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

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Toronto Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, that is an important question. I fully agree with the hon. member who just asked that question.

I began my speech by talking about the Canadian system we have created. In my riding, we can spend roughly up to $80,000. When I talk about this situation with my American colleagues, they cannot believe that the Canadian system is like that, but it is. There is a ceiling on contributions from individuals and we do not get money from corporations or unions, just from individuals.

That is the system the Prime Minister of Canada does not accept. He wants to create a system in which money can buy anything, where nothing else matters but money.

I am convinced that the system we have created in Canada is good and that we must do everything in our power to maintain it.

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

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

LaVar Payne Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Speaker, I listened quite intently to the member for Toronto Centre, particularly when he said that now is the time to get back and to follow this through, and that Canadians will not forget. I have a comment in terms of the Liberal Party of Canada about the ad scam. There were brown envelopes and money missing. There is still $40 million missing. I know the Liberals would love to help get that funding back.

I know there are some left-leaning websites out there that some opposition MPs are tied to, that are encouraging all of these 31,000 contacts. I also understand that the Liberal Party has a machine that does its centralized calling as well. So I would ask the hon. member if in fact the Liberals are doing this. Are they going to provide those records to Elections Canada as well?

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

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Toronto Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, if the Liberal Party has a machine, it has avoided my detection over the last number of years. What the Liberal Party has, as I assume the New Democratic Party has, as I am not familiar with what systems it uses now, is a number of contractors who also make calls. As my party has indicated publicly and to the hon. member, the Liberal Party is going to be sharing all of that information with Elections Canada, just as I understand you are doing as well.

The difference between you and us is that you are doing it because you are under subpoena, we are doing it voluntarily.

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

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

Just to remind all hon. members, it is not the Chair who is sharing the information. He ought to direct his comments in this direction.

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

11:40 a.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to address a question to the hon. leader of the Liberal Party. He made reference to the fact that we have seen in previous election campaigns instances of election crime, essentially. Calls misdirected voters and reported to be from the Bloc when they were not.

The most comprehensive example of a previous election fraud effort was in Saanich—Gulf Islands in 2008. Robocalls were made to NDP supporters to get out in support of a candidate who was actually no longer in the race. This allegedly and arguably changed the result of the election and denied the Liberals a seat. The NDP members were so upset in Saanich—Gulf Islands by this crime that even though it was a Liberal Party candidate who was the biggest victim, the NDP filed a complaint with Elections Canada. The Liberals filed a complaint. Elections Canada simply did not get to the bottom of it.

I would like to ask the hon. member for Toronto Centre if it is too late to go back to what is essentially a cold case to figure out who stole the election in 2008 in Saanich—Gulf Islands?

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

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Toronto Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, the simple, hard fact is a lot of calls are hard to trace. It is no accident that they are hard to trace. Offshore calls are particularly hard to trace. It would not be difficult to place offshore calls into Saanich—Gulf Islands.

This is something that we all have to come to grips with. To repeat the quote that I made before, “In this world today, all you needs is a computer and access to the Internet, and you can have access to all kinds of things. It is very difficult to trace them”. I think that is something we have to take a hold of. We need to make sure that all of the calls made are not only reported to Elections Canada, but that a record of those calls is kept for an extended period of time.

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

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I apologize for interrupting my hon. colleague's intervention. This will be brief.

I just want to point out for the record that the Leader of the Liberal Party, on a number of occasions in his intervention, mentioned that the Conservative Party of Canada has subpoenas or is under court order to produce documents. That is absolutely false. That is an incorrect statement. Could he have the opportunity to retract his statements?

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

11:45 a.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh.

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

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

I am not sure that is a point of order. It is a point of debate. Order, order. The hon. member for Québec.

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

11:45 a.m.

NDP

Annick Papillon Québec, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to share my time today with the hon. member for Vancouver Kingsway.

I am very pleased to have the opportunity today to support the motion moved by my esteemed colleague from Hamilton Centre. This motion, which would give the Chief Electoral Officer the power to request documents he deems necessary to investigations, is very important to me.

Canadians' right to vote is a symbol of democracy and something we can all be proud of. This right gives qualified voters the right to express their personal opinions freely and confidentially. This precious right is essential to the proper functioning of our democratic society.

Today, March 8, is International Women's Day, and I think it is important to note that this right was granted to Canadian women in 1918. The acquisition of this right was one of many pivotal moments in the history of Canadian democracy. Unfortunately, events of the past few days are anything but reassuring. The latest information from across the country suggests that some of our fellow citizens were tricked and thus deprived of their right to vote. These allegations are alarming.

I would like to briefly review the events that point to a need to strengthen Elections Canada's investigative powers.

Last week, we learned that during the 2011 election, robocalls falsely informed voters that their polling station had changed. Other individuals received harassing phone calls from people claiming to work for the party those individuals supported. These tactics persuaded voters not to cast their ballots. Should these allegations prove true, they would constitute very serious election fraud, and that is why they must be treated with the respect our Canadian democracy deserves.

Since this information surfaced, Elections Canada has been so overwhelmed with calls from individuals claiming to be victims of fraudulent calls that it has made an online form available to simplify the complaints process. At least 31,000 complaints have been received so far.

I would note that Elections Canada is a non-partisan, independent organization that ensures that Canadians can exercise their democratic right to vote. Elections Canada plays a key role in preserving a fair and honest democracy.

The problem is that there are currently no controls over the use of robocalling. Parties are not subject to privacy legislation or rules governing telephone solicitation. Parties are only required to comply with the provisions of the Criminal Code and the Canada Elections Act.

For that reason, the Chief Electoral Officer recently complained that he could not carry out proper investigations without full transparency by all parties.

In fact, the Chief Electoral Officer submitted a series of recommendations to the Speaker of the House of Commons on legislative reform after the 40th general election. He asked for the power to request that political parties provide “any documents and information that may be deemed necessary to verify compliance with the requirements of the Act with respect to the election expenses return”.

At present only local campaigns must file documentary evidence to support their election expenses returns. In his request, the Chief Electoral Officer indicated that his provincial counterparts have this authority, and he also pointed out that political parties receive public funds based on their election expenses returns.

The NDP wants to give the Chief Electoral Officer the authority to ask for documentation if he considers it necessary. This would ensure that the Chief Electoral Officer has the information he needs to fulfill his obligations under the Canada Elections Act. According to a report released last week, in committee, Conservatives opposed the Chief Electoral Officer's request that he have the authority to demand invoices and documents from political parties.

Now, the government is saying that it was not aware that Elections Canada claimed that it did not have the powers or the resources to investigate as it should. I now hope that the government will stop putting its head in the sand and will finally provide the Chief Electoral Officer with the power he requested so that he can conduct a full investigation.

Another aspect of the motion moved today would ensure that all telecommunication companies that contact voters during a general election are registered with Elections Canada.

Elections Canada is now spending a lot of time and a lot of taxpayers' money to find the telecommunication companies involved in the scandal and trace them back to their clients. Right now, there is a lack of responsibility from these telemarketing companies, which is particularly problematic when we consider the trend toward the outsourcing of calls and the use of automated telecommunications.

This results in a system where an increasing number of the tools that can be used during election campaigns require less and less accountability and are harder and harder to trace.

Under our motion, the identity of telecommunication company clients will have to be registered and verified so that it would be impossible for the imaginary Pierre Poutine of the non-existent Separatist Street in Joliette to order automated calls.

If those involved had not known that their actions would be difficult to trace, they would have never authorized the calls that disrupted voting on the very day of the election. The registration of telecommunication companies and their clients would prevent this type of scandal from happening again in the future. The NDP is continuing to do everything it can to resolve the current scandal. The Conservatives, on the other hand, will continue to divert attention and blame others without addressing the issue head-on.

In fact, since the rigged calls were first revealed, the government has only admitted that there were some irregularities in the riding of Guelph, in Ontario. As for the rest, including the repeated automated calls to destabilize their opponents, the government has been saying that the allegations are exaggerated. If such is truly the case, the Conservative Party should not have any reason to prevent the implementation of a registry for telecommunication companies that contact voters.

And, if this is not enough to convince the government, a survey conducted by Angus Reid shows that 81% of Canadians and even 72% of Conservative voters are calling for an independent inquiry to get to the bottom of things. In addition, 55% of the 1,667 respondents chosen at random as part of a telephone survey conducted by Forum Research said that elections should be held in the ridings where it has been proven that fraudulent calls were made.

In that same survey, one out of ten people said that they had received an automated telephone call about a polling station change during the last election. If we project these results to the 12.5 million households in Canada, that means that approximately 250,000 households would have received fraudulent calls.

As if that were not enough, this morning La Presse reported that an employee of Responsive Marketing Group, which raised funds for the Conservative Party, was fired after he harassed party members and contacted them under false pretences. This information came to light several days after party supporters in Quebec began to complain about being harassed by fundraisers.

Political analyst Guy Lachapelle, who teaches at Concordia, said that the Conservative fundraiser's aggressive approach mirrors tactics perfected by the Republican Party in the United States. He added that there should be a law to protect people from this practice because it is misrepresentation and puts undue pressure on defenceless individuals.

In addition, Le Devoir recently reported that voters were relentlessly solicited by the Conservative Party, which made false claims that they had pledged to donate money. It goes without saying that this is an issue that hits close to home for Canadians. People want answers, and that is why we want all parties to agree. Increasing accountability by requiring telecommunication companies and their clients to register is the most effective way to ensure that Canadian elections continue to be free and democratic.

In closing, I hope that the government will not stop at voting in favour of the motion, but will also act on it so that we can investigate potentially serious actions without delay and safeguard and preserve Canadians' confidence in our democracy.

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

11:55 a.m.

Cambridge
Ontario

Conservative

Gary Goodyear Minister of State (Science and Technology) (Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario)

Mr. Speaker, Elections Canada has limits on contributions or what someone can donate to a party. The way the Liberals have gotten around that is by borrowing, in some cases, hundreds of thousands of dollars and then not repaying those loans. Elections Canada is having some difficulty determining whether those are contributions, which are then clearly illegal, or loans that simply were not repaid. The NDP has also taken cash from unions, which is also illegal.

I am not opposed to this motion, but I am concerned that it does not allow Elections Canada to investigate the illegal contributions by unions to the NDP and the non-repayment of loans contribution scandal by the Liberals. Maybe I could get some clarification on that.

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

11:55 a.m.

NDP

Annick Papillon Québec, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to point out to members that there is something that I was unable to quantify today: the price of our Canadian democracy. Mr. Speaker, allow me to tell you and all my hon. colleagues that Canadian democracy is priceless. It is about time we strengthened the Canada Elections Act and gave Elections Canada the tools to investigate what seems to be the worst case of election fraud this country has ever seen.

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

11:55 a.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I find it interesting that the Minister of State (Democratic Reform), per the government line, is trying to avoid talking about the issue at hand. The issue at hand relates to Elections Canada and the 30,000-plus Canadians who have phoned it to say they were manipulated in some way. We do not know the content of all of those calls; all we know is that there are very strong allegations from coast to coast about how the Conservatives may have manipulated the last federal election.

I am wondering if the member would agree that the best service the Conservative Party could give to Canadians today would be to stay focused on the issue. We are talking about voter suppression, the wrong information given to Canadians, which ultimately led to many Canadians not participating in the last election. Would she not agree that, in essence, that is the focus of the debate we should be having today and on Elections Canada's ability to rightly investigate the matter?

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

Noon

NDP

Annick Papillon Québec, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his comments. That really is what we must focus on. As legislators, how can we enhance the Canada Elections Act and provide Elections Canada with more tools? That is the crux of the matter. Democracy is at stake, and it is priceless. It is our duty to Canadians to ensure that this does not happen again.

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

Noon

Cambridge
Ontario

Conservative

Gary Goodyear Minister of State (Science and Technology) (Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario)

Mr. Speaker, I have a quick comment. I just found out that these are actually not calls but form letters directed through an NDP website to Elections Canada.

I wonder if the member could confirm two things. Are these all legitimate calls or are they form letters instigated by the NDP, and will this motion allow Elections Canada to investigate the illegal cash contributions by unions to the NDP and the loan fraud by the Liberals?