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--Canada Elections Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I want to clarify a misconception on the part of the NDP about compliance audits. In his report, the Chief Electoral Officer laid out two options for compliance audits. One was that his office would do all of the compliance audits to make sure that all registered federal political parties followed all of the election rules. The second was that the political parties would contract compliance audits. In other words, the political parties would bear the cost associated with compliance audits. We thought that was a reasonable suggestion. Why should the taxpayer foot the bill for something that political parties were required to do? Federal parties are required to play by the rules. Why should they not be required to pay for audits?

To put it succinctly, we believe the political parties should bear the costs associated with compliance audits rather than the taxpayer. That is the difference between our two parties.

Opposition Motion--Canada Elections Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

NDP

David Christopherson Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the tone of the hon. member. We have worked together on this file. We have a couple of disagreements, but there is a lot of respect in terms of the work we have done. However, I completely disagree with everything he just said.

If the government was so bloody concerned about taxpayers' money, why did it waste $1.7 million of taxpayers' money on a file and an appeal that it eventually caved on anyway and pleaded guilty? It should not talk to us about caring about taxpayers' money.

I will quote two sentences directly from the Chief Electoral Officer's report. First, in terms of the approach that the Chief Electoral Officer wanted and the one that we are putting forward today, this is what he said the preferred option would be. He stated, “This approach would substantially enhance transparency and accountability, thus complementing the reforms adopted in 2003 and 2006”.

Two, what did the Chief Electoral Officer say about the suggestion from the government and the position that is in the majority report? He stated, “This solution”, meaning the Conservative solution, “would notably entail increased auditing costs for the parties and would require Elections Canada to issue guidelines for the accounting auditors”.

If I get a chance, there is another part to that answer that I would love to give.

Opposition Motion--Canada Elections Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, we know for a fact that Elections Canada has been contacted by well over 30,000 Canadians from coast to coast with regard to this robocall rigging or whatever one wants to call it. The essence of the story is that individuals were contacted. Some callers said they were from Elections Canada and advised people that their polling stations had changed. This would have caused many of them to possibly go to false polling stations, maybe giving up on voting because they found out that was not the place to go to. Some might have even been frustrated and had no intention to go. The idea was voter suppression to prevent people from voting. We are talking about thousands of people.

My question to the member is this. Does he believe, as I do, that this was not put together by one person? The government seems to be saying it was one person who needs to be held accountable for this. I am interested in what he believes is the case. Does he think this is coincidence or something that was orchestrated?

Opposition Motion--Canada Elections Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:40 a.m.

NDP

David Christopherson Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have to say on my own behalf that we do not yet have the truth. It seems hard to believe that there were potentially tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of calls made in the manner that we are hearing about and that it was all the result of one person. The hon. member, I am sure, is referring to other circumstances where the government has very quickly found a scapegoat somewhere to throw under the bus, saying it was a rogue person and that the government had nothing to do with it. The government might say that one bad apple in a big barrel is not a big surprise. However, we do not buy that for one minute. It does not look like Elections Canada is buying it and Canadians certainly are not.

The short answer to my colleague is yes, I agree this looks suspicious. It is very unlikely it was one rogue person. This was organized somewhere and paid for by more than just the one person who has been identified.

Opposition Motion--Canada Elections Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:40 a.m.

NDP

Alexandrine Latendresse Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for Hamilton Centre for moving this motion today, because I think it is through initiatives like this that we will begin to restore a bit of confidence in our democratic institutions.

It is clear that the Conservative government is not Elections Canada's number one fan. Getting caught with one's hand in the cookie jar, as the Conservatives did in the in and out scandal, is certainly no fun. I think the Conservatives are upset with this independent agency for doing its job diligently and rigorously. In Italian this is called a vendetta.

It is ridiculous. Not so long ago, the solution for the Conservatives might have been simple: punish Elections Canada and ignore the requests for increased power from the people at Elections Canada in order to prevent Elections Canada from seeing the Conservatives getting into the cookie jar with impunity again.

But no. There has been a turn in events and by all accounts, the government will support the NDP motion. The Conservatives are finally listening to reason. That must also be why they have very discreetly dropped their appeal of the guilty verdict in the in and out scandal. I am not celebrating just yet. I will wait and see what happens when the motion is voted on. The 39th, 40th and 41st Parliaments should not go down in history as the parliaments when someone pulled a couple of fast ones on Canadian voters.

What the NDP is asking for is simple, and that is to update the Canada Elections Act so that the Chief Electoral Officer can have the means to check whether a general election or a byelection was held transparently, honestly and ethically. That is all. We want the Chief Electoral Officer to have the power to request all necessary documents from political parties to ensure compliance with the Canada Elections Act. We are also asking that all telecommunication companies that provide voter contact services during a general election register with Elections Canada and that their clients have their identity registered and verified. This will help prevent people who abuse our system from staying in the shadows. That is all.

But why is the NDP moving this motion in the House now, a few weeks the report on the 40th general election was studied? Well, it is because we now have another election controversy.

We have all heard about the robocall scandal and voter suppression tactics. I believe these allegations are serious and legitimate. And since this is also the opinion of the former chief electoral officer, Jean-Pierre Kingsley, I tend to take it seriously. Elections Canada received reports from 31,000 people regarding irregularities during the last election. The NDP wants Elections Canada to investigate. And the tools we want to give Elections Canada will help it get to the bottom of the matter. We are lucky to have an independent body that can objectively assess the electoral process and compliance with the Canada Elections Act.

At present, Elections Canada feels that it does not have adequate audit powers to do its job properly. We want to provide the necessary tools and, above all, the right tools for it to carry out its mandate. And these are the tools that the Chief Electoral Officer, not the opposition parties, is asking for. We want Elections Canada to be able to do its job effectively, under the best possible conditions. That is what the NDP is asking for in a nutshell. Furthermore, Elections Canada's provincial counterparts already have these powers. We really are not trying to reinvent the wheel here; this wheel already exists.

What saddens me most is that the robocall scandal is now being covered by media outside Canada. It has been reported on by the New York Times and the BBC. What must others think of us? Canada is renowned around the world for its solid democracy and is an important player in election monitoring in other countries. The objective of some CIDA development programs is to enhance electoral capacity. It is an almost absurd irony to be preaching about democratic electoral systems when we do not even give ourselves the tools to set a good example at home in Canada.

If the robocall controversy continues to prove to be one of the greatest affronts to the democratic traditions of this country, it will very seriously affect Canada's credibility abroad. Globalization and the increase in trade are fine and dandy, but the flip side to globalization is that information now circulates as freely as goods. What happens in Canada can be heard very clearly in Australia or South Africa.

The Ukrainians are coming to Canada to ask for help in developing and maintaining a democratic system in their country. This week, at the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development, while the Ukrainian witnesses described the pitiful state of democracy as it is practised in Kiev, I could not help but think that the Ukrainians were coming to get help from a government that is itself perhaps fraudulent.

If we allow this kind of fraud, we will no longer be in a position to give advice to anyone, and we will no longer be a democratic force in this world. Our credibility abroad is of serious concern to me. To begin with, we lost our seat on the United Nations Security Council, then we withdrew from the Kyoto protocol, an act that was greatly decried by the international community. Then Canada announced that the government intended to use information obtained through torture.

Now, Canada's reputation is being tarnished with allegations of electoral fraud. We would be doing ourselves a huge favour if we gave Elections Canada the tools it needed to do its work properly. We must also take care that the international community does not start to think that we are turning into a corrupt regime. If I have properly understood the Conservative government's position upon reviewing the “Report of the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada on the 40th General Election”, as regards the increased powers the Chief Electoral Officer is asking for, it would be preferable to call on an external auditor to review the books of a political party. One may as well ask the neighbour's wife's cousin's aunt, who is a good pal, to review one's books. It would be a lot simpler.

When Conservative members say that they are co-operating with Elections Canada, and yet refuse to give it increased powers, I wonder what they are trying to hide. This is not a game of catch me if you can, here. If a police officer investigates a bank robbery and does not have the power to question the main suspect—if the police officer cannot properly conduct his investigation—does he have to take the suspect at his word when he claims that nothing happened, and wait for somebody to make a confession?

The NDP motion is timely. Elections Canada must carry out a wide-reaching and in-depth investigation of robocalls and the dirty tricks involved in voter suppression. The motion is even more on the mark regarding the Conservative government's slashing of public funding to political parties. The role of political parties in our democratic system has just shifted. They have been turned into ruthless machines that sometimes use unscrupulous methods to fill their coffers.

La Presse published the story today about a Mr. Duke who was aggressively harassing voters to solicit donations on behalf of the Conservative Party. Dubious tactics continue to be the norm. If the Conservative Party’s tactic is to disgust voters to the point that they will not go and vote and to reduce the turnout rate among people who do not support the party, I will let it take the fall for its actions. It is all very well to engage in marketing efforts to rename the government of Canada the “Harper government”, but the fact is that people around the world will associate this scandal with that very “Harper government”.

Many organizations support the direction the NDP is taking on this: Democracy Watch, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and the Council of Canadians. The Conservatives have to stop taking Canadians for fools. People want a responsible, open and transparent government. They want a government that represents all Canadians, not just the ones who voted for their party.

I will conclude by saying that there is a very clear movement. I only hope that the Conservative government will not miss the boat, because the voters are going to remember this in 2015.

Opposition Motion--Canada Elections Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I want to go back to the audit function that I was discussing with my friend from Hamilton Centre just a few moments ago. I would point out, and it was confirmed by the latest intervention, that in the Elections Canada report, the Chief Electoral Officer said that he does not currently have the capacity to do compliance audits. Therefore, he would have to hire additional auditors.

Why does the Chief Electoral Officer have to do that, increasing the cost to taxpayers, when federal political parties could do the same thing on their own dime? I have already contacted several of the big six accounting firms, because one of the—

Opposition Motion--Canada Elections Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Malpeque, PE

Cannot trust your audit?

Opposition Motion--Canada Elections Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, my friend from Malpeque is heckling again, but only because we have touched a nerve. They are a little sensitive when it comes to election returns over there in that corner of the House.

I have already contacted several of the big six accounting firms. They have said, as suspected, that as we speak they are already starting to engage some of their own staff to become conversant with elections law. They realize that federal parties will be requesting assistance from accounting firms. They will be fully conversant with elections law.

Why not let the parties pay for it, rather than the taxpayers?

Opposition Motion--Canada Elections Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

NDP

Alexandrine Latendresse Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his question.

If the Conservatives are so intent on protecting taxpayers’ money, in particular when it comes to complying with the Canada Elections Act, I would like someone to explain to me why they are spending $1.7 million on lawsuits that will ultimately be abandoned, when they have been found guilty of election fraud. That is ridiculous, to start with.

If we add to that the fact that political parties are going to have to pay a lot of money for the auditors who will confirm these things, and that at present, in all provinces, the chief electoral officers have the powers that the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada is asking for, we really cannot understand why, all of a sudden, what applies to the provinces is not good for Canada. The Conservatives really do not want the Chief Electoral Officer to have that power. I find it impossible to understand that, myself.

As well, we must not forget that what the Chief Electoral Officer was asking for was to have these powers generally, and not to audit each piece of paper. However, the external auditors are going to have to audit everything, and that will cost a lot more.

Opposition Motion--Canada Elections Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I enjoyed the remarks by the member for Louis-Saint-Laurent. We certainly welcome the motion.

However, is it not part of the problem and one reason that we need stronger enforcement of Election Canada's rules that we cannot get answers in the House? In the current episode of Conservative election fraud, we are getting the same kinds of lines from the current Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister as we did in the in and out scandal from the previous Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, the member for Nepean—Carleton.

I do not know whether the member was here, Mr. Speaker, but you will remember that was the case when we raised questions about the in and out scandal. The parliamentary secretary would get up and say “$5,000 in, $5,000 out”, in and out, and all of them over there on the Conservative backbench would all smile and clap and cheer. Well, they are not smiling today, because they have dropped their appeal to the Supreme Court and paid a $230,000 fine because they are guilty as charged in the in and out election scandal.

However, we are getting the same kinds of answers this time from the current parliamentary secretary to the prime minister, and so there is something seriously wrong with the government's holding itself to account on these election issues.

My question to the member is this. Even though the Prime Minister is saying he is in favour of this motion, how are we going to ensure that it will actually be enforced, because we know the government would do anything to cover up its election fraud?

Opposition Motion--Canada Elections Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

NDP

Alexandrine Latendresse Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from Malpeque for his question.

I entirely agree with him. Although I was not here personally in previous parliaments, from what we saw during question period and in general, the government’s answers on this subject were absolutely shameful, particularly since we now know that they were guilty that whole time. So yes, I agree entirely.

The member asks what will be done if they vote for our motion and at the end of the day nothing happens. I think that Canadians are watching us closely right now. They are watching what the government does closely, and they are listening closely to every word spoken. If the government supports our motion and does nothing, if it does not shed light on this affair, I think people are going to stand up and protest. The government will have no choice but to shed light on this scandal.

Opposition Motion--Canada Elections Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

Edmonton—Sherwood Park
Alberta

Conservative

Tim Uppal Minister of State (Democratic Reform)

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to continue today's debate on the motion tabled by the member for Hamilton Centre.

I will start by saying that we are not opposed to this motion. We certainly are supporting Elections Canada's ongoing work by making available all of our records from the last election.

Though we are not opposed to this motion, we must consider that it was brought forward while the parties opposite have been conducting a baseless and unsubstantiated smear campaign against our government and our party over the course of the last several weeks. The point must be reinforced that there is nothing stopping the opposition from supporting Elections Canada's work right now. They can easily provide all of their records relating to phone calls and phone contracts made in the last election right now to assist in the agency's work right now.

The Conservative Party of Canada is doing exactly that and will continue to do so. Our government and party has been unequivocal in its willingness to make all of its records available to Elections Canada officials to assist its ongoing work. We encourage the opposition to do the same. We know they spent millions of dollars on hundreds of thousands of phone calls during the last election. This information can only assist Elections Canada in getting to the bottom of the allegations being levelled. If the opposition really wants to support Elections Canada's work, they should provide all of the records relating to the calls they made in the last election.

As I said, this debate warrants consideration within the greater context in which the motion was brought forward. I would like to take a moment to touch on this briefly.

In the course of the last several weeks, there seem to be three sets of allegations being levelled, particularly toward our government and party regarding calls made in the last election. First, there are specific allegations about riding level activity, mostly in the Guelph area; second, there are complaints by voters in several ridings who received calls that their polling stations had changed; third, there are allegations of misleading calls into their ridings.

On the first point, there have been media reports about the investigation of a specific case in the riding of Guelph. The Conservative Party's national campaign has been clear that it did not organize or know about any such activities in that riding but has been fully assisting Elections Canada. If any untoward behaviour is uncovered, the Conservative Party has made clear its demand that those responsible be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

For the benefit of the House, I will restate that point here. What is alleged to have happened in Guelph, Ontario is unacceptable. Voter participation is the cornerstone of our democracy. In fact, we are proud that more than 900,000 more Canadians voted in the last election. We saw that right across the country and believe it demonstrates the strength of our democracy. However, anyone who makes an effort to suppress voter participation by providing wrong information should be held fully accountable by Elections Canada for doing so.

On the second point, Elections Canada confirmed that 127 polling locations, representing approximately 1,000 polls and potentially affecting nearly a half a million Canadians, were changed in the 2011 federal election. We have made it quite clear that the Conservative Party of Canada called Conservative supporters to ensure that they knew where to vote. In its attacks, the NDP has claimed that no polling stations had changed. This is in fact false. Even the member for Ahuntsic admitted that polls had changed. She said that in her riding, for instance, it was true that there had been changes to polls and that the Bloc Québécois had called its people to advise them.

On the third allegation, the NDP and Liberals have made a number of new allegations about calls being made in other ridings during the last election. However, when the Leader of the Official Opposition was asked eight times for hard evidence on CBC's Power and Politics, she was unable to do so. In the absence of hard facts, it is clear that these allegations are baseless smears brought forward by sore losers unwilling to accept the fact they lost the election.

As far as the motion before the House goes today, we are not opposed to supporting Elections Canada's work in the wake of these exaggerated allegations. In fact, we are doing just that. The Conservative Party of Canada has already provided all of our information to Elections Canada to assist in its ongoing work. We did this willingly.

As the Prime Minister has stated, we have been very clear about the Conservative Party of Canada's activities. In fact, all of the calls made by the Conservative Party of Canada are documented. All of those records are available to Elections Canada, and we will obviously be looking forward with great interest to see what documents exist on the telephone activities of the NDP and the Liberals during the campaign.

If the opposition needs a motion to support Elections Canada's work, so be it, but I want to underline that there is nothing currently preventing the NDP and the Liberals from giving over their own information willingly to Elections Canada officials. If the opposition will not assist Elections Canada's work by providing all of their records relating to the calls they made during the last election, then we can simply conclude that the debate today is not actually to support Elections Canada's work but yet another calculated attempt by the opposition to continue its baseless smear campaign against our government and party. This is quite serious, especially considering the casual way in which the opposition flings these accusations around without regard for fact or evidence.

We know that the opposition spent millions of dollars on hundreds of thousands of phone calls during the last election. If the opposition really want to support Elections Canada's work, they should provide all of their records relating to calls they made during the last election. This information can only assist Elections Canada in getting to the bottom of the allegations being levelled.

We also know that some of the allegations made by the opposition are simply untrue. However, members should not take it from me but from their own operatives. The NDP claims that South Shore—St. Margaret's received fraudulent calls, but the NDP riding president said that was not true. As Wolfgang Ziemer, the NDP riding association president of that riding during the campaign, has said, “There is 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 that list”.

The Liberals claim that Wellington—Halton Hills received fraudulent calls, but the Liberal candidate also said that was not true. Barry Peters said he did not recall hearing about any suspicious calls, either while out knocking on doors or back at the office.

It is clear that the opposition is levelling allegations against our government and party without regard for basic fact or evidence. This is irresponsible and serves to denigrate not only the millions of legitimate ballots cast by Canadians in the last election but also the very serious allegation of suppression of voter participation in the constituency of Guelph.

Again, what is alleged to have happened in Guelph, Ontario is unacceptable. Let us be categorical: voter suppression is extremely serious, and if anything improper occurred, those responsible should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

If the opposition want to support Elections Canada's work, they should provide all of the records relating to the calls they made during the last election so that Elections Canada can get to the bottom of this. However, so far the opposition seem more concerned about levelling baseless, unsubstantiated and politically motivated smears in a campaign against our government and party than about supporting Elections Canada's work.

To conclude, I have to ask this. What is the opposition waiting for? There is nothing stopping the opposition from supporting the work of Elections Canada right now. It can easily provide all the records relating to phone calls and phone contracts made in the last election to assist the agency's work. In being so keen on supporting the work of Elections Canada in the next election, the opposition seems rather unwilling to provide the support for it right now. In fact, the Conservative Party of Canada is the only party that has been clear in its willingness to voluntarily make available all of its records to Elections Canada officials to assist it in its ongoing work. We encourage the opposition to do the same.

We know the opposition spent millions of dollars on hundreds of thousands of phone calls during the last election. This information can only assist Elections Canada in getting to the bottom of these allegations. If the opposition wants to support the work of Elections Canada, it should provide all of its records relating to the calls it made during the last election.

Opposition Motion--Canada Elections Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:05 a.m.

NDP

David Christopherson Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the minister for showing respect to the opposition motion. It is very in character for the member, who I have come to know.

Let us first clarify a couple things and get in a quick question. There is some muddy water, notwithstanding the minister's intent to clarify.

Let us remember that the only party under investigation by Elections Canada, to the best of our knowledge, is the Conservative Party. On the documents being asked for, the Conservatives are the ones who have to produce them. If Elections Canada asks us for anything, it will get it.

The media has been asking me, both in the panel last night on CPAC and today at my news conference, to give some explanation as why the government, in camera and in secret, was opposed to this. Now that we have made a big deal of it, the Conservatives have flip-flopped and are now in favour.

I will take this opportunity to ask this question of the minister. Why is the government flip-flopping? We are glad it is, but what is the motivation for that flip-flop today?

Opposition Motion--Canada Elections Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Tim Uppal Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the question from the member for Hamilton Centre. I, too, enjoy working with the member. He is a very respectful member and I appreciate his support as the critic for democratic reform.

We are not opposed to the motion before the House. The important thing is that the opposition spent millions of dollars on hundreds of thousands of phone calls it made during the last election. The Conservative Party of Canada is assisting Elections Canada. I would ask why the opposition is not assisting Elections Canada in the same way. We do not need a motion for that to happen. The opposition can assist Elections Canada right now.

Opposition Motion--Canada Elections Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Toronto Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I simply ask the minister to answer the question with respect to the position the government is taking to providing additional powers to Elections Canada. The position on the verification of information provided by political parties is different from the position taken by the party just a few short days ago.

Could the minister please explain the change in position?