Fair Elections Act

An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and other Acts and to make consequential amendments to certain Acts

This bill was last introduced in the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in August 2015.

Sponsor

Pierre Poilievre  Conservative

Status

This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Canada Elections Act (“the Act”) to require the Chief Electoral Officer to issue interpretation notes and guidelines on the application of that Act to registered parties, registered associations, nomination contestants, candidates and leadership contestants. It also requires the Chief Electoral Officer, on request, to issue a written opinion on the application of provisions of the Act to an activity or practice that a registered party, registered association, nomination contestant, candidate or leadership contestant proposes to engage in.

The enactment also modifies the Chief Electoral Officer’s power under section 17 of the Act so that the power may only be exercised to allow electors to exercise their right to vote or to allow votes to be counted. It also limits the Chief Electoral Officer’s power to transmit advertising messages to electors and requires the Chief Electoral Officer to ensure that any information so transmitted is accessible to electors with disabilities.

The enactment further amends the Act to permit the Chief Electoral Officer to seek approval from parliamentary committees to test an alternative voting process (but where such a pilot project is to test a form of electronic voting, the Chief Electoral Officer must first obtain the approval of the Senate and House of Commons). The enactment also eliminates the mandatory retirement of the Chief Electoral Officer at age 65 and replaces it with a 10-year non-renewable term. It provides for the establishment of an Advisory Committee of Political Parties to provide advice to the Chief Electoral Officer on matters relating to elections and political financing. The enactment also amends the Act to provide for the appointment of field liaison officers, based on merit, to provide support to returning officers and provide a link between returning officers and the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer. It also enables the Chief Electoral Officer to temporarily suspend a returning officer during an election period and provides for the appointment of additional election officers at polling stations. Finally, it empowers registered parties and registered associations, in addition to candidates, to provide names of individuals for election officer positions and changes the deadline for providing those names from the 17th day before polling day to the 24th day before polling day.

The enactment also adds to the Act Part 16.1, which deals with voter contact calling services. Among other things, that Part requires that calling service providers and other interested parties file registration notices with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, provide identifying information to the Commission and keep copies of scripts and recordings used to make calls. That Part also requires that the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission establish and maintain a registry, to be known as the Voter Contact Registry, in which the documents it receives in relation to voter contact calling services are to be kept.

The enactment also replaces Part 18 of the Act with a new, comprehensive set of rules on political financing that corrects a number of deficiencies in the Act. Notably, the enactment

(a) increases the annual contribution limits for contributions to registered parties, registered associations, candidates and nomination and leadership contestants to $1,500 per year and by $25 per year after the first year;

(b) increases the amount that candidates and leadership contestants may contribute to their own campaigns to $5,000 and $25,000, respectively;

(c) permits registered parties and registered associations to make transfers to candidates before their nomination is confirmed by the returning officer;

(d) requires a registered party’s auditor to complete a compliance audit in relation to its election expenses return indicating that the party has complied with the political financing rules;

(e) requires registered parties, registered associations and candidates to disclose details of expenses for voter contact calling services in their returns;

(f) reforms the rules governing unpaid claims, making it an offence for claims to remain unpaid after three years and strengthening the reporting of unpaid claims;

(g) reforms the reporting requirements of leadership contestants;

(h) permits higher spending limits for registered parties and candidates if an election period is longer than the 37-day minimum;

(i) includes new rules on political loans; and

(j) defines “capital asset” for the purposes of reporting the distribution cost of advertising or promotional material transmitted to the public using a capital asset, so that the expense is reported as the corresponding rental value for the period in which it was used, and for the purpose of the disposal of the campaign surplus.

With respect to voter identification, the enactment amends the Act to require the same voter identification for voting at the office of the returning officer in an elector’s own riding as it requires for voting at ordinary polls. It also prohibits the use of the voter information card as proof of identity, eliminates the ability of an elector to prove their identity through vouching, allows an elector to swear a written oath of their residence provided that their residence is attested to on oath by another elector, and requires an elector whose name was crossed off the electors’ list in error to take a written oath before receiving a ballot.

The enactment also amends the Act to provide an extra day of advance polling on the eighth day before polling day, creating a block of four consecutive advance polling days between the tenth and seventh days before polling day. It requires a separate ballot box for each day of advance polling and details procedures for the opening and closing of ballot boxes during an advance poll. Finally, it gives returning officers the authority to recover ballot boxes on the Chief Electoral Officer’s direction if the integrity of the vote is at risk.

The enactment also amends the Act to, among other things, establish a process to communicate polling station locations to electors, candidates and political parties, to provide that only an elector’s year of birth is to be displayed on the lists of electors used at the polls, instead of the full date of birth, to permit candidates’ representatives to move to any polling station in the electoral district after being sworn in at any polling station in the district and to establish a procedure for judicial recounts.

The enactment further amends the Act to change how the Commissioner of Canada Elections is appointed. It establishes that the Commissioner is to be appointed by the Director of Public Prosecutions for a seven-year term, subject to removal for cause, that the Commissioner is to be housed within the Director’s office but is to conduct investigations independently from the Director, and that the Commissioner is to be a deputy head for the purposes of hiring staff for his or her office and for managing human resources.

The enactment also amends the Act to add the offence of impersonating or causing another person to impersonate a candidate, a candidate’s representative, a representative of a registered party or registered association, the Chief Electoral Officer, a member of the Chief Electoral Officer’s staff, an election officer or a person authorized to act on the Chief Electoral Officer’s or an election officer’s behalf. It also adds the offences of providing false information in the course of an investigation and obstructing a person conducting an investigation. In addition, it creates offences in relation to registration on the lists of electors, registration on polling day, registration at an advance polling station and obligations to keep scripts and recordings used in the provision of voter contact calling services.

The enactment further amends the Act to provide for increases in the amount of penalties. For the more serious offences, it raises the maximum fine from $2,000 to $20,000 on summary conviction and from $5,000 to $50,000 on conviction on indictment. For most strict liability offences, it raises the maximum fine from $1,000 to $2,000. For registered parties, it raises the maximum fine from $25,000 to $50,000 on summary conviction for strict liability political financing offences and from $25,000 to $100,000 on summary conviction for political financing offences that are committed intentionally. For third parties that are groups or corporations that fail to register as third parties, it raises the maximum fine to $50,000 for strict liability offences and to $100,000 for offences that are committed intentionally and for offences applying primarily to broadcasters, it raises the maximum fine from $25,000 to $50,000.

The enactment amends the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act to authorize the Chief Electoral Officer to provide administrative support to electoral boundary commissions. It amends the Telecommunications Act to create new offences relating to voter contact calling services and to allow the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission to use the inspection and investigation regime in that Act to administer and enforce part of the voter contact calling services regime in the Canada Elections Act. It amends the Conflict of Interest Act to have that Act apply to the Chief Electoral Officer. It also amends the Director of Public Prosecutions Act to provide that the Director of Public Prosecutions reports on the activities of the Commissioner of Canada Elections.

Finally, the enactment includes transitional provisions that, among other things, provide for the transfer of staff and appropriations from the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions to support the Commissioner of Canada Elections.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Votes

  • May 13, 2014 Passed That the Bill be now read a third time and do pass.
  • May 13, 2014 Failed That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “That” and substituting the following: “this House decline to give third reading to Bill C-23, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and other Acts and to make consequential amendments to certain Acts, because, amongst other things, it: ( a) was rushed through Parliament without adequately taking into account the concerns raised by over 70 expert witnesses and hundreds of civil society actors that speak to a wide array of provisions that remain problematic in this Bill; ( b) prohibits the Chief Electoral Officer from authorizing the use of 'Voter Information Cards' as a piece of voter identification to be used alongside a second piece of identification, despite such cards being a method of enfranchisement and promoting smoother administration of the election-day vote and despite there being no basis for believing that these cards are, or are likely to be, a source of voter fraud; ( c) refuses to legislate the powers necessary for full compliance with, and enforcement of, the Canada Elections Act in light of experience with fraud and breach of other electoral law in the 2006, 2008 and 2011 general elections, notably, the power of the Chief Electoral Officer to require registered parties to provide receipts accounting for their election campaign expenses and the power of the Commissioner for Canada Elections to seek a judicial order to compel testimony during an investigation into electoral crimes such as fraud; ( d) eliminates the power of the Chief Electoral Officer to implement public education and information programs designed to enhance knowledge of our electoral democracy and encourage voting, other than for primary and secondary school students; and ( e) increases the influence of money in politics through unjustified increases in how much individuals may donate annually and how much candidates may now contribute to their own campaigns, thereby creating an undue advantage for well-resourced candidates and parties.”.
  • May 12, 2014 Passed That Bill C-23, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and other Acts and to make consequential amendments to certain Acts, as amended, be concurred in at report stage.
  • May 12, 2014 Failed That Bill C-23 be amended by adding after line 27 on page 51 the following: “351.11 No third party that failed to register shall incur election advertising expenses of a total amount of $500 or more.”
  • May 12, 2014 Failed That Bill C-23, in Clause 77, be amended by adding after line 20 on page 49 the following: “348.161 For greater certainty, the requirement referred to in section 348.16 to keep the scripts and recordings described in that section for three years does not preclude the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission from establishing a system of voluntary commitments for calling service providers in which they pledge to keep scripts and recordings for periods longer than three years.”
  • May 12, 2014 Failed That Bill C-23, in Clause 77, be amended by adding after line 20 on page 49 the following: “348.161 For the purposes of determining the period of time during which each script is to be kept in accordance with section 348.16, the three-year period starts from the last time that the same or substantially similar script is used by the same caller.”
  • May 12, 2014 Failed That Bill C-23, in Clause 77, be amended by replacing line 11 on page 49 with the following: “years after the end of the election period, and provide to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission,”
  • May 12, 2014 Failed That Bill C-23 be amended by deleting Clause 41.
  • May 12, 2014 Failed That Bill C-23, in Clause 5.1, be amended by replacing line 35 on page 8 with the following: “under this Act, including information relating to the commission of an offence against a law of Canada or a province by an individual if, in the Chief Electoral Officer’s opinion, there is evidence of such an offence.”
  • May 12, 2014 Failed That Bill C-23, in Clause 152, be amended by adding after line 11 on page 242 the following: “(1.2) The report shall also include any concerns regarding the powers granted to the Commissioner by the Canada Elections Act.”
  • May 12, 2014 Failed That Bill C-23, in Clause 97, be amended (a) by replacing line 30 on page 195 with the following: “( a.1) section 351.1 (registered and non-registered foreign third party ex-” (b) by replacing line 4 on page 196 with the following: “( a.1) section 351.1 (registered and non-registered foreign third party ex-”
  • May 12, 2014 Failed That Bill C-23, in Clause 56, be amended by deleting line 9 on page 32.
  • May 12, 2014 Failed That Bill C-23, in Clause 7, be amended by replacing line 22 on page 9 with the following: “levels or to any targeted groups.”
  • May 12, 2014 Failed That Bill C-23, in Clause 7, be amended by adding after line 22 on page 9 the following: “(2) The Advisory Committee of Political Parties, established pursuant to subsection 21.1(1), shall provide the Chief Electoral Officer with its opinion on the impact of this section within two years after the first general election held after the coming into force of this section.”
  • May 12, 2014 Failed That Bill C-23, in Clause 5, be amended (a) by replacing line 6 on page 6 with the following: “Chief Electoral Officer within 20 days after the” (b) by replacing line 20 on page 6 with the following: “subsection (5) within 65 days after the day on” (c) by replacing line 22 on page 6 with the following: “65-day period coincides or overlaps with the” (d) by replacing line 25 on page 6 with the following: “65 days after polling day for that election.”
  • May 12, 2014 Failed That Bill C-23, in Clause 3, be amended by replacing line 17 on page 5 with the following: “(2) The mandate of the Chief Electoral Officer is renewable once only; however, a person who has served as Chief”
  • May 12, 2014 Failed That Bill C-23 be amended by deleting Clause 1.
  • May 8, 2014 Passed That, in relation to Bill C-23, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and other Acts and to make consequential amendments to certain Acts, not more than one further sitting day shall be allotted to the consideration at report stage of the Bill and one sitting day shall be allotted to the consideration at third reading stage of the said Bill; and That, 15 minutes before the expiry of the time provided for Government Orders on the day allotted to the consideration at report stage and on the day allotted to the consideration at third reading stage of the said Bill, any proceedings before the House shall be interrupted, if required for the purpose of this Order, and in turn every question necessary for the disposal of the stage of the Bill then under consideration shall be put forthwith and successively without further debate or amendment.
  • Feb. 10, 2014 Passed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.
  • Feb. 6, 2014 Passed That, in relation to Bill C-23, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and other Acts and to make consequential amendments to certain Acts, not more than three further sitting days shall be allotted to the consideration at second reading stage of the Bill; and That, 15 minutes before the expiry of the time provided for Government Orders on the third day allotted to the consideration at second reading stage of the said Bill, any proceedings before the House shall be interrupted, if required for the purpose of this Order, and, in turn, every question necessary for the disposal of the said stage of the Bill shall be put forthwith and successively, without further debate or amendment.

Fair Elections Act
Government Orders

May 13th, 2014 / 10:15 a.m.
See context

Nepean—Carleton
Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Minister of State (Democratic Reform)

moved that Bill C-23, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and other Acts and to make consequential amendments to certain Acts, be read the third time and passed.

Mr. Speaker, here we are arising to debate at third reading the fair elections act. This has been an excellent process in considering the democracy that we have been fortunate to inherit from our ancestors in this country, to build upon its foundations and to make it even better.

Today, we have before the House the fair elections act, a bill widely supported by the Canadian people, based on the principle of fairness and universal suffrage. It would make it easier for law-abiding Canadians to vote and harder to break the law. It would make it easier for law-abiding Canadians to contribute more financially to democracy, while making it harder for special interest groups to break election finance laws. It would make it more difficult to vote illegally or fraudulently, while giving new opportunities for Canadian voters to cast their ballots conveniently throughout an election campaign.

The bill has been subject to a great deal of debate, a variety of opinions, and some modest amendments, which built upon the foundations of the original document; so let us review now the final product that the House will consider with its vote on the bill tonight.

To start with, Canadians would be required to bring ID when they cast their ballots. In the last election, it was possible for people to arrive at their voting location without a single piece of ID and cast their ballot by having someone else vouch for their identity. Identity vouching would be no more. Every single Canadian voter would be required to bring ID showing who they are before they vote.

Beyond that, there would be a safety valve in the system to help those people whose address may not appear on their identification. For example, in communities throughout rural Alberta, Canadians often have drivers licences that do not contain a home address, but rather a post office box. That creates complications at the voting booth. In such circumstances, or ones like it, the voter would be allowed to co-sign an oath with another voter from the same polling division who does have ID and proof of residence in hand, to confirm the residency of the voter.

There would be a list of oath takers, and Elections Canada would be required by law to check that list for duplicates. Duplicates would of course be evidence of multiple voting. If that occurred, it would automatically be sent over to the commissioner, whose job it is to investigate breaches of the Canada Elections Act. Signing of a false oath or using oaths to vote more than once would subject a voter to a $50,000 fine or up to five years in prison.

There would also be a mandatory external audit to examine whether or not Elections Canada followed all of these procedures. That is particularly important, considering the abysmal record of the agency in managing the vouching process during the last election. The agency had roughly 50,000 irregularities linked to vouching last time, and 165,000 irregularities throughout the organization in other areas of its management on election day. This mandatory external audit would hold the agency accountable for this kind of mismanagement and these sorts of irregularities. That is an enormous step forward. Those protections were not in place in the last election, nor was a mandatory ID required.

The presence of ID would ensure that we know who people are before they vote, so that if they, for example, misused, abused, or misled in the taking of an oath, we would be able to track them down afterwards, having actually seen their identification.

Under the status quo, people who used vouching to commit voter fraud might never have been tracked down because they never provided ID and their identify is therefore not even registered in the system. These new safeguards would prevent against abuse, and they would embed a very simple principle into our system: if people want to vote, they must present ID.

I realize that this position is contentious within the House. The NDP and the Liberals believe that people should be allowed to vote with no ID whatsoever, that they should be able to walk in and have someone vouch for their identity. I disagree, and so do Canadians. Before I even announced that there would be some amendments to this bill, 87% of Canadians believed that identification should be required in order to vote. We agree with that 87%.

In addition to requiring ID, we would eliminate a form of identification that has proven unreliable and susceptible to abuse. In the last couple of elections, the agency has allowed voters to use their voter information card as a form of ID. This card is error-ridden. It has millions of mistakes. Some voters even get more than one of them, allowing for multiple voting to occur.

In the last election, there were errors with 12%, or roughly 1 in 6, of these voter information cards. Even today, the Chief Electoral Officer says there is a roughly 6% error rate within the voter information cards. That percentage might not sound like a lot, until we consider that there are 25 million voters in Canada, so off the top of my head, 6% equals almost 2 million errors in those cards. That presents an unacceptably high level of risk. As a result the fair elections act would end the use of the voter information card as a form of ID.

Furthermore, the fair elections act would close financial loopholes that have allowed some powerful interests to get around the donation limits. Some years ago, the House of Commons passed into place, with a great deal of consensus, restrictions on the amount that people could give and the sources from which those funds could come. Corporate and union money was no longer allowed. Individual donors were restricted to $1,000 a year. With inflation, that is about $1,200 now.

The problem is that some have found loopholes. Liberal leadership candidates, for example, took enormous loans from powerful interests and just never repaid them. In essence, those loans are identical in their effect to illegal donations. For some reason, Elections Canada did not pursue an investigation into this breach of the law, and these Liberals were allowed to get away with that practice.

New Democrats, on the other hand, were particularly creative. They invited people to leave enormous donations in excess of the donation limit in their testaments or in their wills. The NDP received hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations bequeathed to them because the limits did not apply to dead people. Although dead people cannot vote, they can contribute under the status quo. The fair elections act would put a nail in that coffin and end the practice of dead donors. From now on, wills and testaments would be subject to the same donation limits as those applied to living Canadians.

All this is designed to end the abuse and the loopholes that have permitted big money to creep back into our electoral system. We understand that big money can drown out the voices of everyday Canadians. That is why our laws would attempt to restrict the flow of that money. It is so that parties can never take enough money from one donor to require them to be indebted to that donor with their public policy decision making.

These rules, whether to prevent voter fraud or to keep out unacceptably large donations, would be useless without enforcement. That is why the fair elections act would strengthen enforcement by making the chief investigator of election law independent. We would be giving him sharper teeth, a longer reach, and a freer hand.

Sharper teeth means that he would have tougher penalties for existing offences. A longer reach means that he would have many new offences to crack down on big money, voter fraud, and other forms of abuse. A freer hand means that he would be completely independent.

Right now, the commissioner is subject to the control of the CEO. The CEO picks his staff, directs his investigations, hires him, and can fire him at any time without cause, according to the law. This is not independence.

The fair elections act would give the commissioner control of his own staff and his own investigation, and guarantee that he cannot be fired without cause. That is the kind of independence the Canadian people expect from a chief investigator. I expect that independence would vastly improve the quality and consistency of enforcement that Canadians enjoy in their electoral system.

One of the best ways to ensure that people do not break the rules is to make those rules known and consistently applied. For example, if the agency were to allow a practice for many years and then change its mind suddenly, as it has been known to do, then it is hard for political actors to know which set of rules they are supposed to follow. As a result, the fair elections act would require the CEO to issue legal interpretations and advance rulings on requests from political parties.

For example, if a party is unclear as to how the agency would enforce a certain rule, it could send a request for an advance ruling to ask the CEO if its plan to do a, b, c, and d would be allowed. The CEO would be required to respond within a confined time period, and the party would then be able to use that advance ruling to carry out its actions in compliance. The ruling would be binding on Elections Canada.

In other words, the agency would not be allowed to tell a party that something is allowed and then change its mind after the fact. Furthermore, it would set a precedent so that all parties could follow the same practice as one party had been allowed to do. In other words, there would be one set of rules for everybody. This is a massive improvement and it represents the use of an ounce of prevention instead of a pound of punishment.

The democracy we enjoy should never be taken for granted. All of us have been given this sacred opportunity to choose who shall govern our country. Unfortunately, many Canadians choose not to exercise that right. One of the biggest obstacles to voter participation, according to Elections Canada, is a lack of basic information about how to participate.

Now most Canadians understand that they can vote on election day. That knowledge is widely understood. However, half of young people are not aware that one can vote before election day. A poll by Elections Canada showed that three-quarters of aboriginal youth were not aware that they could vote before election day, through an advance ballot, a mail-in ballot, or by going to the Elections Canada local office on any day throughout the campaign.

That knowledge would be useful in helping people get out and vote who are too busy, out of town, working, or having family or health obstacles. That is why the fair elections act would focus Elections Canada's advertising on where, when, and how to vote.

In fact, with the passage of the fair elections act, the agency would only be allowed to advertise on the basics of voting. That is a change from the system right now, and it would ensure that the information the people of Canada receive from their election agency is relevant to their role.

Finally, for the vote to matter, it has to be honoured. Under the status quo, Elections Canada is able to attempt to remove a member of Parliament, through suspension, from the House of Commons if there is a financial dispute over election spending.

I think all of us agree that if someone flagrantly and deliberately breaks election law in order to be elected, that person should be suspended, but we have to make sure that the allegation is in fact true before reversing the decision of thousands of voters by the edict of one agency head. Therefore, the fair elections act will allow any member of Parliament whose financial claims are disputed by the agency to exhaust all levels of legal appeal in the courts before the CEO can come to Parliament and ask for that MP's suspension. This is altogether fitting and proper. It is not right for an agency head to attempt to overturn the results of a democratic election and to cancel out the votes of tens of thousands of voters unless and until a judge has agreed with the allegation the CEO has presented. The fair elections act will imbed that required judicial proceeding in place, rather than the current system, which is undemocratic and unfair to voters.

We in this party and in this government believe that voting should be as easy as possible. That is why we are adding an additional day of voting during which Canadians can show up and cast their ballots in advance, in case they are not able to do so on election day.

This is a summary of the changes we are putting forward before the Canadian people. They have been widely debated and thoroughly considered in the committees of both the House and the Senate, and now we move forward to decision day. Having had all of this debate and having considered some modest but fair changes, it is time for people to decide.

This bill will allow Elections Canada to focus on its core mandate of running elections fairly and efficiently while removing from its mandate aspects that really do not belong with the agency at all. It is a major step forward for democracy. It will protect the independence of our elections, and it will allow the Canadian people to have full confidence in the apparatus constructed to carry out the vote on election day.

I invite members of all parties, having carefully considered it, to vote in favour of the fair elections act tonight and to celebrate it as a step forward in the evolution of Canadian democracy, building upon our longstanding traditions and democratic heritage to move our country forward into the future of its democracy.

Fair Elections Act
Government Orders

May 13th, 2014 / 10:30 a.m.
See context

NDP

Craig Scott Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the minister for outlining some of the benefits. I am also glad to say that, finally, the minister has contrasted what is back in the bill with something that was eliminated. He said that vouching for identity is no longer available, which means that he now accepts that he has restored vouching for address, and that certainly was the biggest concern of all the witnesses. I would count that not as a modest amendment but as a major amendment. The minister started out by saying that all the amendments were modest.

I thank the minister for that.

Did the minister listen to, and if he did, why did he not act on, the testimony from the commissioners for Canada Elections about the effects of transferring the commissioner to the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions? The concern was that a compliance model permeates the Canada Elections Act and that separating the commissioner from the CEO, the Chief Electoral Officer, is going to actually create serious effectiveness problems for the commissioner when it comes to assisting in compliance, versus prosecutorial enforcement. Did the minister listen? Did the minister not see the reason in that criticism? Why did he not leave, therefore, the commissioner with the Chief Electoral Officer?

Fair Elections Act
Government Orders

May 13th, 2014 / 10:35 a.m.
See context

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Nepean—Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member addressed two issues. One is the issue of voting without ID. Under the status quo, people can vote without any ID whatsoever by having someone vouch for who they are. That is over. That is done. It is not coming back. It is a major improvement to require every single voter to present ID when he or she casts a ballot. I respect that he takes a different point of view, and though we are on opposite sides of that, I do not question his well-intentioned approach.

On the issue of the independence of the commissioner, there are two different functions. One is administration and the other is enforcement. The job of Elections Canada is to administer elections. If members read the Neufeld report, they will see that the administration had serious problems in the last election. There were 165,000 serious irregularities that represented breaches of practice, and that cannot continue. That is why we are focusing Elections Canada on its core job, which is to properly administer elections.

As for enforcement, there are two parts to enforcement. One is prosecution and the other is investigation. In the past, those two functions have been housed not only in the same office but in the same person. Prior to 2005, one person was both prosecutor and investigator. What we are proposing now is that they not be in the same person but in the same office. The prosecutor will be responsible, when charges are recommended, for taking those charges before the courts, but the investigator will be completely independent of Elections Canada and will be able to exercise a free hand in seeking out wrongdoing. All that we have seen over the last several years suggests that this independence is needed and that it will be a major improvement when it is achieved.

Fair Elections Act
Government Orders

May 13th, 2014 / 10:35 a.m.
See context

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, because the minister is the minister, he was afforded the opportunity to name the bill. He named it the fair elections act. That is anything but the truth. This is a Conservative election act. Every action taken by the government on this bill clearly demonstrates that it is a Conservative piece of legislation. There was time allocation, limitations, the lack of consultation, and the lack of respect toward the Chief Electoral Officer. The minister himself verbally assaulted the Chief Electoral Officer for expressing concerns that Canadians have with regard to this legislation.

My question to the minister deals specifically with the commissioner. It is only the Conservative Party that wanted to take the commissioner outside of Elections Canada. Not only did the CEO want to stay within Election Canada, so did the commissioner himself.

Can the minister provide any indication that there was any academic who made a presentation who suggested that the commissioner, among other things, had to be taken out of Elections Canada? Was there anyone outside of the Conservative Party or the PMO's office?

Fair Elections Act
Government Orders

May 13th, 2014 / 10:35 a.m.
See context

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Nepean—Carleton, ON

Yes, Mr. Speaker, there was Ian Lee, who is a respected professor in Ottawa. The Lortie Commission, which did a very thorough study on election law, suggested that there should be an independent commissioner, and that is what we have done. Through the fair elections act, the commissioner would be independent from the elected government, political parties, and Elections Canada.

Keep in mind that there are about three dozen offences in the act that would relate to the conduct of Elections Canada officials. How could he possibly investigate potential offences by officials within the organization for which he works? It is impossible. A basic precept of good governance is that enforcement is independent and separate and that people do not investigate themselves. The investigator should make his own decisions and have a free hand, and that is the decision we have made in the fair elections act.

Fair Elections Act
Government Orders

May 13th, 2014 / 10:40 a.m.
See context

Conservative

Steven Fletcher Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate the minister for an excellent bill. I had his portfolio a few years ago, and I think it is a terrific bill. It is a bill Canadians will respect. When I have heard about this bill in my constituency, people think it is common sense that people identify themselves.

I wonder if the minister could again reassure us that people who can vote will have that opportunity, and those who cannot vote will not vote. Perhaps he could share with us some of the other identification methods that are available under this new bill.

Fair Elections Act
Government Orders

May 13th, 2014 / 10:40 a.m.
See context

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Nepean—Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member was a great minister in the democratic reform portfolio. He also presided over crown corporations. He has a very distinguished record, and I thank him for the question and the kind words.

On the issue of voter identification, here is the fundamental difference between what the fair elections act proposes today and what existed in the last election. In the last election, people could go in with no ID whatsoever and cast a ballot by having someone vouch for who they were. That form of identity vouching is gone. Every single person who votes will have to present a piece of identification showing who they are before they vote. If that ID does not have an address on it, they can co-sign an oath with another elector as to their address. However, there is a big difference. From now on, the list of oath takers will be put before the eyes of Elections Canada right after the election to find out if there are duplicates so that we can catch people who voted more than once. There will be a $50,000 fine for taking a false oath. Potentially, jail time could come along with that. There would be an external auditor to make sure that Elections Canada actually follows these legal requirements.

Because we will have required people to show ID proving who are before taking that oath, unlike under the status quo, if they have lied or cheated, we will be able to track them down. Under the previous model of vouching, where people could go in without any ID whatsoever and have someone vouch for who they were, if the system showed that they had voted more than once or had cheated in some way, we might not ever be able to track them down, because their identity had not been established. In other words, they could simply lie about who they were. There was no picture of them. There was no record of their existence. They literally vanished into thin air as though they never existed, but their vote was counted. That vote would have cancelled out the legitimate vote of an honest voter. That is another way of disenfranchising someone.

We are eliminating that practice and that possibility by requiring every single person to show their ID, by checking the list of oath takers for duplicates to catch people who vote more than once, and by having an external auditor oversee all of it so that we can ensure that Elections Canada actually follows its own rules.

Fair Elections Act
Government Orders

May 13th, 2014 / 10:40 a.m.
See context

NDP

Craig Scott Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to orient my remarks in the following way: first, to briefly situate why there was so much concern when the bill was initially tabled in early February and in the months leading up to major concessions by the minister, not the minor or modest amendments that he just referred to; second, to outline what those amendments were that constitute a major victory for civil society and the opposition in making a bad bill less bad; and, finally, to go through 10 points about what still remains in the bill that makes it a bad bill unworthy of the support of this House.

On the first point, it has to be said that from the beginning, our worry was that the dozens of new provisions and changes in the bill created a tapestry that, in the result, whether or not by intention, would favour one party in the next election and lock into place a series of principles that were not themselves fair, despite the name of the act, the “fair elections act”. There was no better sign for those well aware of what the government is capable of and of the bill itself than the fact that on April 10 two very highly respected Progressive Conservatives joined in signing a statement about their concerns and about why the bill should actually be killed. Those persons were David Crombie and Allan Gregg.

They said:

This legislation is a blatant attempt by the Harper government to stack the deck in favour of the Conservatives in the next federal election.

These are two extremely knowledgeable members of Canadian society, one of them a former mayor of Toronto and a former Progressive Conservative minister and the other a deeply connected pollster and marketing person. Both these men knew what the current government was capable of. They read the bill, they understood it, and they used very strong language. “Stack the deck” is something that clearly suggests an effort to create an unfair elections act, the opposite of the title of the bill, the “fair elections act”.

With pressure from all sides—from civil society, from a vigorous opposition effort, from academics speaking out, and, I have no doubt, from a certain number of Conservative backbenchers who, either as a matter of principle or as a matter of feeling the pressure, weighed in—a number of major concessions were announced by the minister and indeed delivered upon in amendments at the procedure and House affairs committee.

I will list them. By listing them, I hope I convey how major they are and how the government was forced off of some elements that were at the very heart of the effort to “stack the deck”.

First, there was a fundraising exemption. Parties would be allowed to exempt from their campaign expenses all the costs of contacting previous donors from the last five years in order to raise more money from them. All the costs associated with that would not have to go into campaign costs. All kinds of reasons were given as to why this was a huge, unlimited exemption to the campaign caps at election time. That was removed.

Second, the government added to the original bill, Bill C-23, the fact that central poll supervisors would henceforth be de facto appointed by the first-place party's candidate or the first-place party going into the next election.

The central poll supervisor is in many ways the most important person at any given poll. The fact that this would unbalance the existing system—which unfortunately is already politicized, in that the deputy returning officer and the poll clerk are each appointed by the first-place and second-place parties respectively—was something that produced major concern. There was no logic as to why this should be the case. That was removed in one of the so-called modest amendments of the minister, but it is an amendment that I nonetheless would prefer to characterize as a major concession.

We have just had an exchange where the minister acknowledges that vouching for identity in and of itself is no longer part of Bill C-23 and remains so, but vouching for an address, which is the absolute key problem that had occurred when the vouching provisions of the Canada Elections Act were removed, has been restored.

That was not a modest amendment. That was a major victory for civil society and for the many witnesses who took the time and trouble to explain to Conservative members at the procedure and House affairs committee, to the media, and ultimately to the minister why the elimination of the current vouching provisions in the Canada Elections Act were deeply unfair and disenfranchising.

Fourth, there was a bordering on ludicrous limit on how long calling service providers and others had to keep data with respect to voter contact in the new voter contact registry. When Bill C-23 was initially introduced, it was to be only one year, which is barely enough time for information to come out in some context that there is a problem needing investigation. The minister caved with respect to the keeping of scripts and audio records. That was increased from one year to three years.

Many other problems remain with this voter contact registry system. I would call this a modest amendment, but nonetheless a significant one.

Fifth, the government heard early on that Bill C-23's elimination of the public education and information programming role of Elections Canada, especially targeted toward disadvantaged groups and those more likely to experience difficulties in voting, was an abomination. I knew early on that this was one area that a lot of Conservative Party backbenchers had great trouble with. I could have predicted from the beginning what would happen, which was that the public education role for Elections Canada was restored, albeit only for primary and secondary school students. All of the other outreach activities that Elections Canada had engaged in over the years or could engage in in the future have remained prohibited by the current version of Bill C-23.

Nonetheless, at least allowing a student vote and analogous programs to continue to be supported, funded, co-organized, and partnered by Elections Canada constitutes a major victory on the part of civil society, which very much put this issue near the top of its concerns.

Sixth is the fact that Bill C-23 contained no provisions that are necessary in a bill, for technical reasons, to allow communications between the Commissioner of Canada Elections and the Chief Electoral Officer after the commissioner would be moved from Elections Canada to the Director of Public Prosecutions. That was rectified by putting in communications authorizations. They are minimal and do not go as far as we wanted, but they are nonetheless important.

Seventh, it was very clear that the new section 18 of the Canada Elections Act was written in such a way that the Chief Electoral Officer would henceforth be prohibited from communicating with the public other than to provide information to the public on a very narrow set of functional questions, such as where one can vote, how one can vote, and what identification one can use to vote. The reason was that section 18 was worded to say that the Chief Electoral Officer shall “only” communicate about the following. Therefore, there was great concern that, whether intentionally or not, it had been written in a way that meant the Chief Electoral Officer could communicate on nothing other than that in the future.

Early on, the minister said that was not the intention, and when he announced his other concessions, he said that the Chief Electoral Officer could communicate freely in his own capacity. When the time came for the amendments at the procedure and House affairs committee, it was never expressed that the Chief Electoral Officer could communicate freely henceforth, but the way in which section 18 was rewritten satisfies me that the result would be that he could now communicate freely. I only wish the government had agreed to an NDP amendment to make that clear for the sake of certainty. However, I will go on record here, as I did at the committee, to say that it is clear from the record that the Chief Electoral Officer would now be able to say whatever he wants in whatever context, in Canada or outside of Canada.

Finally, of the concessions made by the minister, there was a very puzzling provision in Bill C-23 that basically said the Commissioner for Canada Elections could not begin an investigation until he or she had reasonable grounds to suspect an offence had been committed.

Anybody involved in the criminal law or investigative sphere knows that is a standard not for beginning an investigation but for receiving things like orders for wiretaps or other kinds of investigative measures. However, in common law and in every other investigative context, all investigative officers need is a reasonable suspicion to start an investigation.

That was changed in committee, and I am willing to concede that it was simply a mistake on the part of the drafters, although a puzzling one that I cannot understand being made by anybody who understands how criminal law investigation works.

The point is that a number of major concessions arose as a result of fierce opposition, an engaged civil society, and either persuaded or somewhat fearful backbenchers, who obviously weighed in with the government.

I would like to now move to why, despite all those concessions, there still remain so many problems with this bill that it does not deserve our support, quite apart from all of the process concerns about how it was generated and how even the amendments process was non-consensual, in that not a single opposition amendment of any substance was accepted. Despite the concessions that I mentioned earlier, there are so many problems that it deserves not to see the light of day. I will briefly now indicate 10 points.

First, the current Bill C-23 on which we are about to vote today would continue to eliminate the power of the Chief Electoral Officer to implement public education and information programs designed to enhance knowledge of our electoral democracy and to encourage voting. It would only bring back one context, and that is for primary and secondary school students. All other public outreach would remain prohibited.

Second, Bill C-23 would prohibit the Chief Electoral Officer from authorizing the use of voter information cards, or VICs, as a piece of voter identification to be used not on their own but alongside a second piece of identification. It would do this despite the fact that such cards are a method of enfranchisement that were introduced because of concerns about limited forms of identity showing address and despite the fact that smoother administration of voting on election day resulted from their use in various contexts in 2011. It would be prohibited despite there being no evidence whatsoever for believing these cards are, or are likely to be, a source of fraud. This remains the case, no matter how many times the minister gives an example of a hoax that was attempted by the television show Infoman that never actually reached fruition.

Third, Bill C-23 would require that the Chief Electoral Officer and the Commissioner for Canada Elections must now get the permission of government officials in order to remunerate experts and investigators whom they find necessary to hire on a temporary basis. Previously, they could have direct access to the consolidated revenue fund. Now the CEO would have to go through the Treasury Board and the commissioner would have to go through the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Fourth, it refuses to legislate powers that are necessary for full compliance with, and enforcement of, the Canada Elections Act, in light of the experience with fraud and breach of other electoral law rules in the elections of 2006, 2008 and 2011, notably, the power of the CEO to require registered parties to provide receipts accounting for their election campaign expenses and the power of the commissioner to seek a judicial order to compel testimony during an investigation into electoral crime.

Fifth, it unnecessarily transfers the commissioner to a government ministry, the ministry of the Attorney General, and away from the current location within the office of the Chief Electoral Officer, who is, I will remind the House, an officer of Parliament. This thereby creates corresponding negative consequences for the effectiveness of commissioner investigations and for the complementary roles that the Chief Elector Officer and his or her staff and the commissioner and his or her staff play in securing compliance with the Elections Act, well ahead of and well beyond the relatively limited number of contexts in which their focus is enforcement.

Sixth, the commissioner is fettered in ways that other investigative agencies are not. In particular, he or she is required to inform suspects if they are under investigation, and he or she is prohibited from explaining to Parliament and Canadians why an investigation has not led to charges of prosecution.

Seventh, it leaves serious loopholes in the voter contact registry system that is to be administered by the CRTC, which is a welcome addition to the Canada Elections Act, but which does not go far enough. The loopholes include: the fact that the voter contact scripts for live calls and audio recordings of robocalls do not have to be conveyed to the CRTC; the fact that no person or group is under any obligation to retain phone numbers of persons called, let alone to convey those numbers to the CRTC; and the fact that no affirmative obligations are placed on the CRTC to proactively inform the commissioner if and when a CRTC employee suspects wrongdoing. I speak obviously not of wrongdoing on the part of the CRTC, but on the part of the actors who have to report to the CRTC.

Eighth, the Canada Elections Act, through Bill C-23, retains a politicized system of appointing deputy returning officers, poll clerks and registration officers as elections officials or officers for election day. As such, the Canada Elections Act does not grant Elections Canada the full authority to appoint all elections officers on the basis of merit, with corresponding detrimental effects for Elections Canada's capacity to minimize election day irregularities through more timely recruitment and training for elections officers. It is one of the major outcomes of the Neufeld report saying that the ability of Elections Canada to appoint all elections officers would be the single most important way to enhance the capacity of elections workers to minimize irregularities that the government from the beginning tried to leverage as evidence of fraud, which it was not.

Ninth, is the problematic provisions relating to voter identification that create the danger of harassment and intimidation of voters, because identity documents can now be inspected by party scrutineers. They also dissuade people from actually vouching for an address because of the fear that the requirement that the person must have known personally the person being vouched for is very unclear as to how long and how well the voucher must have known the elector.

Finally, it increases the role of money in politics through unjustified increases in donation limits and also by creating an unworkable banking loan system that would actually, in ways that are too complex to explain, benefit well-resourced candidates and parties.

Therefore, I would like to move a reasoned amendment. I move:

That the motion be amended by deleting all of the words after the word “That” and substituting the following:

this House decline to give third reading to Bill C-23, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and other Acts and to make consequential amendments to certain Acts, because, amongst other things, it:

(a) was rushed through Parliament without adequately taking into account the concerns raised by over 70 expert witnesses and hundreds of civil society actors that speak to a wide array of provisions that remain problematic in this bill;

(b) prohibits the Chief Electoral Officer from authorizing the use of 'Voter Information Cards' as a piece of voter identification to be used alongside a second piece of identification, despite such cards being a method of enfranchisement and promoting smoother administration of the election-day vote and despite there being no basis for believing these cards are, or are likely to be, a source of voter fraud;

(c) refuses to legislate the powers necessary for full compliance with, and enforcement of, the Canada Elections Act in light of experience with fraud and breach of other electoral law in the 2006, 2008 and 2011 general elections, notably, the power of the Chief Electoral Officer to require registered parties to provide receipts accounting for their election campaign expenses and the power of the Commissioner for Canada Elections to seek a judicial order to compel testimony during an investigation into electoral crimes such as fraud;

(d) eliminates the power of the Chief Electoral Officer to implement public education and information programs designed to enhance knowledge of our electoral democracy and encourage voting, other than for primary and secondary school students; and

(e) increases the influence of money in politics through unjustified increases in how much individuals may donate annually and how much candidates may now contribute to their own campaigns, thereby creating an undue advantage for well-resourced candidates and parties.

Fair Elections Act
Government Orders

May 13th, 2014 / 11:05 a.m.
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Conservative

Harold Albrecht Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, a number of months ago, I had the privilege of serving with my colleague on the procedure and House affairs committee. I know my colleague does his homework and is very well-informed on this bill, so I was rather surprised to hear him, at many times throughout his speech, use words like “mistakes”, “concessions” and “changes”, as if this was something unusual that would happen at committee level.

One of the things that he referred to was the retention of the student vote program. I can say, with confidence, that many of us approached the minister and said that in our ridings, this system was working well. That is the reason for having studies at committee, to allow input into that committee to conduct a more in-depth study than we can do in the House, with all 308 members.

I am rather surprised, then, to hear my colleague refer to these changes as somehow “big concessions”. The very point of having our committees is to study in-depth the legislation that is proposed and to then make recommendations to the House after the in-depth study.

Why is my colleague implying that the committee's work is somehow to simply rubber-stamp a bill that was passed here at second reading? This is the job of our committees. Why is he implying otherwise?

Fair Elections Act
Government Orders

May 13th, 2014 / 11:05 a.m.
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NDP

Craig Scott Toronto—Danforth, ON

Yes, Mr. Speaker. As such, these were major concessions. The minister had no intention of making these kinds of concessions at the beginning.

It was not just good faith efforts in a committee; it was the overall pressure on our civil society, which realized what was going on in the bill.

Fair Elections Act
Government Orders

May 13th, 2014 / 11:10 a.m.
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NDP

Alain Giguère Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, first and foremost, this electoral law is unprecedented. Traditionally in Canada, electoral laws were more or less consensual in that all of the political parties supported them, with the consent of the vast majority of civil society actors. For the first time in this country's history, an electoral law will be enacted in defiance of the majority of stakeholders.

My question for my distinguished colleague, who has clearly understood and defended the democratic perspective, is as follows. What fate awaits such a bill, which will immediately come under attack by first nations representatives? This electoral reform, this unfair elections act, will make it harder for aboriginal people to exercise their right to vote. It will also come under attack by students at schools and universities, who will no longer be encouraged to vote or motivated by this kind of electoral participation, which is the very essence of democracy. They, too, will have the power to mount a legal challenge. All other stakeholders who find their powers diluted, especially their legal powers, such as the bars of Quebec, Canada and Ontario, will intervene.

Can my distinguished colleague tell me what fate awaits such a bill, which will probably soon be passed thanks to the government's majority, a bill that offers so many grounds for legal challenge? What legal fate awaits this bad bill?

Fair Elections Act
Government Orders

May 13th, 2014 / 11:10 a.m.
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NDP

Craig Scott Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague's question actually builds into it an extremely strong set of arguments about why the legacy of Bill C-23 will be a lack of public trust and confidence in our electoral system.

We have given extremely good reasons why a whole range of sectors of society have not been dealt with fairly by the bill. We have not simply raised this for opposition sake, but the result is that the bill will be passed against major opposition, not just in the House but in society. As such, the former auditor general for Canada, Sheila Fraser, was correct when she said that the ultimate impact of this was going to be diminishing public trust in both our parliamentary institutions and our electoral system.

At some level it will be very important that we revisit key elements of the bill in a future Parliament and start again, more consensually, to produce a final version of the Canada Elections Act in which all parties and all key actors in civil society feel an ownership.

Fair Elections Act
Government Orders

May 13th, 2014 / 11:15 a.m.
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NDP

Craig Scott Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, in what began two years ago as a good faith effort on the part of the former minister for democratic reform, a system of political loans was inserted into the Canada Elections Act, whereby essentially banks are now the central actor in providing candidates with loans in order to start up campaigns, before they may have raised money. The problem is with a whole series of limitations on how those loans can be guaranteed.

The banks appeared before the procedure and House affairs committee almost two years ago with respect to a previous incarnation of this legislation. They said there would not be the right kind of incentives for a bank to chase down all the guarantors in order to give out these loans. The Chief Electoral Officer said it would be unworkable because those who could guarantee and give loans within their individual donation limits would be impossible to track because of a whole series of fluctuations over the course of a year.

It was unworkable according to the Chief Electoral Officer and unworkable according to the banks.

The result is that those who need loans, especially non-incumbents because they have not yet raised money, are going to be at a disadvantage versus those who have had a chance to raise a lot of money, mostly incumbents, or can receive direct transfers or loans form a well-resourced national party and therefore have no need whatsoever to turn to the banks to help start up their campaign.

I think it is in the result. I do not think this is intentional on the part of the government, although it heard the concerns before. In the result, this bank loan system would give advantage to parties and candidates who are well resourced because access to it would only be needed by those who do not have resources. It would also be the case with this system that, when individuals try to access it, they may find the banks' doors are closed.

Fair Elections Act
Government Orders

May 13th, 2014 / 11:15 a.m.
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Conservative

Ryan Leef Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I would like to touch on the point my hon. colleague is making about parties being well resourced. Parties that are well resourced are indicative of parties that have the support of the Canadian public. The resources are provided by people who take out memberships in the party, believe in party philosophies, and are willing to donate money. It would only stand to reason that parties that are not well resourced are not well supported.

I am not sure I understand the member's logic that parties that are not supported by a membership and by membership donations, and do not have broad Canadian support, should somehow be given financial resources through some other means.

The member's argument about resourcing being indicative of incumbents' positions is not actually the case. I was not an incumbent in the last election but I was resourced. Resources do not equate to election success because the incumbent in the last election in the Yukon spent $20,000 more than he had in the election before and lost by 1,500 votes. That resourcing did not equate to election success, and that is not broadly the case across this country.

Maybe the member would wish to comment on some of those remarks.

Fair Elections Act
Government Orders

May 13th, 2014 / 11:15 a.m.
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NDP

Craig Scott Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, if fundraising and resourcing do not affect elections, then we should talk about lowering campaign expense limits entirely. We should make sure every candidate has a much lower limit because it does not have impact, as the hon. member has indicated.

At the same time, unfortunately, in the norm, that is not the case. Especially with the spending limits per constituency election that we currently have, spending can make a major difference, especially major gaps in what candidates can spend.

Beyond that, the fact that a party has a lot of money is a sign of which sectors of society may be supporting that party and may be in a position to donate to that party. It has nothing to do with the level of support from society as a whole. Equating the fact that a party has been able to raise a lot more money from a stronger donor base with wealthier donors, on average, says nothing about its political support.