Thank you very much for this opportunity to testify on this very important bill. I'm especially honoured to be testifying beside Monsieur Lortie.
I really need to practice my French.
There are many technical terms with regard to this proposed legislation, so I will make my remarks in English. I welcome your questions afterwards.
Democracy Watch's position is that there are 10 measures in Bill C-23, the so-called fair elections act, that are of concern that will actually make federal elections more unfair. I'm going to focus on six priorities that we've identified and summarize those. I'll go through a few measures that the bill fails to include, and those measures are needed to make federal elections more fair.
The six really unfair measures in Bill C-23 are as follows.
As Monsieur Lortie highlighted, there's the prohibition of one voter vouching for the identity of one other voter, and the prohibition on the voter registration card ever being certified as a piece of valid ID. Together, these changes will make it more difficult for hundreds of thousands of voters to vote, and so they should be removed from Bill C-23.
Instead, the voter registration card should be added to the list of valid ID. To solve the problem of irregularities with vouching that has been documented, Elections Canada should be empowered and provided with adequate funding to hire and fully train all election workers well before each election, and to also make the voter registration list and ID checking even more accurate. I'm quite sure there is a compromise, as other jurisdictions have found on this issue, that will remove and not increase barriers for hundreds of thousands of people voting.
The second area of concern for Democracy Watch is the failure of the bill overall to democratize the federal political finance system by reducing the annual donation and loan limits to an amount an average voter can afford, and the failure to re-start the annual per-vote funding for parties, which was the most democratic aspect of the political finance system, given that it was based on votes received by each party.
There are still loopholes that are left by the bill on gifts and donations to certain types of candidates. The hike in the donations limit for individuals in Bill C-23 are huge hikes in some cases and hugely undemocratic. An average Canadian cannot afford $3,000 a year. That would be the new maximum limit when you combine the donation to parties and the combined donation that's allowed to riding associations of each party.
Certainly, many candidates will not be able to afford to donate $5,000 to their own campaign, or as a party leadership candidate, $25,000 to their own campaign. If you're going to uphold the fundamental democratic principle of one person, one vote, donation limits must be set at a limit that an average person can afford; otherwise, you're allowing wealthy people to use money to have unethical and undemocratic influence over parties and candidates.
In the area of loans, while the loan limits on individuals are good, allowing banks to make unlimited loans to parties and candidates is dangerously undemocratic, as well. Banks are federally regulated and they will be able to pick and choose candidates to support with loans. That's a huge favour for a candidate, even though the candidate has to pay it back.
If the candidate wins, just the fact that they were boosted by a bank loan will be a favour that will put that MP, if they're elected, in a conflict of interest. It's better if all candidates have to reach out to as many voters as possible and build a democratic base of support, not a base of support from wealthy interests and banks.
The third area of concern is the change, as Monsieur Lortie also highlighted, to not count the amount spent on communications for fundraising purposes in the total amount parties are allowed to spend during election campaigns.
This is the first loophole that has been created in spending or donation limits since spending limits were first established in 1974. Forty years have passed and the trend through the whole 40 years has been to close loopholes. This is the first loophole that has been actually created, and like any loophole, it will very likely be abused to hide millions of dollars of unaccountable spending.
The failure to empower Elections Canada in the bill to appoint the auditors for all the parties, riding associations and candidates, and allowing these entities to choose their own auditors is the fourth area of concern, and relates to the spending loophole because Elections Canada will not have the right to all the documentation needed to ensure that loophole has not been exploited to exceed the legal campaign spending limits. This is essentially allowing the parties, candidates, and riding associations to audit themselves, and in combination with this loophole, is essentially a recipe for corruption.
The fifth area of concern is the failure to empower Elections Canada to appoint all election workers, and instead move in the other direction by extending the dangerously unethical power of political parties and candidates who won or came second in the previous election to force returning officers to appoint even more front-line election workers.
The sixth area of concern is the failure to require that the Commissioner of Canada Elections and the Director of Public Prosecutions disclose all of their rulings on all complaints. Instead, the bill requires them to keep all of that information secret. This will make it impossible to hold the commissioner and the director accountable if they make unfair, biased, or improper rulings or enforcement decisions.
Overall, even if these six changes that we're calling for were made, there are other areas that need to be addressed to make federal elections actually fair. We need an honesty in politics law so that parties and candidates can't bait voters with false promises or break promises after elections. We need to change the voting system so that it is more fair and gives parties the number of MPs based on actual voter support, regulate nomination races, have Elections Canada run the debates, and overall give all of the watchdogs more powers, and more clear powers, to ensure compliance and investigate.
I'll leave it at that. I welcome your questions on this very important bill that, unfortunately, includes many measures to make federal elections more unfair, and only a few measures—the registration of robocalls, the limits on loans, and the increasing of fines—that will make elections more fair. There are many more measures that make elections unfair and also fail to address current flaws in our federal elections system.
Thank you very much.