legislation we are proposing would simply increase the existing penalties. It would not change the nature of the offences. It would not add new offences. It would simply say that if someone is convicted on a summary conviction of election fraud, we think $2,000 is not the right sanction as a maximum penalty. It should be increased to $20,000 and the same thing on indictment, from $5,000 to $50,000. There is no mandatory minimum prescribed in our changes and our proposals, we are simply increasing the existing penalties for existing offences.

I believe the changes in the bill will strengthen our democracy and help rebuild some of the trust that perhaps has been lost in recent months. The last federal election cast a shadow over a number of electoral districts. Investigations are ongoing in a number of different electoral districts. We think that these changes will ensure that the respect for our electoral system is maintained and that those who seek to violate it would face consequences commensurate with the nature of the offence, that being the undermining of the basic democratic rights of Canadians.

I hope all members of all parties in the House will ultimately support the bill when it comes to a vote. Obviously, should it be sent to committee, I would be willing to entertain amendments or suggestions from all sides of the House in an effort to strengthen the legislation. If there are technical aspects that perhaps can be improved, I would remain very open to the suggestions of my colleagues.

Canada Elections Act
Private Members' Business

October 3rd, 2012 / 6:35 p.m.
See context

NDP

Alexandrine Latendresse Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to explore in more depth the ideas proposed in Bill C-424 by the hon. Liberal member for Beauséjour.

I am also pleased to announce that the NDP will support the bill so that it can go to committee. It raises some valid points, and I would like to discuss them in greater depth.

But I am well aware that anything to do with electoral reform is far from being the most appealing topic. It is not going to grab media attention or put catchy headlines on the front page of the paper tomorrow. But procedural issues are at the root of the democratic system.

I do not promise a colourful speech, but I still believe that the debate today is very interesting and will be able to hold our attention.

Bill C-424 proposes two very different things. But both are trying to better identify and prevent potential breaches of the Canada Elections Act.

Let me explain the situation.

The bill amends paragraphs 500(5)(a) and 500(5)(b), which provide for penalties for specific offences. The offences are: obstructing or delaying the electoral process; offering or accepting a bribe; compelling or intimidating a person to vote or refrain from voting for a particular candidate; acting as an election officer without being one; wilfully making a false declaration; exceeding or evading election advertising expense limits; disclosing the vote of a voter one has helped; intentionally and prematurely spoiling an advance ballot; wilfully failing to declare a candidate elected and finally, wilfully conducting election advertising using government means of transmission.

You will agree with me that these are not choirboy pranks. These are serious offences that undeniably require a degree of premeditation. The word “wilfully” regularly occurs in the list I have just read out, and with good reason. If you show up at a polling station with a baseball bat in order to prevent people from voting, it is not by mistake.

I will now go over the list of people who are liable for the penalties in the act. It is important to name them. They include individuals, voters, election officers, including returning officers, polling companies, candidates, registered associations, party leaders and political parties in general.

All the offences covered by the harsher penalties have to do with wrongdoing that would undermine the legitimacy of the democratic process in Canada.

In an election, there are two types of people. First, there are those to whom the legislation applies, such as candidates, riding associations, leadership candidates, official agents and all those who act directly on behalf of Elections Canada, such as returning officers. Second, there are thousands of volunteers who want to be involved in the electoral process. Those people are indispensable. They are the most valuable resources in an election. The penalties do not apply to volunteers who, unintentionally, make a mistake on an official document or who are not able to apply the legislation to the letter because they do not know it. We need volunteers for our democratic process to work, but they must not be threatened with an election act that could come down hard on them at the slightest error. Those people are protected. The legislation is strict, but it makes a lot of sense and it is applied sensibly.

So the penalties under the legislation only apply to the first category, meaning those who have clear responsibilities set out in the act and who are required to be familiar with the Canada Elections Act.

For the people listening, I will explain that the Canada Elections Act is a document that sets out exactly how to run an election. It is complicated, thorough and constantly being tweaked. The act is also a global benchmark we can be proud of. Representatives of other governments around the world consult it and draw from it. This tweaking is what we are looking at right now.

Ever since Canada came into being, we have learned from our mistakes. Fraud has occurred in the past, and we have always tried to adjust as a result. We need to crack down on fraud and fight it in the future.

Since 1992, precisely 68 violations of the Canada Elections Act have led to convictions. Obviously, they vary in seriousness.

Despite everything, we should acknowledge that these violations are occasional phenomena that are rarely successful.

No one is saying that Canada's electoral legitimacy is seriously at risk. The violations that have been punished are serious but isolated. However, I repeat that higher fines may help deter people from breaking the law. There will always be people ready to cheat and violate the electoral process to get what they want. It is too bad, but I am delighted that these incidents remain infrequent.

There have been 68 convicted violations in 20 years, in six federal elections and one referendum. Think about it. There have been six general elections in over 300 ridings, but only 68 convicted violations, which does not mean that we should ignore them, but that we need to look at all ways to crack down on the culprits. That is our job as legislators. As I said last week, too many countries around the world are victims of democratic processes that lack transparency. Canada is still a symbol of democratic transparency and stability. Despite everything we have lost recently, at least we still have that.

At this time, the fines set out in the legislation are not completely absurd, but almost. We are dealing with so-called cerebral offences, and the maximum fine varies between $2,000 and $5,000. Everyone here agrees that this threat is not very effective. It is not unlike the requirement to own $4,000 worth of “lands or tenements held in franc-alleu or in roture” in order to be a senator in this country.

The NDP would like the penalties imposed for violating the Canada Elections Act to be a far greater deterrent. Increasing monetary penalties related to violations of the Canada Elections Act is a valid means of trying to prevent such violations. For the NDP, this is acceptable, but hardly revolutionary.

We are talking about premeditated fraud committed by organized individuals using sophisticated means to break the law. At the same time, these offences seriously undermine not only the legitimacy of the democratic process, but also our own legitimacy as the elected representatives of the Canadian public. It is important to note that Bill C-424 does not create any new offences. It merely increases fines.

I would like to move on to what is new in this bill. It gives the Chief Electoral Officer the authority to contest the election of a candidate if he or she notes any irregularities in the electoral process.

At present, only a Canadian voter in his own riding or a candidate can file a complaint with the Chief Electoral Officer in order to initiate an investigation.

The problem is that this restriction slows down the process. As I mentioned earlier, the Elections Act is a rather complex piece of legislation. We cannot seriously expect all Canadians to know it inside out. Someone might witness an irregularity, but would not notice it for lack of experience.

We must remember that the act governs electoral conduct down to the minutest detail. The act is well written and, I will say it again, no one expects every Canadian to readily understand its ramifications and consequences. That was never the intention and that is quite all right.

Take, for example, the robocall scandal, which is still being investigated. It took hundreds, even thousands of complaints to Elections Canada before it became apparent that there was a global and coordinated problem. And that was almost one year after the election.

I do not claim to implicitly know the possible consequences of granting the power of contestation to the Chief Electoral Officer. This amendment to the Elections Act is perhaps a good thing. Rather, it most definitely is. However, we must seek the advice of those who are better informed about such matters.

I want to point out that, to our knowledge, the Chief Electoral Officer himself has never asked for this power. After every general election, Elections Canada prepares a list of recommendations to improve the Elections Act. The changes made by Bill C-424, regarding the powers given to the Chief Electoral Officer, are not the result of a specific request by the Chief Electoral Officer.

That is why the NDP is in favour of referring this bill to committee in order to hear from all the necessary witnesses, such as representatives from Elections Canada. They will be able to share with us their analyses and their recommendations. I hope my colleagues from the other parties will support this initiative.

The Chief Electoral Officer is responsible for enforcing electoral legislation. If he or his staff witness an offence, he should have the legislative tools to act if he has concerns about any aspect of the legitimacy of any election. This would be a rare occurrence—extremely rare. If the Chief Electoral Officer already had this power, that does not mean he would already have used it. However, being the independent and impartial expert that he is, he might notice things that someone with less experience would miss entirely.

Giving the Chief Electoral Officer this power does not bother me. It is a valid question worth pursuing in committee. The hon. member for Beauséjour sees a gap in the legislation that he wants to close pre-emptively. Let us see what the experts have to say about it.

In closing, this bill seeks to deter electoral violations through fines increased tenfold, and to anticipate a possible situation of abuse that may very well never happen.

I support Bill C-424 at second reading to refer it to committee. I am curious to hear what the witnesses will have to say about this.

Canada Elections Act
Private Members' Business

October 3rd, 2012 / 6:45 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is with pleasure that I rise to speak to what is an important bill for the government to not only look at but also to speak to as well.

The member for Beauséjour has brought an important issue forward to the House of Commons. If we were to canvas Canadians for their opinions, we would find that it is a topical issue, especially if we look at what took place in the last federal election.

In any given election, issues come up at both the federal and provincial levels, but I will focus my attention on the federal side of things.

We do not have to have a partisan debate per se on this legislation. It is important that we look at a couple of examples. It is important that we recognize that this is long overdue. I do not quite understand why any political party inside the House would oppose something of this nature. We appreciate the fact that the New Democratic Party seems to recognize the value of Bill C-424 and is prepared to support the legislation. I look forward to the government responding to the bill. As the member for Beauséjour has always demonstrated a very open mind when it comes to changing legislation, he would no doubt be open to any concerns the government might have in regard to potential amendments.

We have nothing to lose by allowing the bill to go to committee. I would really encourage members, particularly the parliamentary secretary, to open their minds and recognize that there is a need to move forward on this legislation. We should not be fearful of doing the right thing. Doing the right thing in this particular case would be to support the bill.

I join my colleague from Beauséjour in asking the government to get behind this particular bill and allow it to go to committee at the very least, where we can hear witnesses and different stakeholders express their concerns, and to get behind the bill and show that it has substantial support, which I believe it does have.

What would the bill do? First, there would be a significant change to the fines. It would not be a minimum; we are not telling a judge that he has to give a minimum fine of x dollars. We are saying that the amount of the fine has to be increased. The fine for a summary conviction would be increased from $2,000 to $20,000. The fine for an indictment would increase from $5,000 to $50,000. Whether it is the summary or indictment increase, I would argue that the proposed fine is very reasonable. We are not telling a judge that he has to use that amount. We are giving a judge, with the co-operation of the Crown, the opportunity to use some discretion and to levy a fine that would likely be a little bit more appropriate.

When I talk about a “little bit”, I am talking about the fact that a $2,000 fine is really not going to cut it for many of the alleged offences. It is not going to have the desired impact that a $20,000 fine or a $50,000 fine would have if a judge determined that it were an indictable offence. In a particular situation a judge might want to levy a fine of $45,000 or a maximum of $50,000.

When the government responds to this particular bill, it would be nice to hear what it feels about this aspect of the legislation. Does it support the need at the very least to increase the fines? I suspect that the government would be supportive of that.

The second thing that the legislation would change is very significant. The government really needs to understand why it is so critically important that we make this change. The essence of the change is that we are saying that the Chief Electoral Officer in the future would have the opportunity to take a stand and contest something that has taken place before the court.

As it works today, my understanding is that it has to be either a candidate or a resident of the constituency who does that, and that is very limiting. The primary limitation I am concerned about is the financial means of doing so.

Say for the sake of argument that everyone in the chamber agreed unanimously that a particular incident that occurred in riding X should not have taken place and that as a result those election results should be voided and another byelection called to clear the air.

If we have to rely on the local candidate or a voter or a constituent in that riding, there is a fairly significant financial impediment that would, in all likelihood, prevent the result from being contested, even if there were unanimous agreement within the House of Commons that something had taken place that justified some form of intervention.

Therefore, what would the legislation actually do? It would enable the Chief Electoral Officer, who is independent, the opportunity at the very least to bring it to the next level, not to make the decision and not to take a partisan approach. All it would do is to enable the Chief Electoral Officer to take that position and make that intervention. I would argue there is great value in that.

We could talk about the most recent election, but I am a bit reluctant to do that, seeing the member who is going to be speaking after me. He might want to comment and reflect on whether this is about the New Democratic Party or the Liberal Party. Equally, I suspect I could speak of my concerns with regard to the Conservative Party. I suggest that there might be a validity all the way around.

However, the bill is suggesting at the end of the day that the Chief Electoral Officer, whom I think Canadians as a whole have immense respect for and recognize his true independence, would be in an excellent position ultimately to determine whether or not there were a valid public interest in pursuing this, and that it should not be left to the economic means of a person residing in a constituency for us to protect what we all care deeply and passionately about, the democratic foundations of our great country.

It would be a tragic mistake if we collectively or individually took our democracy for granted. I challenge members to not take it for granted, to see the merits of the bill and allow it to go to committee where members on both sides, but more specifically individuals and stakeholders outside the House of Commons, would be able to participate in the debate on this very important bill. I ask all members to stand in their place to support it.

Canada Elections Act
Private Members' Business

October 3rd, 2012 / 7:05 p.m.
See context

NDP

François Choquette Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, some of the things I heard from the hon. member who just spoke are truly unbelievable. It is rather impressive.

I rise today to support second reading of Bill C-424, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act, from the Liberal member for Beauséjour. This bill reflects many values that are dear to the NDP and also to Canadians, such as democracy, integrity and ethics. Furthermore, it reinforces our commitment to a transparent and ethical democracy and electoral process.

More specifically, Bill C-424 would increase the financial penalties for certain offences under the Elections Act. In addition, the Chief Electoral Officer would have greater latitude.

I will summarize the bill. Bill C-424 amends the Canada Elections Act to significantly increase—tenfold—the fines for certain offences under the act. The fines will go from $2,000 to $20,000 in the case of a summary conviction—a criminal offence that is less serious than an indictable offence—and from $5,000 to $50,000 in the case of a conviction on indictment.

The offences targeted by paragraphs 500(5)(a) and 500(5)(b) include delaying or obstructing the electoral process; offering or accepting bribes; compelling a voter to vote or refrain from voting for a particular candidate—for example, the whole scandal involving fraudulent calls or robocalls, in which people were asked not to vote, would fit into that category—acting as an election officer without being one; wilfully making a false statement; exceeding or circumventing advertising expenses limits; disclosing for whom the elector voted; intentionally counting the advance poll ballots prematurely; wilfully failing to declare a candidate elected; and knowingly conducting election advertising using a government means of transmission.

These offences apply to individuals, voters, election officers—including returning officers—polling firms, candidates, registered associations, party leaders and political parties in general.

The offences targeted by stiffer penalties relate to inappropriate behaviour that could seriously weaken the legitimacy of Canada's democratic process.

We are really concerned about this bill, because these are all actions that prevent people from recognizing the ethical side of the political profession. It is important that Canadians regain confidence in politics, because right now the public is really discouraged. In Drummond and in Drummondville people often tell me that politicians are all the same and that they are all corrupt at some point. We are trying to improve politicians' image. In order to do so, we need legislation with teeth. Increasing the fines is a good first step to improve the reputation of politicians and politics and to help people regain confidence in politics, so that they will get involved and have confidence in us as politicians.

We are all here because we want to serve our constituents and because we want what is good for our country. That is what the public should see in us, instead of perceiving us as people who abuse the system. That is why it is important to restore ethics. This bill is a good first step in promoting ethics in the context of the Canada Elections Act.

Regarding the monetary penalties for certain violations of the Canada Elections Act, the Chief Electoral Officer himself has questioned some of the disproportionately small penalties. We saw this earlier with fines of $2,000 and $5,000, which is ridiculous. This is not enough to deter malicious people from breaking the law. Much harsher penalties are needed, and multiplying them by 10 is a good start and a good idea. We must support this.

For instance, falsely representing Elections Canada using mechanisms like the infamous robocalls, or fraudulent phone calls, is punishable by a fine of only between $2,000 and $5,000. That is ridiculous. This problem has not yet been resolved in the House of Commons. We must find the guilty parties and ensure that this does not happen again in future elections. Results in some ridings were probably affected by this illegal practice.

The existing fines are not enough to discourage malicious people from doing this terrible deed—preventing people from voting by sending them to the wrong polling station. The Chief Electoral Officer shares our opinion and asked the government to do something. That is what my colleague from Beauséjour has done.

In a scientific article, a law graduate from the Université de Montréal reiterated the remarks of the Chief Electoral Officer:

The current penalties are not tailored to the offences. For example, certain aspects of the law may result in criminal prosecution when administrative penalties would be more effective and more quickly implemented.

She continues by saying that “the amount of the current administrative penalties should be reviewed.” She then again quotes the Chief Electoral Officer and says, “...serious offences carry disproportionately light penalties, including maximum fines that are very low—usually $2,000 or $5,000.”

It is appalling that people are committing such serious acts. Unfortunately, we still have not gotten to the bottom of this. We are having difficulty getting the Conservatives' support, which would allow us to get answers about Mr. Poutine and the absolutely ridiculous story of the fraudulent calls. We are not finished with this yet. Unfortunately, the Conservatives are not co-operating enough to resolve this problem, restore politicians' credibility and ensure that all members of the House, who serve the people in their ridings, act in an ethical manner.

Canadians want more transparency and they want to be able to once again have confidence in our democratic institutions. All elected members of the House of Commons must listen to Canadians. We must do everything we can to restore their confidence in our democratic institutions. That is why this act must be reviewed as quickly as possible.

In order to be thorough, Bill C-424, which was introduced by the hon. member for Beauséjour, deserves to be examined in more detail in committee. The bill is a good starting point, but we must continue to improve it. That is why it is absolutely necessary that it be examined in committee. The NDP supports sending this bill to committee. I hope that the Conservatives will also support it but, unfortunately, I doubt they will.

We look forward to the committee's findings so that we can analyze the direction that my Liberal colleague's bill will take. The Chief Electoral Officer must continue to play an important role in preserving the integrity of the electoral process. It is a matter of public interest. The many alleged offences during the last election clearly show that this is having a negative impact on Canada's democracy. That is why we must immediately take steps to improve the Canada Elections Act. This bill is a good start.

Canada Elections Act
Private Members' Business

October 3rd, 2012 / 7:15 p.m.
See context

NDP

Christine Moore Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-424, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (contestation of election and punishment). The purpose of this bill, introduced by the hon. member for Beauséjour, is to changes the rules for contesting an election and the fines in cases of electoral fraud.

Since becoming a member of Parliament, I have seen many debates and many issues raised in this House about the last election. It is high time that we took a more serious look at addressing the rules for contesting an election.

The proposed changes in this bill will significantly increase the fines for certain offences under the Canada Elections Act. The fine will increase from $2,000 to $20,000 on summary conviction for a contested election, and from $5,000 to $50,000 on conviction on indictment.

It is perfectly appropriate to wonder what type of offence this might cover. It covers delaying or obstructing the electoral process; offering or accepting a bribe; inciting or compelling a person to vote or refrain from voting for a particular candidate by using duress, intimidation, pretence or contrivance; and exceeding or circumventing election advertising expense limits. These are examples of offences that can be punishable under the legislation. These offences might involve candidates, party leaders or the political parties in general.

Another major change this bill proposes is that it will give the Chief Electoral Officer the power to contest an election. Currently, only a candidate for election or a constituent in a particular riding is authorized to contest the results of an election.

This bill gives the Chief Electoral Officer the power to investigate an election or alleged fraud during an election if he believes it is necessary. It is important to understand that the Chief Electoral Officer is often one of the only people who has the complete picture of what happened in a riding. It is unlikely that an individual would file a complaint about the election when he really is not aware, for example, that a thousand people had the same experience. It would be difficult for him to contest the election if he was not aware of all the other problem cases that arose during the same election.

Therefore, I believe that it makes sense to allow investigations to be carried out. Our democratic system is truly precious, and authorizing more frequent investigations of election fraud is a good thing. It is also important to remember that these investigations will take place if there are true concerns. The Chief Electoral Office will only launch an investigation if he has good cause and is truly convinced that there is a problem. Giving him the authority to conduct investigations does not mean that there will be an unlimited number of them. It will simply make it possible to hold investigations in specific situations.

It is also important to remember the context in which the bill was introduced. In recent years, there have been allegations of fraud, intimidation and fraudulent calls during the last federal election. There has been talk of bribes, falsification of voter lists and false information given out in order to prevent voters from voting. We need only think of Pierre Poutine and his 7,000 electronic calls on the day of the election. There were thousands of complaints from all over Canada during the last federal election.

When he appeared before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs in March, the Chief Electoral Officer said:

In that context, concerns have also been raised regarding the administration of the vote in certain electoral districts. This includes allegations of unusual numbers of polling day registrations, people registering improperly and voting by non-citizens. These are very serious matters that strike at the integrity of our democratic process. If they are not addressed and responded to, they risk undermining an essential ingredient of a healthy democracy—namely, the trust that electors have in the electoral process.

He is right. Election fraud jeopardizes our democratic system and the integrity of our democracy.

At the time, nearly 40,000 people had contacted the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer to express their concerns about this scandal. He was the only one who knew about the existence of all the other people. A member of the public cannot know that 39,999 other people called the Chief Electoral Officer to complain. This issue is extremely important and must be taken seriously. We cannot allow our democracy to be jeopardized by partisan games.

I am not sure yet if this bill is the best way to prevent these kinds of scandalous practices in the future, or at least to dispel the doubt people have about the democratic process. I think we must examine it more carefully in committee. That is a start. That will enable us to move forward. It must be studied in committee so that we can make any adjustments that are needed. This is our democracy, our democratic system. The country we represent will reap the benefits.

Canada Elections Act
Routine Proceedings

May 30th, 2012 / 3:25 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Beauséjour, NB

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-424, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (contestation of election and punishment).

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to introduce what I think is important legislation to strengthen our electoral system to deter those who may be considering committing electoral fraud.

We are seeking to do two things with this legislation. The first is to add the Chief Electoral Officer as somebody under the Canada Elections Act who has the authority to go before a competent court and contest the result in a particular riding. The current legislation only allows an elector or a candidate in that riding. As we know, it can be cost prohibitive for many people in the case of a widespread, large scale fraud that may have been perpetrated. In our view, with new technologies, it is appropriate for the Chief Electoral Officer to have the ability to appear before the court to contest a particular result.

The second element of this bill would be to increase the penalties. We are not suggesting a mandatory minimum in any way. We are seeking to increase the fines that a court of competent jurisdiction could impose on somebody convicted of an offence under the act. The current fines for some reconviction offences are $2,000. We are suggesting that the House increase that to $20,000. For an indictable offence, the $5,000 should properly be $50,000.

We hope this legislation will attract broad support in the House.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)