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

Sponsor

Maryam Monsef  Liberal

Status

Second reading (House), as of Nov. 24, 2016

Subscribe to a feed (what's a feed?) of speeches and votes in the House related to Bill C-33.

Summary

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

This enactment amends the Canada Elections Act to

(a) remove limitations on public education and information activities conducted by the Chief Electoral Officer;

(b) establish a Register of Future Electors in which Canadian citizens 14 to 17 years of age may consent to be included;

(c) authorize the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration to provide the Chief Electoral Officer with information about permanent residents and foreign nationals for the purpose of updating the Register of Electors;

(d) remove the prohibition on the Chief Electoral Officer authorizing the notice of confirmation of registration (commonly known as a “voter information card”) as identification;

(e) replace, in the context of voter identification, the option of attestation for residence with an option of vouching for identity and residence;

(f) remove two limitations on voting by non-resident electors: the requirement that they have been residing outside Canada for less than five consecutive years, and the requirement that they intend to return to Canada to resume residence in the future; and

(g) relocate the Commissioner of Canada Elections to within the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer, and provide that the Commissioner is to be appointed by the Chief Electoral Officer, after consultation with the Director of Public Prosecutions, for a non-renewable term of 10 years.

In addition, the enactment contains transitional provisions and makes consequential amendments to other Acts.

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.

September 28th, 2017 / 11:05 a.m.
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Burlington Ontario

Liberal

Karina Gould LiberalMinister of Democratic Institutions

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

Good morning, everyone. This is your 70th meeting today. Congratulations for that. It is important.

I will acknowledge, though, that I have mixed feelings about being here today.

I am honoured to be before you again to talk about legislation that makes our democracy more open and transparent, but I'm also saddened to recall that my previous appearances at this committee included the participation of my dear friend and colleague, the member of Parliament for Scarborough—Agincourt, Arnold Chan. He was both an outstanding parliamentarian and a really great guy. His passing has left an enormous gap in this committee and in the House of Commons and, I'm sure, in all of our hearts.

I just wanted to put that on the record.

Our focus today is on Bill C-50, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (political financing). This bill would amend the Canada Elections Act to create an unprecedented level of openness and transparency surrounding political fundraisers.

Bill C-50 required the hard work and dedication of many public servant officials, so before I start, I would like to acknowledge and thank them for their contribution.

Thank you for your commitment to this legislation.

The Government of Canada has promised to set a higher bar on the transparency, accountability, and integrity of our public institutions and the democratic process. Today I'm addressing one of our initiatives that will help reach this objective. This year we celebrate, in addition to the 150th anniversary of Confederation, the 35th anniversary of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Canadians cherish our charter. It is a model for new democracies around the world.

Section 3 of the charter guarantees every citizen the right to vote and to run in an election. The freedoms of association and expression enshrined in section 2 of the charter include the right of Canadian citizens and permanent residents to make a donation to a party and to participate in fundraising activities. Of course, these rights are subject to reasonable limitations.

Political parties represent a vital component of our democratic system. They unite people coming to the table from different regions, and with a variety of perspectives, backgrounds, and experiences. Parties mobilize ordinary citizens to champion ideas and work to get others to join them.

In my speech in the House of Commons, I quoted former Supreme Court Justice Frank Iacobucci. He said, “Political parties provide individual citizens with an opportunity to express an opinion on the policy and functioning of government.”

Each time that Canadians vote in an election for a political party that shares their objectives or world view, it is one of the ways in which they play an active and engaged role in their society. We see this as an opportunity to make our country a better place for our children and grandchildren. Some Canadians even choose to work or volunteer for a political party.

But not everyone has the time or inclination to become active in politics as a volunteer. Perhaps they can do that, and something else as well. Still, they may want their voices heard. For many Canadians, making a financial contribution to a political campaign is a meaningful way to play a direct role in our democracy and an important form of democratic expression. Choosing to financially support a political party is something we must continue to uphold and protect.

Everyone in this room knows that donations given by people who believe in us, who believe in what we stand for, make our work possible, and we must continue to ensure that Canadians are free to contribute to political parties in an open and transparent manner.

It bears noting that Canada is known around the world for the rigour of its political financing regime. Companies, industry associations, unions, or any organization for that matter, cannot give funds to any politician or political party, and there's a strict limit on individual contributions. Canadian citizens and permanent residents can contribute a maximum of $1,550 annually to each of the following: a registered party, a leadership contestant, and an independent candidate. In addition, they can donate a total of $1,550 to a contestant for nomination, a candidate in an election, and/or a riding association. Contributions are reported to Elections Canada and the name, municipality, province, and postal code of those who contribute more than $200 are published online.

Bill C-50 will build on this existing regime. Where a fundraising event requires any attendee to contribute or pay a ticket price totalling more than $200, the name and partial address of each attendee, with certain exceptions, will be published online. The exceptions are: youth under 18, volunteers, event staff, media and support staff for the minister or party leader in attendance.

As I said during second reading debate in the House of Commons, Canadians take political fundraising seriously. There are serious consequences for disobeying the law, and that is why the Canada Elections Act provides tough sanctions for those who break the rules. The penalties include fines of up to $50,000, up to five years in jail, or both.

Although Canadians can be proud of our already strict regulations for political financing, we recognize that they have the right to know even more than they do now when it comes to political fundraising events.

Bill C-50 aims to provide Canadians with more information about political fundraising events in order to continue to enhance trust and confidence in our democratic institutions.

If passed, Bill C-50 would allow Canadians to learn when a political fundraiser that has a ticket price or requires a contribution above $200 is happening and who attended.

This legislation would apply to all fundraising activities attended by cabinet ministers, including the Prime Minister, party leaders, and leadership contestants when a contribution or ticket price of more than $200 is required of any attendee. This provision also applies to appreciation events for donors to a political party or contestant.

These provisions apply to all parties with a seat in the House of Commons.

Bill C-50 would require parties to advertise fundraising events at least five days in advance. Canadians would know about a political fundraiser before the event takes place, giving them an opportunity to inquire about a ticket, if they wish.

Bill C-50 would also give journalists the ability to determine when and where fundraisers are happening. At the same time, political parties would retain the flexibility to set their own rules for providing media access and accreditation.

Parties would be required to report the names and partial addresses of attendees to Elections Canada within 30 days of the event. That information would then become public.

The bill would also introduce new offences in the Canada Elections Act for those who don't respect the rules, and require the return of any money collected at the event. These sanctions would apply to political parties, rather than the senior political leaders invited to the events.

We propose a maximum $1,000 fine on summary conviction for offences introduced under Bill C-50. And if rules are broken, then contributions collected at events would have to be returned.

This new level of transparency will further enhance Canadians' trust in the political system, and that's good for everyone. If passed, Bill C-50 would fulfill our government's promise to make Canada's political financing system much more transparent to the public and the media. This is one of many actions we are taking to improve, strengthen, and protect our democratic institutions.

We are also taking action to increase voter participation and to enhance the integrity of elections through Bill C-33, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act, and we have partnered with the Communications Security Establishment to protect Canada's democracy from cyber-threats.

As I noted in my speech in the House of Commons, Samara Canada issued a report indicating 71% of Canadians said they are fairly satisfied or very satisfied with how democracy works in Canada. While this report suggests that Canadians have confidence in their democracy, we recognize there is always room for improvement. That's why we've decided to shine a light on political fundraising activities and build upon our already strong and robust system for political financing in Canada.

I am eager to hear the opinions of committee members. This is important legislation that affects all of us, and I hope you share my desire to ensure Canadians know more about fundraising events.

I look forward to your questions.

Thank you for the invitation to be here before you today.

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

September 22nd, 2017 / 12:45 p.m.
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Halifax Nova Scotia

Liberal

Andy Fillmore LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Democratic Institutions

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Vancouver Quadra.

I am proud to rise in the House to speak to Bill C-58, an act to amend the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act.

Our government was elected on a promise to reinforce public trust in our democracy, and over the course of our time in office, we have put action behind our words. For example, we are reforming campaign finance laws to make one of the world's most respected democracies even more transparent. We have introduced legislation to make Canada's democracy more accessible to all Canadians. The debate today is about another of the fundamental concepts of any modern democracy.

We know Canadians cannot meaningfully participate in democracy when they are in an information vacuum. Access to government data is vital. Without it, neither the public nor the media are able to hold governments to account. That is why our government promised to firm up one of the key pillars of our democracy: access to information.

We told Canadians we would make information open by default, and in formats that would be modern and simple to use. Canadians pay for the information that is assembled in the Government of Canada, so why should they not have access to this data? This greater openness in turn will lead to greater confidence in our democracy, which is why this government has put such a great emphasis on amending the Access to Information Act with Bill C-58.

This is the first major overhaul since our predecessors in this very institution voted in favour of the current act 35 years ago, so it is long overdue.

The act, which was enacted in Parliament in 1982, and took effect the following year, came long before anyone had ever heard of the Internet. Governments in those days had far more administrators and clerks, because there was so much paperwork to file and record. One could not just flip a written message to a colleague by email. If one wanted to send an interesting news article to a counterpart in another department, one could not just forward a link. One's options were limited to things like a fax machine or an inter-office courier.

Today, technology has dramatically changed how governments operate, and we need to align our laws to take into account this new reality. We have a responsibility to make it easier to obtain information and once Canadians get it, that information should be in easy-to-use formats. We can think of the graduate students, like those at Dalhousie University or Saint Mary's University in my riding of Halifax, who are out there doing groundbreaking research but operating on tight timelines. We want them to be able to, when possible, obtain an electronic version of government records so they can more easily navigate and analyze the documents. Think of the time that will be saved if they do not have to go through hundreds of pages to find what they are looking for.

Now Bill C-58 has many components, but for now I would like to focus on how it impacts parliamentary institutions. I am talking about the Library of Parliament, the parliamentary budget officer, the Parliamentary Protective Service, the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, the Office of the Senate Ethics Officer, and the administration of the Senate and of the House of Commons. These institutions are foundational components of our democracy, and Bill C-58 proposes to bring them under the Access to Information Act to make them more accountable. The proposed legislation will require these institutions to publish each quarter their travel and hospitality expenses as well as disclose over the same timeline any contracts with a value above $10,000.

Another important component of Bill C-58 is the new powers it would give to our Information Commissioner. This is of particular interest to me, both in my role as a Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Democratic Institutions as well as the member of Parliament for Halifax.

Not too long ago, I met with representatives from a group based in Halifax called the Centre for Law and Democracy, whose mission is to:

...promote, protect and develop those human rights which serve as the foundation for or underpin democracy, including the rights to freedom of expression, to vote and participate in governance, to access information and to freedom of assembly and association.

Some members may be familiar with the centre's work on the right to information rating, or RTI, which is developed along with Access Info Europe to calculate and rate the overall strength of countries' right to information laws.

The topic of the Information Commissioner was one I discussed with representatives of this group in my office during a meeting in the spring. They believe, as I do, and so too does our government believe, that the Information Commissioner ought to have the ability to order the release of records, or so-called “order making”. I am proud to say that Bill C-58 would give the Information Commissioner that power. I would like to congratulate and thank the Centre for Law and Democracy on its strong advocacy on this point, and for its ongoing work in Canada and across the world to strengthen democratic institutions.

It is important to note that the legislation would also give government institutions the ability to decline requests that are excessively broad or requests of information already in the public domain.

The government has limited resources, and this will free up government institutions to respond to other requesters. Of course the applicant subjected to a decision like this would be able to make a complaint to the Information Commissioner.

Bill C-58 would also oblige members of Parliament and senators to publish all travel and hospitality expenses, and all service contract amounts. In both cases, this information would have to be made public on a quarterly basis.

We know senators and members of Parliament already publish travel and hospitality expenses pursuant to their own internal rules, and senators disclose service contract information, while MPs publish the total costs of awarded service contracts.

Importantly, Bill C-58 would enshrine the current practice of also requiring additional details on the service contracts and travel costs of MPs.

This legislation will require a review of the act every five years, starting in 2019. This will give Canadians an opportunity to look for further improvements.

We believe Canada deserves a vibrant democracy that is transparent, open, and accountable, but our efforts do not begin and end with changes to the Access to Information Act.

We have been relentless since taking office to look for other ways to improve our democratic system. For instance, Bill C-33 would amend the Canada Elections Act to increase voter participation and improve the integrity of our electoral system. Bill C-50, meanwhile, if passed, will make important changes to the same act to make political fundraising more open and transparent. We are also taking action against cyber threats and the danger they pose to our electoral system.

We live in one of the most respected democracies in the world, but our government will remain relentless in ensuring that any weaknesses are dealt with. Bill C-58 is a major part of this effort, and I am proud to work with the Minister of Democratic Institutions to advance it. With that, I welcome any questions from my colleagues.

Concurrence in Vote 1—Privy Council OfficeMain Estimates, 2017-18Government Orders

June 14th, 2017 / 5:50 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Karina Gould Liberal Burlington, ON

Madam Speaker, we know and have the facts from Statistics Canada that almost 200,000 Canadians did not vote in the last federal election because they did not have the sufficient identification required to vote. The voter identification card is an excellent way for Canadians to be able to use that as sufficient ID to cast their ballots. All Canadian citizens have the right to vote. We need to ensure that they have the opportunity and the possibility to vote and that is exactly what Bill C-33 intends to do. I hope that all members in the House share that the importance of democracy is ensuring that everyone can participate.

Concurrence in Vote 1—Privy Council OfficeMain Estimates, 2017-18Government Orders

June 14th, 2017 / 5:30 p.m.
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Burlington Ontario

Liberal

Karina Gould LiberalMinister of Democratic Institutions

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin my remarks this evening by acknowledging that this week is the 25th annual National Public Service Week.

Now is the time to celebrate the tireless work of the more than 250,000 public servants who support the Government of Canada and ensure that the needs of Canadians are met.

I want to sincerely thank my officials who have supported me since the day I was sworn in as Minister of Democratic Institutions. They work hard to ensure that I am supported in my duties as minister. I feel proud and fortunate to work with such an exemplary group of public servants. Even more than that, Canada can be proud of the strength of its public service, thanks to individuals such as these. I thank them for all that they do.

I am pleased to rise this evening to speak to this opposed vote. This particular motion deals with vote 1, in the amount of $129,915,146, under Privy Council Office program expenditures, in the main estimates for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2018. Of this $129 million, $1 million deals with the creation of the new, non-partisan, merit-based Senate appointments process.

As the Minister of Democratic Institutions, I am mandated to “restore Canadians' trust and participation in our democratic processes”. My job is to improve, strengthen, and protect Canadian democracy.

I was honoured when the Prime Minister asked me to take on this portfolio, as, to me, it is one that touches every single Canadian. The effectiveness of our democratic institutions and the health of our democracy is one of the most defining features of our identity as a country. We know that when Canadians have faith in their institutions, they are engaged. It is when they lose faith in these institutions that they become disengaged from the process and disheartened by their lack of voice in the system.

Unfortunately, Canadians' faith in the Senate was shaken during the Senate expense scandal that saw the previous Prime Minister's Office directly interfere in the day-to-day operations of the Senate. We listened when Canadians told us they were losing faith in this institution. We listened when they told us they did not think the Prime Minister's Office should be interfering in the careful deliberations of the upper house. We listened when they told us the Senate should not simply be a rubber stamp for the government in the House of Commons, but instead should be conducting its important constitutional role as the chamber of sober second thought. Under the previous government, the reputation of the Senate suffered.

Canadians care deeply about their democracy. It is our job as legislators to ensure that we continue to strengthen and protect our great institutions.

That is why we announced in our 2015 election platform that, once elected, a Liberal government would set up a non-partisan committee whose members would be appointed based on merit and would propose candidates to the upper chamber to the Prime Minister.

We made this commitment to restore Canadians' trust in this institution. The Senate, after all, plays a pivotal role in our Parliament, and as it is written in our Constitution, we cannot pass legislation without it going through the Senate.

On January 19, 2016, we established the Independent Advisory Board for Senate Appointments and launched a non-partisan, open, and transparent application process. It consists of three permanent federal members and two ad hoc members from each of the provinces or territories where a vacancy exists.

The independent advisory board has a mandate to provide non-binding, merit-based recommendations to the Prime Minister on Senate appointments by carefully assessing applications using merit-based criteria. The advisory board looks to identify Canadians who would make a significant contribution to the work of the Senate.

From now on, Canadians across the country will be able to apply to become a senator.

The changes we made reflect our commitment to make the Senate a more open and transparent institution, a Senate that is arm's length from the government and less partisan than ever before.

If Canadians want to apply to serve in the Senate, they simply have to visit the government's website, Canada.ca. Our government is committed to a merit-based assessment of Senate candidates. Our emphasis is on individuals who meet the merit-based criteria established by the government.

The first such criterion regards gender, indigenous, and minority balance. Individuals will be considered with a view to achieving gender balance in the Senate. Priority consideration will be given to applicants who represent indigenous peoples and linguistic minority and ethnic communities, with a view to ensuring that representation of those communities in the Senate is consistent with the Senate's role in minority representation.

The second criterion is non-partisanship. Individuals must demonstrate to the advisory board that they have the ability to bring a perspective and a contribution to the work of the Senate that is independent and non-partisan. They will also have to disclose any political involvement and activities. Past political activities would not disqualify an applicant.

The third criterion is knowledge. Individuals must demonstrate a solid knowledge of the legislative process and Canada's Constitution, including the role of the Senate as an independent and complementary body of sober second thought, regional representation, and minority representation.

The fourth criterion is personal qualities. Individuals must demonstrate outstanding personal qualities, including adherence to the principles and standards of public life, ethics, and integrity. Individuals must demonstrate an ability to make an effective and significant contribution to the work of the Senate, not only in their chosen profession or area of expertise but in the wide range of other issues that come before the other place.

Since spring 2016, our government has appointed 27 senators through the new appointment process. Whether they are from Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario or British Columbia, they who have taken their sears in the Senate are all outstanding Canadians who are doing an excellent job on behalf of all Canadians. These new senators are from a variety of professional backgrounds; they are former judges, Olympians, engineers, civil servants, teachers, police commissioners and more, and they will add their knowledge and skills to the wealth of experience each member already brings to our institution.

While we have taken steps to modernize the Senate through the appointment process, the Senate itself has undertaken a number of modernization efforts to fulfill its important constitutional role. For example, the Senate has begun inviting ministers to appear at Senate question period. This gives senators an opportunity to directly question ministers in relation to their portfolios and mandates and to hold the government to account. I had the opportunity to appear before the Senate during its question period in February this year.

Furthermore, a new special committee was created in the Senate to deal specifically with Senate modernization. This Special Committee on Senate Modernization has released 11 reports to date on a variety of modernization efforts the Senate can implement within the current constitutional framework. These reports deal with issues such as question period, the speakership of the Senate, regional interests, and more.

On May 11, 2017, the Senate adopted the seventh report of the Senate Standing Committee on Rules, Procedures and the Rights of Parliament. This report implemented recommendations from the Special Committee on Senate Modernization that amended provisions in the Senate rules to allow any group of at least nine senators to be recognized either as a recognized party in the Senate, as long as the party was registered under the Canada Elections Act, or had been in the last 15 years, or as a recognized parliamentary group formed for parliamentary purposes. This change is a response to the influx of senators who are now sitting with designations of Independent or Non-affiliated. There are currently 43 senators who are not sitting as part of a recognized political party.

The Senate has also made changes to its committee structure. In December 2016, a sessional order was moved to increase the size of Senate committees to accommodate non-affiliated senators and to give them better representation on committees that is more in line with their numbers in the chamber.

The Senate is taking an active role in modernization efforts, and we applaud all senators for their hard work in this regard.

Our efforts to modernize the Senate by making it more open and transparent go hand in hand with our vision of governance.

We promised Canadians a government that is fair, open, and transparent, and that is what what we are doing. In addition to reforming the Senate, the Prime Minister gave me a mandate to deliver on other government priorities, such as significantly enhancing transparency for the public at large and media in the political fundraising system for cabinet members, party leaders, and leadership candidates.

I recently introduced Bill C-50, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act (political financing). This bill, if passed, will make political fundraising more open and transparent for Canadians.

Any fundraising activity with a ticket price of $200 or more and involving the Prime Minister, cabinet members, ministers, party leaders, and leadership candidates currently sitting in the House of Commons must be publicly advertised at least five days prior to the event. In addition, a list of everyone in attendance must be submitted to Elections Canada within 30 days so that it can be posted online.

Canada, it should be repeated, has one of the strictest oversight systems in the world when it comes to the financing of political parties. We have strict spending limits, a cap on annual donations, and a ban on corporate and union donations, but that does not mean we cannot do more to improve and strengthen our institutions.

Canadians have a right to know more about political fundraising in Canada. Bill C-50 will give Canadians more information than ever before on fundraising. This is part of my commitment and this government's commitment to protect, strengthen, and enhance our democracy.

This commitment also led us to introduce Bill C-33, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts. If passed, Bill C-33 would make it easier for Canadians to vote. It would make our elections more open and inclusive and would help to build confidence in the integrity of our voting system.

Specifically, the legislation would do the following. It would restore the Chief Electoral Officer's ability to educate and inform Canadians, especially young people, indigenous Canadians, new Canadians, and others about voting, elections, and related issues. It would help more Canadians to vote by restoring vouching and using the voter identification card as ID. Guided by the Charter of Rights, it would break down barriers preventing millions of Canadian citizens living abroad from voting in Canadian elections. It would invite more Canadian youth into our democracy by allowing voting pre-registration for Canadians aged 14 to 17.

If passed, this bill will strengthen the integrity of the electoral process by giving Elections Canada new tools to ensure that only Canadians with the right to vote are listed in the national register of electors. In addition, this legislation will increase the level of independence of the commissioner of Canada Elections.

Bill C-33 would keep our government's promise to repeal certain elements of the previous government's so-called Fair Elections Act, which made it harder for Canadians to vote.

We believe that Canada is better served when the franchise is extended to as many Canadians as possible, not restricted. We will continue to look at ways to encourage greater voter participation and engagement. We will continue to work with the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, which is currently studying the report of the Chief Electoral Officer, entitled “An Electoral Framework for the 21st Century: Recommendations from the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada Following the 42nd General Election”.

The committee has been studying this report, item by item, and I would like to thank them for all the work they have done so far in that regard. I very much look forward to receiving their recommendations.

In closing, I would like to take this opportunity today to remind Canadians that our work is not finished. Indeed, as I carry out my mandate, I will continue to work hard to protect, strengthen and improve our democratic institutions. To that end, I am currently working with the Minister of National Defence and the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness to assess our electoral process' degree of vulnerability to cyber threats.

I will also be looking at bringing forward options to create an independent commissioner to organize political party leaders' debates during future federal election campaigns, with a mandate to improve Canadians' knowledge of the parties, their leaders, and their policy positions.

I will also review the limits on the amounts political parties and third parties can spend during elections and propose measures to ensure that spending between elections is subject to reasonable limits.

Our democracy is strengthened when Canadians can get directly involved in our process. While casting a ballot is one of the most important ways to make our voices heard in our democracy, we have to ensure that Canadians know that it can be so much more than that. We can do this by continuing to examine what barriers exist between Canadians and participation and by learning how to create pathways for meaningful engagement.

I intend to do just that.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

June 8th, 2017 / 11:15 p.m.
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Conservative

Blake Richards Conservative Banff—Airdrie, AB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to rise tonight and speak to Bill C-50 or, as I like to refer to it, the “got caught with my hand in the cookie jar so I'm going to blame the cookie jar act”, because that is exactly what the Liberals are trying to do with this legislation. They knew what the rules were. They knew what the rules were all along. Then they just broke them. They continued to break them. Then they got caught. Now they are trying to put up a bit of a cover for that. They did this for months. They went on and on with it. They showed no remorse. They did not seem to have any feelings of guilt. However, when they were caught, they decided that it was the rules' fault and not their fault. That is where we are today.

I guess we could look at it the way my colleague, the member for Calgary Rocky Ridge, put it. He told me this legislation was designed to stop the Liberals from doing what they have been doing. Maybe it would just be easier if they just stopped doing it. What is even worse is this legislation would not even stop them from doing it. It is just a cover. When people forget about the cash for access scandals, they will just quietly start doing it again. This legislation really would not do anything to stop it.

Let me back up a bit and take us to where we started with all of this, or where they started with all of this. In November 2015, very shortly after the Liberals formed government, the Prime Minister issued some directives. These directives were titled, “Open and Accountable Government.” I suspect if anyone is watching tonight, they are probably chuckling a bit at that, because it does sound amusing to hear that title, given what we have seen from the Liberal government in the year and a half to two years it has been in power. However, I do not want us to get too distracted by that because it is a bit amusing. There is no question about that.

However, under “Annex B” of that directive, “Fundraising and Dealing with Lobbyists: Best Practices for Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries”, the Prime Minister outlines three general principles that he said must be followed. I will read them:

Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries must ensure that political fundraising activities or considerations do not affect, or appear to affect, the exercise of their official duties or the access of individuals or organizations to government.

There should be no preferential access to government, or appearance of preferential access, accorded to individuals or organizations because they have made financial contributions to politicians and political parties.

There should be no singling out, or appearance of singling out, of individuals or organizations as targets of political fundraising because they have official dealings with Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries, or their staff or departments.

When we start thinking about that, they have broken all three of those multiple times.

Of particular note is the second principle that talks about preferential access to government by donors of political parties. Let us look at the Liberal record of upholding that principle as it pertains to the rules laid out in the Conflict of Interest Act.

In April 2016, the Minister of Justice attended a $500-a-ticket fundraiser at Torys LLP offices, in Toronto. Several of the law firm's members were registered to lobby the federal government, including a senior member who was registered to lobby the justice department. How, in any universe, is that not a conflict of interest? The Minister of Justice has a duty, not only to be independent, but also to be perceived as independent, which was very clearly compromised by that fundraiser.

What was discussed at this fundraiser? Did the lawyers who were present lobby the minister to advance their interests? Did the interests of those lawyers go further than the ones who did not contribute to the Liberal Party? At the time this was discovered, the Liberal Party refused to say who was in attendance at the event. That information only became public once it was posted on Elections Canada's website.

It is actually interesting that the Liberals feel the need to change the law to make sure that attendees at ministerial fundraisers remain public, because when given the chance, they refuse to do so themselves. It goes back to the principle that it would be easier to just stop doing what they are doing. They do not have to change the law to stop doing it; they just need to stop doing it. They know it is wrong, so they should not keep doing it.

How about the fundraiser the finance minister attended in Halifax in October, where corporate executives paid $1,500 each to attend? How about when the parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Justice, who was the Prime Minister's point person on legalizing marijuana, headlined a private Liberal fundraiser, attended by a marijuana lobbying group, at a law office in Toronto that advises clients in the cannabis business? Seriously, this stuff can not be made up. I know the Liberals eventually returned the donation from the marijuana lobbyist. They acknowledged what was obvious, that it was clearly a conflict of interest, but they only did so when the fundraising event became a media story. In other words, it was when they got caught. Again, they put their hand in the cookie jar, someone caught them, and they were trying to blame the cookie jar.

Because of all of this, we know that Liberal ministers and parliamentary secretaries cannot, or maybe will not, and are not following simple ethical rules when it comes to fundraising.

I am sure the Prime Minister must have been incredibly disappointed when members of his own government not only broke the conflict of interest rules but also the very rules he created himself called “Open and Accountable Government”. Hold on. Was he disappointed? As it turns out, in May of last year, the Prime Minister was a guest star at a $1,500 Liberal Party cash-for-access fundraiser at the mansion of a wealthy Chinese Canadian business executive. One of the guests in attendance was a donor who was seeking approval from the federal government to begin operating a new bank in Canada. Another guest at the event made a sizable donation to the Pierre Elliot Trudeau Foundation. It was $50,000 to build a statue of the former prime minister himself just weeks after the event. It was just a pure coincidence, I am sure.

It looks like it was not just his cabinet that was breaking his rules. The Prime Minister himself broke his own rules when it came to political fundraising, which is why I do not know how anyone can take this bill seriously. Again, if they want to stop doing it, they just have to stop doing it.

We all know what it really is. It is just a smoke screen they are putting up to make it seem like they are being accountable. They like to talk, but they do not really like to follow through with action. It is all talk and no action. It is just a smoke and mirrors situation, just like everything else they do.

If they really want to be accountable, they do not need a bill to do so. They could just stop selling access to the government for cash. They could voluntarily provide the list of attendees at their fundraising events. They could ensure that the Prime Minister and other members of cabinet were not in a conflict of interest when they attended partisan events. A new law is not going to make their cash-for-access fundraisers ethical. It just will not do that.

If the Prime Minister wanted to end cash for access, all he ever had to do, and all he still has to do, is stop doing these fundraisers. It is that simple. It does not take legislation.

Bending the rules so the Prime Minister can keep charging $1,500 for wealthy individuals to meet with him and discuss government business is still wrong. It will always be wrong. That is clear. What else is clear are the rules. Why do the Liberals not just start following the rules like everyone else?

Here is the answer. It is because they are not open, they are not transparent, and they definitely have no intention of actually being accountable. They like to talk about it, but they certainly do not want to walk the walk. It seems like this is a pattern with these Liberals. It is a pattern with all Liberals, but certainly with these ones. They do not want to be accountable to Canadians.

Remember just a few months ago when the government House leader introduced her quite ironically titled discussion paper on changes to the Standing Orders. It became obvious very soon after that a discussion was actually the last thing the Liberal Party wanted and they tried to ram those changes through the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, with no discussion, no debate, no questions and answers, and without unanimous consent.

Let us try to remember some of the changes they were trying to force through and I am sure they are going to continue to try to force through. They want to take every Friday off. Canadians work five days a week, at least. Why does the Prime Minister and the Liberal government think that they are more entitled than average Canadians? It is a pattern with them again. They seem to think they are entitled.

Really, I think they want to avoid scrutiny from the opposition parties, the media, and therefore Canadians. Why show up and be held accountable five days a week when they can try to get away with just four? They will try to get away with cash for access. Why not try to get away with fewer days to be held accountable?

Furthermore, the Liberals proposed that the Prime Minister only attend question period once a week. I realize the Prime Minister does not actually answer questions when he comes to question period anyway, but that does not mean he should not show up most days. He should be expected to show up so that people can see him not answering the questions. What would that mean? With the schedule of the House of Commons and his showing up and answering questions one time a week, it boils down to his answering questions for as little as 25 hours in an entire year. That is on the weeks he shows up at all, because last week we did not see him once.

Some of the other changes that were being proposed by the Liberals were designed to limit and handcuff the opposition, essentially to not allow them to do their jobs to full capacity. These changes would have diminished Parliament and they largely would have stripped the opposition of the power to hold the Prime Minister and his government to account. There it is again, the lack of wanting to be accountable.

What is worse than the outrageous changes they tried to make, which I am sure will continue, is the fact that they tried to ram these changes through a Liberal dominated committee without the consent of all political parties. This was an unprecedented move that had not been seen before in Canadian democracy. It had been a long-standing tradition in Parliament that any changes to the way the House of Commons operates must have unanimous consent from all the major parties represented in the House.

That entire standing order debacle made it quite clear that the Prime Minister has absolutely no respect for democracy. The Liberals only backed down after Canadians let them know that they would not stand for it. Again, the Liberals get away with it as long as they can and when they are called out on it, they try to find some way to weasel out of it.

During the procedure and House affairs committee, I had the opportunity to read hundreds of emails from Canadians who were upset and very angry that the Liberals were trying to subvert democracy in such a way. An e-petition that was created on March 23, collected over 30,000 signatures pretty much over a weekend.

I am happy and proud that Canadians became so engaged in our parliamentary process, but it should not have had to come to that. The Liberals should have known better, just like they should know better when it comes to cash for access fundraisers. I know they do know better. They think they can get away with it and that is just plain wrong.

The Liberal government members should be accountable, should be open, and should be transparent on their own, not only when there is public outcry. It should not take public outcry to make them appear to be accountable, open, and transparent. They should just be doing it, but that is not the LIberal way.

There is another parallel I can draw. We have heard it mentioned a couple of times tonight already, but this bill deals with a problem that the Liberals have created themselves, which they could just stop doing. They do not need a bill to stop doing it. There are all kinds of serious matters that are potential threats to our democracy that they could be dealing with. A great example of this is third-party spending during elections. I will take a moment to talk about that glaring issue.

The commissioner of elections told the Senate committee the following:

We have received a significant number of complaints about the involvement of third parties in connection with the 2015 general election. And I would add we received many more complaints than had been filed with respect to the previous election in 2011.

Common to many of these complaints was the perception that third parties, in some ridings, were so significantly involved in the electoral contest that this resulted in unfair electoral outcomes.

I would suggest that third-party engagement in Canada’s electoral process will likely continue to grow. For that reason, it may be time for Parliament to re-examine the third-party regime....

The previous electoral officer, Marc Mayrand, also testified that a registered third party can accept and use foreign money during a Canadian electoral campaign and that, further, there is no limit to the amount it can spend, except on advertising. The current election law only regulates third-party activities that are directly related to advertising. Therefore, Elections Canada does not define things like surveys, election-related websites, calling services, push polls, and other things to communicate with electors as advertising. Once the funds are mingled in with an organization in Canada or from outside of Canada, it is within their funds and they can use those funds in an unlimited amount, the way it is now.

The commissioner further stated:

In Canada, third parties are only regulated with respect to their election advertising activities. Provided they act independently from a candidate or party, they may incur limitless amounts of expenses when carrying out activities such as polling, voter contact services, promotional events, etc. They can also use whatever sources of funding—including foreign funds—to finance these non-election advertising activities.

The level of third party engagement in Canada's electoral process will likely continue to grow in the years to come. For that reason, Parliament should consider whether there is a need to re-examine the third-party regime, with a view to maintaining a level playing field for all participants.

Does no one on the government side find those statements in any way concerning? They should.

The commissioner of Canada elections is saying that Parliament needs to be looking at changing the third-party regime to ensure the integrity of Canadian elections. Instead, the Liberals are introducing legislation to police themselves because the Prime Minister and the Liberal Party got caught with their hands in the cookie jar. Instead, they could be dealing with something that would ensure the integrity of elections. That is what we should be doing. In fact, on this one, the Minister of Democratic Institutions is turning a blind eye and pretending that this has not even been flagged as an issue. It was said by the commissioner of Canada elections, nonetheless.

During question period in the Senate recently, the minister testified on foreign funding in third-party spending during elections, and stated:

From the experience we have, we have found that this is not something that is currently present and so significant that it would impact the electoral system or the confidence that Canadians have during a writ period or during an election.

She also said, “there's very little evidence to suggest that foreign money is influencing Canadian elections by third parties.” It seems to be quite different from what the commissioner had to say, quite different. I will point out that just because the minister is turning a blind eye does not mean this is not a glaring issue. As the minister's mandate letter famously put it, “Sunshine is the best disinfectant to concerns about our political process.” Why is she not shining a little light on this issue? Is this issue not in need of a little sunshine? Why do we not deal with that? It is not dealt with in Bill C-33 and it is not dealt with in Bill C-50, which we have before us today.

At the end of the day, Liberal members opposite can use all the platitudes they want. They can claim all they want to be open, transparent, and accountable, but Canadians are certainly growing tired of their games. Canadians are seeing the Liberal government for what it really is: the same party that brought us the sponsorship scandal, only with slightly better hair and maybe some really snappy socks.

The Liberals got caught breaking the rules, and changing the rules does not make them any less guilty. They still broke the rules, and they continue to break the rules. It is time for that to change.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

June 8th, 2017 / 8:45 p.m.
See context

Burlington Ontario

Liberal

Karina Gould LiberalMinister of Democratic Institutions

moved that Bill C-50, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (political financing), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Madam Speaker, it is a great pleasure to rise today to speak to Bill C-50, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act, regarding political financing, which would amend the Canada Elections Act to create an unprecedented level of openness and transparency for political fundraising events.

I first want to recognize my officials for their extraordinary effort in developing, drafting, and refining this important legislation. I thank them for their hard work over the past few months. They are a credit to our public service.

Our government told Canadians we would set a higher bar on the transparency, accountability, and integrity of our public institutions and the democratic process. We have also sent a clear message that we want to encourage Canadians to embrace our democracy.

I have been focused, in particular, on this latter objective since the Prime Minister asked me to be Canada's Minister of Democratic Institutions. This is why our government has moved on several fronts to enshrine a more open and inclusive democracy. We have changed the way we appoint senators and judges, we are making our elections more accessible and inclusive, and we are taking steps to protect our democracy from cyber-threats. We take these actions because we know how deeply Canadians value and cherish our democracy.

As we celebrate the 150th anniversary of Confederation this year, we can reflect on the work of past generations that have improved, strengthened, and protected Canadian democracy. The challenge facing us is how we, as parliamentarians, can continue to lead this work and fulfill the promise of a strong, stable, vibrant democracy.

The simple but important act of voting is a central part of this discussion. Casting a ballot is a rite of passage in this country. I am sure that many hon. members recall going with their parents to a polling station. Many members will recall bringing their own children with them to vote at their local school, church, community centre, or in one of the many other locations where voting takes place.

In many respects, election day is one of the last true civic rituals that Canadians take part in. It is a day on which we all come together to take part in the democratic process. We wait in the same lines, we follow the same rules, and we exercise the same rights and freedoms.

Today, as Minister of Democratic Institutions, I have a mandate to protect and improve one of the greatest democracies on earth. It is an honour to talk about this in one of the most respected democratic institutions in the world. We know that democracy does not just happen on its own. We all need to contribute to it, and that means more than just voting every four years. Democracy requires our constant attention.

There are many different ways Canadians choose to make a valuable contribution to our democracy. It could be as simple as engaging in a public policy discussion with a friend, joining a community group, participating in a demonstration, or volunteering with a charity. It could also include joining a political party, making a donation to a party, or attending a political fundraiser. Democratic participation and civic engagement are critical to a healthy democracy.

While we believe that we could always do more to raise the bar on openness and transparency in political fundraising, we also respect the right of all Canadians to choose to financially support a party of their choice.

We are celebrating the 35th anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms this year. Section 3 of that Charter guarantees every citizen the right to vote and to run in a federal election. Section 3 is closely linked to the protection of the freedom of association, which is also provided for in the Charter.

Today in Canada, Canadians and permanent residents have the legitimate right to make a donation to a party and to participate in fundraising activities. All parties of the House receive support for the honest work that they do through the donations and contributions of individuals who believe in and support their work.

It is important to take a step back and look at Canada's political fundraising system as it now stands, even before the changes we are discussing. The Canada Elections Act sets out the legal framework that governs fundraising and campaign financing, and all registered federal political parties are subject to it.

According to Elections Canada, disclosure requirements have existed for candidates since the beginning of the 20th century, but the current regime was essentially laid out with the introduction of political party registration in 1970 and the Election Expenses Act in 1974. Essentially, there have been limits on contribution amounts and on the people through whom Canadians can make donations to federal political parties for the past 43 years.

Today, only individual Canadians and permanent residents can donate. Companies, industry associations, and trade unions cannot give funds to any politician or political party. There is a strict limit on individual contributions. Annually, individuals can donate up to $1,550 to a national political party. They can also donate up to $1,550, combined, to all the riding associations, candidates, or nomination contestants of a party. Finally, if their preferred party is in a leadership contest, an individual can donate up to $1,550, combined, to all the leadership contestants in a leadership race.

Today, there are already a number of different reports and requirements that parties, electoral district associations, candidates, leadership contestants, and others must complete. Elections Canada publishes all financial reports, as well as the identity and postal codes of those donating more than $200 on its website.

It is also important to note that there are strict penalties under the Canada Elections Act to punish anyone violating political financing rules. The penalties could include fines of up to $50,000, or up to five years in jail, or both. Canadians take political fundraising seriously. There are serious consequences for breaking these rules.

It is important to point out that 2% of Canadians are currently members of a party or have made a campaign donation. Not everyone wants to join a political party, but everyone can celebrate the contribution that political parties make to our democracy. These institutions bring together people from across the country, people with diverse perspectives, opinions, backgrounds, and experiences. Some parties might focus on specific issues or concerns, while others might seek to cover a broad range of opinions.

At best, parties can mobilize many people and encourage them to take action on important causes, champion certain ideas, and work hard to convince other people to join them.

Political parties are vital to the discourse that we have in Canada about our democracy. To quote former Supreme Court justice Frank Iacobucci:

Political parties provide individual citizens with an opportunity to express an opinion on the policy and functioning of government.

They are capable of introducing unique concerns into the political discourse. In order to participate in political discourse, parties require funding to operate. As Canadians, we have the right to contribute to a political party that shares our ideals and our aspirations. For many, contributing to a political party and attending a fundraising event is a valued form of democratic expression, and I know all hon. members agree that this is an important right we must continue to respect and uphold.

I believe that a strong democracy does not merely tolerate the exchange of ideas, but rather encourages it. A healthy democracy fosters lively partisan debate that offers ideas and clear choices to people. Canadians can choose to donate to a political party to show their support for that kind of democratic debate. In Bill C-50, we are proposing that people continue to make donations to political parties and do so in a way that is more open and transparent than ever.

If passed, Bill C-50 would provide Canadians with more information about political fundraising events than ever before. It would make our already strong and robust system for political financing even more open and transparent, so that Canadians can continue to have confidence in our democratic institutions. It would ensure that Canadians know who is going to fundraisers, when and where they are happening, and the amount required to attend.

If passed, Bill C-50 will apply to all fundraising activities that cabinet members, party leaders, and leadership candidates take part in when the ticket price is over $200. This will apply only to parties sitting in the House of Commons. The bill will therefore apply to all of Canada's political leaders, across party lines. These are the people who are leading our country and aspire to become prime minister themselves.

Fundraising events involving these individuals would be advertised at least five days in advance. Canadians would know about them before these events take place, giving them an opportunity to inquire about a ticket, if they wish. They would know exactly where and when a fundraiser is happening, who is organizing the event, and which senior political leader or leaders will attend.

Further improving openness and transparency for our political leaders will enhance the trust that Canadians have in our democracy across the political spectrum, and we believe this is a good thing.

Public disclosure of fundraising details offers the added benefit of providing that information to the media, leaving it up to the press whether to cover it or not. I believe, and our government believes, that a free press is essential to our democracy and that a healthy media landscape is necessary for a healthy democracy. Our approach in Bill C-50 is to provide journalists the information they need to choose whether to cover an activity or not and give the political parties the flexibility to set their own rules for providing media access and accreditation.

Political parties would also be required to report the names and addresses of those who attended the fundraiser, within 30 days, to Elections Canada. This information would be published online. Canadians and the media would know who attended a fundraiser, and could hold politicians and attendees more accountable for their actions.

Elections Canada, as the recipient and publisher of so much fundraising information already, is the natural place to collect this new information. Publishing all the information in one non-partisan place would make it easier for Canadians to search for this information. I should add that certain individuals, such as minors, service staff, and volunteers, would be exempt.

The bill would also create a new Elections Act offence for not respecting these rules. Any penalties would be borne by political parties, not the senior political leaders invited to attend the events. The maximum fine we propose for violating the provisions would be $1,000 on summary conviction, and any party that breaks the rules would also have to return the contributions collected at the events.

If passed, Bill C-50 will fulfill our government's promise to make Canada's political financing system much more transparent to the public and the media. This is one of many ways our government is improving, enhancing, and protecting our democratic institutions.

Members of the House know that we also introduced Bill C-33, which, if passed, would repeal undemocratic aspects of what the previous government called the Fair Elections Act. Bill C-33 would make it easier for Canadians to exercise their right to vote. It would also encourage voter turnout, and enhance the public's trust in our electoral system as well as its integrity.

To that end, significant measures will be taken, such as allowing the Chief Electoral Officer to accept voter cards as identification and re-establishing vouching so that eligible voters without identification can prove their identity and place of residence by asking another voter to vouch for them.

Moreover, under the bill, Elections Canada could register young Canadians 14 to 17 to include them in the electoral process at a younger age.

Those are just some examples of the measures our government is taking to ensure that we continue to enhance democratic institutions.

We have also introduced a new merit-based Senate appointments process, as I mentioned. To meet the expectations of Canadians, we developed a process to appoint senators that is more open and transparent than ever before. We established an advisory board for Senate appointments and launched a new, open, non-partisan application process. Now any Canadian can directly apply to become a senator, and since spring 2016, we have appointed 27 senators through this new process. The Senate is an important institution in our democratic system, and our government remains committed to building a more effective and less partisan Senate in partnership with hon. senators and all parliamentarians.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the members of the procedure and House affairs committee, as well as the Senate legal and constitutional affairs committee. Both of these committees have been studying the Chief Electoral Officer's report on the 2015 election and will be reporting their recommendations to their respective chambers. Their guidance will be incredibly helpful, as I work with all of our colleagues to continue the important work of improving, strengthening, and protecting our democratic institutions. Bill C-50 is an important example of how we can continue to raise the bar when it comes to our democracy.

Samara Canada recently released a report entitled, “Democracy 360: The Second Report Card on How Canadians Communicate, Participate and Lead in Politics.” The report measures the health of Canada's democracy across 19 different indicators. According to Samara, 71% of Canadians said they are fairly satisfied or very satisfied with how democracy works in Canada. This is six percentage points higher than the first report card in 2015.

Although this report suggests that Canadians have confidence in their democracy, we realize that there is always room for improvement. We therefore introduced Bill C-50 for more open and transparent fundraising activities.

We are shining a light on these types of activities so that Canadians can know and understand what is happening. We are providing them with information on who attends these fundraisers, when and where they are taking place, and how much it costs to participate.

Political fundraising is an important form of democratic expression. Fundraisers are an opportunity for groups of like-minded Canadians to come together and discuss values, opinions, and policy ideas. They also provide Canadians with the opportunity to support a party or individual with whom they share similar perspectives and ideas. We believe it is important to clarify what happens at these fundraising events. Bill C-50 would do so by shining a light on who is attending political fundraisers, where and when they are taking place, and the amount required to attend them. For the first time in Canadian history, our government is legislating and requiring political parties to disclose this information, because Canadians have a right to know even more than they do now about political fundraising events. I think all members of this House can agree that political parties do not have anything to hide. Bill C-50 would ensure that more information than ever before about political fundraisers is shared with the media and the public at large, so that Canadians can continue to have confidence in our democracy.

I am eager to hear the opinions from other members of this House about the bill itself. This is important legislation that affects all of us in this chamber, and I am confident that the hon. members share my desire to provide Canadians with more information about political fundraising events. I look forward to the debate ahead.

June 8th, 2017 / 11:25 a.m.
See context

Commissioner of Canada Elections, Office of the Commissioner of Canada Elections

Yves Côté

As you said earlier, since Bill C-23 was passed, we have been an entity within the office of the director of public prosecutions. Officially and legally, we have been removed from the CEO's organization.

In my opinion, things are going quite well on the whole. They are going very well in fact. For the CEO and for us, however, it is difficult for technical reasons to share information more quickly, since we are now officially part of two different government institutions. Certain rules apply, which makes things a little more difficult.

That said, you probably know that the government has introduced Bill C-33 and that, if it is passed in its current form, it would return us to the CEO's office.

I would also note, importantly, that since we arrived at the office of the director of public prosecutions, this office has provide exemplary service and support in all respects, as was the case when we were part of Elections Canada.

Electoral ReformCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

May 30th, 2017 / 11:05 a.m.
See context

Liberal

Andy Fillmore Liberal Halifax, NS

Madam Speaker, the member has hit exactly on the areas in which there was great consensus through our public engagement process over the last year or so. Those are things like removing barriers to traditionally marginalized voters so they can get to the ballot box, through our work with Bill C-33. It includes efforts to engage youth into our political process through things like the pre-voter registration, a proactive analysis of cyber threats to our democratic institutions and voting systems, making changes to make our political fundraising more open and transparent and reintroducing the voter identification card. It also improves large-scale efforts by allowing the Chief Electoral Officer to engage in education efforts for all Canadians.

Electoral ReformCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

May 30th, 2017 / 10:40 a.m.
See context

Halifax Nova Scotia

Liberal

Andy Fillmore LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Democratic Institutions

Madam Speaker, I am rising today to discuss the motion moved by the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley.

I want to begin by thanking all the members of the special committee on electoral reform for their excellent hard work in producing this report.

The committee held 57 meetings in every province and territory, listened to the testimony of 196 witnesses, collected and considered 574 written submissions, reached more than 22,000 Canadians through an online consultation process, and received 172 reports from members of Parliament who had hosted their own town halls to gather opinions from their constituents, my own among them.

Their report, entitled “Strengthening Democracy in Canada: Principles, Process and Public Engagement for Electoral Reform”, is a significant addition to the study of electoral reform in Canada and includes many important recommendations to improve our electoral system.

I also want to thank all the expert witnesses, the tireless and dedicated committee staff, and the thousands of Canadians who participated in this very important exercise in democracy. The extent of their work was impressive, and a credit to our democratic system.

Meanwhile, our government also spent the summer and autumn of 2016 engaged in extensive consultations on this important issue. We were elected on a commitment to listen to Canadians. The previous Minister of Democratic Institutions and her parliamentary secretary also undertook a cross-country tour during this period, holding community events in every province and territory.

Our government also launched an innovative online tool to engage in a conversation with Canadians and learn more about what they value most in our democracy. This website, mydemocracy.ca, not only helped us to engage with as many Canadians as possible but also provided us with essential statistically valid public opinion research data. Every Canadian household was invited to participate, and more than 360,000 individuals took the time to share their views on democracy. We thank them for doing that. It is indeed rare for a government to be able to engage in such a significant national dialogue.

As the electoral system is a foundational component of any democratic system, I think all hon. members would agree that any significant change in how we vote must have the broad support of Canadians.

As was announced on February 1 of this year, these consultation efforts revealed that there is no broad consensus throughout the country to replace the current voting system or on what a preferred new system would look like.

We learned that Canadians value the direct relationship between their members of Parliament and the constituents they represent and the ability of these constituents to hold their elected representatives directly to account.

Therefore, our government has taken and will continue to take concrete steps to work with all parliamentarians to advance the five principles of the special committee's mandate. These principles are effectiveness and legitimacy, public engagement, accessibility and inclusiveness, integrity, and local representation.

In his report following the 2015 election, our former chief electoral officer made a number of recommendations aimed at modernizing the Canada Elections Act. The Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs is currently considering these recommendations. To date, two interim reports have been tabled, with further feedback expected.

Another important step that we have taken to advance these principles is the introduction of Bill C-33, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act. This legislation seeks to increase inclusion and voter participation by breaking down barriers that discourage Canadians from voting. It would also enhance confidence in the integrity of Canada's elections.

Bill C-33 addresses many of the concerns we have heard from Canadians in response to the changes made by the former government's Fair Elections Act. Bill C-33 reflects our government's focus on how we can help all members of our society gain access to the democratic process, including youth, seniors, indigenous Canadians, new Canadians, those with disabilities, and those from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

Returning to the special committee's work, I would note that the committee made a number of important recommendations that extended beyond the foundational changes to the voting system, and I would like to address a few of those now.

Let us start with committee recommendation 3, which calls on our government to not bring in mandatory voting at this time. Our government agrees with the committee that mandatory voting is not the correct approach at this time. However, we are committed to taking steps to encourage greater civic participation and greater citizen literacy to increase voter turnout in future federal elections.

Bill C-33 aims to increase voter participation by reducing barriers posed by voter identification, expanding the Chief Electoral Officer's mandate to undertake broad education campaigns, and creating a national register of future electors.

Furthermore, the government will continue to explore avenues to remove barriers to participation and improve voter turnout. We will do this by working with our partners and all Canadians. Our work will be informed by the recommendations of the Chief Electoral Officer and the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

Another committee recommendation, number 4, advises against allowing online voting at this time. Again, we agree, and while Canadians who participated in mydemocracy.ca agreed that online voting would improve voter turnout, their support was contingent on the need for solid assurance that such a system would not be vulnerable to manipulation by hackers. Similar concerns were heard from the experts before the special committee.

Recommendations 5 and 6 call on Elections Canada to explore the use of technology to make voting more accessible, particularly for people with disabilities, while also ensuring the overall integrity of the voting process. The former chief electoral officer has made similar recommendations, and the government will consider them carefully in light of PROC's own deliberations. We will also consider consultations led by the Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities on broader measures to help disabled Canadians participate in our democracy.

Recommendation 8 calls on the government to amend the Canada Elections Act to create a financial incentive that encourages political parties to run more female candidates. The government acknowledges that more must be done to support the participation of women in Canada's democratic life, and we urge all parties to more aggressively recruit, encourage, and support female candidates. As such, the government is committed to building on existing measures as well as to considering innovative approaches to further this goal.

For example, last year Status of Women Canada solicited applications for projects to create inclusive public spaces to increase the participation of women, including indigenous women, in the democratic life of our country. The call consisted of two themes: empowering women for political action to promote the participation of women in political life, and empowering women for community action to improve conditions for women by amplifying women's voices and enhancing their civic participation. A total of 14 projects have been approved for funding since the spring of 2016, totalling an investment of $8.7 million over the next three years.

Recommendation 9 of the special committee report calls on our government to include youth in the national register of electors before they reach the voting age. Our government is very much in favour of this recommendation. In fact, we have already included a national register of future electors in Bill C-33.

Canadians have told us that they want to encourage young people to vote, and research has found that when young people vote in one election, they are more likely to make it a lifelong habit. The Chief Electoral Officer recommended that we prepare young people to vote. It would happen by introducing pre-registration. The amendments to the Canada Elections Act in Bill C-33 would allow Elections Canada to work with young people in schools and other settings to register to vote. Young Canadians aged 14 to 17 would be able to pre-register and to access educational resources as well as other information about our democracy, elections, and voting. Upon turning 18, they would be automatically added to the national register for voting and would be ready to cast that all-important first vote.

The 10th recommendation made by the committee has a similar theme. It asks the government to empower Elections Canada to encourage a higher voter turnout. We agree with this recommendation, as a lack information can create a significant barrier to participation. Under the previous government's legislation, the Chief Electoral Officer can only conduct educational programs for primary through grade 12 aged children. The Chief Electoral Officer has recommended that the mandate be extended to conduct education programs for all Canadians. We agree, and that is why our government has included a provision in Bill C-33 to allow the Chief Electoral Officer to undertake non-partisan educational programs aimed at providing information to all Canadians.

During our national electoral reform engagement tour, Canadians told us that they wanted more done to improve civic literacy and to build knowledge about Canadian democracy. They told us that they want us to make it easier to vote. They want to make it easier to learn about voting and the democratic process, and they want to make sure that as many Canadians as possible who are eligible to vote have an opportunity to do so.

Although this is reflected in the measures in Bill C-33 I have already mentioned, the bill has several other key measures that underscore the efforts we would make to improve democratic participation in our country. First, it would allow the Chief Electoral Officer to authorize the use of voter information cards as identification. Elections Canada piloted the use of the VIC as ID in 2010, and in the 2011 general election, approximately 900,000 Canadians, at more than 5,600 polling stations, were eligible to use the card as ID. The initiative was particularly useful at polling places such as long-term care homes and seniors' residences.

Unfortunately, the former government's Fair Elections Act prevented Canadians from using the voter ID card as ID in the 2015 election. Last autumn, the CEO recommended to the procedure and House affairs committee that the practice to use the card as ID be re-established. He said that this would be particularly helpful for three groups that have difficulty proving residency: youth, seniors, and indigenous voters.

Reinstating the VIC would increase access to voting for a number of Canadians.

Second, Bill C-33 would re-establish vouching so that a Canadian citizen could vouch for another to allow him or her to vote. Before the Fair Elections Act, an eligible Canadian voter could vouch for someone who needed to prove his or her identity and residence but lacked proper ID. The limitation on vouching created a significant barrier to voting.

A Stats Canada survey last year estimated that some 172,000 Canadians said they were unable to vote because they lacked proper ID. This is a particular problem for indigenous people living on reserve and homeless people.

Third, Bill C-33 would help Elections Canada clean up data in the national register of electors. This is in response to the Chief Electoral Officer's request for more tools to improve the register. Our bill, if passed, would give Elections Canada new resources to refine the register's data and to let it operate more effectively.

Fourth, it would improve the public's confidence in the integrity of our elections by addressing concerns raised related to the independence of the commissioner of Canada elections as a result of the Fair Elections Act. The commissioner is a non-partisan official responsible for investigating potential voting issues, such as voter fraud or financial irregularities. The commissioner ensures that Canada Elections Act rules are followed.

Previously, from 1974 to 2014, the Chief Electoral Officer appointed the commissioner, and the commissioner reported to the Chief Electoral Officer within Elections Canada. The previous government's Fair Elections Act transferred the commissioner to the office of the director of public prosecutions. We heard from Canadians during electoral reform dialogues that there were concerns that the commissioner would be subject to less independence. Bill C-33 would enhance confidence in the integrity of the elections system by clarifying this situation.

Finally, it is estimated that Bill C-33 would expand voting rights to more than one million Canadians living abroad. Today, Canadians living abroad may only vote within five years of leaving Canada and must have an intention to return. These restrictions are currently being challenged before the Supreme Court of Canada. Our bill would remove a barrier to voting for those Canadians who, even though they choose to live abroad, care about the future of our country and want to have their voices heard. This proposal does not impact Canadian Armed Forces voters, who already have a full right to vote, regardless of where they are posted.

I want to touch briefly on the Minister of Democratic Institutions' mandate to protect our electoral system from cyber-attacks. Working with her colleagues, the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness and the Minister of National Defence, the minister has asked the Communications Security Establishment to analyze proactively the risks to our electoral system and to release a public report. Further, we will ask the CSE officer for advice for political parties on cybersecurity best practices.

In conclusion, the government is greatly appreciative of the special committee's work in studying electoral reform as well as other important issues they raised as part of their study. We remain committed to strengthening Canada's democratic institutions and processes. Bill C-33 would remove voting roadblocks, encourage participation, and create a level playing field for political parties. We are also working to defend the Canadian electoral process from cyber-threats and are increasing transparency in the political fundraising system.

Why take these actions? It is because Canadians value their democratic institutions, which remain the envy of the world. Our system is trusted by Canadians and is renowned worldwide. Our government remains committed to improving, strengthening, and protecting our democracy. The work of the Special Committee on Electoral Reform represents an important contribution to these efforts.

Democratic ReformAdjournment Proceedings

May 17th, 2017 / 7:45 p.m.
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Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, I can maybe provide some comfort by indicating to the member that today we have a Prime Minister who truly believes in accountability and transparency. We see that day in and day out on a multitude of levels.

On the issue of cabinet confidentiality, the member across the way does not have to provide a reading of the rules. We understand the importance of cabinet confidentiality, and I can assure the member that there has been no violation of cabinet confidentiality. The member might want to speculate, but it is all speculation.

At the end of the day, we understand the importance of cabinet secrecy, and there has been no violation of that secrecy. It is an important issue.

On the issue of electoral reform, there has been a great deal of debate, not only in the chamber but also outside the chambre. There were a fair number of individuals who were discouraged that we were not able to build overall consensus, but one should not be overly disappointed in the sense that the minister has brought forward another piece of legislation. The Minister of Democratic Institutions has done an outstanding job in ensuring that there will be a difference in future elections.

We have raised issues. We have listened to what Canadians have said. We appreciate the fact there was no consensus, but there are some areas where there has been consensus. Where we have seen it, we now have a Minister of Democratic Institutions who is acting on it. Let me provide a couple of examples.

We will recall that under Stephen Harper and the unfair elections act, the Conservatives tried to tie the hands of the Chief Electoral Officer in some of the things he could do. Under the current legislation, that is now being talked about, not only inside but outside the chamber. Bill C-33 aims to restore the Chief Electoral Officer's ability to educate and inform Canadians, especially young people, indigenous Canadians, and new Canadians, about voting, elections, and related issues.

Statistics Canada estimates about 172,000 electors did not vote in the 2015 election because of a lack of adequate identity documents. Madam Speaker, you were in the last Parliament when the Conservative Party got rid of the vouching system. This legislation reinstates vouching, because we want more Canadians to be engaged in voting in elections.

We will remember the voter information cards. I sat on the committee where the Conservatives said that people could not use voter ID cards. That did not make sense, and Canadians knew that. We now have a minister responsible for democratic reform who is putting some teeth in the voting card. Bill C-33 would allow people to use a voter identification card as a piece of ID. She is also forward thinking. Think about cybersecurity. That is very serious today and will be in future elections.

This is a government that is proactively engaged in looking at ways to improve our elections going forward.

May 16th, 2017 / 12:45 p.m.
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Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

I appreciate that. First of all, I want to be very clear that I do not mean to suggest that either you or Elections Canada, and certainly not Mr. Mayrand, had that intention. I'm drawing your attention and that of the committee to the fact that this is just the situation as it stands if the law is interpreted as it is. That's very helpful. Actually, that was all I wanted to raise on that topic.

I do have two other things I want to ask you on completely different topics. One is this. The minister has promised to provide two additional pieces of legislation in addition to Bill C-33. Obviously, you have indicated that you would like to have this legislation dealt with and enacted by spring 2018. If you had to rank the importance of these pieces of legislation in terms of which ones you need to deal with most urgently given the follow-through you have to do, would you rank...?

I'm thinking most obviously of the fundraising legislation versus Bill C-33, and the other piece of legislation not yet introduced that will capture other aspects of your report on the 42nd election. From the point of view of your own implementation issues, what priority would you suggest be given to these pieces of legislation?

May 16th, 2017 / 12:25 p.m.
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Acting Chief Electoral Officer, Elections Canada

Stéphane Perrault

There certainly will need to be changes, depending on the fate of Bill C-33, in our outreach and use of social media. That's something we will need to expand.

In terms of the delivery of ballots, people abroad will continue to be able to download application forms, if they've pre-registered, but not ballot kits. This was an initiative we were looking at, to deliver the ballot kits electronically, but we will not be pursuing that for 2019.

May 16th, 2017 / 12:10 p.m.
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Stéphane Perrault Acting Chief Electoral Officer, Elections Canada

Thank you, Mr. Chair. Thanks for the opportunity to appear to discuss Elections Canada's main estimates for 2017-18.

Before I start, I want to thank the chair and the members of this committee for the work that you have done in reviewing the CEO's recommendations and for reporting on those recommendations. Of course, Elections Canada's staff remains available to assist the committee in this regard.

Today, the committee is studying and voting on Elections Canada's annual appropriation, which is $29.3 million. This represents the salaries of approximately 350 indeterminate positions. Combined with the statutory authority, which funds all other expenditures under the Canada Elections Act, our 2017-2018 main estimates total $112.2 million.

During this fiscal year, Elections Canada is working on specific administrative changes to modernize the electoral process to address problems raised by Canadians during recent elections and meet their evolving expectations. I would like to highlight three aspects: voting services, voter registration services, and online services for candidates and political entities.

On voting services, the agency is hoping to see legislation that allows for our proposed new voting services model, which can be adapted to meet the specific needs of each electoral district. I was pleased that this committee agreed to the CEO's recommendations that would allow for the model's implementation. We look forward to the government's response.

In large urban centres, wait time is often an issue for voters, especially at advance polls. In those places, a new voting services model would allow voters to vote at any available table within their polling location, thereby reducing wait times. The new process will also improve working conditions for poll workers by simplifying their tasks and allowing them to take breaks as required, without interrupting the vote.

To implement this new model, election workers will be equipped with electronic poll books. These are applications that will run on tablets or laptops to help election workers manage voters lists, forms and “bingo sheets”. This will replace the cumbersome stacks of paper forms that they currently use and the need to cross voter names off of a paper list with pencil and ruler. It should also significantly reduce record-keeping errors, improve compliance with procedures and increase auditability. I wish to stress that we will retain paper ballots, which will continue to be marked and counted by hand.

We are currently mapping out scenarios for deploying this new voting services model for the 2019 general election, focusing on electoral districts where deployment would bring the most benefit. Deployment decisions will also be informed by a procurement process currently in progress and input from the Advisory Committee of Political Parties.

In more sparsely populated areas, travel time to voting locations, rather than wait time, was one of the main problems reported by Canadians in recent elections. In those areas, instead of introducing technology, we will increase the number of advance polling locations to improve proximity. As well, we will provide returning officers with routing data to support the selection of voting locations. This will help ensure that voters are directed to the polling location that is nearest in terms of travel time.

Since our departmental plan was published, we have decided to set aside one aspect of our transformation agenda—the electronic delivery of special ballots. While we continue to believe that legislation should be amended to provide flexibility in the delivery of special ballots, this is not something we will be pursuing for 2019.

However, based on the success of the pilot project conducted at some 40 post-secondary institutions in 2015, we will increase the number of satellite local offices. These offices will provide information, registration and opportunities for voters away from their electoral district to vote by special ballot.

Our priority for registration services is to increase the coverage and currency of the national register of electors, especially with respect to young voters. For instance, only one quarter—to be precise, 27%—of 18-year-olds are registered, compared with just over 70% for 20-year-olds.

I would note that our recommendations to pre-register 16- and 17-year-olds and to gain access to data from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada on non-citizens would also improve the coverage and the currency of the national register of electors. These measures are also included in Bill C-33.

In addition, we are working to make online voter registration services more universally accessible, particularly for voters in rural and remote areas who do not have standardized residential addresses and who had trouble using the e-registration function in the last election.

We will also offer an online portal providing a number of services to candidates and political entities. This will include the ability, with proper authentication, to download documents such as maps and voter lists, or to file electronically documents such as nomination papers. I do note that this committee, in its review of the CEO's report, supported the recommendations that will facilitate the electronic filing of nomination papers.

In moving forward with improvements to our service offerings, we will continue to consult with parliamentarians, including this committee, as well as with key stakeholders.

I would note, Mr. Chair, that we traditionally have an informal meeting session in the fall, usually in early September or October when Parliament comes back. I hope that we will have the opportunity in September to look at deployment options for new technology at the polls.

Elections Canada is also in the process of replacing and improving a number of existing systems and services that enable the delivery of modern elections. For the next general election, these include new telecommunications services for local offices and our central contact centres. This includes upgrades and maintenance for our IT network and the progressive implementation of a new solution for hosting our data centres. Upgrades and additional basic functionalities are also required for the system that supports returning officers in the hiring, training, and paying of some 300,000 poll workers in a general election.

These investments will allow Elections Canada to ensure that our IT services remain reliable and secure in this changing environment. We are working with lead security agencies, in particular Communications Security Establishment Canada, to ensure that our infrastructure continues to meet all appropriate security standards and requirements.

Lastly, I would like to touch briefly on the timing of the legislation. I understand that in addition to Bill C-33, the minister intends to introduce legislation related to fundraising activities in the coming weeks. She also indicated before this committee that she intends to introduce other legislative changes in the fall of 2017, building on the CEO's recommendations. The minister recognized the last time she appeared before this committee that Elections Canada needs sufficient time to implement the changes well ahead of the 2019 general election. In this regard, assuming that enabling legislation is enacted by the spring of 2018, this should allow us time to implement our proposed new voting services model and other legislative changes for the next general election.

To conclude, we look forward to the final report from this committee on the review of the CEO's recommendations for improved administration of the Canada Elections Act. As I indicated at the outset, Elections Canada staff remain available to assist the committee in this regard.

Thank you, Mr. Chair. My colleagues and I would be happy to answer any questions from the members of this committee.

May 4th, 2017 / 11:30 a.m.
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NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Right. I was just trying to decide. I can't recall, I just have to go back to notes.

Anyway, my point is this. Once the government accepted that the way it did it, through Bill C-33, is a non-starter going forward—don't do that anymore.... I think that message delivered, and I see certain other folks nodding heads that, yes, that's the way it's now understood. We had said that if the government were willing to stop usurping our work, we would do everything we could to try to work within her time frame. I still am, but I have to tell you that time's getting tight, and tighter.

I just leave it with you, Chair. It might also be that we talk this through in a framework and maybe we ask the subcommittee to take a look at some of the more finite deadlines that are involved and actually try to map something through that gets us close to when we still think we're going to be here. When we get to the end of June, it's never clear. There's always this: will there be deal; will we get out? Even at Queen's Park it was the same thing. There's a flurry of deals; everybody wants to get out. It depends on the mood of the House. If you get into agreement, you're out two or three days early. If not, you're there to the very last nanosecond.

There are at least three, maybe four different items that are all serious, at play, with deadlines, and in each of those cases at this stage there's a high degree of co-operation between this committee and the government and its desired agenda. I'm not sure we can do that with all of us here. We should keep talking it through, but it seems to me that at some point we're going to need to lay out all three, four, or five—whatever those pieces are. Again, keeping in mind that the House has now told us what our priorities are, I think we've agreed we can slip away with unanimous consent and do the estimates, but we have to nail that down.

I'm just concerned that, if we don't take the time now to do it in detail, we're just going to run out of runway, and then we're going to find ourselves wherever we are at the end. Then the government's going to say, “You know, we have no choice now; we're going to have to bring legislation in”. That's going to cause at least me to go crazy again, and away we go and nothing's happening. To try to avoid all of that, I think it's in our best interests to get this nailed down as to exactly how we're going to proceed to maximize our ability to achieve what we want to achieve in the time frame that we have accepted.

I'm really good at explaining the problem.

May 4th, 2017 / 11:25 a.m.
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Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

Okay. What I'm getting at is that there's Bill C-33 to deal with, and what kinds of deadlines its going to face. Additionally there is the issue of Minister Gould asking us to complete our study of the 42nd parliamentary report of the CEO to our chair, so that she could then take our report, work on legislation this autumn, produce a piece of legislation and get it to the CEO in order for the CEO to act on it prior to the next election. The CEO would be able to comment to us on that.

Finally, there is the issue of the financial reform legislation, the election finance reform, or party financing legislation that Minister Gould has promised to bring before the House. I get the impression.... Actually I had a chance to ask her this and while she was not unclear in answering, I can't remember what her answer was, to be honest, but the question was essentially, “Do you need this in place by the end of 2017 in order to have it take place in the 2018 calendar year because of the way party financing works on a calendar year basis?”

There are all of those balls in the air. All of them relate back to the CEO and I think, on that basis, it would be helpful to have the acting CEO for more than an hour. I think as well we probably should agree now that, in addition to dealing with the narrow scope of the estimates, we would give ourselves liberty to deal with those broader issues. Seeing as the CEO—I assume—watches this committee religiously, we've effectively, in today's meeting, giving notice to the acting CEO that he should anticipate our desire to have some guidance on these matters.