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

11 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Okay.

11 a.m.

Co-Founder, Democracy Watch

Duff Conacher

I'm acknowledging that these gifts.... Yes, sure. I acknowledged this last time when I was here on Bill C-50. That's why they should be restricted. When you talk about restricting third party citizen groups with respect to how high a donation they could have as the Public Policy Forum recommended in its recent report, you then also have to look at foreign-owned corporations and their ability to do an internal transfer of money to support what they do as a third party.

It's an area that should be looked at, but the place to start is with disclosure of how much is being spent by various interest groups in between elections on everything. You're going to have it for elections, although after the fact; it should be before the fact. Then we can start talking about whether we should limit donations to citizen groups for certain purposes.

11 a.m.

Liberal

David Graham Liberal Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Just out of curiosity, have you ever taken donations from outside of Canada?

11 a.m.

Co-Founder, Democracy Watch

11 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

I have one question.

You mentioned right at the beginning that four provinces have the option to choose “none of the above”. Roughly how many people choose that? Give me just a ballpark figure.

11 a.m.

Co-Founder, Democracy Watch

Duff Conacher

It was 0.5% in the last election in Ontario. None of the election agencies inform people that they have this right. We're about to take Elections Ontario to court for failing to do so.

11 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

It's not on the ballot?

11 a.m.

Co-Founder, Democracy Watch

Duff Conacher

It's not on the ballot. You decline or refuse your ballot. You're handed your ballot, and then you hand it back. More people would likely do it if the election agencies actually advertised that you have the right to do this. Elections Ontario is once again, for the third election in a row, refusing to do this, so that's why we're about to take it to court. It should say “none of the above” on the ballot, and then there should be a space just a couple of lines below where you could write a reason as to why you voted “none of the above”. That would be reported back to the parties in categories: environmental platforms weren't strong enough, someone didn't like the leader, or whatever it is. It would be a great feedback loop that would increase voter turnout and give parties information on why people are not turning out to vote now.

In terms of overall increase in voter turnout, I work with a charity called Democracy Education Network, and we also do voter turnout initiatives. We have two going on in Ontario, and we did them in the last election. One is VoteParty.ca. It's all aimed at voters because the best way to increase voter turnout is to get voters reaching out to non-voters. We have VoteParty.ca so that you can make a vote date with a non-voter and take them to vote with you. We also have VotePromise.ca so that a person can make the vote promise to help a non-voter vote.

I'll just pick up on some earlier questions very briefly. All of the messages should be aimed at telling voters to reach out to non-voters. That's how you'll increase voter turnout. Trying to reach non-voters with all the ads.... They're not paying attention, and they're not engaged. That's why they're non-voters. You don't reach them.

11 a.m.

Liberal

David Graham Liberal Laurentides—Labelle, QC

If “none of the above” wins, what should happen?

11 a.m.

Co-Founder, Democracy Watch

Duff Conacher

If we get to that point of getting “none of the above” on the ballot first, then we can deal with that issue. I think—

11 a.m.

Liberal

David Graham Liberal Laurentides—Labelle, QC

You can't have it on the ballot if you don't know what's going to happen if it wins.

11 a.m.

Co-Founder, Democracy Watch

Duff Conacher

Yes, well, I'm just saying, show me a process that's even moving close to that and we can talk more about what to do, but it's only happened once, and that was in the Nevada election for governor. Their rule is that the election still stands. Obviously it's a hit to the legitimacy of the person who won, and they had to check themselves, because they knew how many voters out there didn't like them.

11 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Thanks to you both for being here. It's been very interesting and helpful. It's good to see you back again.

We'll suspend and bring the next witness.

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Good morning. Welcome back to the 110th meeting of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

For our second hour today, we are pleased to welcome Henry Milner, associate fellow, department of political science, Université de Montréal.

Professor Milner, thanks for coming. You can go ahead with your opening statement.

11:15 a.m.

Professor Henry Milner Associate Fellow, Department of Political Science, Université de Montréal, As an Individual

I was under the misapprehension that I was going to be one of five, but it turned out that the five are the entire morning session, rather than just this hour. That is okay with me, but it means that I haven't prepared an exhaustive critique or analysis of Bill C-76. I'm just going to talk about the things that are of particular interest to me and where I think I can make a contribution.

The first thing is you will see in my presentation that I've done this before. It's nice to come to such a situation and be basically positive, rather than be here to criticize and be negative, which is the more normal situation for people like me. Much of my efforts have been around electoral reform. That experience was slightly less positive, if I may say, than this one will turn out to be, I think.

I think that I was in front of the same committee—although I think it was across the street from Parliament—being critical of the Fair Elections Act for various problems with it that seemed to have been rectified in Bill C-33, which I was happy to see presented way back when. I had assumed that this issue was now going to be resolved, but it turns out it's only now that the process continues. It has been widened, as I don't have to tell you, with a number of other areas.

From my point of view, the crucial aspect is access to make it easier for people to inform themselves. That's my specialization, political knowledge. I've published a great deal about that, including the political knowledge of young people, by comparing different countries, including Canada, and physical access to the voting booth in terms of some of the restrictions that were brought into the Fair Elections Act that have been removed in Bill C-76.

In my own work, my particular concern has been on the political knowledge aspect, so I was very concerned with the Fair Elections Act's efforts to reduce the ability of Elections Canada to provide information, especially to young people, but not only to young people, so they would be more able to participate in an election at the right time. I think that those aspects of Bill C-33 have found their way into Bill C-76, in terms of the role of Elections Canada, in terms of allowing registration before the age, in fact, encouraging young people to register before the age of 18, as well as other aspects, which are not just for young people, but for people with handicaps and so on. I'm very happy to see that.

In terms of what I would like to see added, there's only one aspect that seems to me to be missing. Once one is really looking at the entire electoral process—and I know there was some discussion of it in the consultation process that took place—perhaps regulate the question of leaders debates during the election period. Set up a process that would be standardized, so that people could expect it. I know that's a complicated issue and I certainly don't want to delay the implementation process, but I do think it's missing from a law that tries to be quite comprehensive about the way we run election campaigns.

My other problem wasn't part of the Fair Elections Act, but with the way the last election was run. It was that it was so long. I don't have to remind you that it lasted more than 11 weeks, I think. That was tied to a change—a change which I had something to do with—namely, fixed election dates. I testified before that, especially in the Senate committee, that was responsible for that issue. I have talked about that in other places, including the House of Lords in London.

When fixed election dates were adopted—and the 2015 election took place under fixed election dates—this silly idea of now doubling the time for the campaign was combined with it, which of course made us look bad, those of us who favoured fixed election dates. People were saying now it's a free-for-all, that it lasts forever, and all kinds of money is being spent. I'm glad to see that we're going back to a seven-week campaign like in the Fair Elections Act. That's the one additional factor that I think is very important, and there are some other specific procedures around this that I'm in favour of. I don't have anything particular to say about them.

My real concern is that this happen. We have an election coming up in a year and a half and I'm concerned that the necessary aspects of this law won't be implemented early enough so that they can actually work appropriately. I'm torn between wanting to improve Bill C-76 in any possible way and wanting it to move quickly. Having it move quickly is, I think, in many ways more important, especially the information aspect and so on. We would like to see Elections Canada again able to implement its various information programs.

I have to tell you—and I don't know how many of you are aware of this—that there's a very absurd thing taking place next week in Toronto. I'm not sure how many of you are aware. Probably none of you are aware, but a citizens' group tied to the Canadian Federation of Students.... I think I have it here if you'll just give me a minute. The Council of Canadians, the Canadian Federation of Students, and some individuals hired a law firm to contest the Fair Elections Act. I was one of those who wrote affidavits for this contestation, which is only now coming before the Ontario Supreme Court. All of us—there are several of us, though not as many as you'll be hearing from—those of us who opposed the Fair Elections Act, are required now to be cross-examined by government lawyers to defend our criticism of the Fair Elections Act, which, of course, will no longer exist, hopefully, very soon.

I guess the business of Parliament moves slowly. I found it quite strange, but when I was speaking to the law firm that's running all of this, I asked them why they wouldn't just drop it. They said they weren't sure that the new legislation replacing the Fair Elections Act would be implemented in time, so they had to go ahead. This will all be taking place in Toronto next week.

Finally, I want to stress that I am anxious to see this move ahead, so that it will all be in place in time for the next election.

I have to say that one of the reasons I'm a little bit cynical about how this body moves on it with what seems to be happening or should be happening is my experience with the electoral reform. I was one of a great many political science and other experts in this area who came before this body. We were a very large majority of experts who testified in favour of electoral reform, and it seemed that our voices were going to be heard as part of the process, and then, as I don't need to tell you, we know how that came out.

I don't want to be too cynical but I do want to stress the importance of moving forward with this so that this bill will be in place in time to be implemented correctly for the next election.

Thank you very much.

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Thank you very much for being here, and for those comments. Now we'll go to some questions.

We'll start with Mr. Simms.

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Coast of Bays—Central—Notre Dame, NL

Thank you, Chair.

Mr. Milner, it's nice to see you. I'm sorry. It should be Dr. Milner. Is that correct?

11:25 a.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

That's Dr. Milner to you, sir.

11:25 a.m.

Voices

Oh, oh!

June 5th, 2018 / 11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Coast of Bays—Central—Notre Dame, NL

That's right. Yes, it is. It is now Dr. Milner to me.

I want to thank you for being here today. Thank you for bringing us your insight and experience.

That's what I want to ask about first: your experience. I see here in your bio reference to universities in Finland, France, Australia, and New Zealand. I'm familiar with Australia and New Zealand only because they have the Westminster system like ours. For the other two examples, I've visited those countries, but I can't say that I'm an expert on either of the two.

What are the practices in these countries that interest you and that you think Canada should adopt or has adopted, or that in your international travels you see as a good practice that you can present to us here?

11:25 a.m.

Prof. Henry Milner

Let me say to the specific aspects of Bill C-76 that I think we're doing what we can. We're not going to change our entire institutional system to be like theirs, but within our institution, I think we are applying it appropriately. They have other institutions. I can't speak for every country, but essentially they would certainly not be inhibited in terms of informing people and making various kinds of institutional access available, especially to young people.

I could talk about my last book, The Internet Generation, and some very interesting examples from other countries I've been to, including Norway, Sweden, Finland, and so on, in terms of how to inform young people about politics. In fact, if we do have a bit of extra time, I'd love to tell you about it because it's really quite interesting. It's not directly relevant to this but it's very interesting, and it's something that a version of which we could actually do at both the provincial and federal levels.

Specifically, of course—this brings me back to my last point—one of the things we could learn is to change our electoral system. I've argued and written about how I think a proportional system does in fact result over time in a more informed citizenry. It's a long academic argument based on evidence and so on, but I have made it in the past, and I think it can be made.

If one is interested in a citizenry that—again, none of these things are absolute and black and white—is more likely to inform themselves about relevant issues before an election, I would argue that we can learn from these countries. Most European countries, as you know, have proportional representation, as does New Zealand now, and Australia has it for the upper chamber. There is a relationship, but again, that's not the issue of importance at this committee.

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Coast of Bays—Central—Notre Dame, NL

No, and that's fine. I appreciate that. You and I may have a few differences on that when it comes to the representation part.

Nevertheless, on a broader scale, I remember that when I was here and we were debating the Fair Elections Act, what came up quite a bit was the fact that it is a constitutional right to vote, which I'm sure it is in many other countries. As such, it seemed to me that other countries take it far more seriously than we did at that time, France being one of those countries. Do you think now that we are a step closer with this? What would you recommend in terms of how we go further?

11:25 a.m.

Prof. Henry Milner

At this point, I think, in adopting Bill C-76, adding things like political debates and so on is what I would recommend. I would think, though, that we shouldn't say the issue is closed especially on the political knowledge side. I think there are things we could do.

One of the problems.... I shouldn't call it a problem. The situation in Canada, which is not the case in the other countries we've mentioned, is that we have two different levels of government, and education is at the provincial level. In those other countries, linking political knowledge to the educational system through civic education is done through the same people who are concerned about national elections and so on.

Here, of course, education is provincial. Although Elections Canada does have some relationship to the schools, and I don't think provincial governments have a problem with that, nevertheless in the countries that I know there's a very close relationship between—

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Coast of Bays—Central—Notre Dame, NL

Yes. I can't see the CIVIX organization complaining about inhibitions—

11:30 a.m.

Prof. Henry Milner

Taylor Gunn, who was here an hour ago would certainly have talked about all of this.