An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (contestation of election and punishment)
Dominic LeBlanc Liberal
Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)
Introduction and First Reading
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- 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 21st, 2012 / 5:30 p.m.
The House resumed from November 7 consideration of the motion 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.
Canada Elections Act
Private Members' Business
November 7th, 2012 / 7:15 p.m.
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
November 7th, 2012 / 7:05 p.m.
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 / 6:55 p.m.
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 / 6:45 p.m.
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.
The House resumed from October 3 consideration of the motion 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.
Canada Elections Act
Private Members' Business
October 3rd, 2012 / 7:15 p.m.
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
Private Members' Business
October 3rd, 2012 / 7:05 p.m.
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 / 6:45 p.m.
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.