Evidence of meeting #110 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 political.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Taylor Gunn  President and Chief Election Officer, CIVIX
Duff Conacher  Co-Founder, Democracy Watch
Henry Milner  Associate Fellow, Department of Political Science, Université de Montréal, As an Individual
Clerk of the Committee  Mr. Andrew Lauzon
Lori Turnbull  Associate Professor, Dalhousie University, As an Individual
J. Randall Emery  Executive Director, Canadian Citizens Rights Council

10:50 a.m.

Conservative

John Nater Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

To some third party group to organize a commission, yes.

10:50 a.m.

Co-Founder, Democracy Watch

Duff Conacher

I think it's better to put it under a centralized commission with all sorts of fairness rules on who gets to participate, based on things like percentage of votes received in the last election, whether you have an MP in the House. Take away all that discretion.

Having third party groups run things, some would say would balance it. You'll have different groups running it. Some will have a certain slant and run it that way because they have an interest, and others will balance it by having a different slant. I think it's better to put it into a non-partisan commission.

I know Elections Canada itself doesn't want it, but it can be a commissioner under Elections Canada, just like the enforcement is now, and have all sorts of fairness rules. The broadcasters are using the public's airwaves. Require them to air it on the public's airwaves. They already gouge us enough and use the airwaves as they want. The airwaves are a public resource. They're licensed to do it. An election is important. The debates should be running on all the broadcast outlets whether they want to run them or not. That should be what's on during prime time that evening.

I think that's the better way to go than grants and contributions.

10:50 a.m.

Conservative

John Nater Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

Thank you.

You mentioned in your opening comments the term “modernization” within the title of the bill. Certainly technology is changing. Technology changes fast. There are both positive and negative consequences of those changes in technology. You certainly hit on one of the points in terms of real-time disclosure. We already have it fairly quickly in terms of leadership races and things like that.

Then you also hit on some of the more...I hate to use the word negative, but it has negative consequences in terms of social media advertising. There are both sides of it—the benefits and the challenges of technology's quick changes. I know you've talked already about the self-policing aspect of Facebook.

I want us to go a step further. I want you to elaborate a little bit more on that foreign influence on Facebook, and I should say on other social media platforms as well—we shouldn't constrain it to just Facebook, but certainly that's the one in the news—and how we might see a legitimate enforcement regime to really crack down on that foreign influence.

I know Mr. Cullen mentioned that about half a million dollars is a significant Facebook ad buy because the ads are so much cheaper.

What would you envision as an enforcement scheme to effectively deal with foreign powers using domestic platforms?

10:55 a.m.

Co-Founder, Democracy Watch

Duff Conacher

I think it should be applied to media and social media. You could run a radio ad in a small market and not identify yourself as a third party or be registered, and Elections Canada might not find out about it. You could do that in a community newspaper possibly and Elections Canada might not see it. They would probably see TV ads.

Just require all media companies and all social media companies to report every election-related ad to Elections Canada for six months leading up to an election. Give them the power to stop false ads, and stop an ad that doesn't identify the third party. They have to know who paid for it. They have to know where it was targeted as well, all the details. Then they'll be able to also enforce the spending limits that would apply in the pre-writ period.

Otherwise they won't know about the ads. The rules will be there. Just don't leave it to the social media companies especially to self-regulate, because their incentive is to make money, not to stop an ad because someone may not like it.

10:55 a.m.

President and Chief Election Officer, CIVIX

Taylor Gunn

One of the things I didn't notice, which I wonder if you're concerned with at all, is that in terms of making the electoral process a more secure aspect of the bill, there was no mention of the tabulators or machines that election agencies are tending to attempt to simplify with regard to what they say is the challenge of getting people to work on polling day. Who builds those machines, where they come from and how they're used are, to me, very important parts of a secure electoral process.

I'm just wondering if any other bill has been looking at that. Are you leaving that within the management of Elections Canada?

10:55 a.m.

Conservative

John Nater Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

That's a good question. I think my time is probably up.

Personally in the past year and a half, I voted using a variety of methods. Provincially we use those tabulators. Provincially for the leadership race, we voted online. In last year's leadership race, we used a tabulator as well. There are a variety of options right now.

I'd be curious, Mr. Gunn. Do you use any different types of voting methods for student votes or is it an x on a piece of paper right now?

10:55 a.m.

President and Chief Election Officer, CIVIX

Taylor Gunn

No, people wanted us to make the kids vote online because they thought it would make it easier and more interesting. We always argued against it. Now I think that voting online has been proven to be a silly idea in terms of safety. That is a strong personal opinion of mine. I just wonder about these machines, having recently had discussions with different people and new parts of government that we're not used to dealing with. Some people truly believe that everything can be hacked.

I wonder whether the right motivation is solving that problem to make it easier to use machines or we should be investing in finding ways to make sure there are actually more people to work on election day.

I do believe that everything can be hacked. I just wonder if that's a concern of the committee. Although you're saying that maybe you're making the electoral process more secure with the bill, you may be missing a part that you should be looking at.

10:55 a.m.

Conservative

John Nater Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

I would say that was briefly discussed in the electoral reform committee, but it wasn't directly related to the study.

I appreciate the comments.

Sorry, Mr. Chair. I know I went over.

Thank you.

10:55 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Thank you.

Mr. Graham, you have two minutes. I know you can get seven minutes into two.

10:55 a.m.

Liberal

David Graham Liberal Laurentides—Labelle, QC

This is for both Mr. Gunn and Mr. Conacher.

Would you consider yourselves a third party in elections?

10:55 a.m.

Co-Founder, Democracy Watch

Duff Conacher

I'm sorry?

June 5th, 2018 / 10:55 a.m.

Liberal

David Graham Liberal Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Would you guys consider yourselves a third party in elections?

10:55 a.m.

Co-Founder, Democracy Watch

Duff Conacher

In the upcoming election?

10:55 a.m.

Liberal

David Graham Liberal Laurentides—Labelle, QC

In any election.

10:55 a.m.

Co-Founder, Democracy Watch

Duff Conacher

We're a third party, yes. We don't usually run ads, though. We release a report card on the parties' platforms through various news releases, and just rely on media coverage.

10:55 a.m.

President and Chief Election Officer, CIVIX

Taylor Gunn

We're non-partisan. We're not considered a third party going after a political outcome.

10:55 a.m.

Liberal

David Graham Liberal Laurentides—Labelle, QC

That's fair.

10:55 a.m.

President and Chief Election Officer, CIVIX

Taylor Gunn

We have received funds from foreign accounts, so I worry if we could ever get caught up, but I think our ability to not get caught up in that is that we're non-partisan.

10:55 a.m.

Liberal

David Graham Liberal Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Mr. Conacher, on your website you say that 99.9% of your donations are under $150. You said that the limit should be $100 for us and that you're concerned about large donors. It's a fair criticism, but what's the 0.1% and where do your donors come from?

10:55 a.m.

Co-Founder, Democracy Watch

Duff Conacher

I'm sorry?

10:55 a.m.

Liberal

David Graham Liberal Laurentides—Labelle, QC

What is the 0.1% that's over $150, and where do your donors generally come from?

10:55 a.m.

Co-Founder, Democracy Watch

Duff Conacher

A few people donate more than that. One person has made a large donation in the past few years of $25,000. That's it. Most of them are small donors. We wouldn't even have to disclose them under the third party rules. You could go lower than $200 for the reporting. I don't think you have to because those donations are not huge and influential and don't need to be identified.

I also mentioned that Elections Canada should be doing audits of third parties, and should not be allowing people to choose their own auditors. This is also a way of combatting non-disclosure of donations of over $200 that would violate the disclosure rules. Give Elections Canada that audit power, and I think you can keep the donation disclosure limit at $200 and above.

11 a.m.

Liberal

David Graham Liberal Laurentides—Labelle, QC

I have one final question before I cede my time.

With respect to the $25,000 donation, do you find that this donor has any different an influence on your organization than the other donors?

11 a.m.

Co-Founder, Democracy Watch

Duff Conacher

They would if they ever contacted me, but they don't.

11 a.m.

Liberal

David Graham Liberal Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Thank you.