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

Noon

NDP

Annick Papillon Québec, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would be pleased to enlighten my colleague, who may have missed part of my speech. I spoke about Elections Canada receiving 31,000 complaints from across Canada asking it to investigate the problem. Elections Canada decided to make a form available online to simplify the process. It was swamped with calls from Canadians who were concerned that there may have been election fraud in Canada. That makes no sense.

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

Noon

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

I did not recognize the hon. member for Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing in the last round. I will try to do so for the next round.

I now recognize the hon. member for Vancouver Kingsway.

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

Noon

NDP

Don Davies Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is always an honour to stand in this place and give a speech, but never is that honour more profound than when we are rising to speak to democracy because the essence of this place is the democratic nature of our country. There are many aspects that go into a healthy functioning democracy. We need an open and diverse media, free political expression, an informed electorate and free and fair elections.

In order to have free and fair elections, those elections must be conducted with integrity that is beyond reproach. In order to have a functioning democracy, Canadians or any people must have trust that those elections reflect exactly their will.

I come from Vancouver Kingsway which has one of the most well-known examples of a breach of trust where voters put their trust into electing David Emerson, a Liberal, only to see that person cross the floor within 14 days and sit as a Conservative member in complete violation of the voters' choice in that election. Therefore, I can say that the people of Vancouver Kingsway have a keen interest in and commitment to democracy in this country. In fact, all Canadians are proud of our democracy because democracy is a peaceful way to elect their representatives and to choose their government. It is the way that all people of the world can have a peaceful, organized fashion in which they can freely select who will pass the laws that will govern their lives.

I happen to be the official opposition critic for immigration. All members of the House know people or have family members who came to this country seeking that very freedom, yearning for that very democracy where their votes, their electoral process is not tainted by the kinds of practices they saw in many countries of this world where there is graft, corruption, ballot box stuffing and tricks of every kind meant to thwart the expression of people's democratic choices.

To have a strong election system requires a system of campaigning, voting and behaving politically that is beyond reproach. We need an ironclad guarantee of legality and there are a number of reasons for this because democracy requires the consent of the people. A government must first reflect the people's true decision and, second, elected representatives make the laws. We are trusted by the people of this country to come here and write the very laws that will govern the people of this country. We lose the moral authority to do that if politicians or political parties break the law. I do not mean 80% or 90% compliance with probity in electoral conduct. I mean 100%. That is the guarantee that Canadians want in their electoral system.

Today, we rise to speak to serious allegations of electoral fraud in the last federal election. There are a number of aspects to this. We are hearing thousands of reports that phone calls were made to people at late hours, likely to agitate them and likely from opposing campaigns. There were thousands of phone calls to citizens on voting day misdirecting them to the wrong voting place. In some cases, perhaps, those callers were posing as representatives from Elections Canada, after Elections Canada told the political parties in writing that they were releasing the changed polls to them and asked them not to communicate that information to the voters.

Thousands of voters were added to the voting list on election day in clear violation of election laws. As we stand here today, over 30,000 complaints were made to Elections Canada. Many of the ridings in the last election were won by dozens of votes, sometimes hundreds of votes, sometimes a few thousand votes. This is not a one-off situation. This is a serious case of fraud that, if true, means that the outcome of the election may have been different. It is also a violation of the Canada Elections Act and, if some of these allegations are true, they are criminal acts punishable by jail time and fines. Every allegation is directed at only one party in this House and that is the Conservative Party of Canada.

The evidence is mounting. We have RackNine, which is a company that did work for many Conservative campaigns, including the Prime Minister's campaign. There is a record of holding hospitality suites and advertising for the Conservative Party with many Conservative connections. We also know now that fraudulent calls were made in the riding of Guelph through RackNine. RackNine denies that it knew what the content of the calls were but there is no doubt that the calls came through RackNine.

There is a company called RMG, which is a firm that contacts voters, manages databases and raises funds for the Conservative Party and other right wing groups. Former Conservative campaign manager, Tom Flanagan, even attributed the party's 2006 election win to that company. Its administrators have given many thousands of dollars in contributions to various Conservative campaigns. The company also owns an American affiliate, Target Outreach, that sometimes works for the republican party.

Dozens of local campaigns, 94 of them according to some sources, gave important contracts to RMG. Many of them paid a similar amount of money, around $15,000. The campaigns of many ministers, including the Minister of Finance, Associate Minister of National Defence, President of the Treasury Board, Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development, have used RMG services.

Three former employees of an RMG call centre in Thunder Bay have explained publicly that they had given false indications about voting stations to many voters in ridings that had tight races during the 2011 election. An employee has testified that she had advised her supervisor that the script she was following was, “sending people to the wrong place”.

We have a history and a context. The Conservatives recently pled guilty to violating Canada's elections laws through the so-called in and out scandal after standing in this House day after day denying that they had done anything wrong. At the end of the day, they pled guilty and paid the fine.

The Conservatives have admitted to publicly making misleading phone calls suggesting that a Liberal member of this House was about to resign. They have admitted to doing that falsely, as the member was not about to resign. They also have close ties with republican companies and operatives who openly advocate voter suppression techniques.

We can often tell a lot by how someone acts when facing an accusation. How have the Conservatives acted? Well, they have changed their stories repeatedly. First they said that there was no evidence to support these allegations. Then they said that other parties committed these acts, which is absurd. Why would the Liberal Party make misleading phone calls to their voters and misdirect them to the wrong place? That is absurd. They said that Elections Canada made the calls. They said that polls were changed and that Elections Canada informed voters that the polls were changed. They used the Edmonton East riding as an example. Then we found out that there were no changed polls in Edmonton East. The Conservatives then said that it was just a smear campaign and that they did not do it but now they say that everybody does it. This is not the behaviour of an innocent group.

The Conservatives opposed the motion by the New Democrats to give the Chief Electoral Officer the power to subpoena documents from national parties. The Conservatives said that they would give all documents to Elections Canada but when faced with the motion that would explicitly give the Chief Electoral Officer the power to subpoena those very documents, they opposed it.

Why are the Conservatives opposing a public inquiry if they have nothing to hide? Given the vital importance of the integrity of elections to our Canadian democracy, why would the Prime Minister not call a public inquiry immediately and clear the air? If the Conservatives are innocent and have nothing to hide, they would have a full public inquiry to show Canadians that fact.

I have stood in this House for years now and heard the Conservatives use that same argument against people in trouble with the law. Well, if there is nothing to hide, why do they not just give up their rights? The Conservatives have used this with the recent lawful access law saying that if Canadians have nothing to hide why do they have a problem giving their information to telcos.

If the Conservative Party has nothing to hide, if it truly has done nothing wrong, then it should call a public inquiry now and give the powers to the Chief Electoral Officer so that he can get to the bottom of this. Canadian democracy demands no less.

We all have an obligation in this House as members to protect democracy. Long after we are gone, this institution survives and it is our responsibilities as MPs today to stand up for Canadian democracy. The NDP will do it. Why will the Conservative Party not do it?

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

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

Ted Hsu Kingston and the Islands, ON

Mr. Speaker, we have about three and a half years more to serve here in Ottawa, if the Prime Minister respects the fixed date election law. Voters need to know that the people they elected are really here in Ottawa. They need to have confidence that they are being represented by the people for whom they voted.

In view of that, is it not important for Elections Canada to have the powers it wants and needs to investigate all the irregularities and possible fraud that occurred in the election that brought the occupants of this chamber here to Ottawa?

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

12:10 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, I can only reiterate the remarks made at the beginning of my speech when I said that a democracy requires the consent of the governed and it demands 100% confidence in the electoral system. When there is any question that people who presume to exert power over a population may not have had the legitimate right to do so, it calls into question something much deeper than the right of a particular member to sit. It calls into question the essence of our democracy itself.

The motion before us calls for giving the Chief Electoral Officer a few basic powers: the capability to request all necessary documents from political parties to ensure compliance with the Canada Elections Act; to require all telecommunications companies that provide voter contact services during a general election to register with Elections Canada; and that all clients of those companies during a general election have their identity registered and verified. Those are very straightforward and simple powers.

I would ask any member of this House to stand and justify why he or she could possibly vote against those bare minimum requirements to ensure our democracy does represent the rights of people to sit in this House, as the member so eloquently suggested.

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

12:10 p.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am glad we are debating this motion today because it is one that speaks to the democracy that we have been pushing forward to encourage voters to come out. However, how do we encourage voters to come out when we hear this type of news?

Nathalie Gara-Boivin from Providence Bay says:

I am gravely concerned by the Elections Canada report that has just traced illegal phone calls made during the 2011 federal election to a company that worked for the Conservative party across the country.

She goes on to say that she is demanding a full “independent public inquiry, backed by Elections Canada and the RCMP”, and is also requesting “possible byelections in the affected ridings”.

She goes on to say:

We cannot allow individuals to be scapegoated for actions that benefit institutions. We need to lay the foundation for new laws to restore the integrity of Canadian elections.

On that note, how can we be encouraging people to come out to vote when we see such actions taking place on the government side?

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

12:15 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member raises an excellent point. There are profound consequences among Canadians when they see this kind of behaviour. One of them, that all members of this House have witnessed over the previous decade or two, has been a declining interest in our own democracy. In the last election, only about 60% of Canadians cast a ballot. These are democratic rights that our grandfathers and great-grandfathers fought and died for in trenches and that our grandmothers had to demonstrate in the street for. It is International Women's Day today and the suffragette movement in this country was our grandmothers saying that they deserved the right to vote and demanded the right to vote.

All members of this House should and must be interested in ensuring that our elections are beyond reproach. If there is any suggestion that any party has engaged in any behaviour that tried to trick a Canadian into not voting or tried to use illegitimate or illegal techniques to try to win an election, that amounts to electoral fraud, to stealing an election. We need to say, as a House, that we have zero tolerance for that. Yes, we need to be tough on crime, we need to have zero tolerance, so let us have zero tolerance for electoral fraud.

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

12:15 p.m.

Conservative

Bernard Trottier Etobicoke—Lakeshore, ON

Mr. Speaker, first of all, I would like to wish all the women in the House of Commons and across Canada a happy International Women's Day. I commend the enormous contribution all women make to this great country.

I am pleased to take part in today's debate on the opposition motion moved by the hon. member for Hamilton Centre.

We are not opposed to the motion. We certainly are supporting the work of Elections Canada by making available all of our records from the last election for its investigation of the situation in Guelph.

Although we are not opposed to the motion, we must consider that the motion has been 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.

There is nothing stopping the opposition from supporting Elections Canada's work right now. It could easily provide all of its records relating to phone calls and phone contracts made in the last election to assist in the agency's work. The Conservative Party of Canada is doing exactly that and will continue to do so. We encourage the opposition to do the same.

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 its work. If the opposition really wants to support the work of Elections Canada, it should provide all of its records relating to phone calls it made during the last election.

I repeat: we not opposed to this proposal. At the same time, however, I wish to make it clear that we are giving all of our information to Elections Canada. Nothing is stopping the NDP from providing its information to Elections Canada as well.

The motion, which is very vague, asks that:

(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.

The existing Elections Act already gives the Chief Electoral Officer and the Commissioner of Canada Elections a number of powers in that regard. I would like to provide a few examples to the hon. members present in the House.

Let us first take a look at the Chief Electoral Officer. Canada has a very strict federal political financing regime that is intended to ensure the integrity, fairness and transparency of the electoral process.

To achieve that objective, the Canada Elections Act includes rules respecting the contributions and expenses that can be made by five types of political entities, namely: political parties, riding associations, candidates, nomination contestants and leadership candidates. The act also sets a limit on spending by a third party during an election.

All these political entities must submit detailed financial reports to the Chief Electoral Officer, within the prescribed timeframe. The political parties are carefully monitored and they must submit three types of financial reports.

First, each year every party must submit a financial transactions return that includes its revenues and expenses, and also a list of its donors. That requirement is found in section 424 of the Elections Act.

Second, a political party that is eligible to the quarterly allowance must also provide, for each quarter, a report on contributions received during that quarter. That is under section 424.1.

Finally, following a general election, every party must submit to the Chief Electoral Officer a report on all its election expenses. That is provided under section 429.

The Canada Elections Act already provides that the annual financial report and the report on a party's election expenses must undergo an external audit. To this end, the auditor for a party must have access to all the party's documents, as required under sections 426 and 430.

In order to increase the scope and effectiveness of this external audit, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs proposes to give to this auditor, who already has access to all the relevant documentation, new responsibilities regarding compliance. The government is currently looking into this recommendation.

When the Chief Electoral Office receives a party's annual financial report or its report on election expenses, he already has the authority to ask the registered party to correct its report, in the timeframe that he sets. That authority is found in section 432(2). For example, he may do so if the report seems incomplete or erroneous.

The Chief Electoral Officer also has another power. He can withhold part of the electoral expense reimbursement of a party that does not comply with its reporting obligations. Indeed, the Chief Electoral Officer does not issue the certificate authorizing the receiver general to pay to a party its electoral expense reimbursement until he is satisfied that the party and its chief agent have fulfilled their obligations.

I am now going to talk about the powers of the Commissioner of Canada Elections. There are more examples. While the Canada Elections Act provides stiff sanctions for a party that does not fulfill its financial reporting obligations, it also includes the necessary investigative authority to ensure compliance.

Thus, the Canada Elections Act provides for the appointment of an independent investigator: the Commissioner of Canada Elections. The commissioner is not appointed by the government, but rather by the Chief Electoral Officer. The Commissioner of Canada Elections has a well defined mission, to ensure that the Canada Elections Act is enforced and implemented. He has very broad powers at his disposal in carrying out this role.

If he believes that the public interest warrants it, the Commissioner may take all necessary steps, including spending for the purposes of investigations he conducts under the Canada Elections Act. A provision of the act also stipulates that investigators working for the Commissioner are public servants in accordance with section 487 of the Criminal Code. This provision enables the Commissioner and his investigators to request a search warrant from a judge when deemed necessary.

When he has reasonable grounds to believe that the Canada Elections Act has been violated, the Commissioner refers the matter to the director of public prosecutions who decides whether to prosecute with a view to punishment. If he makes this decision, the Director of Public Prosecutions Act guarantees that the director of public prosecutions is wholly independent from the attorney general or, more generally, from the government.

The Canada Elections Act also confers other powers upon the Commissioner of Canada Elections, including requesting an injunction during an election or entering into compliance agreements. A compliance agreement is a mechanism the purpose of which is to enforce the Canada Election Act. It is more flexible than prosecution, and it enables the Commissioner to enter into an agreement with the person who has broken the law. Under this agreement, the person acknowledges having broken the law and undertakes to follow it in the future. These agreements are conditional. Failure to honour such an agreement may lead to prosecution.

Elections Canada already has considerable powers with existing laws. Therefore, although we are not opposed to the motion, we are not certain that it really adds anything to the overall powers of Elections Canada and the director of Elections Canada to undertake its work.

In the motion, the opposition is proposing:

--that in all future election campaigns: (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 have no objection to such a proposal, but at the same time, it must be stressed that we provide Elections Canada with all our information. Nothing prevents the NDP from also providing Elections Canada with its information.

The NDP has sponsored this motion, yet that party has failed to provide its telephone activity during the campaign to Elections Canada.

There have been media reports about an investigation into a specific case in the riding of Guelph. Voter suppression is extremely serious and if something inappropriate occurred, the perpetrators should be punished. The national campaign team of the Conservative Party did not organize any such activities in this riding, and has no knowledge of the matter, but is cooperating fully with Elections Canada.

The opposition spent millions of dollars on hundreds of thousands of telephone calls in the last election campaign. If the opposition wants to help Elections Canada, it should hand over all its files on calls made during the last federal election.

In closing, as we can see, the Canada Elections Act contains many provisions to ensure the integrity, equity and transparency of the political financing system: contribution and spending limits for political parties; the requirement to produce a number of financial reports, and the requirement to have them audited by an external auditor; as an administrative measure, the possibility for the Chief Electoral Officer to ask that a report he deems incomplete or inaccurate be corrected and the possibility of withholding a portion of the election expense reimbursements from the parties if they fail to comply with these requirements; extensive investigative powers for the Commissioner of Canada Elections, an independent investigator appointed by the Chief Electoral Officer; and the power for the Director of Public Prosecutions to decide whether to initiate a prosecution under the Canada Elections Act, independently of the Attorney General or the government.

I repeat, we have no objection to such a proposal. The Conservative Party of Canada ran a clean and ethical campaign. It should be noted that we are giving all our information to Elections Canada. There is nothing stopping the NDP from giving its information to Elections Canada. If the opposition wants to help Elections Canada, then it should provide all the records relating to the calls made during the last election campaign.

The opposition spent millions of dollars on hundreds of thousands of phone calls during the election campaign, and it too should provide this information to Elections Canada.

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

12:30 p.m.

NDP

Robert Chisholm Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is interesting to listen to the member and his colleagues on the government side. In response to the demand made by Canadians that the government actually co-operate with Elections Canada, they say that the New Democrats and Liberals have not provided any information. The reality of the situation is that it is the Conservative Party of Canada that has been requested by Elections Canada to provide information, and it is the Conservative Party of Canada that has not released that information.

If or when the New Democratic Party is requested to provide that information, it will provide any and all information. I would like to ask the member why the Conservatives continue to present this information that clearly is not true.

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

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Bernard Trottier Etobicoke—Lakeshore, ON

Mr. Speaker, we are of course co-operating fully with the investigation in Guelph. The member should also know that Elections Canada is doing its work. It is doing what it needs to do to get to the bottom of the inappropriate activity that took place in Guelph and we are co-operating fully. The opposition is asking us to provide information over and above what Elections Canada is asking for. We are co-operating and collaborating with it fully and we hope to get to the bottom of what happened in Guelph.

Having run a campaign in the city of Toronto, I know that when it comes to spending resources on what the opposition is alleging might have happened, that would have been a really silly use of resources. What we do is to identify our supporters and give them a call and encourage them to vote, and that is exactly what we did in the last election.

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

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, member after member of the Conservative government are trying to confuse the issue. This particular member has made reference to the fact that the Liberals and New Democrats have spent millions of dollars on robocalls. That is nothing new in the sense that a great deal of money is spent on robocalls, teleconferencing, voice blasts and so forth. They even occurred in Winnipeg North, the area I represent.

The issue before us is that serious allegations have been levelled about there being some sort of campaign or orchestrated approach to suppress voters from voting, to mislead them, to tell them to vote at a different poll from where they should actually vote. I am wondering if the member can address that specific issue and the 30,000 people who have seen fit to actually contact Elections Canada and express their concerns, just as we have expressed here.

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

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Bernard Trottier Etobicoke—Lakeshore, ON

Mr. Speaker, the opposition, the Liberal Party in particular, are alleging some nefarious use of a mysterious database. As any member would know, databases are constructed by human beings and so they sometimes contain errors.

I want to build on what the interim leader of the Liberal Party mentioned earlier, that he did not know his party had a database like this. I actually find it shocking that the interim leader was unaware that the Liberal Party has its own database to track voters. It is called Liberalist, but he does not know his party is actually using it. It is making its own phone calls and supplying its own information to its own call centres and has spent millions of dollars itself. I will present to the House that it is very possible that its own call centres made mistakes in informing its own voters.

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

12:30 p.m.

Cambridge
Ontario

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, in fact, it is not just that the Liberals are denying having their own machinery or a Liberal list, but also that there is no fact behind what the leader of the Liberal Party said about a subpoena. That too is more misinformation in the smear campaign by the opposition.

I would ask the hon. member if he would agree that this kind of constant misleading and smearing by the opposition is in fact its own embarrassment, and that it is disingenuous and shameful on the part of the opposition. Would he comment on this being of great concern to Canadians who validly voted in the last election and that in itself it is a shameful smear by the opposition.

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

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Bernard Trottier Etobicoke—Lakeshore, ON

Mr. Speaker, the minister is absolutely correct. There have been allegations coming from the Liberal Party, as well as the NDP, that there is some kind of subpoena or court order out there. In fact, it is false. They are making that up: there are no subpoenas, there are no court orders. Elections Canada is doing its work and we are co-operating fully and providing it with information.

I just want to get back to the history. As the Minister of State for Science and Technology, he understands that building computer systems to assist with an election campaign is a fairly new development. However, the task of identifying voters is really as old as the hills. I will just read a little quote here to that effect:

—organize the whole State, so that every Whig can be brought to the polls..... [D]ivide their county into small districts, and...appoint in each a subcommittee...to make a perfect list of all the voters...and to ascertain with certainty for whom they will vote.... [A]nd on election days see that every Whig is brought to the polls.

Who said that? It was Abraham Lincoln in the Illinois State Register, February 21, 1840. So there is nothing new here.

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

12:35 p.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, I just want to ask the member a question, because the Conservatives keep trying to turn the table and say that this was instead what the Liberal Party and the NDP were doing. In trying to turn the table, it is not working. The Conservative Party is trying to hide and it is not working.

Let me just refresh the member's memory as to what the recommendations were from the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada, following the 40th general election in 2010:

Despite the considerable funding given to registered parties, the Chief Electoral Officer does not receive any documentary evidence of the expenses reported in the election expenses return. Nor does the Act provide the Chief Electoral Officer with the authority to request that a party provide such evidence.Therefore, he has no means to verify the accuracy of the reported expenses on which the reimbursement is based.

That was in comparison to provincial laws, the Chief Electoral Officer noted as well.

Although the member is basically saying that he does not know if the motion is going to do anything, will it not in fact do something provided that the Conservative Party forwards the information required? Are the Conservatives still going to hide under the blinders?