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

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Chris Bittle Liberal St. Catharines, ON

So you don't think political parties should receive the voter lists automatically unless there is consent from the individual.

10:25 a.m.

Co-Founder, Democracy Watch

Duff Conacher

I don't have a problem with that particular part. You were just saying that the party would have to notify every voter, but there is another way of dealing with that kind of thing, where parties are shared that basic information.

I'm referring to the other information that's gathered and what parties are doing with it, whether parties are renting their lists to raise money and things like that. There is some compromise position here, I think, to bring the parties—I know they're a different kind of entity—under some of those rules and not allow them to be self-enforcing, which essentially is what the bill does.

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Chris Bittle Liberal St. Catharines, ON

Thank you.

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Thank you.

Now, it's Mr. Richards.

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

Blake Richards Conservative Banff—Airdrie, AB

Mr. Conacher, I'll start with you.

When you were before this committee—I think it was about a year or so ago now—you stated that you'd like to see disclosure for lobby groups or third party groups in their spending between elections. I'm assuming that's still your position. Given that this is not addressed in Bill C-76, do you think that this legislation should be amended to include that kind of disclosure requirement so that it's out of the writ and the pre-writ periods?

10:25 a.m.

Co-Founder, Democracy Watch

Duff Conacher

It addresses the pre-writ, which is a start, although I don't think July and August are going to be big spending periods for anybody. They'll save their money and spend it.... It depends, of course, exactly when the election is called, but I think you'll see all of that spending happen just after Labour Day or just leading up to it, if anyone is going to spend any of that pre-writ money.

Going beyond the pre-writ period, yes, I think we should still have disclosure under the Lobbying Act of any spending on any campaign. It doesn't have to be right down to the dollar, but a range could be given for round figures, just to get some sense of how skewed things are in terms of the resources of different stakeholders working on any issue.

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

Blake Richards Conservative Banff—Airdrie, AB

You had also indicated the last time you were here that you felt all donations should be disclosed before people vote. You were talking about political parties in that case. I guess it would be candidates as well. Do you feel the same way about third party donations? Do you believe they should be disclosed as well before people vote?

10:25 a.m.

Co-Founder, Democracy Watch

Duff Conacher

Yes. The interim report that has to be filed will cover the pre-writ period or whatever period of time during the election campaign itself in which a party starts spending and crosses the threshold of $10,000, so there will be a disclosure if anyone participates.

Some people have said—Senator Frum, for example—that there won't be any disclosure until after the election. There will be with this interim report, and it could disclose quite a bit.

This is done by leadership candidates in leadership races, the disclosure monthly and in the last week as well leading up to the leadership vote. I don't see why it cannot be applied to everybody. Voters have a right to know who is bankrolling every interest, candidate, party, and third party trying to affect the election.

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

Blake Richards Conservative Banff—Airdrie, AB

Correct me if I'm wrong, but this wouldn't require disclosure of the contributions that would have been received, let's say, by a third party prior to that pre-writ period. Especially when everyone knows that June 30 is the start of that period, do you not think that without disclosure before that, people would just drop the money in on June 28 or June 29? What are your thoughts on that?

10:30 a.m.

Co-Founder, Democracy Watch

Duff Conacher

Do you mean the disclosure of huge donations?

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

Blake Richards Conservative Banff—Airdrie, AB

Yes.

10:30 a.m.

Co-Founder, Democracy Watch

Duff Conacher

The thing is, as a citizen group, you have to set up a separate bank account. You can't use foreign money at all. The money would have to go into that separate bank account. Then, if it is used, the contributors have to be disclosed, even if the money came in before June 30. I'm quite sure citizen groups that want to go through this process will be setting up a bank account before June 30. They'll likely be appealing throughout the whole year leading up to an election year.

If a snap election is called, I don't know where they're going to get funding from. They can transfer from their bank account themselves, and I'm sure they'll send out an appeal right away to get some funds in. It all will be limited, however, based on how much money they have in an account that's not foreign money, that is not dedicated to other programs, and that can be shifted into an account specifically for the partisan activities.

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

Blake Richards Conservative Banff—Airdrie, AB

The last time you were here you also mentioned B.C. and some of the changes they made in terms of third parties and their reporting and spending. I wonder if you could give us an update on that. Obviously, there has been some time to take a look at the campaign that occurred there. I'm wondering what your thoughts are on how those changes worked in practice and whether you think there's anything we can learn from their experience.

10:30 a.m.

Co-Founder, Democracy Watch

Duff Conacher

Do you mean the third party in B.C.?

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

Blake Richards Conservative Banff—Airdrie, AB

That's correct. You mentioned it the last time you were here.

10:30 a.m.

Co-Founder, Democracy Watch

Duff Conacher

I think Bill C-76 goes further than B.C. because of this special bank account you have to set up.

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

Blake Richards Conservative Banff—Airdrie, AB

Sure. However, I'm asking you what we learned from the experience of their changes and what we can....

10:30 a.m.

Co-Founder, Democracy Watch

Duff Conacher

I haven't examined that in detail. I'm sorry.

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

Blake Richards Conservative Banff—Airdrie, AB

You haven't been able to do that. Okay.

A number of people have raised this issue of collusion, or perhaps co-operation if we want to call it that, among a number of third parties. That might be seen as a way for an organization or individual to work with a party, for that matter, to get around spending limits. What are your thoughts on that? Do we need to be doing something more about that? Do you think that's a problem we need to deal with?

June 5th, 2018 / 10:30 a.m.

Co-Founder, Democracy Watch

Duff Conacher

I think the interim report that's required will help, because not only will the third party have to register but you'll get some indication of where contributions are coming from. Overall, I think Elections Canada should be empowered to audit and be proactively auditing these things as they go.

I've said this, I believe, before the committee before. This is a very difficult area. Once the election happens, unless there's outright fraud and it has very clearly affected the election, it's almost impossible to get a judge to say, “I'm going to overturn what tens of thousands of people just did.”

Therefore, you need to be doing real-time auditing, checking, verifying, and going in with the power to say, “I want to see all of your emails from the last log”, and things like that, to ensure that those kinds of things aren't happening.

After the fact, you can penalize people to discourage them, but what they win is a lot. They win power. There are lots of people out there, I think, who would be willing to be the sacrificial lamb who goes to jail for a couple of years to have their party win power.

Empower Elections Canada much more, both on the secret, fake, foreign, and false online election ads and on everything else, to be in there having full disclosure so they can stop anything that is unfair and undemocratic.

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Thank you.

Now we'll go to Mr. Cullen.

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you to our witnesses.

I'm just reading through some of our background documents on this. Has the CEO not asked for the repealing? I'm talking about false or misleading statements, particularly about the personal character of the candidates. Has the CEO not recommended repealing this section? They thought his feeling at the time was that defamation and libel can be dealt with better at court than it could be by Elections Canada.

10:35 a.m.

Co-Founder, Democracy Watch

Duff Conacher

Yes. I don't have the definition right in front of me...that you've committed a crime and something about your professional qualifications.... It's been narrowed to make it more enforceable and also to say that you have withdrawn as a candidate, obviously. I don't think it should be more narrow.

Again, libel court doesn't help you very much a year later if it's damaged the election result, so I think the definition should be broad. I think it should include blatantly false promises, which you have to catch after the fact. However, for blatantly false statements, Elections Canada, or a commissioner under it, should be there.

10:35 a.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Let's run that scenario under your ideal, if Bill C-76 dealt with false statements and false promises. Let's just walk through one.

The last time you both appeared we were talking about electoral reform. We were talking about a specific promise that 2015 would be the last election under first past the post.

In your ideal scenario, what would happen next if the law prevented parties from making false statements?

10:35 a.m.

Co-Founder, Democracy Watch

Duff Conacher

Democracy Watch's proposal for a long time in its honesty in politics campaign has been that, first of all, we thought the provision in there against a pretense or contrivance was enough. We filed the complaint about the electoral promise with the commissioner. The commissioner said that there have been no cases on this, ever, and pointed to something obscure that happened in the British Parliament 140 years ago, saying that pretense and contrivance do not mean a false promise.

Pretense is a false claim, contrivance is a false claim, and a false promise is a false claim, so I don't know why the commissioner's role—