Evidence of meeting #29 for Procedure and House Affairs in the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was election.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Pierre Lortie  Senior Business Advisor, Dentons Canada, As an Individual
Duff Conacher  Co-Founder and Board Member, Democracy Watch
Miriam Fahmy  Director, Research and Publications, Institut du Nouveau Monde
Steven Shrybman  Board Member, Council of Canadians
Simon Rowland  Chief Executive Officer, Direct Leap Technologies Inc.

11:40 a.m.

Senior Business Advisor, Dentons Canada, As an Individual

Pierre Lortie

I think the legislation goes too far. It's important that Elections Canada have the ability to promote, in essence, the electoral process in schools and so on, and that it has the ability to conduct research. I would suggest to you that if you look at what the U.K. has done in their last law with respect to communications and so on, you would find a proper balance that would be useful and could serve as a good example for you.

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Joe Preston

Thank you.

We go to a four-minute round.

Mr. Opitz, you're starting that one off.

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

Ted Opitz Conservative Etobicoke Centre, ON

Mr. Conacher, you said a couple of things that concern me.

You said Elections Canada needs to get the funding that it needs. But it has statutory authority to spend what it needs on elections. There really isn't a cap. Are you suggesting there's a budget of some sort? Can you provide me with the number?

April 8th, 2014 / 11:40 a.m.

Co-Founder and Board Member, Democracy Watch

Duff Conacher

With regard to election workers, they would have to wait for the suggestions to come from the parties or the candidates, because those suggestions bind the returning officer to appoint people, and that often doesn't happen until quite late.

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

Ted Opitz Conservative Etobicoke Centre, ON

What does that have to do with this funding?

11:40 a.m.

Co-Founder and Board Member, Democracy Watch

Duff Conacher

Well, if they were empowered earlier, then they would be able to hire people and make these appointments.

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

Ted Opitz Conservative Etobicoke Centre, ON

So you're talking about the payment of electoral workers.

11:40 a.m.

Co-Founder and Board Member, Democracy Watch

Duff Conacher

Exactly. It's a budgetary matter. They would then be able to train everybody better, and the polling station would be run better, and the voting irregularities would diminish.

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

Ted Opitz Conservative Etobicoke Centre, ON

Well, I think the CEO has brought latitude there, because that's going to be the point in running and demonstrating that.

If I may, I'll read something from my own Supreme Court case. I'll get to the second paragraph of the conclusion. The judges said:

At issue in this appeal are the principles to be applied when a federal election is challenged on the basis of “irregularities”.

There was no allegation of fraud, and so forth. It goes on to say:

Given the complexity of administering a federal election, the tens of thousands of election workers involved, many of whom have no on-the-job experience, and the short time frame for hiring and training them, it is inevitable that administrative mistakes will be made. If elections can be easily annulled on the basis of administrative errors, public confidence in the finality and legitimacy of election results will be eroded. Only irregularities—

He goes on to talk about the integrity of the process and the fact that training is an issue.

I don't disagree that early training—

11:40 a.m.

Co-Founder and Board Member, Democracy Watch

Duff Conacher

That's my exact point.

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

Ted Opitz Conservative Etobicoke Centre, ON

Yes, and that's in the judgment. But that's within his broad mandate to do.

11:40 a.m.

Co-Founder and Board Member, Democracy Watch

Duff Conacher

But if the ruling party or the party that placed second in a riding is allowed to force the returning officer to appoint certain election workers, then the returning officer has to wait. They can't hire people early, and can't, as a result, train them early and train them fully.

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

Ted Opitz Conservative Etobicoke Centre, ON

I have to correct you. These are nominees. Nobody's forcing the individual to select.

11:40 a.m.

Co-Founder and Board Member, Democracy Watch

Duff Conacher

No, the returning officer is required, if the party or—

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

Ted Opitz Conservative Etobicoke Centre, ON

He will make a selection out of a pool of nominees.

11:40 a.m.

Co-Founder and Board Member, Democracy Watch

Duff Conacher

No, no. If the ruling party or second party in the previous election puts forward a candidate, the returning officer is required to appoint that person. That is the problem. That comes very late. They don't have time to train them fully. Plus, they could have partisan bias. I agree with Mr. Lortie, it doesn't mean they will; it could still be merit-based, with a qualified person. But the returning officer should not be forced to appoint them.

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

Ted Opitz Conservative Etobicoke Centre, ON

I have limited time, so I'm going to move on.

You talked about auditors and you suggested that auditors could be corrupted. A chartered accountant or an accounting professional is certainly not going to jeopardize their livelihood and their licence—if they're a chief financial officer or an official agent—by being corrupt. For a single election, somebody is not going to jeopardize their entire life and ability to earn—

11:45 a.m.

Co-Founder and Board Member, Democracy Watch

Duff Conacher

We have a current instance of a certain party's supervisor contacting the auditors who were doing audits of senators, and that—

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

Ted Opitz Conservative Etobicoke Centre, ON

I'm not saying it's not—

11:45 a.m.

Co-Founder and Board Member, Democracy Watch

Duff Conacher

—violated the firm's internal policies.

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

Ted Opitz Conservative Etobicoke Centre, ON

I'm not saying it's an individual or two. People who want to break the law will be there, but that's why we have penalties and laws in place to deal with that quite firmly.

11:45 a.m.

Co-Founder and Board Member, Democracy Watch

Duff Conacher

When you choose your own judge, it's always dangerous, I would say. Choosing your own auditor is dangerous. Elections Canada should be appointing these people.

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

Ted Opitz Conservative Etobicoke Centre, ON

I would disagree with you on that.

How much time do I have left, Mr. Chair?

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Joe Preston

In one second, none. Thank you, Mr. Opitz.

We'll move to Madam Latendresse.

11:45 a.m.

NDP

Alexandrine Latendresse NDP Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

I would like to continue to explore what Mr. Opitz just addressed, because I think it is important to really understand this point.

I would like to quote a recommendation made by the Chief Electoral Officer following the 40th general election:

Were returning officers not required to solicit the names of potential deputy returning officers, poll clerks and registration officers from candidates, they could begin recruitment earlier and would have more time to adequately train new staff.

This corresponds completely to the point Mr. Opitz raised. The main recommendation of the Chief Electoral Officer and several other people who are very familiar with the election process is to be able to hire people earlier in order to provide them with better training, which would considerable reduce the administrative errors mentioned in the Neufeld report and in general.

I think this is a much more appropriate solution in order to improve the system, rather than eliminating the vouching system entirely and using the voter information cards.

Do you agree with the CEO's recommendation?