Madam Speaker, I welcome this debate because the Liberals have finally got on with it and introduced a bill to fix the work done by the previous government, and here I use the term “work” loosely, because that work made it more difficult for a whole series of Canadians to vote.
As the parliamentary secretary was saying earlier, this bill, in their terms, is a “generational overhaul”. Even in the name of the bill itself, that it is a modernization act, conveys that. It gives Canadians the clear sense that we do not do this very often. We do not renew the election rules by which we all participate in our democracy, the ways in which the parties and third parties participate and the ways that voters experience the election, very often.
There was a longstanding principle in Canada, that we would never change those rules in this place unilaterally, that doing so was bad practice and bad faith for one party alone, the government, to force through changes to our rules unilaterally. Canadians would then be left with the very distinct impression that maybe the ruling party of the time was putting in rules that would help that party in the next election.
That is a fair assumption to make. People do not even have to be quite so cynical as some folks in the Prime Minister's Office are to make that assumption.
The practice in this place, for generations, was that when we changed election rules, we did it together collaboratively. The previous government, unfortunately, broke with that tradition over a fight about vouching. It felt there were problems with the vouching system. The New Democrats fundamentally disagreed and the evidence supported them, because there was no massive fraud taking place in our elections and those changes were more about disenfranchisement than ensuring proper enfranchisement of our voting rights.
How we got here with the current government is an important part of this conversation. The Liberals said that the bar was quite low, that their aim was to fix Stephen Harper's unfair elections act. It was not going to be hard to do; it just had to undo a bunch of the damage that the Conservatives had done in Bill C-23 in the last Parliament.
The government introduced the bill. It took a year, but okay, it was a new government. Then for two years, it did not move the bill. The bill just sat there on the Order Paper. I can remember getting up in this place to ask the democratic institutions minister, “Hey, where is your bill? What else are you working on?”
At the time, we had been going through the whole electoral reform process, some of my colleagues will remember well. The committee was called ERRE. It was a special committee. We had participation from all parties, including a representative of the Bloc and the Greens. We toured around the country. We visited every nook and cranny. I see that the Chair is smiling in fond recollection of all of those days we spent on the road together. It was an incredible privilege, not just because we got to hear from experts in Canada about our democracy and how it could perform better, about voting and how to count votes in different ways, but also heard about how much of Europe and most of the world, in fact, had changed over time.
Also, and more importantly, we got to hear from average, ordinary Canadians. We had an online survey. Some 33,000, I think, people participated. We went around and held town halls, and heard from witnesses from each of the provinces, but we also just had an open mic where people could come up for a few minutes and tell us what they thought was needed.
As a parliamentarian, this is the very lifeblood, the very motivation of why we should be here, to have that open access to Canadians. They poured their hearts out to us, talking about voting reforms they wanted to see. They overwhelmingly supported proportional voting systems. That was the evidence that we heard, both from the experts and from the public who came before us.
Then, unfortunately, at the 11th hour, in a most awkward and quite cynical move, the Liberals kind of pulled the plug and, for months, they would not talk about what they wanted to do, what kind of voting systems they were interested in. The Prime Minister had hinted at one out of Australia that he liked, a ranked ballot. However, very early on in the committee process, we heard from experts who said that ranked ballots would not work well in Canada, that it would be a first-past-the-post system but on steroids. It worked very well for a traditionally centrist party, a party that borrowed a bit from all sides at all times. Good gosh, who could that possibly help out? Right, it was the Liberals. That idea was shot down out of the gate.
Then the disinterest of the Liberals in moving anything forward became obvious, to the final point where the then-democratic reform minister got up in this place and slammed the committee itself for failing to do its job. She then became the former democratic institutions minister, because that did not go over well.
Moving forward, we then saw the government taking so much time that it actually blew past the Elections Canada deadline, which was last spring. Indeed, Elections Canada came before our committee and said that if we were going to make any changes to the way elections are run, it needed legislation passed by the House and the Senate last spring. The Liberals said, “right”, saw the deadline and introduced the bill the day after the deadline had passed.
The committee began to work, the Conservatives started a little filibuster, and that took all spring and into the fall, and then the government blinked and they worked out a deal together. It is so nice to see parliamentarians getting together and working things out. The Conservatives and Liberals worked out that there would be more pre-election spending money, thus putting more money into politics. The Liberals were okay with that. Now they are upset again at the Conservatives and so things are returning back to normal, I guess.
We were just outside the House of Commons talking about the debates commission, which this very same committee had studied as well for quite a while and made clear recommendations, which I have here. The second and most important one is on the leaders' debate, which is an important part of our democratic process. A lot of Canadians watch these debates in French and English and make up their minds as to whom they want to support. However, it got a little tricky in the last election, with leaders not showing up and kind of screwing up the process a bit. Therefore, a debates commission was promised three years ago. However, for months and months, the new Liberal minister of democratic reform told us not to worry, that they were not really consulting with us because they were just going to use the report by the procedure and House affairs committee, PROC. We said, okay, if they followed what PROC studied and recommended, then we should be fine.
The second recommendation states that the leaders debate commissioner must be selected unanimously by all parties in the House. That seems like a good idea. We do not want the person who sets the rules over that important debate to favour one party or another, or to be chosen only by one party and not anyone else, because Canadians would then ask if it were not a partisan appointment, which is not right. It should not be a partisan appointment, especially by just one party, because then we would just watch the democratic reform minister step out in front of the cameras and say that the government has appointed a commissioner, that the government has decided alone and set the terms for who can participate in the debate and that the commissioner it has appointed will set the topics and all of the rules to follow. The Liberals say unilaterally, “Trust us”.
On democratic issues, the government seems to have some kind of fundamental twitch that comes up again and again, in that when it comes to the decision between collaboration and working with others versus unilaterally having all the power in its hands, the governing Liberals choose the latter again and again. I do not know why. It is actually quite stupid strategically, because when they make recommendations that are only supported by themselves, they are open to proper accusations of bias, of trying to rig the rules. For heaven's sake, I just do not know why. It is not just for the sake of the spirit of collaboration that we try to work together to try to strengthen our democracy, but if that is not motivation enough, then doing so just for the sake of political strategy is sufficient reason. However, the Liberals do not understand that when they work with other parties and have them support their recommendation, there is just much less controversy out the other end and that Canadians will trust the results more. Yet, time and time again, the Liberals choose to go it alone and then it blows up in their face again and again, and then they want to blame someone.
Here we are with Bill C-76, which is pretty flawed. I mean, 338 recommendations and amendments, a whole bunch of them, came from the governing party itself. They wrote the bill and then had to correct the bill, and then just last night, we voted on more corrections to the corrections of the bill. It is not great that it took them three years to get here, and there were so many fundamental problems in it, and a bunch of things remain uncorrected. I will give one example, and I think it is a good one.
Canadians would worry about someone trying to cheat or steal votes in an election and spending money illegally. Well, how would Elections Canada be able to investigate that? It needs to compel testimony, which the bill includes. However, what the bill does not include, which Elections Canada wanted, is the power to require receipts, cheque stubs, from all of the political parties, as it does for us as candidates. As candidates, if we claim to spend money, we have to demonstrate how the money was spent. Political parties do not.
Well, that is strange. How can Elections Canada do an investigation and find out if something went wrong or if someone may be cheating if it cannot get the evidence? It would be like passing criminal laws in this place where we would strengthen the laws to protect Canadians, but deny the police the ability to gather evidence. We cannot bring a person to trial if we do not have evidence.
However, the Liberals actually had a provision in the bill to require receipts and invoices, but took it out. We tried to put it back in and the Liberals said no. The Chief Electoral Officer said that he needed that ability to catch the bad guys. If someone working in some party office started to cheat and spend money in a bad way, Elections Canada is not going to know, because it will not have the evidence. In order to have an investigation, we need evidence.
Let us talk about getting more women into Parliament. We all remember Daughters of the Vote. It is an excellent program. The government just decided to fund it a little more. Under that program, young women, particularly from each of the ridings across the country, come and occupy these seats, 338 of them. They sit in these seats. Last year they got to question the Prime Minister. They were good. They were tough and fair, but mostly tough.
When we look at our parliamentary situation and whether Parliament reflects what the country looks like, if we were to stand out on the front steps, the first thing one would notice is that there are not a lot of women. They represent 26% of members in this Parliament. In the last Parliament, they were 25%. It went up by one percentage point. At the current pace, we will have gender equity in Parliament in 83 years. The Daughters of the Vote said, “That is not a sufficient timeline, Mr. Feminist Prime Minister. When are you going to get on with this?”
One of the ways we can all get on with this is to encourage more women and more people of diverse backgrounds to run. That is a good way of doing things. However, like many things in life, we have to follow the money. Therefore, one of the changes we proposed was included in the bill by our former colleague Kennedy Stewart. The Liberals said they liked that bill, but then voted against it. How typical. What it proposed was that when we reimburse parties for spending, which the public very generously does, we should reimburse to 100% those parties that try to present candidates that reflect the country, those parties that have candidates close to parity. The parties that just want to present 100% pale, male and stale candidates would get less money back from the public. It is a form of encouragement to not just mouth the words but go out and try to recruit diversity so that we can have diverse views here. How radical is that? The Liberals voted against that. Instead, they said they were going to allow women to claim child care expenses for 30 days as part of their election spending. They could fundraise on that and get child care for 30 days, as if that were the barrier holding women back from running for office, those 30 days in the 35 days of the actual writ period.
Come on. For an allegedly feminist prime minister—and I say “allegedly” because I do not have a lot of evidence to show that he is—one would think that if he had a proposal in hand that would result in more women over time getting into office, that would be good, unless he is happy with 26%. That seems to be be the case, because he recently decided to protect all of his incumbents from nomination races. He just said, “They're all protected”, which is essentially saying that he would like to have the status quo. I know this because I think there is a Liberal riding association that does not want to have its current incumbent MP represent them again, and the Liberal Party recently told it to step in line or walk out the door. That is love of the grassroots if I ever saw it.
Privacy was a huge part of the conversation that we had with Canadians. New Democrats believe in people's right to have their personal data private. As we move deeper into the social media world, the Internet based economy, privacy and the protection of privacy become incredibly important in commerce but also in politics. Here is what the rules in Canada say right now with regard to how the parties manage huge databases of information about the Canadian voter. They say nothing. Canadian law says nothing. Therefore, if this is a modernization bill, a once in a generation attempt to make our elections free and fair and to protect our sacred democracy here in Canada, one would think that because it is 2018, we would have something in here about that data and protecting Canadians' rights.
Here is the threat that we have seen exposed. It is not an imagined threat. Has anyone heard of Cambridge Analytica? People from Cambridge Analytica approached a number of MPs in the last Parliament, me included, and said that we should hire them because they could help us harvest data from our social media sites, from Twitter and Facebook. They said they would find out their associated email addresses, something one cannot normally do. If someone likes us on Facebook, then they like us on Facebook. That is no big deal, However, we cannot find out their email address. They said they would get us those people's friends as well, that they would be able to micro-target folks who might be be associated with them and of interest to us.
For political parties, that is red meat. That is interesting. That opens up whole new worlds. What we can do now with social media is to hyper-target people. The old days of putting out political ads with a sort of scattered approach in appealing to voters are gone. Micro-targeting is where it is at.
The Liberals up until last year prided themselves on being able to micro-target. They said that is how they won the last election. In fact, they hired Cambridge Analytica. They gave a $100,000 government contract to do what? Has anyone seen the contract? No, because the Liberals will not put it out. They hired the guys who were caught up in a thing called Brexit.
Folks will remember Brexit. Britain certainly remembers Brexit because it is going through it right now. Voters in England were hyper-targeted. Databases had been harvested. Facebook likes and share groups had been manipulated and were only being sent a whole bunch of myths and disinformation about what Brexit meant. The British Parliament has been trying to unravel this thing ever since Brexit happened as to how that referendum vote happened.
I want people, particularly from Quebec, to imagine if in the last Quebec referendum we found out after the fact that the referendum had been tampered with by outside groups and agencies, that a foreign government had gone into the data profiles of Quebeckers and targeted them one by one and spread misinformation about the effects of their referendum vote, and we found out after the fact. What would the reaction of Quebeckers be in what was ultimately an incredibly close vote as to whether Quebec would seek to leave Canada? Would anyone cast aspersions on the results of the vote whether they won or lost, that whoever had lost would say that the vote was not done fairly? That is what is being said in England.
The U.S. justice department has said that the last U.S. election was tampered with and the current U.S. mid-terms are being tampered with right now through Russian and Chinese online hackers. The threat is real and the threat is now. When we look at this modernization bill and say what protections are we—