House of Commons Hansard #92 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was elections.

Topics

Opposition Motion—Elections Canada Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

Peterborough
Ontario

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and to the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I want to correct a couple of things that the member said, because I know he would want to be absolutely correct in what he is saying.

He alleged that the voter turnout numbers were down in the last election. That is not correct. I would encourage him to check the numbers. In fact, some 900,000 more Canadians voted. I would like to think that is because our party introduced additional advance polling days and many Canadians took advantage of them. We are very proud of that. We think that providing greater opportunity for Canadians to exercise their democratic right was the right thing to do. We are proud to have done that.

In addition, the member is arguing for additional investigative powers for Elections Canada. We have indicated we have no problem with the motion. I do not know if the NDP is aware that the investigative authority of Elections Canada is quite broad. The former chief electoral officer, Jean-Pierre Kingsley, and the current Chief Electoral Officer have both been clear in indicating that they have all the investigative authority and ability they require.

I do have a specific question for the NDP. It relates to transparency. Why is it that our party provides transparent reports and gives a full breakdown of where we have spent money, but the NDP seems to rely on a single category called “miscellaneous”? Why is it not providing the same kind of transparency that other parties are providing to Elections Canada?

Opposition Motion—Elections Canada Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

NDP

Kennedy Stewart Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, there are a few corrections I can make. The number I was quoting earlier was a percentage. The Elections Canada website tracks the percentage of voters who turn out during elections. In the 1980s, there was an 80% turnout. That is on the Elections Canada website. In the last election there was a 61% turnout. That is a 20 percentage point drop. In any other industry anywhere in Canada, if there was this kind of drop, there would be massive investigations to see why it was happening.

We get raw figures, and of course they will go up because the population goes up. That is just smoke to cover up what is going on here. It is extremely disappointing. The member should be more forthright with what he is saying and use percentages rather than raw figures. It is disingenuous.

I do know what I am talking about. I have been asked to testify in front of a number of commissions on electoral reform. I was an academic adviser to the Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform in B.C. I know what I am talking about. That side does not.

Opposition Motion—Elections Canada Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Frank Valeriote Guelph, ON

Mr. Speaker, it has taken almost a year for Elections Canada to get to this point in its investigation with respect to what happened in Guelph, and now in Nipissing—Timiskaming and Kingston. I am curious if the member thinks that maybe it has taken so long because of the lack of authority and power that Elections Canada has. It has to try and dig up all sorts of evidence from whatever sources it can and then it has to go before a judge to try and convince a judge whether it has the right authority, for instance, to look at the records of RackNine.

Opposition Motion—Elections Canada Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

NDP

Kennedy Stewart Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, of course one of the main problems with investigating elections is under-resourcing. That is not a direct answer to the question, but it is something we should critically look at. We should ensure that these offices will not get their budgets cut because that would further impede their ability to investigate.

Also, it is clear that when the Chief Electoral Officer submits a report saying that he or she needs new powers to do his or her job, they should be granted. There is nothing more important in Canada than to make sure our democratic foundations are secure. They have been rattled and shaken. I knocked on probably 200 doors on Saturday in normally quiet neighbourhoods. That is what was on the lips of the people I talked to.

We have to get to the bottom of this. We have to ensure that the Chief Electoral Officer has the power to investigate these things in the future.

Opposition Motion—Elections Canada Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

Peterborough
Ontario

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and to the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join the debate on the motion brought forward by the NDP member for Hamilton Centre.

I would like to begin by stating that as the government that brought in the Federal Accountability Act bringing lasting and significant change to address accountability in government, we are not opposed at all to this motion. Our government fully supports transparency and accountability. It is for this reason that we in the Conservative Party have been open in making all of our records available to Elections Canada officials as they get to the bottom of allegations made in Guelph. Such actions as were alleged in Guelph are unacceptable and we will continue to do all we can to assist Elections Canada investigators.

However, the opposition parties are using this motion to yet again continue their baseless smear campaign with more unsubstantiated attacks in the House of Commons as well as in the media. Over the course of the debate today, they have made, and I am sure they will continue to make, more false allegations and launch more smears against Conservative MPs and candidates, and what is worse, the volunteers and supporters of our great party. It continues to be clear that those members do not have any information on which to base their attacks. Indeed, it is hearsay.

I would like to use my time today to speak about government action that brings true accountability and not to continue a baseless smear campaign for political advantage.

When I speak of accountability, our government is one of accountability. In 2006 when we first came to power, it was on a promise to bring back accountability to the way government works. That is exactly what we have done.

One of the first major pieces of legislation that our government brought forward was the Federal Accountability Act. In fact, I know Bill C-2 was the first bill brought forward by our government in 2006. The act, and its action plan, was one of the most comprehensive initiatives ever undertaken to address accountability in government and it has made lasting and significant changes to the way government works.

We strengthened and streamlined how government works in our country while making it more effective and more accountable to Canadian voters. Our actions helped to earn back the trust of Canadians in their government institutions. The Federal Accountability Act amended 46 existing statutes and created two new ones. Some of these changes came into force at royal assent on December 12, 2006, while others were subject to coming into force dates set out in the act or established by order in council.

The introduction of Bill C-2 was accompanied by the federal accountability action plan which organized the various elements of the Federal Accountability Act along 14 themes. As well, it set out related policy initiatives. We reformed the financing of political parties along with donation limits. We banned secret political donations, although the NDP has since elected to take some of those, it appears. We strengthened the role of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner and the Auditor General. We toughened the Lobbyists Registration Act and cleaned up government polling and advertising. We strengthened access to information legislation bringing crown corporations under the access to information legislation, as well as auditing and accountability within departments.

The record very clearly shows our Conservative government does not just believe in open government, we in fact have provided open, transparent and accountable government for each and every Canadian. Ours indeed is a government of accountability.

With respect to the current situation, since Elections Canada began looking into reports from the media and other sources about a specific case in the riding of Guelph, our government and the Conservative Party of Canada have been open and transparent with all of our records, making them available to Elections Canada so as to assist in its investigation. The Conservative Party did not organize or know about any such activities in the riding, but the opposition continues to launch baseless smear campaigns against our party. If the opposition members truly wanted to support Elections Canada and its work in this specific case, they would do as we have done and provide all of their records related to calls they made during the last election: absolute transparency.

Both parties opposite spent millions of dollars on hundreds of thousands phone calls during the last election, and they have thus far refused to disclose these details to Elections Canada officials. Why is this not their top priority instead of continuing their baseless smear campaign? Canadians need to ask themselves that very essential question. If any untoward behaviour is uncovered, the Conservative Party of Canada demands that all those responsible be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

As for the motion before the House today, to have the government table legislative amendments which would strengthen the powers of the Chief Electoral Officer in the wake of these exaggerated allegations, I am not opposed. However, it must be said that the Conservative Party of Canada has provided all of our information to Elections Canada to assist it so we can get to the bottom of what has happened in the investigation going on in Guelph. We do this willingly. There is currently nothing preventing the NDP or Liberal Party from giving over their own information willingly to Elections Canada officials. As the Prime Minister has stated, we have been very clear about the Conservative Party of Canada's activities. All the calls made by the Conservative Party are documented. All of those records are available to Elections Canada. We will be looking forward with great interest to see what documents exist on the NDP's and Liberal Party's telephone activities during the campaign.

The Conservative Party of Canada ran a clean and ethical campaign and would never tolerate such activities as have been alleged by the parties opposite. The Conservative Party was not involved with these fake calls in Guelph. If anyone on a local campaign was involved, he or she will not play a role in a future campaign. Voter suppression is extremely serious and if anything improper occurred, those responsible should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. The job of a political party, and indeed our job as politicians, in a campaign is to get voters out to the polls. We do not engage in voter suppression.

However, the exaggerated allegations and baseless smear campaign which the opposition parties continue to press demean the millions of voters who cast legitimate votes in the last election. The opposition paid millions of dollars to make hundreds of thousands of phone calls during the last campaign. Before they continue with these baseless smears, opposition members should prove their own callers were not behind these reports.

The motion before the House lays out three points: Elections Canada investigation capabilities be strengthened, to include giving the Chief Electoral Officer the power to request all necessary documents from political parties to ensure compliance with the Elections Act; all telecommunication companies that provide voter contact services during a general election must register with Elections Canada; and all clients of telecommunication companies during a general election have their identity registered and verified. The Conservative Party is thus far the only party that has documented all calls during the campaign and made all of those records available to Elections Canada. Why are we the only ones who have done this? Yet the opposition members continue to run a baseless smear campaign against our government, launching false allegations against dozens of Conservative MPs and candidates.

I would like to take a few moments to address some of the facts in the opposition's allegations.

After weeks of unsubstantiated attacks in this place and in the media, it is clear that it has no information to back up its claims in this smear campaign. Canadians rejected this type of mud slinging in the last election.

In the case of the electoral district of Guelph, as has been stated previously, the Conservative Party of Canada has made available to Elections Canada all information in regard to our calls made during the campaign. It is obvious that the Conservative Party was not involved with the alleged calls in that riding. If something improper did occur, we expect that those responsible will be fully held to account.

The NDP and the Liberal Party have made a number of new allegations about similar deliberately misleading calls made in other ridings during the last election, in which we, the Conservative Party of Canada, categorically deny any involvement. However, when the interim Leader of the Opposition was asked eight times for evidence on CBC's Power and Politics, she was unable to provide any evidence at all. We have heard that from the member for Timmins—James Bay. We have heard it from the interim leader of the Liberal Party. They have no evidence. They are simply throwing out baseless allegations.

The NDP claim that South Shore—St. Margaret's received fraudulent calls. However, the NDP riding association president, Wolfgang Ziemer said it is not true. He said, “There's just no way that I can add any fuel to this fire, if there is a fire. I have no idea how the riding got on” the list.

The Liberals claim that Wellington—Halton Hills received fraudulent calls, but the Liberal candidate said it is not true. “Barry Peters said he doesn't recall hearing about any suspicious calls either while out door-knocking nor back at the office”. That was reported on Global News on Thursday, March 1.

The Liberals have claimed that in some ridings Liberal supporters received calls at inconvenient times that could be described as harassing from people who identified themselves as calling from the Liberal Party of Canada. However, the Liberal Party paid millions of dollars to make these calls and hired firms to say these exact scripts to Canadians, but the Liberals have not yet released the scripts, nor have they provided their call records. We have to ask why.

In the Liberal campaign in Haldimand—Norfolk, Bob Speller complained that harassing calls were being made on his behalf late at night, but his campaign paid First Contact $4,062 to make calls. The Liberal candidate in Niagara Falls, Bev Hodgson, has complained that harassing calls were made on her behalf at night. Her campaign paid First Contact $11,300. The same goes for the Sydney—Victoria Liberal candidate, Mark Eyking. His campaign paid First Contact $11,753.

There is a pattern here: First Contact, First Contact, First Contact.

The Liberals have claimed these calls originated in the U.S., but the Liberal Party is the party that sourced its voter phone calls from the U.S. during the last election. A CBC investigation conducted during the campaign traced some of these calls, the calls that the Liberals have been complaining about, back to Liberal-affiliated call centres. The CBC traced these calls back to Liberal-affiliated call centres.

Let us not forget that this is the same Liberal Party that recently revealed that one of its own backroom operatives, Adam Carroll, was behind a dirty, sleazy, underhanded campaign of vicious, anonymous smears against the Minister of Public Safety. Yet this is just the latest in a long history of shady Liberal practices that indeed harm our democracy.

During the 2011 election, Liberals were caught and charged for stealing opponents' election signs, a violation of the Elections Act. Also during the 2011 election, Joe Volpe and a campaign worker were caught taking Green Party literature directly from people's mailboxes. It is ironic that Mr. Carroll, as I mentioned earlier, the one who committed the dirty, sleazy, underhanded attack campaign against the Minister of Public Safety, also happened to work on Mr. Volpe's campaign.

In 2004 the Liberal Party had callers running a push-poll, and you might remember this, Mr. Speaker, asking about how people felt about the Conservatives being taken over by right-wing Christians. It was outrageous. Actions like this even made Liberals like the current member for Scarborough—Guildwood condemn their party's activities.

We must not forget the sponsorship scandal where Liberals admitted taking envelopes filled with cash, which were never reported, and giving them to so-called orphan ridings to fund their campaigns.

It is up to these same Liberals to prove that these are not Liberal calls before they continue making their extreme, baseless allegations and undertake yet another vicious anonymous smear campaign against dozens of decent, upstanding Conservative MPs and candidates from the last election.

In conclusion, dirty tricks such as these led to the fall of the Liberal Party and to a clear call for more accountable governments. Here, our Conservative government was elected on a platform of accountability, and with the Federal Accountability Act we helped to earn back the trust of Canadians in their government institutions.

While I do not oppose the motion brought forward by the hon. member for Hamilton Centre, I strongly oppose and reject the baseless allegations and unsubstantiated smear campaign by the parties opposite.

Our government and the Conservative Party of Canada have been nothing but open and transparent with Elections Canada about all the calls made during the last election. On their part, the Liberals and NDP, as I have said many times in this House, spent millions of dollars on hundreds of thousands, and millions, I would argue, of phone calls during the last election. If the opposition truly wants to support Elections Canada, they should provide all of their records relating to the calls they made during the last election, just as the Conservative Party of Canada already has.

It is interesting that this debate has been brought to the floor of the House of Commons today. Of course, we know what the motivations of the member are in doing so, to further propagate the baseless, unsubstantiated smear campaign that we have seen in this House for some days. However, Canadians are not fooled by this. I have received messages from people from coast to coast to coast, from campaign volunteers, everyday people who got out and voted, people who are asking why the House of Commons is not concerned about their priorities. They want to know what is going on with the House of Commons.

It is clear that voter participation was not suppressed in the last election. The member who spoke previously was not fulsome in his answer in suggesting that he was talking about percentages while I was talking about numbers in absolute terms. He knows very well that the percentage of voters between the 2008 campaign and the 2011 campaign went up, not down. He knows that full well. He is just not providing that information to the House, and that is too bad.

We saw voter participation increase in virtually every riding in the country. That is wonderful, a great statement that we have in fact turned around a bit of a trend. We have turned it around, and how did we do it? We did it by providing more, not less, days to vote. We turned it around by encouraging each and every Canadian voter to get out and vote.

The Conservative Party did what other parties do. We contacted Conservative Party supporters and encouraged them to get to the polls. We won a strong, stable, national Conservative majority government and are proud of that. Based on that strong, stable, Conservative majority government, Conservatives are undertaking the priorities of Canadians by protecting the economy and providing more hope and opportunity for Canadians. We are focusing on the priorities of each and every Canadian, including protecting victims by bringing in new crime legislation.

Conservatives are also doing more than that. We are moving against past egregious acts, like the long gun registry. Other members have mentioned Nipissing—Timiskaming. I think the voters in Nipissing—Timiskaming spoke out loud and clear in the last election when it came to the long gun registry. We cannot forget about that.

We also cannot ignore the fact that the Liberal Party wants people to forget about what it ran on in the last election. That is why it is launching this baseless, unsubstantiated smear campaign. It ran a campaign of higher taxes and wasteful spending. At a time when Canadians are concerned about that, when they see foreign countries undergoing difficulties as a result of wasteful spending, that is what the Liberal Party ran on. That is why voters did not vote Liberal.

We see a collection of failed Liberal candidates coming forward, stepping up and suggesting that something untoward happened and that this is the only possible way they could have lost the election. However, in virtually all of these ridings, certainly all of the ones I have seen mentioned, voter participation was up. More people voted, not less.

More of those people voted Conservative, because they saw us as the only party fit to guide this country through this difficult global economic time. They put their faith in the Prime Minister of this country. They put their faith in the Minister of Finance of this country. They put their faith in Conservative candidates from coast to coast to coast. They put their faith in those volunteers who were doing the hard work of knocking on doors. They put their faith in each and every person who came up them, friends and family, and said they were going to vote Conservative.

That is how Conservatives won the last election. We won it with hard work. We won it with dedication. We won it with a vision and a plan, an aspiration to make Canada even greater than it ever has been, because we believe Canada's best days are ahead.

As I have said, Conservatives have no problem providing additional authorities and supporting this motion that is before the House, but let us also be clear: ours is the party that is providing transparency, ours is the party that has brought accountability to Canadians, ours is the party that believes in open government, and ours is the party that is delivering on the promise that we made to Canadians. We can never forget that.

Opposition Motion—Elections Canada Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Guy Caron Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, the argument presented by my colleague from Peterborough is nothing new. We have been hearing it for three days in question period. It goes like this: a shop is burgled, an individual is arrested and charged, and the person charged claims that he cannot be charged because first of all the owner of the shop has to prove his own innocence. This makes no sense. It is a totally fallacious argument.

I have a more specific question to ask the hon. member for Peterborough. He speaks of data that have been provided to Elections Canada. Certain things might be provided to Elections Canada that are not currently being provided. I am speaking in particular of the scripts that were used by the telemarketing firms in the employ of the Conservative Party. The question was put to the hon. member during a media panel, but I heard no satisfactory response. I would like to hear that response.

Does Elections Canada at present have the power to obtain those scripts? Has the Conservative Party provided them? If the Conservative Party has not provided them and Elections Canada does not have this power, is the motion moved today not relevant because it would give Elections Canada the capability to obtain this type of documentation?

Opposition Motion—Elections Canada Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, as I indicated, Elections Canada has informed the Conservative Party that it is undertaking a single investigation, and that is in the riding of Guelph. We have been very clear from the get-go that we will fully assist them in any regard.

Members do not have to take my word for it. They can look at what the former Chief Electoral Officer, Jean-Pierre Kingsley, and the current Chief Electoral Officer, Marc Mayrand, have said on this very matter. They have indicated that when they undertake an investigation, they do have all the investigative ability and authority required. They can bring in additional services and support from the RCMP should they need it.

We encourage them to do that because, ultimately, what all Canadians want is to have elections fought fairly and for anyone who undertakes anything untoward to be held fully accountable. Ours is the party that believes in justice. That is what we want in every aspect of Canadian society. We certainly want to see that in elections.

Opposition Motion—Elections Canada Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Frank Valeriote Guelph, ON

Mr. Speaker, it would take most of my allotted time to respond to all of the outrageous allegations made in the member's speech, but I will say that the Conservative Party of Canada is the only party in Canada that has been charged and plead guilty and paid a fine for the in and out scandal and violating the Elections Act. It is the only one.

However, I would like the member to stand and look into the camera and say the following to the over 31,000 Canadians who have already written to Elections Canada, to Peggy Walsh Craig in Nipissing—Timiskaming, to Raymond Young in Sydney—Victoria, to Danny Boyle and veteran Donald Miller in Guelph, and to Eduardo Harari in York Centre, that they are just part of a smear campaign, that this never happened to them and that they were not misdirected at all.

I dare you to stand and speak to Canadians and tell them they are just part of a smear campaign.

Opposition Motion—Elections Canada Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

I am presuming that the hon. member for Guelph is not asking me to look into the camera, but rather the hon. parliamentary secretary.

The hon. parliamentary secretary.

Opposition Motion—Elections Canada Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Peterborough, ON

Here I am, Mr. Speaker, standing in my place and accepting the dare, not afraid. I am never afraid to stand up for what is true. I will not be intimidated.

I am not a person who made a determination, as the member opposite did, to join a party that stole some $363 million from Canadians in the sponsorship scandal, $43 million of which is still missing.

The member talked about the administrative discrepancy that we had with Elections Canada. That has all been set aside and has worked its way through. However, Elections Canada never undertook a single investigation of the Liberal Party. When members talk about convictions I would like to know, and maybe the member can indicate, which Liberal ridings accepted the stolen money in the sponsorship scandal, because Canadians would like to know that. Why did Liberal members never go to jail for it? They should have gone to jail.

I would like to know why the member decided it was appropriate to join a party that stole money from Canadians. It could have gone to health care, to long-term care, to all—

Opposition Motion—Elections Canada Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

Questions and comments, the hon. member for Prince Edward—Hastings.

Opposition Motion—Elections Canada Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Daryl Kramp Prince Edward—Hastings, ON

Mr. Speaker, if I may direct these comments not just to the opposition but to the entire House, quite frankly, we are only as good as our name and our reputation. We are all taking a beating when this kind of slander and activity takes place in the House. If there is a particular crime, someone should wear the mantle for that. At some point that will happen through the legalities of the law and the examination by Elections Canada of whoever is responsible for this.

I would suggest to hon. members this kind of accusation and innuendo based entirely on hyperbole, not accurate information, does the entire House a disservice. It destroys the credibility of the nation and of the people who respected us to come here to do a job for them. I find it absolutely disgusting that we carry on this way.

My question is for the parliamentary secretary. I agree that we do need to get to the bottom of this. The Conservative Party is willing to put forward the information it has. In his opinion, why will the opposition parties not simply produce their lists and information so that we can deal with this in an honest, open and transparent manner?

Opposition Motion—Elections Canada Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, as I indicated earlier, I believe that when they do provide that information to Elections Canada it will actually be found that the Liberals have in fact made these calls themselves.

I hear the Liberal Party member asking why they would want to suppress their own vote. If the Liberals did not want to suppress their own vote they never would have run on the platform they did in the last election. It was a campaign based on wasteful spending, higher taxes and not even remotely related to the priorities of Canadians. That is what the Liberals ran on.

If there is one thing that has hurt this nation, that has shook it to its core, more than anything in my lifetime, it was the Liberal sponsorship scandal that caused Canadians from coast to coast to coast to question their government and question officials. It was an egregious crime and Liberal MPs probably should have gone to jail. I would like to know why they did not.

Opposition Motion—Elections Canada Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, the parliamentary secretary was almost moving when he spoke to us of the Conservative volunteers. We have volunteers in my constituency. The people who work the phones are there for the entire duration of the campaign, and sometimes they get paid in pizza. What is increasingly evident with the Conservatives is that it is not volunteers we are talking about. The unscrupulous tactics that were used were used by RMG and RackNine. Those companies are paid; they are not volunteers. There is a direct connection to the Conservative Party. The parliamentary secretary made a link to the sponsorship scandal. When he was in opposition, he was most vocal in calling for a public inquiry into the sponsorship scandal.

What happened with the Liberals was successfully brought to light, but why does he not want to shed light today on what happened with the Conservatives by conducting a public inquiry and providing more powers to Elections Canada?

Opposition Motion—Elections Canada Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, as I said, the past and current Chief Electoral Officers have both been very clear in indicating that they have the investigative ability and authority to look into this matter and these allegations. We put our faith in them, and we do believe that when the truth comes out the Conservative Party of Canada will be vindicated.

What is not clear is whether the opposition parties, after all the mudslinging and unsubstantiated smear campaign that they have undertaken, will apologize to the good members of the House. Hon. members in this House have had their names smeared by the parties opposite. I think it is absolutely reprehensible what they have done. I would hope that at some point, when the truth comes out, they will stand in place and apologize to the good members of the House, the hon. members who did not deserve this kind of smear campaign.