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

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Tim Uppal Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, the procedure and House affairs committee has done some very good work and has put together a report. The government has received the report and will respond to it. However, we are not opposed to the motion before the House today.

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

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Bob Zimmer Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, the Liberals are making claims that Liberal callers were making calls to Liberal supporters. To me it seems that there was obviously some errors on behalf of the Liberal campaign, that the Liberals have not owned up to and that they want to point the finger at Conservatives.

Also, the NDP has some concern about union donations and unsubstantiated or illegal donations that were made. I want to know where that stands today.

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

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Tim Uppal Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his work on the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. The entire committee is doing some very important work. He raised a very important question about the NDP and the donations or sponsorship it has received. We still do not have the information on that and we call on the NDP to come clear on it. We are asking the entire opposition to provide information to Elections Canada.

The Conservative Party is assisting Elections Canada in its work. Why do the NDP and Liberals not do the same? We know they spent millions of dollars on hundreds of thousands of phone calls to people right across the country. Why do they not provide the information regarding those calls in the last election to Elections Canada so it can continue its work to get to the bottom of this issue?

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

11:10 a.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is important that when a government comes to the right decision, we should not criticize it for it. The fact that Conservatives were wrong a week ago does not mean that is not welcome that they are right today.

I would like to ask a question relating to all the powers Elections Canada needs to get to the bottom of the current scandal. Does the minister agree that since Elections Canada does not have those powers or resources today, we would be better to have a full independent, well-resourced inquiry, maybe headed up by someone like Sheila Fraser, to get this issue out of the House and somewhere that we can get answers?

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

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Tim Uppal Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to bring the focus back to what we are dealing with today, and that is the motion of the NDP member for Hamilton Centre, which states:

—(a) 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; (b) all telecommunication companies that provide voter contact services during a general election must register with Elections Canada; and (c) all clients of telecommunication companies during a general election have their identity registered and verified.

We are not opposed to the motion.

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

11:10 a.m.

NDP

Robert Chisholm Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is important to keep reminding the minister that the Conservative Party is under investigation. It is the Conservative Party that Elections Canada has asked for information. It is the Conservative Party that has failed to provide that information.

The minister seems to think the Conservatives will support the motion and that they have been helpful to Elections Canada. He has said that the other parties should do so as well, but it is the Conservative Party that has been asked to make information available and it has refused to do so.

Why have the minister and the Conservative Party not been prepared to honour the request by Elections Canada?

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

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Tim Uppal Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, I remind the member that the Conservative Party of Canada is assisting Elections Canada in the work it is doing in looking into this matter. I also remind the member that the opposition, which spent millions of dollars on hundreds of thousands of phone calls, is not providing the information. Opposition members need to provide their information to Elections Canada on the contracts they signed for those phone calls, where the phone calls came from and who they called. It is the opposition that needs to assist Elections Canada in providing information. The Conservative Party is.

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

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, we need to remind the government of the in and out scandal. That is something in which it has paid tens of thousands of dollars. Ultimately the Conservatives had to be brought kicking and screaming before they finally were held to task for their responsibility for the in and out scandal from Elections Canada.

Now we have yet another incident with Elections Canada, where the Conservative/Reform Party has been accused of voter suppression, very strong allegations.

Over 30,000 Canadians have contacted Elections Canada. Does the minister not recognize that those Canadians have legitimate concerns? Does he not recognize that those concerns must be addressed and the best way to address that is to ensure that all the records of the Conservatives on file need to be submitted to Elections Canada?

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

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

Tim Uppal Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member may speak very loud in this place, but at the end of the day, the fact is the Conservative Party is providing the information to assist Elections Canada in its work. The Liberal Party spent millions of dollars on thousands of phone calls. Why is it not doing the same? Why is it not assisting Elections Canada in getting to the bottom of this?

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

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Toronto Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the chance to speak in this debate. I want to indicate that our party will be supporting the motion. We would like to see it strengthened. We would like to ensure that the motion refers not simply to future elections, but to the election of which we just had. Six months is too long. I hope there can be some discussions among the parties to ensure the motion is strengthened.

I would like to give a bit of historical context to this issue. I read the wonderful book by Alan Taylor called The Civil War of 1812. We are all reading about the War of 1812 because it is our 200th anniversary. There is a wonderful description in the book of how Simcoe recruited his surveyor general, David W. Smith, to stand for an assembly seat in Essex county in 1792. The book says:

Smith entrusted electioneering to his wealthy “friends”, who campaigned in the traditional style by lavishing music, food, and alcohol—rather than policy discussions—upon the voters. A paternalist rather than a egalitarian, Smith advised his campaign manager, “Let the peasants have a fiddle, some beverage and beef”.

Anticipating victory, he planned a culminating celebration, “I beg an ox be roasted whole on the common and a barrel of rum to be given to the mob to wash down the beef”. The book goes on to say, “As Simcoe expected, Smith won his seat”.

That is how politics was conducted in 1792 by the ancestors of the Tory Party, which is now in place.

I would like to simply bring that up-to-date by drawing attention to a comment that was made to me by a well-known Conservative, who I will not name. He said to me, “Give me a computer and give me an Internet access and I can boom your house and cellphone from three continents away at the same time with the same or different message”. It is the same party but just a different technology. As opposed to ox and booze, nylons and rum, we have a new way of reaching people, which is give us a computer and an Internet access and we can boom one's house and cellphone.

We have to understand how politics has changed and become such a technology-driven system. However, behind every technology, there still are human values as to how we campaign, how we relate to voters and what the limits are.

We need to have clear laws. We need to have clear accountability. We need to ensure that people are held to account for the things they say. We need limits as to how much an individual can spend in each riding and limits as to how much parties can spend, as we all know. That is the Canadian way.

This basic practice in Canada has only been challenged by one party and actually by one person. It was in another life that the current Prime Minister challenged this system. He said that they did not want this system, that we wanted the American system. He said that they wanted a system where people could spend whatever money they wanted. He said that they wanted a system where there was unlimited access to dough. He said that was the kind of system they wanted for Canada. In that case, known as “Harper v. Canada”, and I have to mention the name because it is the title of the lawsuit, the Supreme Court of Canada said that it was actually reasonable and fair for Canadians to limit the ability of third parties to spend as much money as they wanted in the course of an election campaign.

That same Prime Minister, again in another life, described the people at Elections Canada as “jackasses”. The same Prime Minister led his party through the so-called in and out scandal. Day after day in question period, his party refused to recognize the problem, refused to provide the information. His party forced Elections Canada to go to court to get the documents from the party, which finally, after a five year process, copped a plea, accepted the fact that it had done wrong, paid back the money and paid a fine as well.

That has become the culture of the Conservative Party of Canada. In carrying out that culture, it has, at the same time, and it has to be said very clearly, created a very complex but, nevertheless, effective system of communicating with voters across the country.

The minister of state just gave his ritual response. In the course of his speech and in answer to the questions that were asked yesterday by the parliamentary secretary, the robo response king of the House of Commons at the moment, said that our party and other parties paid millions of dollars to make hundreds of thousands of calls. Of course we did. So did the Conservative Party. That is the common technique that is now used by all political parties. Some of the calls are made in person by phone banks, some of them are so-called robocalls and some of them were tele-town halls where people were brought together to listen to a conversation with a political leader or a candidate. That is one of the techniques that we use.

What needs to be clear is that all of these systems can be abused, just as there have been abuses in the past. Is our Canada Elections Act keeping up with the abuses and potential abuses and are we now able to say that we have a system of regulation and real accountability to public authorities that is equal to the technologies that exist?

There is nothing wrong with a robocall per se. There is nothing wrong with people phoning and saying that they are calling on behalf of the Conservative Party and asking how a person intends to vote in the next election. Voters can either tell them to go away, that they do not want to be annoyed, or they can give them the information. In fact, when I hear this called a robocall issue, it is not really about robocalls. It is about misinformation in calls. It is not even about a call that is unpleasant, a call that says the voter's Liberal candidate or New Democratic Party candidate has done this, this and this. There are all kinds of negative things said during campaigns.

Every member of the House has been in an all candidates debate. When somebody on the other side says something we object to and do not think is true. We have all seen leaflets that say negative things about our parties, our candidates or our leaders. There is a difference between hardball, tough politics, even negative politics and dishonest politics. We need e to understand where the line is to be drawn. There are tough things that are said and things said that we might think are unfair. I happen to think that many of the things that were said about our former leaders were very unfair. They help to suppress votes, discourage voters and create a climate that creates negativity, but I would not say that they were illegal.

I do not always agree with what is said and sometimes I think it is unfair. The negative ads against our leaders were hard. I am sure my colleagues in the Conservative Party and the NDP will agree that these ads could be considered unfair. But there is a difference between tough politics and dishonest politics, between negative politics and politics based on fraud. That is the question now facing Elections Canada.

I am sure the minister's speech will be repeated by all the Conservative members who speak here today. It will be repeated again and again. The Conservative Party is under investigation. That party is the one under a very clear court order to produce the documents in question. The Conservatives have no choice but to comply. We have indicated that we are prepared to co-operate with Elections Canada and hand over any information we have, without any questions. That is what the Liberal Party of Canada will do.

We need to know exactly what the problems are. Some calls were made that cannot be explained, but they must be explained. The Conservative system is very centralized when it comes to its philosophy and organization. We need an explanation for the calls that were made last year at Passover to Jewish families by callers claiming to be from the Liberal Party. Those were not robocalls. They were made by real people who claimed to be calling on behalf of the Liberal Party. We know, however, that the campaign office of my colleague from Mount Royal was closed. His office did not make those calls. So we need an explanation. If the same thing happened in several other ridings, it is hard to believe it was a coincidence.

If it happens in one riding, we can say that it is clearly a rogue situation. However, it happened in a riding that requires a password to access the central system. How does the company involved get access to the central system? How does one get access through the company? Those are perfectly legitimate questions.

One of the first examples I heard about did not involve the Liberal Party at all, but rather involved the Bloc Québécois in the riding of Rivière-du-Loup in the byelection of 2009. We heard of an example where a call was made indicating that it was a call from the Bloc. It was not a call from the Bloc. It was a call coming from somewhere else.

How do we explain these phantom calls? How do we explain the number of phantom calls? There is a difference between a call that is dishonest, a call that is intended to suppress a vote and a call that is exactly intended to misdirect someone to a polling station at place Y when in fact it should be place Z. How do we explain the number of times that has happened?

If I were given a computer and Internet access, I could boom a person's house and cellphone from three continents away at the same time with the same message or a different message.

How do we track down this information? What if some of those calls were coming from offshore? What if they are offshore and off book in terms of how they are financed? These are legitimate questions. When something happens once we can say that it is an accident, when it happens twice we look into it but when it happens dozens of times in dozens of ridings there must be some other explanation, and there must be some way of getting to the bottom of what that is.

If the government is sincere in saying that it wants to get to the bottom of it, it is the Conservative Party of Canada that can get to the bottom of it the easiest: the campaign team, the people working in the war room that was specifically intended to deal with close ridings.

No one involved in the business of politics today can have anything but a grudging sense of admiration for the discipline and organization that goes into the Conservative campaigns. They have a central message that it is repeated over and over again. They have raised a lot of money and that money is put into creating the greatest and latest technology that is available.

The problem is that we need to get to the bottom of this. We need to know the values of the people who are behind that technology and behind that impressive organization. That is the issue that Elections Canada can get at from a certain perspective but it is an issue that only the members of the Conservative Party can deal with themselves.

Have the Conservatives created a culture in which winning is everything? Have they created a culture in which they say that we are sore losers? Looking over at the other side, I would say that they are just a bunch of sore winners. They do not let up. They are relentless in their determination to go forward in the way they have, such as in 2006 with the in and out and the brazenness with which they defied any questioning with respect to this subject and with respect to the fact that they resisted Elections Canada and finally had to succumb to a subpoena and a police raid in terms of seizing documents.

That is the question. What are the real values behind the machine? Yes, as professional politicians, we must admit that the machine is very professional. It is monitored very closely from the centre, but the fact that it is so closely monitored from the centre means that very few accidents happen in the ridings. That is why we want answers to our questions and, quite frankly, why we will not give up.

We are not going to let go of this. It is not a pleasant subject. We are constantly having to ask questions about things that we cannot quite believe could be happening. They are not based on, in the words of my colleague opposite, unsubstantiated smears. They are based on complaints from Canadian citizens.

The member opposite shouted out just now that it is too late. I have news for the member. It is never too late for justice and truth to come out. It is never too late for people to bring forward complaints. Someone receives a call early in the campaign and is asked who they are going to vote for and either declines to answer or says it is none of the caller's business because the call is coming from the Conservative Party. Then two days before the election that person receives another call saying the polling station is in Kalamazoo. It is very important to recognize the kind of conclusion we expect people to draw from that. When they hear and read about other people getting these calls, they say they got that call too. That is why we have an absolutely unprecedented number of complaints coming into Elections Canada.

The Conservative Party is going to have to come to grips with the fact that it is not a matter of what the Liberal Party thinks or does, or what the NDP thinks or does, or what the Bloc or Green Party thinks or does, it is about the Canadian people and what they think. It is about the forms that they are signing, the things that they are saying. The argument of the Conservative Party is not with the Liberal Party and it is not with the NDP, it is with the Canadian people. Conservatives have to understand that. They reposition themselves for the umpteenth time and their talking points shift the blame from one party to another party to somewhere else. They have to look into their own hearts and minds and ask themselves a simple question: have we done something here that we should not have done?

I make no bones about it. This is an unprecedented situation, to quote Mr. Kingsley. We are literally in uncharted waters. Those so-called experts or others who say there is nothing to all of this stuff do not really understand the implications of what happens when bad values and good technology get mixed up in the same lethal cocktail. This is what happens. This is why Elections Canada needs these additional powers.

I am glad the Conservatives have backed away from their previous position. They have done a 180 on this issue. It is time that they did. However, we need to make sure that it applies not to future elections, but to this election. We need to make sure that it applies to what is happened in these campaigns. I look forward to those discussions.

We have gone from the serving of beef and beer, from nylons and rum, to where we are today. It is something we have to come to grips with as Canadians. Corruption is corruption is corruption. It should not happen wherever it happens. We have to deal with it today.

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

11:35 a.m.

Edmonton—Sherwood Park
Alberta

Conservative

Tim Uppal Minister of State (Democratic Reform)

Mr. Speaker, I thank the leader of the Liberal Party for his speech today. During his speech he talked about the fact that members of a specific religion received phone calls at a time that was not respectful. The callers said they were representing the Liberal Party. Very respectfully, very sincerely, I ask the leader of the Liberal Party this question. The Liberals themselves, and he admits it, spent millions of dollars on hundreds of thousands of phone calls across the country. Is it not possible that the source of those phone calls, who claimed to be Liberals, were actually Liberals?

Would it not just make sense for the Liberal Party to provide all the information regarding those calls to Elections Canada? The Conservative Party is assisting Elections Canada. We provided information. Why does the Liberal Party not do the same?

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

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Toronto Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, first of all, we are. Second, the reason the Conservative Party is co-operating so profusely with Elections Canada is because it has a subpoena that requires it to do so. It has to produce documents. This is not a situation where Conservatives can run across the street and say to Elections Canada they will do it quite gladly. They have a court order telling them they have to produce documents under the Criminal Code of Canada. That is the reason they are doing it.

With respect to the issue that I raised, I know the minister was listening carefully. I raised the example of the member for Mount Royal because first, these calls were not robocalls, they were calls made in person. Second, they were calls that were made when the member's office was not open. The calls were not being made on his behalf. That is an extremely clear and categorical answer that I can give to the hon. member.

I can also say that, of course, everyone here is co-operating with Elections Canada. There is a bit of difference between co-operating with Elections Canada and being required to do so because of a court subpoena.

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

11:35 a.m.

NDP

David Christopherson Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, it feels somewhat strange and familiar to be onside with the hon. member on a file. Let me reaffirm that we will be strengthening this motion. I committed to that publicly last night, I did this morning at the news conference and I will again. We will be strengthening this so it applies to past as well as to present elections. This new law would apply to any file in front of the Chief Electoral Officer. He could use it at his discretion.

To get back to a macro view of all this, the hon. member is very well travelled in the world and has a very sophisticated, civilized world view. He and I were recently in Morocco together as international election observers, helping that country with its election. I would ask the hon. member what he thinks all this and the other actions of the government are doing to the great reputation that Canadians are proud of, in terms of the damage to that very proud reputation that we have.

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

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Toronto Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I think it is doing its share of damage. We all watch how politics are practised in a number of countries. It is interesting to me how a number of the consultants who work for the Conservative Party, as well as consultants who work for other parties, are all doing international work. They are doing work in Israel, the U.K. and Australia. It is troubling because we see these things happening. Techniques and philosophies are being applied, such as voter suppression, which is in itself wrong and, even worse than that, voter misinformation. So this is a very serious question for Canada's reputation.

We have a great deal of confidence in Elections Canada, unlike the government, which refused to vote for a motion indicating our support and confidence in Elections Canada. So it is a very serious question the member poses.

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

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, there is something else that we all should be concerned about. We are often called to travel abroad to encourage fledgling democracy and the multi-party system in certain countries, and even to participate in elections as observers.

Could the hon. member for Toronto Centre speak to the effect the current situation in Canada might have on our international reputation?