Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure this evening to rise in this place, which has been referred to much over the last couple of days. As we all know, in just a few short days, members of Parliament will be returning to their constituencies and homes for the holidays and this place will be shut down for some number of years. We were told it will be for 10 or 12 years, but in Ottawa speak, we are guessing more like 15 or 20, which is probably fair. My kids will be in their mid or late twenties the next time we are in this place.
I reflect on the fact that we are dealing with an elections bill. It is kind of appropriate that this place, for the last 100 years, is the place where representatives of Canadians from every corner of the country have engaged, two and a half sword lengths from each other, in debate on the issues of the day. The reason we are able to do that is based on our electoral system. The legitimacy we all have to stand in this place is only based on one thing, and that is the support of the people in our ridings in the various parts of the country.
It is fitting that we are debating an election bill, the last bill debated in this room, this hallowed ground. It is a bit ironic that the bill has been put under what we call time allocation, which means the government is imposing its will on the legislation, shutting off debate on our democracy and how democracy will be affected. This is also passing ironic because when the Conservatives did it when they were in power, the Liberals raged about such a mistreatment of our parliamentary democracy, that they would shut down the voice of Parliament in order to ram a bill through. A couple of years later, the Liberals are doing the same thing. Why the rush? It is because they took so long to bring the bill forward.
I say with all clarity of voice and vision that Liberals were elected, promising to undo what the Harper government had done to our election system, to make consequential changes. They introduced a bill about a year into their term in office to do it and then did nothing. They sat on the bill for hundreds of days. It sat there, with no debate, no discussion, nothing. It kind of felt like they had no sense of urgency to fix our democracy. The Prime Minister had said that one of his most urgent priorities was to fix the problems the previous prime minister had created. We agreed with him and we kept asking him where the bill was.
The Liberals did nothing with it. Then they introduced this bill a few hundred days after that. It was 748 days in total that we had been waiting on it before they brought it forward. That is 226 days past the deadline that Elections Canada had set. It told the Parliament of Canada that it ran the elections and that it needed any rule changes by a specific date. That was 226 days ago. A bunch of things in Bill C-76, if passed in Parliament, as it is likely to do in a day or two, will not happen for our next election. Those fixes will not happen and not because of anything the opposition did. The government sat for so long on the legislation because it had other priorities.
There is something not known about this entire building, Centre Block and the House of Commons. When the original architects put this building together, they intentionally left it unfinished. If we go through the halls and look at the masonry and architecture, we will see blank spaces, spaces that have not yet been affected by art or any description. When asked why they did not finish the building entirely, they said that the building was meant to represent democracy in Canada, which was a conversation and that conversation was not finished.
For many Canadians, too many Canadians, that conversation has hardly yet begun, particularly for indigenous peoples who have been waiting more than 150 years for some sort of comprehension and understanding from the Crown and this place as to how to properly respect and engage in what we call nation-to-nation dialogue. It is unfinished business.
We often speak of standing on unceded territory, land that has not yet been ceded to Canada, to the Crown. For us to fully and completely become ourselves, it is not just going to be a renovation of a building. It is going to take meaningful, structural change, power sharing change, where the Government of Canada no longer acts like some sort of paternalistic entity in the lives of indigenous peoples, but as a conversation of mutuality and respect, which has for so long been lacking.
Let me get back to the bill, which is hundreds of pages long and so badly written. Three hundred and thirty-eight amendments were drafted by government and opposition members. That is an extraordinary number of fixes to a bill that the government took three years to write. The bill may be vast in its comprehension but it is kind of simple in its effort, which is to make voting fair and open to all Canadians.
A couple of opportunities were sorely missed. Our former colleague Kennedy Stewart had quite an ingenious bill. He is a smart guy. He is now the mayor of Vancouver. Smart people in that city elected him mayor. When he looked around the world at democracy, he wondered which countries do well in terms of having their Parliament reflect the population. One clear indicator would be the kind of gender balance in a parliament, and which parliaments are good at it and which are bad at it.
Canadians might live under the misapprehension that, because we have a self-described feminist Prime Minister, this Parliament itself must also have some sort of gender balance. Lo and behold, we do not. Seventy-six per cent of the people in this place look like me, male, mostly white, and 24% are women.
One might ask what it was like under Harper. It was almost exactly the same. I think there was a 1% change from one administration to the next. That might be shocking to Canadians, because the government seems to have changed so much, but in terms of the gender balance of this place, it did not change at all, really. Why not? Because the same rules exist.
Our friend looked around the world, at Ireland, Norway and the Scandinavian countries, and found the number one way to do it, and the Liberals know because we had all this evidence at committee, is to have a fair voting system.
A proportional voting system tends to elect more women and under-represented groups. Our feminist Prime Minister looked at that, made the promise to change the voting system, realized that it might not work out so well for the Liberals, and then quashed the promise, even though it would have brought more women and more equity-seeking groups into Parliament. A choice between country and party, and the Liberal Prime Minister chose party.
He killed that promise, much to the disappointment of many Canadians because it had been repeated 1,800 times. I actually believed him. I might be a little on the gullible side. I thought, when I saw a leader of a party who sought to be prime minister repeat a promise clear as day 1,800 times, that he was not going to back out of that one, because that would make him a liar.
Suddenly, lo and behold, he decided one day that he did not want to do it anymore because he did not like it. Committee heard testimony from average, ordinary Canadians. Eighty-eight per cent said they wanted a proportional voting system. Of the experts who testified in front of committee, 90% said Canada needed to move towards a fairer voting system. All the studies, the 14 national studies from the law commission to all the provinces that have studied this, concluded that Canada needed to move towards a proportional voting system where every vote counts.
I do not know about my colleagues, but one of the number one reasons I hear on the doorstep when someone says they do not want to vote is “My vote does not matter. I vote for a party in my riding that does not stand a chance, so what is the point? I voted in 10 elections and I have never voted for somebody who held office.”
In the last election, a little over half of all the votes cast in Canada elected nobody. The experience of more than half of the electors who went to the polls to cast their vote, which is an expression of hope for the future, was that their vote was not realized in any kind of meaningful way. The Liberals do not want a fair voting system because it did not work out for them.
We then look to this idea from our friend Kennedy Stewart, who says Ireland has a really novel thing going. When political parties in Ireland spend money in elections, they actually get a reimbursement from taxpayers. This is very generous to the political parties. How about we tie that reimbursement back to how well-balanced each of the parties' list of candidates is? As the Prime Minister said in 2015, it is 2015. The closer a party gets to fielding candidates for office who actually look like the country we seek to represent, the closer it gets to 100% of the reimbursement back from taxpayers. The further away they get from that parity, the less money they get, because money seems to be a motivation for political parties. Who knew?
In Ireland, what were the results when it made this one change? The number of candidates from diversity-seeking groups and from women increased by 90% across the political spectrum. The number of people who were elected into the Dáil, the legislature, increased by 40%. Again, remember, from the Harper government to the new Liberal government, we changed 1%. This one change brought in 40% better representation, more fair representation of what the country is.
My bet is this. If we had 75% women in Parliament, we would already have affordable child care in this country. If we had 75% women in Parliament, we would already have pay equity legislation in this country. We know it matters who stands for office and gains the seats in this place in terms of what kind of policies we push. For so many generations, women and other diversity-seeking groups have been standing on the outside pleading with the powers that be rather than being on the inside.
Daughters of the Vote was here. Does everyone remember the moment when 338 young women from each of the ridings were here? One woman stood and asked the Prime Minister a question, and she said that she would like to see proportional representation brought in as a voting system because we know it works. The Prime Minister said no, that when we ask a man to run he says yes and when we ask a woman to run she asks why her. It kind of felt like victim blaming a bit, like it is women's fault for not having enough courage and confidence to take on the challenge of electoral politics, like women do not have enough courage and confidence to tackle some of those difficult things that face families in communities right across this country. I felt it was a bit insulting. This young woman shot back, which I think was really great, that at the current pace, Parliament would be gender-balanced in 86 years, and that she did not want to wait that long. It was nice to see a young woman put the Prime Minister of Canada properly in his place.
Another important element we have to address, because it is happening around the world as we speak, is the element of our elections being fair, outside of foreign influence. My Conservative colleagues talked about this. The evidence we heard at committee was overwhelming about the vulnerability of our political system to foreign interference, particularly through hacking of the parties' databases.
What is in the parties' databases? An incredibly rich amount of information about individualized voters. Not just their age and where they live, but their voting preference, their income and their opinions on major issues. Parties seek to collect all this information about voters. All the parties do it. The Liberal Party bragged about it out of the last election as the key element of its win. It had the best data. It was able to mine data from the social media environment better than anybody else. When people clicked something on Facebook, “liked” that cat photo, the data might have been grabbed by the Liberal Party.
Who did the Liberals hire? What was the name of the company they put on contract? Cambridge Analytica. That is right. The Liberals gave Cambridge Analytica a $100,000 contract, which we still have not been able to figure out. What else is Cambridge Analytica involved in? Brexit, right. These were the guys who were able to use backdoor technology to mine data illegally from Facebook, Twitter and other social media norms, grab people's preferences, opinions and personal information without them knowing about it.
One of the changes asked for at committee by the Chief Electoral Officer, the Privacy Commissioner, the head of our secret service—the spies are saying this is a problem—was that political parties had to fall under privacy law. Now, let us be fully transparent here. Two years ago, my party, the New Democratic Party, was opposed to this. To fall under privacy law would mean we would have to be able to give Canadians the power to demand of us what information we had collected on them, give it back to them and forget them if they wanted us to. Political parties do not want to do that.
However, slowly and surely, with evidence building, we saw the light and we now agree with this. We had all three major political parties at committee. The Conservatives said that they would follow whatever law was in place. The Liberals said that no way until Sunday they wanted to do this. Why?
I will read a quote that should chill some of my Liberal colleagues, ”We judge that it is highly probable that cyber threat activity against democratic processes worldwide will increase in quantity and sophistication over the next year,” particularly affecting Canada. This was said by the head of our Communications and Security Establishment. That is the spy agency that the Minister of Democratic Institutions commissioned a study for, to see what the security threat on our democracy is right now. He studied it and he said the threat is real because all it takes is a foreign government, a foreign entity, to hack into the Liberal, Conservative or NDP databases and then be able to manipulate elections as was done in Brexit.
My friend from Winnipeg smiles at the memory. I wonder how people in England would feel knowing that important vote they had on whether to stay in Europe or leave it was hacked into, that personal data was stolen from various political parties, mined out of Facebook sites and then voters were sent particularly influential messages to have them vote a certain way. In that case it was the leave vote. Now the government is in complete turmoil and people do not trust the system.
What happened in the Trump election? There is documented case after case that social media sites, Facebook, Twitter, were used to garner information about voters' intentions, how they were feeling about issues. Then they were sent very highly targeted messages to motivate them toward one side, in the case of Mr. Trump, voting for him for president. Who was hiring these hacks? The Russians were. That is what the entire inquiry is about. It is about foreign interference in the U.S. election. Never mind the payouts to the porn stars and all the rest. That is the sideshow. The major issue for American democracy was that the U.S. election was hacked by virtually a sworn enemy in Russia.
We say that in Canada we are nice people and no one would ever want to influence us. Certainly the Chinese government would not have any interest whatsoever in influencing the outcome of our next election. The Chinese government has no opinions about any arrests or detentions that have been taking place, about the introduction of any telecom companies into the Canadian environment, about the purchase of major oil sands assets by Chinese companies. No, no, the Chinese government would never stoop to such practices; except that it does and we are naive and foolish to not have done something about it when we were clear-eyed.
The Chief Electoral Officer of Canada, the guy who runs our elections, said, “If there is one area where the bill failed, it is privacy.” The Privacy Commissioner said that the bill “adds nothing of substance”. The B.C. Civil Liberties Association said that protection of personal information “falls far short of internationally recognized privacy standards”. The Liberals said, “Let us just continue on with the wild west. We will be fine. We are Canada,” as if that somehow would be a protection for us.
My sincere worry is that as we look to the end of this Parliament, as the last bill to pass out of this Parliament, it is the most important one which guides how we elect our representatives, the people who speak on our behalf, the people who will make the laws that affect us not just today, but for generations to come. In passing this piece of legislation, the Liberals were given all of the evidence and the solutions to fix the bill to protect our democracy as best we could from foreign interference, from hacking, from people trying to influence the outcome of a free and fair election. The Liberals said, “We just need to study that more.” After hundreds of days of delay, they said, “We need to study it more,” when we were studying it at the time.
The Liberals' own members on the privacy and ethics committee just finished a study on this and concluded—this is radical, I know—that political parties should fall under privacy law, the very thing we were asking to be changed in the bill. Liberals on one committee said we need to do this to protect our democracy and Liberals on one committee over did not want to enact it into law. This is so frustrating. We cannot have this.
As we end this session, as we see the bill make its final way, let us not pretend that it does all the things the minister earlier claimed it does, because it does not. Canadians need to understand and be vigilant and wary. When we do this again, and we are going to have to fix this again, my fear is this. We will have our next election and in the midst of it, we will hear of allegations of hacking and foreign interference. At the end of the election, there will be actual evidence of a hacked election. Canadians will not just blame one of the political parties, they will lose even more faith than they already have lost in our political process. That undermines everything that we try to do in this place and everything that we have been trying to do for the last century in this place.
We can do better. Canadians deserve better. This bill could have been so much more.