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

Topics

Opposition Motion—Elections Canada Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Christine Moore Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the hon. member this question.

If allegations of election fraud were made against her, her party or anyone, would she not hasten to ensure that her party provided all the evidence to prove that those allegations were not true? Would she not want the Chief Electoral Officer to have the strongest mandate possible so that he would be able to quickly come to a decision on the issue and put an end to the situation? Does she think that the Conservatives' unwillingness to turn over the documents is logical when they could basically put an end to the allegations by doing so? What would be her attitude in such a situation?

Opposition Motion—Elections Canada Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, those of us who have been around a while know that Elections Canada is starved for resources. That was before all of this. We could write a letter to Elections Canada and we would get an answer back in about six months telling us that it has received our information. It was a challenge to accept the fact that Elections Canada had enough resources. We know it does not have the resources. That is why the NDP motion today is so important. Elections Canada needs the freedom to be able to do what it needs to do in a fast and efficient manner, not drag something out for 5, 8 or 10 years.

Until there is a decision by Elections Canada, a lot of what has been going on in the past will probably continue into the future. I would expect the Conservatives would want to be helpful, get to the bottom of this and put it behind them.

Opposition Motion—Elections Canada Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

March 8th, 2012 / 4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Preston Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Mr. Speaker, I find it absolutely over the top that the member is talking about this place and ethics. She has some explaining to do in her own right and for her own party. I will ask a question about procedure and House affairs and the bill before us.

She said it is very important that this legislation gets passed so the Chief Electoral Officer has these abilities. In previous meetings of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, the Chief Electoral Officer asked for these same powers. Guess who was in power at the time and guess who denied those same powers before? We have an awakening on the road to Damascus from someone whose ethics I question.

Opposition Motion—Elections Canada Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, any time he wants to compare ethics, I am more than ready to do it. He can meet me outside and we will have that discussion, if he would like.

On the issue of ethics and my party, nobody in my party has been convicted of anything. He can throw his allegations around. Four Conservatives were convicted under the Canada Elections Act. No Liberal or NDP members were convicted, just Conservatives.

Opposition Motion—Elections Canada Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

John McKay Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, I was thinking about all of the Conservative donors. I am sure they are really thrilled with the payout of $283,000 from their donation base and then another $52,000 from their donation base. I imagine the next time the Conservatives call asking for money, it may not happen. Maybe donors will pass on donations for fines and settlements.

I want to ask the hon. member about her favourite preposterous argument put forward by the other side. Is it that Elections Canada did this, that the opposition parties suppressed their own votes, that polls sometimes change, that it was all orchestrated by political parties or that this is a smear by 31,000 Canadians?

Opposition Motion—Elections Canada Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to go back to a comment made by one of the government members. Please excuse me as I do know which riding it was. Earlier the member talked about this kind of thing and the damage it does to Canadians' belief in democracy and to all of us who are politicians. Nobody wins with all of this. It is not a good thing when people make accusations about others. The fact is that for thousands of Canadians their votes have been denied them. They were blocked in a variety of ways. We are using hundreds of hours on an investigation that is critically important because the government will not be truthful and provide everything required to Elections Canada, including the resources.

Opposition Motion—Elections Canada Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Frank Valeriote Guelph, ON

Mr. Speaker, for the last two weeks, this House has been seized, indeed gripped, with a very important issue. It strikes at the very core of why we are here, the prospect of electoral fraud after a comprehensive, sophisticated, nationwide, organized attempt to prevent Canadians from voting through suppression calls.

Voting is a sacred duty that we try to instill in our children from a very young age. This civic duty and engagement is part of our social contract as a democratic society. Yet sadly, election after election, voter turnouts are stagnant or decreasing as voters become disenchanted, cynical and disengaged. As a result, fewer and fewer Canadians vote. With organized groups attempting to subvert our right to vote, how can we blame them?

One of the last safeguards Canadians have is Elections Canada and the Canada Elections Act, an organization and legislation that distinguish us from, and cause our electoral democracy to be revered by, most other countries. Just weeks ago, before the controversy erupted over voter suppression robocalls, the Conservative government used its majority on committee to deny Elections Canada the additional powers it was requesting to undertake its important work as the elections watchdog. Surprisingly, or not, weeks later Elections Canada would be faced with over 31,000 people calling on it to examine fraudulent and malicious voter suppression calls that went out across the country throughout the election and on election day.

The motion before us today is calling on the government to equip Elections Canada, rightfully, with the tools to ensure that in all future campaigns it will be armed with the ability to investigate even more thoroughly. This would include granting the Chief Electoral Officer the power to directly request all necessary documentation from political parties, to ensure compliance with the Canada Elections Act, and to ensure that call centres and other telecommunications companies involved in the election are registered and that their clients are clearly identified.

On election day, almost a year ago, after knocking on doors and greeting people around the city, my wife and I arrived at my campaign office to find it in a state of chaos. My campaign staff were frantically answering the phone calls of hundreds of Guelphites who received fraudulent robocalls from a person claiming to be from Elections Canada. The caller informed them that, due to high voter turnout, their polling location had changed to the Old Quebec Street Mall. We rushed over as fast as we could with drivers to ensure voters were given the opportunity to get to their proper voting location. There is no telling how late we were for some voters.

I remember very clearly speaking to a young woman and her older father who had received the call. As the Old Quebec Street Mall was out of their way, they had made an effort to come out, only to discover they had been misled. Frustrated, they were turning away to go home when they saw me in the mall. The young woman explained to me that she and her father had stood in line, only to be turned away after getting a call changing their voting station. They were tired and frustrated. She needed to get her father home and they would not be voting in this election. I was saddened as I watched them go, knowing that something, someone or some group of ill-intentioned people had prevented them from voting. I did not know then that it was as pervasive, organized and sophisticated a campaign across Canada as it is now revealing itself to be.

In the weeks following the election, I submitted a list of 80 names we were able to record on election day, with comments and in some cases call display numbers from their phones. These 80 electors had received a robocall from someone purporting to be with Elections Canada misdirecting voters to the wrong polling station. These events were reported in Guelph media but did not break nationally until recently. That is what prompted Canadians from coast to coast to recall the events of that day. We now know that the number which showed up on so many call displays was that now-infamous 450 area code, from a disposable cell phone bought under the name Pierre Poutine, registered to a Separatist Street in Joliette, Quebec but used in Guelph. Of course, this is a ridiculous pseudonym cribbed from a restaurant in Guelph. The phone made two calls to Conservative call centre RackNine, one presumably to set up an account and the other to record and distribute the malicious and fraudulent call which misled voters on election day.

Pierre Poutine was not the only Guelph connection with a relationship to RackNine. A campaign staffer for the Conservative candidate also had an undisclosed commercial relationship with RackNine. This is illegal under the Canada Elections Act.

Days after the story broke, just weeks ago, the Conservative government was all too happy to throw a 23-year-old staffer under the bus. The Minister of National Defence declared the case closed once this young man had taken the rap. Interestingly, the staffer denied his involvement. He called on the real guilty party to come forward. Of course, we have learned in the past couple of weeks just how far reaching these fraudulent calls were that were made across the country. We know now that this was much too complicated an operation for a lone Conservative partisan in Guelph to execute.

In my riding, voters were misdirected to the Old Quebec Street Mall, while in Saanich--Gulf Islands, British Columbia, voters were misdirected to St. John's United Church. In Sydney, Nova Scotia, the other side of the country, voters were asked to travel 30 kilometres out of their way to vote in New Waterford. This happened in ridings throughout Canada. This required organization with a national scope, significant financial resources and access to a national list of electors who had been identified as Liberals, NDP or Green supporters, or people who would not say how they were voting.

The Conservative Party wants Canadians to believe that this is all an unsubstantiated smear by the opposition. It cannot deny the evidence offered by over 31,000 Canadians who complained about these calls in recent weeks, or the thousands who called their candidates on election day.

Take for instance Arnold Dodds, from Kingston, who reported receiving a phone call soliciting his support for the Conservative Party during the election. He said he was a Conservative supporter, but because Conservatives unnecessarily closed a prison farm he would no longer be voting Conservative. Not surprisingly, he received a phone call on election day misdirecting him to the wrong poll. Similarly, Peggy Walsh Craig was sent to the wrong poll in Nipissing—Timiskaming, just as Raymond Young was in Sydney—Victoria, Cape Breton.

Therein lies the pattern across Canada. The Conservatives may accuse these individuals of unsubstantiated smears, but aside from the denial and allegations clearly betraying their own insecurity, there is no way that so many Canadians are inventing such a malicious electoral fraud. Since opening its investigation in Guelph, Elections Canada has expanded its investigation to include Thunder Bay, Kingston and Nipissing--Timiskaming.

What is clear from the fallout of the scandalous behaviour in the last election is that the Canada Elections Act needs to be retooled to better equip Elections Canada investigators. Politics is now a professional industry of marketers, communications experts and subterfuge imported from the neo-conservative movement in the United States. The Conservative Party has created an atmosphere in Ottawa and across the country where it is acceptable to smear an opponent. It did it to Michael Ignatieff. It did it to the member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville. Taliban Jack was a Conservative creation. Most recently, it suggested that those who were opposed to its wholly inappropriate Internet monitoring bill were friends of child pornographers. There is no good policy for them, just politics.

For the good of the state of our democracy, we need these changes. If we are going to make this work, we will need to equip the CEO of Elections Canada with the tools necessary to ensure effective oversight and compliance with the financial reporting of political parties. In particular, Elections Canada, and the CEO specifically, should have the power to obtain documentary evidence from political parties regarding the documentation of expenses. That way the Conservative members would no longer be able to hide behind their tired talking points that it is up to the opposition to provide documents, clearing ourselves of the ridiculous charge of suppressing our own vote.

What happened in Guelph was fundamentally disheartening because it discouraged so many people from voting. When I was back in the riding last week I was speaking with Donald Miller. He told me he received one of the robocalls fraudulently misleading him to the Old Quebec Street Mall. Tired, exasperated and not completely mobile, he gave up and decided not to vote. On election day I sent out a phone message to supporters and our local radio station began warning listeners in Guelph that the robocalls were false and to go and vote at their original location. This man, who served his country in the navy during the second world war, told me he mustered up the strength and decided to vote. He would never let these people get away with trying to take away a right he had fought and bled for.

This is why the Canada Elections Act requires amendment. We owe it to Canadians, like this veteran in my riding, and to Canadians across the country, to never let such an abomination occur again. We must get to the bottom of the who, what, where, and why of these robocalls. It is imperative that we institute the appropriate measures to prevent something so horrible from happening again.

Opposition Motion—Elections Canada Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

NDP

François Lapointe Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, first and foremost, I would like to tell the hon. member for Guelph that he has my full support in the battle to find out what happened in his riding, which will likely be a long process. The first pieces of evidence submitted are absolutely inadmissible and unacceptable.

I would like to know what the hon. member thinks about two things. I heard a political commentator say that, under the law, impersonating an Elections Canada official is like impersonating a police officer.

I would like to hear the hon. member's reaction to this analysis and to another thing that I found very interesting. I would like to point out that, for the past few days, the Conservatives have been changing their tune. They started by saying that these were unsubstantiated smears, but for the past two days, they have been talking about exaggerated allegations. Things are getting interesting.

I would like to hear the hon. member's reaction to these two things.

Opposition Motion—Elections Canada Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Frank Valeriote Guelph, ON

Mr. Speaker, first, impersonating an Elections Canada officer with the sole purpose of diverting someone away from doing something that our country's men and women died for, the right to exercise a vote, is absolutely despicable.

Second, in response to the second part of the member's question, the Peggy Walsh Craigs of the world from Nipissing—Timiskaming, the Raymond Youngs from Sydney—Victoria who were asked to go to New Waterford 30 kilometres away, the Danny Boyles and Donald Millers who were told to go to the Quebec Street Mall, the Arnold Dodds in Kingston who were told to go elsewhere, and the Eduardo Hararis in York Centre who were misdirected. Those are just some of the thousands of people who never had their opportunity that day to vote. Some of them did not vote. We will never be able to tell who was so confused or frustrated that he or she declined to exercise his or her most sacred right on that day.

Opposition Motion—Elections Canada Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Daryl Kramp Prince Edward—Hastings, ON

Mr. Speaker, I can tell the hon. colleague across the floor that should there be any situation in Guelph that is deemed to be inappropriate, I will be truly sorry, as I think every member in the House would be, because that is not what we stand for.

However, what I am concerned about right now is the allegation of 31,000 complaints. There is no one in the House and most people do not know that those were solicited from party hacks on form letters and that the vast majority of those are not real complaints but are solicited.

I will back that up with a document that I have, which is really disturbing. This was put forward by the member for Wascana who said, “We are concerned about this. Send us your money. Send us $5. Let me use this as a fundraiser for the Liberal Party and, of course, don't send your information or concern to Elections Canada, send it to the Liberal Party of Canada so we may share with media outlets or in mass communications such as email blasts”, i.e. robocalls.

The Liberals are suggesting that now rather than putting the information forward to Elections Canada. How could the hon. member suggest that we would report to the Liberal Party rather than Elections Canada. He knows fully well that we have asked for full disclosure from the Liberal Party of Canada and it has been refused to this date. Why will it not be forthcoming?

Opposition Motion—Elections Canada Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Frank Valeriote Guelph, ON

Mr. Speaker, unashamedly, I can say that the rest of us in the House are Boy Scouts when it comes to raising funds based on issues. You did it with the Wheat Board, you did it with the gun registry, send us money, send us money. How dare you point across the House and accuse us of doing something like that? That is just shameful.

Opposition Motion—Elections Canada Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

An hon. member

How dare you.

Opposition Motion—Elections Canada Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

Opposition Motion—Elections Canada Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

Order, please. If members cannot control themselves, they should remove themselves from this chamber.

Once again, I would ask the hon. member for Guelph to address the Chair and not his colleagues in the chamber.

The hon. member for Guelph.

Opposition Motion—Elections Canada Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Frank Valeriote Guelph, ON

Mr. Speaker, I shall, absolutely. The point is that people were deprived of the right to vote that day because they were misdirected to polls that did not exist or they ought not to have gone to. The crux of this argument is that someone, and we would suggest that the fingers are pointing to the party opposite, misdirected these voters, not just in Guelph but on a national scale in ridings across the country.