Evidence of meeting #24 for Procedure and House Affairs in the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was candidate.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Marc Mayrand  Chief Electoral Officer, Elections Canada
  • Stéphane Perrault  Senior General Counsel and Senior Director, Legal Services, Office of the Chief Electoral Officer

11:20 a.m.

Chief Electoral Officer, Elections Canada

Marc Mayrand

Just for precision, Mr. Chair, we're also asking permission to carry it out in Winnipeg North if the general election takes over a byelection.

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Joe Preston

Right, that's whether it's a byelection or a general election. And the crackerjack staff of the committee has prepared a motion to that effect, having anticipated that the committee might go this way this morning. So we will present this report to the House as quickly as we can, and then you'll have your approval to go ahead and do your test.

11:20 a.m.

Chief Electoral Officer, Elections Canada

Marc Mayrand

Thank you very much.

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Joe Preston

Very good.

Now I'd like to recognize Monsieur Mayrand, the Chief Electoral Officer, on the rest of his statutory report to this committee. He will have a few comments to that effect, and then we'll have questions and answers on it.

Monsieur Mayrand.

11:20 a.m.

Chief Electoral Officer, Elections Canada

Marc Mayrand

Thank you again, Mr. Chair, and good morning to all members.

I'm very happy to have this opportunity to appear before the committee today to discuss my report entitled “Responding to Changing Needs”. This refers to the evolving needs of both electors and political entities.

Maintaining a healthy democracy requires an electoral process that responds to societal changes while continuing to foster accessibility, trust, and efficiency. Over the past few years my office has undertaken a series of administrative improvements to the electoral process. Nevertheless, greater flexibility is required under the Canada Elections Act to better respond to changing needs.

My recommendations cover three key areas: the electoral process, political financing, and the governance of Elections Canada. The report also contains a number of technical recommendations. In my letter to the committee dated September 22, 2010, I presented one additional technical recommendation dealing with the definition of leadership and nomination campaign expenses, and I would appreciate the committee's review of this recommendation as well.

I will now highlight a few recommendations related to the three key areas I just mentioned, starting with the electoral process. I refer you to the document entitled “Mapping of the Chief Electoral Officer's Recommendations”. It was distributed to the committee, I believe.

On the electoral process, our objective is to enhance services to electors by making it more accessible, while fostering trust and improving efficiency. I'm proposing that the Chief Electoral Officer be authorized to set up and conduct pilot projects during by-elections and general elections. This authority already exists in the Canada Elections Act for the testing of electronic voting. The opportunity to conduct pilot projects on various aspects of the electoral process would allow us to test other initiatives and better assess potential consequences before making recommendations for legislative amendments.

One example would be testing new approaches to the voting process at polling sites, with the aim of improving services to electors and simplifying the tasks of poll workers. Another example might be testing modified voting procedures to allow students to vote on campus.

I further propose legislative changes to address challenges experienced in recruiting poll workers. I am recommending that electoral district associations, rather than candidates, provide the names of suitable persons to the returning officer of their electoral district. I also suggest that this be done no later than 28 days before election days. These changes would provide an additional 10 days to returning officers for recruitment, appointment, and training of the approximately 650 poll workers needed in each riding to carry the vote.

To further improve accessibility, it is important that the Canada Elections Act be changed to reflect the evolving needs of Canadians. Today an increasing number of electors and political entities want to do business electronically with Elections Canada. They are accustomed to interacting with other organizations electronically every day. However, the act sets out requirements on signatures and production of paper documents, and these restrain us from providing a full suite of electronic services.

I'm therefore recommending that the Chief Electoral Officer be authorized to allow appropriate means of identification other than a signature. Among other things, this would enable new electors, including youth, to register online, and political entities to make electronic transactions, such as electronic transmission of financial returns.

The second area of recommendations relates to political financing. Over the years, successive reforms have affected the coherence of the political financing regime and increased the regulatory burden imposed on various political entities. Amendments are needed to reduce this burden and promote greater accountability. My recommendations seek to balance two key objectives here: trust and efficiency.

To increase trust in the management of public funds, I am recommending greater transparency in the review process for the electoral campaign returns of political parties. If requested by the Chief Electoral Officer, parties would be required to provide explanations or documents to support their election expenses returns. This change would bring the requirements applying to parties more in line with the requirements that are applied to candidates and leadership contestants.

I also note that in all provincial jurisdictions in Canada, parties may be required to produce supporting documentation for their election expenses. As you know, the current regime relies almost exclusively on criminal sanctions, which are not always the most effective approach to compliance. I am therefore proposing new measures that I believe would increase compliance. I am recommending that a candidate who files an electoral campaign return late forfeits a portion of the nomination deposit, and that the amount of the election expenses reimbursement of a candidate or party that has exceeded the election expenses limit be reduced dollar for dollar.

The most important change that I am recommending to reduce the administrative burden relates to the unpaid claims regime affecting candidates. Here my recommendation is to extend to 18 months the period during which candidates may pay their campaign debts without the need to obtain an authorization from the Chief Electoral Officer or a judge—an unnecessary burden. However, at the end of the 18-month period, there should be more stringent disclosure requirements regarding the status of unpaid claims, and a requirement to provide supporting documentation. I am also proposing to reduce the administrative burden related to the end-of-campaign weekly reporting of leadership contestants' contributions, particularly in the case of contestants who raised little funding and incurred few expenses. These recommendations seek to streamline the administrative requirements while ensuring greater transparency.

The report also includes a number of recommendations related to the governance of Elections Canada, to ensure greater clarity and efficiency. Elections Canada has long cooperated with electoral agencies in other Canadian jurisdictions. However, under the current legal framework, we have a limited capacity to implement joint initiatives—for example, as regards the joint development of public education and outreach tools. This situation could be remedied by explicitly authorizing the Chief Electoral Officer to enter into service agreements and common supply arrangements with other Canadian jurisdictions. This would help us serve Canadians more effectively.

Finally, I am asking for further clarity regarding our role in providing technical assistance to other countries with the development of their electoral processes. These activities are currently funded by the Government of Canada through ad hoc transfer payments. However, a clear legal framework is required. I am therefore recommending that the Chief Electoral Officer be granted the authority to commit transferred funds, at the request of the Government of Canada, for such activities. I also seek the explicit authority to cooperate on electoral matters and share information with international organizations and electoral agencies.

These are just some of the highlights of my report. It includes 50 recommendations which I believe are important to improve our electoral framework. These recommendations were developed by my Office in consultation with the Advisory Committee of Political Parties and, in some cases, government departments. They build on the experience of the last two general elections and aim to respond to Canadians' changing needs, while preserving the integrity of the electoral process.

I would like to express my appreciation to the Committee for taking the time to consider my report. We would be pleased to answer any of your questions. Thank you.

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Joe Preston

Thank you, Monsieur Mayrand.

First of all, I'm very thankful for what you've done in organizing your recommendations. There were many in the report, and I found myself flipping back and forth to see if I had already seen them. This will help us with our study and with looking at your recommendations.

I'll leave it now to questions from members. We'll do a seven-minute round to begin.

Ms. Foote, would you like to start today?

October 7th, 2010 / 11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Judy Foote Random—Burin—St. George's, NL

I would, thank you.

Thank you to your team for being here today. It's a pleasure to have you here and to hear about all the work you've been doing.

It's not every day you get access to the Chief Electoral Officer, so I have a question. I don't know if you're aware of or read an article in the Globe and Mail on August 20. It quoted a Mr. Brian Patterson. As I read the story, I thought that there was something not right about this, but then I'm not the Chief Electoral Officer, so I wanted to get your take on it.

Just to put it in perspective, Mr. Patterson was actually the chair of Tony Clement's provincial and federal leadership campaigns. He was also the chief of staff to Mr. Clement at four ministries in the Ontario government, and he was the election-day manager for Mr. Clement in Parry Sound--Muskoka in 2006 and 2008. That's just to set up for you where the comments came from.

According to the Globe and Mail story, he was asked by a municipal candidate how to obtain federal voters lists. I understand that the Conservatives manage a program called CIMS. This is what Mr. Patterson said, and I just want to read this, then I want to read what the act says and get your take on whether this can be avoided.

Mr. Patterson said to a municipal candidate:

But if someone gives you a copy of CIMS in your local campaign, we can’t stop you from calling up your local guys that you work [with] on the executives of [riding associations] if you can get it off them. You know, “Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil,”.... [Y]ou never heard me say this—and I’ll deny it in a room full of lawyers—that if you can somehow get it, you know, we don’t care.

Now, section 110 of the Canada Elections Act prohibits sharing the voters lists with anyone other than MPs. In fact, it states that parties and members or candidates of other levels of government may not use federal lists of electors for their own political purposes. The lists of electors can be used only by the federal political entity for communicating with its electors and/or for a federal election or referendum.

I guess it doesn't matter whether you saw the story, but I'm interested in whether comments like that concern you. Is it a violation of the Elections Act? How do you guard against something like this happening?

11:30 a.m.

Chief Electoral Officer, Elections Canada

Marc Mayrand

Well, as you all know, every year you get an annual list of electors for your riding and with it directions and guidance as to how it can be used, how it needs to be protected, and what procedures should be used in your offices to ensure the security, integrity, and proper use of the list, as such. The same guidance is provided to political parties when they receive the national list. So there are several reminders regarding the proper use of the lists and the care that has to be given to those lists.

Again, I point out the legislation that requires that it be used only by those who receive it and only for the purpose described in the Canada Elections Act.

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Judy Foote Random—Burin—St. George's, NL

Would you consider such actions to be a violation of the Canada Elections Act and the Privacy Act?

11:30 a.m.

Chief Electoral Officer, Elections Canada

Marc Mayrand

Well, I'm not aware of them. I can't comment on whether there's been an offence.

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Judy Foote Random—Burin—St. George's, NL

I'm sorry, I know you can't, if you don't know about the particular case. Given the scenario....

11:30 a.m.

Chief Electoral Officer, Elections Canada

Marc Mayrand

Sharing a list with those who are not entitled to receive it is not consistent with the acts, to say the least, and using the list for a purpose other than the one described in the legislation is also inappropriate and could lead to or constitute an offence. Again, it all depends on the circumstances.

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Judy Foote Random—Burin—St. George's, NL

If you're aware of circumstances like this, what action do you take? Do you pursue it? Do you follow up on it to ensure that it doesn't happen again or....?

11:30 a.m.

Chief Electoral Officer, Elections Canada

Marc Mayrand

It may happen. It depends on what is being raised, the sources, and whether there is enough information to warrant action. That action would be taken by the Commissioner of Canada Elections.

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Judy Foote Random—Burin—St. George's, NL

Would it be taken by getting in contact with the parties or individuals concerned?