Elections Modernization Act

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

Sponsor

Karina Gould  Liberal

Status

This bill has received Royal Assent and is, or will soon become, law.

Summary

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

This enactment amends the Canada Elections Act to establish spending limits for third parties and political parties during a defined period before the election period of a general election held on a day fixed under that Act. It also establishes measures to increase transparency regarding the participation of third parties in the electoral process. Among other things that it does in this regard, the enactment

(a) adds reporting requirements for third parties engaging in partisan activities, partisan advertising, and election surveys to the reporting requirements for third parties engaging in election advertising;

(b) creates an obligation for third parties to open a separate bank account for expenses related to the matters referred to in paragraph (a); and

(c) creates an obligation for political parties and third parties to identify themselves in partisan advertising during the defined period before the election period.

The enactment also amends the Act to implement measures to reduce barriers to participation and increase accessibility. Among other things that it does in this regard, the enactment

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

(b) broadens the application of accommodation measures to all persons with a disability, irrespective of its nature;

(c) creates a financial incentive for registered parties and candidates to take steps to accommodate persons with a disability during an election period;

(d) amends some of the rules regarding the treatment of candidates’ expenses, including the rules related to childcare expenses, expenses related to the care of a person with a disability and litigation expenses;

(e) amends the rules regarding the treatment of nomination contestants’ and leadership contestants’ litigation expenses and personal expenses;

(f) allows Canadian Forces electors access to several methods of voting, while also adopting measures to ensure the integrity of the vote;

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

(h) removes 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

(i) extends voting hours on advance polling days.

The enactment also amends the Act to modernize voting services, facilitate enforcement and improve various aspects of the administration of elections and of political financing. Among other things that it does in this regard, the enactment

(a) removes the assignment of specific responsibilities set out in the Act to specific election officers by creating a generic category of election officer to whom all those responsibilities may be assigned;

(b) limits election periods to a maximum of 50 days;

(c) removes administrative barriers in order to facilitate the hiring of election officers;

(d) authorizes 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;

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

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

(g) removes the requirement for electors’ signatures during advance polls, changes procedures for the closing of advance polls and allows for counting ballots from advance polls one hour before the regular polls close;

(h) replaces the right or obligation to take an oath with a right or obligation to make a solemn declaration, and streamlines the various declarations that electors may have the right or obligation to make under specific circumstances;

(i) relocates the Commissioner of Canada Elections to within the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer, and provides 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;

(j) provides the Commissioner of Canada Elections with the authority to impose administrative monetary penalties for contraventions of provisions of Parts 16, 17 and 18 of the Act and certain other provisions of the Act;

(k) provides the Commissioner of Canada Elections with the authority to lay charges;

(l) provides the Commissioner of Canada Elections with the power to apply for a court order requiring testimony or a written return;

(m) clarifies offences relating to

(i) the publishing of false statements,

(ii) participation by non-Canadians in elections, including inducing electors to vote or refrain from voting, and

(iii) impersonation; and

(n) implements a number of measures to harmonize and streamline political financing monitoring and reporting.

The enactment also amends the Act to provide for certain requirements with regard to the protection of personal information for registered parties, eligible parties and political parties that are applying to become registered parties, including the obligation for the party to adopt a policy for the protection of personal information and to publish it on its Internet site.

The enactment also amends the Parliament of Canada Act to prevent the calling of a by-election when a vacancy in the House of Commons occurs within nine months before the day fixed for a general election under the Canada Elections Act.

It also amends the Public Service Employment Act to clarify that the maximum period of employment of casual workers in the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer — 165 working days in one calendar year — applies to those who are appointed by the Commissioner of Canada Elections.

Finally, the enactment contains transitional provisions, makes consequential amendments to other Acts and repeals the Special Voting Rules.

Elsewhere

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

Votes

Dec. 13, 2018 Passed Motion respecting Senate amendments to Bill C-76, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and other Acts and to make certain consequential amendments
Dec. 13, 2018 Failed Motion respecting Senate amendments to Bill C-76, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and other Acts and to make certain consequential amendments (amendment)
Dec. 13, 2018 Passed Time allocation for Bill C-76, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and other Acts and to make certain consequential amendments
Oct. 30, 2018 Passed 3rd reading and adoption of Bill C-76, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and other Acts and to make certain consequential amendments
Oct. 30, 2018 Failed Bill C-76, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and other Acts and to make certain consequential amendments (recommittal to a committee)
Oct. 29, 2018 Passed Concurrence at report stage of Bill C-76, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and other Acts and to make certain consequential amendments
Oct. 29, 2018 Failed Bill C-76, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and other Acts and to make certain consequential amendments (report stage amendment)
Oct. 29, 2018 Failed Bill C-76, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and other Acts and to make certain consequential amendments (report stage amendment)
Oct. 29, 2018 Failed Bill C-76, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and other Acts and to make certain consequential amendments (report stage amendment)
Oct. 29, 2018 Failed Bill C-76, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and other Acts and to make certain consequential amendments (report stage amendment)
Oct. 29, 2018 Passed Bill C-76, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and other Acts and to make certain consequential amendments (report stage amendment)
Oct. 29, 2018 Failed Bill C-76, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and other Acts and to make certain consequential amendments (report stage amendment)
Oct. 29, 2018 Failed Bill C-76, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and other Acts and to make certain consequential amendments (report stage amendment)
Oct. 29, 2018 Failed Bill C-76, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and other Acts and to make certain consequential amendments (report stage amendment)
Oct. 29, 2018 Failed Bill C-76, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and other Acts and to make certain consequential amendments (report stage amendment)
Oct. 29, 2018 Failed Bill C-76, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and other Acts and to make certain consequential amendments (report stage amendment)
Oct. 29, 2018 Failed Bill C-76, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and other Acts and to make certain consequential amendments (report stage amendment)
Oct. 29, 2018 Failed Bill C-76, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and other Acts and to make certain consequential amendments (report stage amendment)
Oct. 25, 2018 Passed Time allocation for Bill C-76, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and other Acts and to make certain consequential amendments
May 23, 2018 Passed 2nd reading of Bill C-76, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and other Acts and to make certain consequential amendments
May 23, 2018 Failed 2nd reading of Bill C-76, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and other Acts and to make certain consequential amendments (reasoned amendment)
May 23, 2018 Passed Time allocation for Bill C-76, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and other Acts and to make certain consequential amendments

Elections Modernization ActGovernment Orders

May 11th, 2018 / 1:05 p.m.
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Liberal

David Graham Liberal Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am not too worried on that score. Most of the recommendations have already been included in the bill, which is public. It should be passed more or less as is. We already have access to the information we need to implement it on time. I think we really can make the necessary changes before the next election.

Elections Modernization ActGovernment Orders

May 11th, 2018 / 1:05 p.m.
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Liberal

Yasmin Ratansi Liberal Don Valley East, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-76, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act and other acts. The bill addresses the challenges the Conservatives created through the Fair Elections Act. What were the actual challenges? They disenfranchised voters, and they denied the use of voter information cards. This measure led to about 400,000 Canadian citizens being denied their right to vote in the 2011 election. The former chief electoral officer stated at the time that the bill contained measures that “undermine the bill's stated purpose and will not serve Canadians well.”

Therefore, Bill C-76 proposes the following measures to make it a fairer process for Canadians to vote: the bill would make the electoral process more accessible and secure; it would modernize the administration of elections; and it would repeal the portions of the Fair Elections Act that made it harder for Canadians to vote.

I am proud to state that the Canadian electoral system is one of the strongest and most robust in the world. However, the Canada Elections Act is showing its age. Following the 2015 election, the chief electoral officer made over 130 recommendations to improve how our democracy functions. After careful study and consideration by parliamentary committees in both the House and the Senate, and with the input of experts from across Canada, our government has introduced the elections modernization act. This proposed legislation aims to bring Canada's electoral system into the 21st century.

Bill C-76 would make it easier for Canadians to vote, make elections easier to administer, and importantly, protect Canadians from third-party interference. The bill is comprehensive, but I cannot cover all the aspects in this speech. Therefore, I will focus on some key themes.

To make the system more accessible for candidates with either children or disabilities, the bill would allow candidates to pay expenses related to child care, the provision of care to another, or a candidate's own disability-related expenses out of personal funds. These expenses would be eligible for reimbursement at an increased level of 90% and would not be subject to the spending limits.

Second, Bill C-76 proposes measures to reduce barriers to participation by persons with disabilities. Why is this so important to Canadians? These measures are geared toward increasing support and assistance at the polls. As well, they would increase the accommodation of participants during political debates. Canada is a progressive country, and we would like the equal participation of all Canadians.

I had an interesting conversation with a cab driver from Croatia. His comment was, “People think that Canada has many sick people, but that is not the case. Canada allows every person with disabilities to participate actively in all aspects of life. Not so in Croatia, where people with disabilities stay at home.”

Our system may be good, but better is always possible. Therefore, through the bill, the following accommodations would be made.

First, assistance at the polls is currently only permitted for persons with physical disabilities. The amendment would make it available irrespective of the nature of the elector's disability, be it physical or intellectual.

Second, while at the polls, electors could be assisted by a person of their choosing. This is currently not possible when voting in the returning officer's office. With this amendment, people would be able to rely on the same person for assistance at the polling station.

Third, the act would make transfer certificates available for people with all disabilities, not just physical disabilities, irrespective of whether the polling station is accessible. The proposed amendments would also give Elections Canada a more explicit mandate to explore voting technology for the use of electors with disabilities.

The second area I would like to touch on is the Canadian Armed Forces. In his September 2016 report, the former chief electoral officer made an overall recommendation that the Canada Elections Act be reviewed to determine the best way to facilitate voting for those in the Canadian Armed Forces.

I am proud to say that Bill C-76 would provide Canadian Armed Forces electors with greater flexibility in casting their vote, while adopting measures to guarantee the integrity of their vote. To achieve this, Canadian Armed Forces electors would be able to choose the voting method that best suits their needs. They would be permitted to receive voter information cards and to vote at advance polls. Another provision would allow a Canadian Armed Forces elector to use an alternative address for his or her place of ordinary residence for reasons of personal or operational security. I am proud that our government is supporting members of the armed forces. They make big sacrifices for our country and we need to ensure that they also have the ability to practise their right to vote.

The third area I would like to talk about is voting service modernization. The proposed legislative amendments to the Canada Elections Act would provide the Chief Electoral Officer with more flexibility to adapt processes in order to conduct elections more efficiently while strengthening the integrity of the electoral process. Some of the measures would be providing the Chief Electoral Officer with the flexibility to organize tasks at the poll in a way that accounts for local factors; allowing electors to vote at any of the tables in a polling station, rather than wait at the specific table assigned to their polling division; and opening up advance polls from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

There are many important aspects to the bill that would mitigate the risks of other things, such as foreign interference and third party influence. Currently, we are seeing the drama down south, but Canada was not immune to this in the 2011 election. In my own riding, there were investigations of robocalls and false information sending constituents to the wrong polls. The bill proposes measures that would help prevent foreign actors and wealthy interest groups from using third parties to circumvent the ban on foreign donations.

There are many points we should study, and the committee should be given the right to study the bill properly. The electoral commission has been given the power to compel testimony, lay charges, enter compliance agreements, etc. This was not available. In fact, the electoral commission was denied a lot of rights by the previous government.

There are many other progressive measures included in the bill, which my 10 minutes will not allow me to address.

Democracies are difficult, and it is our job to ensure that democracy survives and flourishes. The proposal would allow the Chief Electoral Officer more independence and the right to undertake broad public education campaigns, which was denied by the previous government as well.

I hope the members of the House will support the bill and send it to committee for further enhancements.

Elections Modernization ActGovernment Orders

May 11th, 2018 / 1:15 p.m.
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NDP

Rachel Blaney NDP North Island—Powell River, BC

Mr. Speaker, I find it very rich that we are having this discussion when we just had the government House leader in here, again putting time allocation on this very important subject. The reality is that we need to have voracious debate on these issues. In my riding, North Island—Powell River, there was a lot of concern, especially around electoral reform. As we were going through the process, people came forward and talked about what this would look like. A lot of people were supportive, and a lot of people were questioning. When the Prime Minister made the announcement that this was not something we would talk about anymore in this country, people were absolutely devastated.

Here we are again, talking about the process of how we are going to elect people to this place. We have the government House leader putting time allocation again, limiting the amount of time for this place to have voracious and meaningful debate. Given the realities Canadians are seeing, does the member really feel that this is a fair and transparent process?

Elections Modernization ActGovernment Orders

May 11th, 2018 / 1:15 p.m.
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Liberal

Yasmin Ratansi Liberal Don Valley East, ON

Mr. Speaker, the committee studied the electoral reform process, and there was no general consensus. We have to understand that if we want to get Canadians to participate, their voice has to be heard. We heard it through the electoral reform process.

However, in terms of meaningful discussions, this bill has to go to committee. In the noise of the House, people do not get the depth of what should be studied, so I would suggest that we send it to committee and let it be studied properly.

Elections Modernization ActGovernment Orders

May 11th, 2018 / 1:15 p.m.
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Conservative

Blake Richards Conservative Banff—Airdrie, AB

Mr. Speaker, the government has given notice of time allocation after only one hour of debate in the House of Commons on something so important as changes to our election laws. This is the very law by which the people who sit in the House of Commons to represent their fellow citizens are elected. That was done after one hour. Does the member feel that is in any way appropriate?

There is a second part to my question. She mentioned at the beginning of her speech that she understood that as a result of the Fair Elections Act, 400,000 people were not able to vote. She said “in the 2011 election”, but I assume she meant the 2015 election, because the Fair Elections Act came after the 2011 election. However, I would like to know her source, because I have never heard that statistic and I am not aware of one single proven documented case of someone who was not able to vote. In fact, the turnout in the last election went up. It was the highest it had been in over two decades.

I know they will stand up and claim it was because voters were looking to get rid of the Harper government, but the point is that they were actually able to go and vote to do that. If that is what they were voting to do, nothing prevented them from doing that.

Because there are no documented cases, I would like to know where this 400,000 figure came from, because I have never heard it before.

Elections Modernization ActGovernment Orders

May 11th, 2018 / 1:20 p.m.
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Liberal

Yasmin Ratansi Liberal Don Valley East, ON

Mr. Speaker, having been here longer than the hon. member, I would like to remind him that the Fair Elections Act, or the unfair elections act, was done when I was in Parliament, and I left Parliament in 2011.

Yes, there were lots of robocalls and misconstruction, but in the last election, we had lots of people participating because they wanted to get rid of the Harper government.

Elections Modernization ActGovernment Orders

May 11th, 2018 / 1:20 p.m.
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NDP

Rachel Blaney NDP North Island—Powell River, BC

Mr. Speaker, what we also have to look at is the sheer timeline. The acting Chief Electoral Officer has been very clear that if any major reforms were required for the next election, they would need some meaningful legislation to implement them sooner rather than later, and at this point, the deadline has already been missed.

Here we are, again having these debates on important issues, and the government is not even meeting its promises and is certainly not meeting timelines. I would like the member to speak about why the government does not feel timelines are important.

Elections Modernization ActGovernment Orders

May 11th, 2018 / 1:20 p.m.
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Conservative

Martin Shields Conservative Bow River, AB

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time.

There are few things as fundamental to democracy as the integrity of its elections. Elections are the bedrock upon which many of the tenets of democracy rest, so when we discuss changes to our election laws, we are talking about changes to a cornerstone of our political system.

There are some good things in this bill. The measures to accommodate those with disabilities seem well intentioned and could do a lot of good. They would be a good way to facilitate participation in the democratic process. However, I am opposed to some other measures proposed in Bill C-76.

I would first like to discuss is the status quo and why much of it just does not deserve to be changed. I am not opposed to changing our election laws if it means real improvement. I agree with Ronald Reagan that sometimes “status quo” is Latin for “the mess we're in”.

I have in fact supported past changes to Canada's election laws. In 2014, our former Conservative government passed the Fair Elections Act. It made much-needed changes that helped ensure the integrity of Canadian elections, common sense changes that worked, such as showing pieces of ID in order to vote. This was a basic, logical requirement that worked.

We need to identify ourselves before boarding a plane, which I will do later today; before buying alcohol, and I am not going to do that before I get on the plane; and before buying tobacco, and soon marijuana, if the government follows through on its misguided plan. In fact, in many instances in everyday Canadian life we are required to identify ourselves, so the question is, why does the government not believe our elections deserve to be safeguarded in the same way?

We currently have many ways to prove our identity when we go to vote. This bill would implement amendments to our voter identification rules. It would open the door to a re-implementation of the voter information card as ID. The voter information card is simply not an identification card. It is not. It provides information to the voter; it is not a means of verifying the voter's identity.

As the member for Perth—Wellington noted yesterday, in the 2015 election 986,613 of these voter information cards had inaccurate information—I received an inaccurate one myself—were sent to the wrong address, or were not complete. I do not know why that number does not give the members opposite pause.

Maybe the members opposite do not realize how many legitimate ways there are to prove identity under the current system. We think they would remember, given that three years later they still try to blame their scandals and errors on our former government. Those seem fresh in their minds. However, I have done them the favour of compiling a list, which I am sure they will appreciate. It will refresh their memories of the ways people can prove their identity.

They can use a health card, which we all seem to have; a Canadian passport, which many have; a birth certificate, and we seem to have a lot of those; a certificate of Canadian citizenship; a citizenship card; a social insurance number card; an Indian status card; a band membership card; a Métis card; a card issued by an Inuit local authority; a Veterans Affairs health card; an old age security card; a hospital card—

Elections Modernization ActGovernment Orders

May 11th, 2018 / 1:20 p.m.
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Conservative

Martin Shields Conservative Bow River, AB

The list goes on. People can use a medical clinic card; a label on a prescription container, and a lot of seniors have those; an identity bracelet; a blood donor card, and that is a good one; a CNIB card; a credit card or debit card; an employee card; a student identity card; a public transportation card; a library card—I have one of those, and we all should have one of those; a liquor identity card; a parolee card; a firearms licence; a licence or card issued for fishing, trapping, or hunting, which many of us have; a utility bill; a bank statement; a credit union statement; a credit card statement; a personal cheque; a government statement of benefits; a government cheque or cheque stub; a pension plan statement—

Elections Modernization ActGovernment Orders

May 11th, 2018 / 1:20 p.m.
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Conservative

Martin Shields Conservative Bow River, AB

It is a long list that they could be using, including a residential lease; a mortgage contract; an income tax assessment; a property tax assessment; a vehicle ownership; an insurance certificate; correspondence issued by a school or college; a letter from a public curator, public guardian, or public trustee; a targeted revision form from Elections Canada to a resident of a long-term care facility; or a letter of confirmation of residence.

It is an unending list of things that could be used for identification. They are not information cards.

There are a lot of options, and voter identification ensures the integrity of our elections. It certainly has not hindered voter participation.

In fact, the last election had one of the highest voter turnouts in Canada's history. As members opposite repeat constantly, it was because Canadians wanted to change the government. If they got them out by record numbers, what is the issue?

More indigenous Canadians voted than ever before, as in my riding. Despite the fearmongering from members opposite, the simple fact is that record numbers of Canadians voted in the last election, under the current system with voter information cards, not voter identification cards.

Beyond the changes the bill would make to voter identification, it also targets campaign financing. Interesting timing on that one.

The Liberals failed in their plan to change our electoral system to their preferred option without a referendum. They failed in their attempt to change our parliamentary rules to silence the opposition. They were caught accepting cash for access to the Prime Minister. Now that their poll numbers are sliding a bit and their fundraising is falling considerably behind our party, they are making a last-ditch effort to change the way campaign financing works to benefit themselves.

The closer we get to the 2019 election, the more interesting tactics start to show up. They are really the same Liberals Canadians have become tired of time and again, and they will try to cover their actions with empty platitudes.

This brings to mind a quote from General Oliver P. Smith, who said, “We're not retreating, we're just advancing in a different direction.” Well, it is time to call the real retreat now. Canadians will not stand for the Liberals' attempts to tilt the democratic process in their favour.

Our party may have a fundraising advantage, but that is because Canadians are sick of the Liberal government's policies. Many more Canadians are willing to contribute their hard-earned money to ensuring we replace the government in 2019.

This legislation also leaves a lot to be desired in combatting foreign influence in our elections. During the new pre-pre-writ period this legislation would establish, foreign contributions still would be allowed. Foreign money can be pumped into Canada and disseminated to numerous advocacy groups intent upon influencing our election. It is not just enough to limit direct foreign spending; it is this huge, gaping loophole that is the problem. There are still numerous allegations circulating about foreign influence in the last election.

The Tides Foundation, a radical group based out of San Francisco, is opposed to Canadian energy, yet it donated $1.5 million to Canadian third parties in the last election year alone.

How can we even have a meaningful debate on this aspect of the bill without knowing the status of any ongoing investigations, or without knowing if anything has been done to address foreign interference in the 2015 election? If the government were actually committed to ending foreign interference, this would have been resolved with this legislation, but it is not. The election is next year.

The bill would do our electoral process a disservice.

Elections Modernization ActGovernment Orders

May 10th, 2018 / 4:35 p.m.
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Kings—Hants Nova Scotia

Liberal

Scott Brison LiberalPresident of the Treasury Board

moved that Bill C-76, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and other Acts and to make certain consequential amendments, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to begin the debate at second reading of Bill C-76, the elections modernization act.

Our democracy is stronger when more Canadians, not fewer, are able to participate in our elections. Our government believes that democratic institutions and election rules must keep pace with changes in society and the expectations of our citizens. The elections modernization act is an important step forward for our democracy and for the ability of Canadians to participate in and trust our democratic institutions.

The changes we are proposing under the elections modernization act will make the electoral process more accessible to all Canadians, will help modernize the administration and enforcement of election rules, will make the electoral process more secure and transparent, and will protect the integrity of the Canadian electoral system, while better protecting the personal information and privacy of Canadian citizens.

We believe that our democracy is stronger when as many Canadians as possible participate in it.

In 2014, the previous government passed the Fair Elections Act. This was a regressive piece of legislation that former chief electoral officer Marc Mayrand said contained measures that would “undermine [its] stated purpose and won’t serve Canadians well.” One hundred and sixty academics signed a National Post editorial stating that the Fair Elections Act would “damage the institution at the heart of our country’s democracy: voting in federal elections.” The Globe and Mail ran five editorial board pieces, pleading with the Conservatives to reconsider that legislation.

The Harper Conservatives did not listen to reason. They did not pay attention to evidence, and Canadians paid the price. After the passage of the so-called Fair Elections Act, we saw the disenfranchisement of more than 170,000 Canadian voters who lacked sufficient identification. That is according to Statistics Canada. We saw it become more difficult for Canadians to get information about where, when, and how to vote. We saw it became easier for elections lawbreakers to actually evade punishment.

Unlike the Conservatives, we are listening to Canadians. We want Canadians to be able to participate in our democracy.

By repealing the unfair provisions of the Harper government's Fair Elections Act, we are making it easier for all Canadians to vote.

In April, I was pleased to introduce the elections modernization act on behalf of our government. Not only would it undo the controversial aspects of the Conservatives' so-called Fair Elections Act, but it would strengthen our democratic institutions by making voting more accessible to millions of Canadians who have previously faced unfair barriers.

I will illustrate some of the proposed changes by focusing on four groups of voters: Canadians with disabilities, women and men of the Canadian Armed Forces, Canadian citizens living abroad, and those who do not have the identification required under the Fair Elections Act.

To ensure Canadians with disabilities are better able to participate in our democracy, Bill C-76 confirms existing accessibility practices and further requires a combination of measures to be available to all persons with disabilities, regardless of the nature of that disability. Bill C-76 creates financial incentives for political parties and candidates to accommodate electors with disabilities. These could include providing election material in accessible formats or adding wheelchair ramps to campaign offices, as examples. It makes changes to election expense provisions so that candidates with disabilities or candidates who are caregivers for young, sick, or disabled loved ones would find it easier to run for office.

For these individuals, costs related to this caregiving could be paid from either personal or campaign expenses and would not count against spending limits. These expenses would be reimbursed at up to 90%.

Canadian Forces members make tremendous sacrifices defending our democracy. It only makes sense that we make sure they are able to participate in it as well. In the most recent election, 68% of Canadian electors voted. Among members of the Canadian Forces, the participation rate was only 46%. The bill would give Canadian Forces personnel the same flexibility as other Canadians in choosing how to cast their vote.

Canadians living abroad are no less dedicated to our country than those who reside within its borders, yet many are not able to vote. The bill restores voting rights to more than a million Canadians living abroad by removing the provisions that electors cannot have resided outside of Canada for more than five years and must have an intent to return.

Debates in the last Parliament highlighted a fourth group of Canadians who have challenges when it comes to participating in elections. These are citizens who do not have the required identification. The previous government stopped the use of voter information cards as an allowable piece of ID to establish residency. This happened despite Elections Canada's observation that some four million Canadians do not possess a driver's licence. Canadians impacted most by the Conservatives' regressive law change included university students, indigenous peoples, and in some cases seniors who live in long-term retirement facilities.

We will restore voting rights to these Canadians and we will also restore the practice of vouching for identity and residence. This will help bring eligible voters back into our electoral process. Those who vouch for others would continue to be required to make a solemn declaration and would not be able to vouch for more than one person.

Conservatives may try to say that this would make it easier for non-citizens to vote, but that is simply not the case. In his 2011 compliance report for Elections Canada, Harry Neufeld, an independent elections expert, recommended “widening use of the Voter Information Card as a valid piece of address identification for all voters.”

To ensure that only Canadian citizens are able to vote, the bill would authorize the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship to provide the Chief Electoral Officer with information about permanent residents and foreign nationals living in Canada. This would help ensure that only Canadian citizens are included in the register of electors and would help to create a more accurate and up-to-date list of voters. The bill would also grant the commissioner of Elections Canada the ability to impose a financial penalty on individuals who vote when they are not able to do so.

Today Canadians are busier than ever. They work irregular hours. They do shift work. They travel for business and pleasure, and they have parenting or caregiver responsibilities that start before dawn and end late in the evening. As a result, more and more Canadians vote at advance polls. We would increase the hours during which these polls are open to provide more flexibility and enable more Canadians to participate in the electoral process.

The bill would restore the Chief Electoral Officer's authority to conduct public education and information activities to help inform Canadians about the voting process. Through the bill, we would empower young Canadians to pre-register for elections so that when they turn 18, they are automatically registered to vote. As well, the bill would make it easier to hire Canadians aged 16 to 18 as election officers, giving them an opportunity to get engaged earlier in the electoral process.

While we are making it easier for Canadians to vote, we are also making it more difficult for elections lawbreakers to evade punishment. The bill sanctions the powers of the Commissioner of Canada Elections and offers a wider range of remedies for enforcement.

Through the bill, the commissioner would again report to the Chief Electoral Officer and would have new powers to impose administrative monetary penalties for minor violations of the law, have the authority to lay charges, and be able to apply for a court order to compel testimony during investigation of election offences.

Budget 2018 would also provide $7.1 million to support the work of the Office of the Commissioner of Canada Elections. This funding would help ensure that the Canadian electoral process continues to uphold the highest standards of democracy.

In 2017, the Prime Minister expressly gave the Minister of Democratic Institutions a broad mandate to enhance the openness and fairness of Canada's public institutions. Part of that mandate is to deal with foreign influence and emerging technologies.

Last year, the member for Burlington, my predecessor and soon-to-be successor in the role of Minister of Democratic Institutions, asked the Communications Security Establishment to conduct a study on cyber-threats to our democratic processes. This first-of-its-kind public report found that there was no evidence of nation states interfering in the 2015 Canadian election, but that there has been an upward trend in cyber-threat activity against democratic processes globally.

We take that report seriously. It found that over a 12-month period, 13% of elections globally had some level of foreign interference. We recognize the seriousness of this threat. We cannot afford to ignore these threats and we have a responsibility to defend the integrity of our electoral system.

We are moving forward to protect our democratic institutions from cyber-threats and foreign interference. In budget 2018, the Government of Canada provided approximately $750 million for the creation of a new Canadian centre for cybersecurity. Budget 2018 also sets aside more than $100 million over the next five years for the creation of a national cybercrime coordination unit. These organizations will bring together expertise from across government, coordinate investigations, and protect and defend our government and democratic institutions from cyber-threats.

Bill C-76 takes a step forward in addressing potential manipulation of social media by prohibiting the malicious use of computers where there is an intent to obstruct, interrupt, or interfere with the lawful use of computer data during an election period.

Current provisions of the Canada Elections Act that deal with publishing false statements are, according to the Commissioner of Canada Elections, unenforceable. The bill before us would narrow the focus to information about criminal records and biographical information. A new provision would prohibit distribution of material intended to mislead the public as to its source.

Most importantly, we are closing the loophole that has previously allowed foreign entities to spend money in Canadian elections.

As a result of news reports earlier this year, Canadians are rightly concerned about the way private corporations use their personal information for political ends. I want to reassure Canadians that in Canada these corporations are already regulated under the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, PIPEDA, but that does not mean our work is done. Through this bill, we are requiring for the first time that political parties be transparent about the steps they are taking to protect Canadians' personal information.

Bill C-76 requires political parties to have a publicly available privacy policy addressing a series of privacy issues in terms of how a party collects or gathers data, how it uses data, how it shares data. A party that does not meet these criteria will face deregistration by Elections Canada.

I also hope that colleagues on the procedure and House affairs committee, PROC, will revisit their study on privacy and political parties and provide recommendations on the issue. It was less than a year ago that PROC took a look at this issue and recommended no changes, but I think all members would recognize that the ground has shifted on this issue and that it bears revisiting by PROC. PROC represents all parties, so it makes a great deal of sense for it to be the vehicle to do a deeper dive into this.

Some of the measures in this legislation may be familiar to members of the House, as they were introduced previously in Bill C-33. This underscores the breadth and depth of input and advice that has gone into the bill before us.

This legislation has also benefited from the input of the Minister of National Defence and the Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities. I would like to thank them for their work. I want to thank parliamentarians who contributed to this at PROC, and I also want to thank Elections Canada. Eighty-five per cent of the recommendations from Elections Canada after the last election were incorporated into the bill. The report's findings after the last election are very much at the heart of the bill. Again, I want to thank the members of PROC, who conducted a detailed analysis of the Chief Electoral Officer's report.

Our government is committed to strengthening Canada's democratic institutions. We are committed to maintaining the trust of Canadians in our democratic processes. Bill C-76 would advance that agenda, and I urge hon. members to move expeditiously on it so that it can be in place for the October 2019 general election.

Elections Modernization ActGovernment Orders

May 10th, 2018 / 4:50 p.m.
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Conservative

Blake Richards Conservative Banff—Airdrie, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to have an opportunity to debate this piece of legislation more officially in the House. We already had a chance to have some back and forth in question period, but we will now have the chance to do that here in official debate in the House of Commons.

There are obviously a number of things I find of concern, but my biggest concern is that the Liberals and the Prime Minister seem to continually try to find ways to damage themselves, to find ways to prevent opposition, and to find ways to tip the scales in their favour. We have seen that a number of times, whether it be breaking their promise on electoral reform or whether it be trying to change the rules of the House of Commons to suit themselves. We see potentially more of that in this piece of legislation as well.

I want to focus on one topic, and it is a topic on which we had a bit of an exchange in question period earlier today. I want to talk about the idea of spending limits. The government is making some changes, obviously, that would prevent political parties from being able to use funds truly given to them by Canadians in a period prior to the election, but it is not doing the same for government advertising and ministerial travel, at least not for the same time period.

I wonder if the minister would commit to making changes to the bill that would line those periods up so that it would not disadvantage the opposition parties in such a way. Would it line those timelines up so that those directives, in terms of the limits on ministerial travel and government advertising, would be the same? I wonder if the minister would make a commitment to make that amendment today.

Elections Modernization ActGovernment Orders

May 10th, 2018 / 4:50 p.m.
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Liberal

Scott Brison Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his work on the whole area of democratic institutions.

One of the first things we did as a government was bring in a new advertising policy. That was in the spring of 2016. That advertising policy, among other things, would ban, and has banned, our government and future governments from engaging in quasi-partisan, political-type advertising with tax dollars. The previous government did a lot of that, and we did not think it was right, so we followed through as a government.

That advertising policy would also apply the same restrictions to government advertising that apply during the writ period to the 90-day period leading up to the writ. That would prevent a governing party, ours and future governing parties, from using that period leading up to the election to engage in government advertising that is actually focused on promoting the governing party. We do not think it is right to do that. We have also cut government advertising quite significantly over the previous government.

We think the steps we have taken are in the interest of fair and open elections.

Elections Modernization ActGovernment Orders

May 10th, 2018 / 4:55 p.m.
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NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to join this debate. It is a debate that has been long looked for because, if members will recall, 18 months ago the Liberals introduced a bill to affect our elections going forward and then for 18 months they did nothing. They did not bring the bill forward for debate and did not talk about it. Also, 18 months ago, we were given notice that the Chief Electoral Officer was leaving, and for 18 months we did not have anyone, until we had a name a few weeks ago which was then changed to another name which the government has now decided to make public.

One of the grave concerns we had about the unfair elections act, as the minister rightly points out, was the attempt at voter suppression by the previous government. The government of the day did two things. One, it moved unilaterally. Only the government ended up supporting legislation that affects all parties and all Canadians. Two, the government shut down debate on the bill almost immediately.

I am looking for a commitment here today from the minister. I ask him not to do it, not to repeat the mistakes of the past. Incredibly cynical parties in the past have chosen to try to suppress the vote here and suppress the voices here in the House of Commons. Liberals were critical when they sat on this side. I am looking for a direct commitment from the minister not to follow the same path. I ask him to commit that the government will not limit debate on this bill, and that he will make sure that we can allow members to speak, and not proceed—

Elections Modernization ActGovernment Orders

May 10th, 2018 / 4:55 p.m.
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Liberal

Scott Brison Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his engagement on the whole area of electoral reform. As he has indicated, he agrees and the NDP members have expressed in principle support for much of what is in this bill, particularly for the components of this bill that reflect the report of Elections Canada after the last election. Eighty-five per cent of that report is in this bill, in particular those elements that reverse some of the more regressive measures of the Conservatives' so-called Fair Elections Act.

The member also expressed a concern that I share, in terms of making sure that these changes are in place to be in effect for the next election. Given that there has been a lot of study—I believe 30 hours at PROC—around this issue, at some point we are sawing sawdust. The hon. member has expressed concerns of having this in place for the next election. If we put those two together, we would very much appreciate his support and the NDP's support for moving forward in good faith in a timely way to make sure that the new—