Evidence of meeting #106 for Procedure and House Affairs in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was elections.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Andre Barnes  Committee Researcher
Allen Sutherland  Assistant Secretary to the Cabinet, Machinery of Government, Privy Council Office
Manon Paquet  Senior Policy Advisor, Privy Council Office
Jean-François Morin  Senior Policy Advisor, Privy Council Office
Clerk of the Committee  Mr. Andrew Lauzon
Stéphane Perrault  Acting Chief Electoral Officer, Elections Canada
Anne Lawson  General Counsel and Senior Director, Legal Services, Elections Canada

6 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

On this same thing, doesn't that obviate the highfalutin rhetoric of the government about how Canadians were being deprived of their right to vote by the previous government when it turns out that Canadian citizens, under this legislation, are also deprived of their right to vote because of the mere fact that they never resided in Canada? I know several people who are in this ostensibly horrendous situation, who were apparently neglected by a government that expressed its moral horror at the fact that folks who had been away for more than five years had been left out.

Could you tell me what the moral distinction is between these two classes of Canadian citizens and how it's backed up by the Charter of Rights? Was it a request in the charter review of the legislation that was done by the Department of Justice?

6 p.m.

LCdr Jean-François Morin

In the Canada Elections Act, every elector needs to have an ordinary residence, and under the rules of ordinary residence, you cannot lose your ordinary residence until you get a new one. For example, when someone moves, their ordinary residence moves with them, but they need to have had an ordinary residence in Canada at least once.

6 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

Right, but that's a Canadian who has lived in a foreign country. When I was living in Australia, I was legally a resident of Australia. The Australians thought so; the Canadians thought so. The tax department for the two countries sure thought so. Oh yes, Nathan, check it out some time. I don't see how you can be a resident in Canada for one purpose, if you were born in Canada and spent some time here, versus someone else otherwise identical who was born in Australia to Canadian parents.

It doesn't make any sense at all, and I can't figure out why it's not in your Department of Justice review of the legislation, and why it was absent from the Liberal Party's rhetoric. They went on and on about these poor Canadians who had been away from Canada for more than five years who are no more Canadian under our Charter of Rights than the ones who are born to Canadian parents overseas.

6 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

I guess that's a good item for debate to continue on.

Thank you very much.

We'll suspend for a minute and people can get what they need and then we'll go into committee business.

6:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

We're in committee business. We had some productive discussions. We're joined by the legislative clerk, Philippe Méla, who will be doing this bill. Andrew guarantees us he's the best legislative clerk in Parliament. That's great. We expect excellent work.

Just to remind members, the preliminary lists of witnesses are due by end of day tomorrow and the final lists by noon on Friday. If we get into travel, the clerk will talk about the related logistics. I think we'll open the discussion on how we deal with the rest of this bill.

Mr. Bittle.

6:15 p.m.

Liberal

Chris Bittle Liberal St. Catharines, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

We've had some discussion. I won't get into it. I think the most important thing to hammer out today is the travel. We need to get to the bottom of that in terms of the other items on our proposed list. It's something that we have some leverage to discuss tomorrow. At the end of the day, we would like to see clause-by-clause on the 12th to get this bill back to the House of Commons. The committee is ultimately going to have make up its mind about how the witness schedule looks. I know the opposition expressed some desire to bring forward a witness list and they have tomorrow to do that.

As to what that witness list looks like, depending on the track the committee decides, it may be two separate lists. Are we going on the road? That's one set of witnesses. Are we staying here in Ottawa? That's a completely separate list of witnesses.

We've made a proposal on the committee travelling across Canada from June 4, 2018, until June 8, 2018, authorizing the clerk to organize travel with meetings in the communities in the following regions: Atlantic Canada, Quebec, Ontario, the Prairies, and British Columbia, but we all have to narrow that down. I'm sure the clerks would agree with that as it would be of much greater assistance. My understanding is that the Liaison Committee will meet tomorrow and that we can get a budget, finalize it, and move on, with advanced thanks to the clerks for assisting us, given the timetable.

We are proposing that the clerk organize at least one meeting between the indigenous communities, and that the meetings be balanced between urban and rural communities. This is what we heard especially from Mr. Cullen around the desire to travel. I guess I'll turn it over to the opposition to flesh that out with some specifics on that particular point.

6:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Mr. Richards.

6:20 p.m.

Conservative

Blake Richards Conservative Banff—Airdrie, AB

If I'm hearing what I think I'm hearing, it's based on the discussions we had before the gavelling of the meeting here. Looking at the travel proposal, I agree that it's advisable that travel is something we settle on if we're going to be doing it, because we have to give the clerk a bit of time to arrange it, especially given how quickly it has to happen. I think it would be good to hear the thoughts of Mr. Cullen on this, because I know he was the one who first raised the importance of travel. I certainly agree with him; I think it is a good thing for us to be doing on this piece of legislation.

This seems to look similar, as far as I can tell, to what Mr. Cullen brought to the meeting last time, although it is different from what I think he had originally hoped to see, in that it is significantly less. I would love to hear his thoughts on the travel part of it. I'm not sure if I'm hearing that we would talk this evening about what the travel portion might look like. I agree, however, with the idea raised by Mr. Bittle of maybe leaving the discussion on the other elements for tomorrow when we see what the witness lists of all three parties look like and we can have some sense of what this would look like in practice.

I can certainly commit, if it would be helpful, to bringing a list to the meeting tomorrow of our proposed witnesses, at least the initial witnesses. I believe I've seen the government's proposed list already. Unless they're planning to add to that, I'm sure they can bring their list tomorrow, no problem. I don't know where Mr. Cullen is on that, but if he can commit to this, then we could have a discussion during the hour we have for business tomorrow and we could arrive at the rest of the elements. I would agree, given the amount of time we have now, that we should try to sort the travel out in this period. This would allow our clerk to get started on that as soon as possible, because it will be a very difficult undertaking in the short time frame that we have.

Those are my thoughts.

6:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Mr. Cullen, do you have some thoughts?

6:20 p.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Yes. Thanks, Chair.

Thanks, Chris, for the comments.

Let me preface this very briefly by saying I don't blame anyone around this table for the circumstance we're in. Clearly, on the government's side, I don't think the timing of the bill and the study was of the choosing of any of the committee members—certainly not you, Chair, and certainly not the opposition—yet the bind that I feel myself in is that I have a similar objection because I don't like some of the rules that exist right now on voting reform. Bill C-76 addresses some of those things that we've talked about openly, vouching and whatnot.

As a parliamentarian, I also see and feel the responsibility of getting whatever we do to Bill C-76 right—amend, reject, whatever those options are—simply because in my experience if you rush legislation, particularly omnibus, it's inevitable you'll make some mistakes. The question is how grievous those mistakes are, and you realize them too late. Elections Canada tries to handle something voters experience at the election and it doesn't work the way that we were told and the way we hoped. I feel myself in a bit of a bind.

I'll start with the witness list and work backwards to the travel proposal. Mr. Christopherson is back and re-engaged, and I just got a witness list from him and, yeah, it's exhaustive and exhausting to look at. We're going to spend tonight whittling some of that down because I have a few thoughts. I was borrowing a little bit from the electoral reform experience, because I think through those many long months of study we found some witnesses who don't immediately pop to mind who I think would be very helpful on this.

I appreciate the efforts in terms of the travel component and the way the motion is worded. As we know, in urban and rural experiences voting is different, and particularly first nations people have a different experience as well.

The initial proposal for travel makes sense. I would hope we would talk today about what a day would look like, because sometimes committees travel and it looks a certain way and other times it looks another way. We had raised the issue of talking to young Canadians when we're out on the road. We had raised the issue of potentially having.... When we go to towns sometimes we go to Halifax or Toronto and we see only experts, so-called experts, people implicated by it, but we have no access to average Canadians who don't have a Ph.D. behind their name. I think we're made more poor for it if we do that. I would advocate some small version of an open house, if we go places in the evening, and then in the daytime we give over to the experts who have lots of opinions about this.

In terms of the rest of the meetings, I remain very open to what we're doing right now. I know it's not always comfortable and it's hard to schedule with extended hours and sitting, simply because we've been given a Sisyphean task here and we ought to try to do as much as we can to get it right.

Other than that, my only other reservation, which I expressed to Andy before, was the proposal of doing clause-by-clause all in one day. We have a philosophical objection to the custom that, if there are more than 80 amendments, suddenly we go on the clock, and that reduces us to five minutes per party per clause, I believe. I've seen from both sides, government and opposition, bills just brutalized because you're hammering through clauses by the end, by the evening sittings. Committee members don't really.... I think we stop doing our jobs at some point. It gives me angst to see a day of clause-by-clause on a bill that's 250 substantive pages. That's a lot.

The last I'll say is that the government talks about different numbers, but 85% of the bill was prestudied or 85% comes from Elections Canada. That's fine. The percentages are fine in terms of public relations or media, but I don't want to suggest that simply because 85% of the bill has been looked at, the 15% is going to be fast. It may not be 15% of the effort because of the stuff the government has added into this bill on top of the previous legislation. It's not simple or obvious things. We're talking about freedom of speech and some things that are potentially complicated. I don't have a pre-opinion as to what that will look like.

All that said, I think the travel is short, but it will work. If we can reconsider the clause-by-clause, that would be good, and we should talk about what a travel day looks like. If we go to Halifax, what does it look like? If we're in Toronto, what does the day look like? That will inform my feelings toward getting out on the road.

6:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Does the government have any comments?

6:25 p.m.

Liberal

Chris Bittle Liberal St. Catharines, ON

I don't know if we can ask the clerk the terms of the travel days. My only concern with what Mr. Cullen has suggested is just the logistics of it. If we're doing public hearings from 10:00 until whenever and then an open microphone at night and then the committee has to travel the next day, logistically speaking, that might be difficult.

6:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

I'll go to Mr. Reid, and then I'll go to the clerk to talk about logistics.

6:25 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

All I wanted to add is, if we're looking at travel that lasts essentially five days, as Mr. Cullen suggested, you would leave on Sunday from wherever you are and get to the first city. On Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, you're in different cities. Then on Saturday, it's your job to make it either back home or to Ottawa.

If we got that, I think we should agree that we're departing from the usual practice of going to the provincial capitals. I mean, in some cases that's great. Toronto is fine, I guess. Victoria is less fine than Vancouver, given the way the routes work.

In terms of meeting with young people, one obvious way of doing that is to have one or more of the meetings on a university campus. I recognize the school year is not on right now, but I took numerous summer courses in May and June. You're right in the middle of those summer courses, so you will have some folks there. It's not perfect, but nothing, given our schedule, is going to be perfect, and this at least allows for a bit of that.

6:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

I'll go to the clerk to talk about the logistics of organizing travel.

6:30 p.m.

The Clerk of the Committee Mr. Andrew Lauzon

Members have rightfully noted that there's very little time left between now and the beginning of this proposed travel. I would just like to add that, should the committee agree this evening that they would like to travel and they would like to see a budget, we could put one together in time for tomorrow's meeting, but we would need more specific details about the cities the committee would like to visit. When I read this on the indigenous communities, perhaps the committee could specify an indigenous community and maybe some ideas about how we balance rural and urban, given what cities the committee wants to go to.

If this budget gets adopted by the committee tomorrow and is then approved by the SBLI, say tomorrow afternoon, we won't get House authorization probably until Wednesday, which only leaves us two to three business days to set up these meetings, which is going to be a challenge. We have a formidable team who's ready to put this together; however, there are some things that are going to be out of our control such as flights, hotel availability, and meeting room availability in some of the cities. There's going to be very little flexibility and very little time to adjust if we run into issues with the logistics.

A second concern that I have is that we don't yet have a witness list for any of these cities, or any of the cities that will be proposed, so it may be a challenge to find witnesses who are available and who will be adequately prepared to appear before the committee in those various cities. If the committee's desire is to travel, I would hope that we could get those names as quickly as possible so that we could communicate with those individuals and try to make sure that they're available for the committee. My fear is that we'll go to all the trouble, we'll set up the meetings, we'll travel, and then we won't have all the witnesses that the committee wants to see in those locations.

6:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Mr. Cullen.

6:30 p.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Thank you, Chair. That was very helpful. I imagine, if people wanted to think about logistics, the typical travel day.... My reference point is the electoral reform committee, and we tended to travel in the morning, except for the first day, when we would be in place. We had experts typically from one o'clock or noon on, because we'd arrive in the city, we'd get to wherever we were at the hotel by 10 o'clock or 11 o'clock, the forums would start with the experts for a couple or four hours, depending on the town we were in, and then we'd do a more open type of thing, which goes back to your point of not needing to fill an entire day, because you just make a notification and social media seems to work pretty good in terms of letting people know that a new election bill is on the docket, and we're in town. That's your evening, and then the next morning you wake up and repeat. You travel in the morning, you get to the next place, and you do the same thing.

I'll just throw out some places, because that's what you asked for. Part of this is just the logistics of travelling around this country. It may be more fun to go to Charlottetown, but getting in and out is way more difficult than Halifax. Halifax is the regional hub. That's where flights come and go, and it has connecting flights right to Montreal. That would be my second suggestion, Montreal or Quebec City, probably Montreal. I think Scott makes a fine point about Toronto being the capital. There's a number of witnesses that we have, and I think the Liberals as well, who are based in Toronto, so that would help your second question.

6:30 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

I would recommend Kingston.

6:30 p.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

This time of year, it's beautiful.

6:30 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

[Inaudible—Editor] substantial airport in there that had direct connections to Halifax and Montreal, that would be awesome. Maybe it's a project we could work on.

May 28th, 2018 / 6:30 p.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

We'll have to work on that between now and next week.

I think when you get into the Prairies, it could answer the question about rural. If you land in Winnipeg or land in Regina or Saskatoon, you can get to a pretty rural setting pretty quickly. My experience was that folks were very appreciative of us stepping out of the city and going to see them. We did Leduc last time out of Edmonton. It's kind of fake rural. Leduc is where the airport was. We cheated. Then in British Columbia, Vancouver was suggested, and I agree with that. There are a number of very active and vibrant first nation communities either within the city limits or right near the city limits, but they're their own communities. They just happen to be in Vancouver, so that could be a way to...and I agree, Victoria adds a logistical leap that would make it difficult especially if you're coming out of the Prairies to get there.

That's all I wanted to say.

6:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

We'll have Mr. Reid, and then Mr. Bittle.

6:35 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

I'll let you go to Mr. Bittle first because I forgot what my point is. Maybe my mind will be jogged by what will no doubt be very insightful remarks.

6:35 p.m.

Liberal

Chris Bittle Liberal St. Catharines, ON

You were so inspired by the thought of going to eastern Ontario that we are—