Evidence of meeting #119 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 hear.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Stephanie Kusie  Calgary Midnapore, CPC
David Christopherson  Hamilton Centre, NDP
Linda Lapointe  Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, Lib.
Clerk of the Committee  Mr. Andrew Lauzon

11:45 a.m.

Hamilton Centre, NDP

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

John Nater Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

That's the day prior to October 2.

Interestingly, something that was foreseen in the Ontario reforms and that was not addressed in Bill C-76 in the federal legislation was changing the date of the fixed election date. Like the federal fixed election date, the provincial fixed election date was scheduled for the first Thursday in October, which in most cases would be immediately prior to Thanksgiving. Those hours and those dates were changed to the first Thursday in June. I'd be curious to hear from the chief electoral officer on why that change was made. What was it about October that wasn't appropriate? What made it more appropriate to move it to a June date?

Certainly at a federal level in the past there have been dates throughout the calendar year, including one in January 2006. I remember that the door-knocking in that campaign wasn't always the most enjoyable, but with a good toque it worked out. It would be interesting to hear from the CEO on what considerations went into that.

It would also be interesting to hear what considerations were made by the CEO in running an election in October versus June, and June versus October, particularly in terms of locations and having the availability of space. Whether it's early June or early October, schools—public schools, elementary schools, high schools—do have classes on Mondays and Thursdays. In either of those cases, whether it's a federal or provincial election, school is in session, so the availability of schools for those things isn't really affected in either case. I would be curious to hear about that, especially when we look at comments in terms of advance polling. In October with the Thanksgiving weekend, you do run into holidays from a federal perspective but not so much provincially. Again, you have the Victoria Day weekend, which falls a couple of weeks prior to the provincial fixed election date, which has an impact.

I'll go back to the timing and the consideration that has to be made. I can recall that in the 2005-06 election, the Elections Canada offices were open on Christmas Day for those who wanted to vote by special ballot. I think that's an interesting conundrum and an interesting challenge as well that we can foresee in Bill C-76 with the date of a maximum length of a writ period—in the case where a government in a minority situation falls at a certain point—whether it be in late November or into December, and how that overlaps with a holiday period. A Christmas election is a challenge.

Certainly, when Paul Martin called that election in December 2005, it was a significant time lag that allowed the CEO and—

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Mr. Nater, we're just deciding on whether the.... On your amendment on whether the chief electoral officer is coming, he's already coming. It's already a fait accompli.

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

John Nater Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

Yes, but it leads into why he's coming prior to commencing clause-by-clause and what information we need to hear from him prior to going into clause-by-clause and prior to debating many of the amendments.

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

You can ask him that when he's here.

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

John Nater Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

I'm looking forward to asking him, but I think it's worthwhile for those around the committee table to know why I feel it's so important to hear from the CEO prior to going to clause-by-clause. Certainly the timing and the fixed election dates play into that as well.

Another issue that was proposed in the 2006 reforms and then implemented was a modernization process. That is not foreseen in this current bill. It's not foreseen at this point in time, but I'd be curious to hear from the CEO on whether that's something we should be considering as an amendment within Bill C-76, and to hear about the successes or challenges there were with that, both in their by-elections and election period itself. I want to compare this with what was said by our Chief Electoral Officer about the importance of piloting proposals in by-elections before implementing them writ large. He suggested that when it came to poll books, he was not comfortable piloting that yet in by-elections, which are likely to happen this fall. That's unless we go into a snap general election this fall, which is always a possibility. At any rate, he wasn't prepared to do that.

I think that's an appropriate and diligent approach to that, because one does not want to pilot something that could have a significant concern. In the provincial example, I look forward to hearing from Mr. Essensa on how piloting the electronic tabulators in the provincial by-elections worked or was a challenge, and then how that rolled out into a general election. Certainly the by-election—

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

Ruby Sahota Liberal Brampton North, ON

That's not even in our legislation.

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

John Nater Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

No, but it's something we could consider as an amendment to the legislation to see where that heads. It's germane to what the CEO was talking about with regard to the poll book suggestion, which also isn't in legislation but does relate to the ability of Elections Canada to work into this process. Certainly they use the example of the Whitby—Oshawa by-election to run that. That was the first opportunity they had, and I believe it was relatively successful. I remember watching those results come in quite quickly, and then it was implemented in the election.

We noticed at the time, and certainly in the election, the speed with which that occurred, with relative success, but it would be interesting to hear from Mr. Essensa about what challenges they had, especially when using a private contractor to undertake that work. I believe Dominion Voting Systems was the entity. It has undertaken to do that. Dominion is certainly a well-known company across Ontario, running their elections at the municipal level. In my constituency, I have nine municipalities, and two county governments have undertaken work with Dominion for online and telephone voting, and have done so with general success in terms of municipal elections. Hearing from Mr. Esssensa on Tuesday about how that has been undertaken would, I think, be worthwhile.

Canadians are changing how they do business, how they do their banking and how they do their shopping. More and more often these are being done in a variety of ways, whether it's online or by telephone interaction and they are not necessarily going in person to do many of the tasks they did in the past. That's not the direction Elections Ontario has taken. They've taken an electronic tabulator, but it's certainly a step towards additional automation.

I look forward to hearing Mr. Esssensa comment on the labour side of things. Ensuring that there's an appropriate number of poll clerks and deputy returning officers at each polling station to effectively run an election is a challenge. I know in my constituency, in Perth—Wellington, we have an exceptionally low unemployment rate. Ensuring that we have enough people to fill the jobs that are available on a full-time basis is a challenge in itself, but filling those jobs in a short period of time is its own challenge. Despite the fact that the jobs are relatively well remunerated, it is difficult to find people to commit to what is a long day. Twelve hours of voting is one thing, but then there's the additional time to open and close the poll and tabulate the votes at the end. Finding an appropriate amount of labour to make that happen is a challenge. There's no question about that. Hearing from Mr. Essensa on how that has worked and what issues they've had in terms of implementing that would be germane and appropriate when that happens.

Another thing was foreseen. Again, this is not a matter that applies necessarily to a riding like mine, which is relatively rural, although we do have mid-sized urban areas. Stratford would be the largest city in my riding, at 32,000 people. All the others are smaller towns under 10,000. One of the challenges was the opportunity to attend multiple-residence buildings, such as condo buildings and apartment buildings, in smaller communities. I've never had a challenge entering those multi-unit buildings, but there are often challenges with that.

The provincial legislation saw the authority of the CEO to issue fines to the owners of these buildings if canvassers are denied access to them. It would be an interesting commentary to hear from the CEO as to whether that's something we should be foreseeing in the amendments to Bill C-76, to have some form of enhanced ability. Certainly the current legislation provides that candidates and their agents are permitted to attend multi-unit buildings, but being able to enter those or having some kind of fine or sanction for those buildings would be worthwhile.

We should have that conversation with Mr. Essensa to hear what his thinking is and whether that has been successful and whether or not he's had to use that power and authority that's been given to him. Therefore, I look forward to hearing that commentary on October 2, from 11 o'clock until noon when Mr. Essensa joins us.

Another important observation that comes out of the provincial legislation on which I look forward to hearing from Mr. Essensa is the way in which the legislation itself affected the boundaries, especially when it came to representation in the north.

Mr. Chair, I don't need to tell you, from your perspective, that Yukon is significantly larger than a riding such as mine of 3,500 square kilometres, which I feel is large, certainly not in relation to yours but in relation to a Toronto riding or a Montreal riding, which is a number of subway stops or blocks, where certainly a different type of representation is needed.

In the provincial legislation, they foresaw how to make recommendations on their boundaries and suggested that an additional two electoral districts be added in the Ontario north. Certainly this isn't something that's foreseen within our legislation. Certainly when it comes to boundary commissions, I would suggest that we have taken great pains at the federal level to ensure that, in terms of the electoral district, the boundaries commissions are undertaken in a way that tries as much as possible to do so without political influence, which I think is appropriate. It provides the Speaker of the House of Commons with the authority to appoint certain members of those boundaries commissions to undertake that, but it could be something that we ask the CEO about in terms of the appropriateness of legislation enhancing the representation in rural and particularly northern communities.

As well, in this specific example, the Kenora—Rainy River and Timmins—James Bay ridings both had large indigenous populations, so the commentary at the time was that this would provide the additional opportunity for enhanced representation for indigenous communities. That is something again on which we could hear from the CEO in terms of whether that enhanced representation has been effective and whether he has some suggestions for our elections act at the federal level, ways in which we can ensure that indigenous community members are able to and have full participation in our electoral system. In this case, these ridings were of significant northern capacity. They were still very large areas but with a much smaller population than others would as well.

That brings me to one of the most important points that I really think we need to hear from the chief electoral officer of Ontario on, and that has to do with the way in which third parties operate within a federal system. We've gone through the election provincially with these changes in place, with these new limits, with the need to register. In fact, at the provincial level as well, third parties are now also required to register. We won't be hearing from municipal representatives, but it would be nonetheless worthwhile to consider that as we go about the commentary and the discussion on where we go.

The interesting component here is that third party influence on elections has, especially in the last two and a half years, become a major discussion point not only in Ontario, not only in Canada, but internationally. No one wants to see foreign influence, or undue foreign influence, at any level in any country. We do not need to have any commentary or even a hint of a hint that a foreign influence could be having a role in our election process. The ongoing discussion in the United States about the foreign influence from Russia on the 2016 presidential election is not a discussion we want to be having here. We need to ensure that our rules, our laws in Canada, are as strong and as strict as possible for us to ensure there is not that influence.

Looking at the Ontario example, and looking at what I hope to hear from Mr. Essensa, it's specifically the way in which this third party rules, this third party process, was put in place during the election period and the time prior to the election period, as well. Currently in the federal legislation, there are different considerations, whether it's during the writ period, during the pre-writ period or not during the writ period, of the way in which third parties can operate.

What I find interesting from the provincial component and where Mr. Essensa will be able to provide pertinent commentary is that prior to the introduction of this piece of legislation, there was no limit on what could be spent on advertising before an election period. That's a concern. That's a concern when you have deep pockets that can influence an election by running ads and by paying for paid advertisers and paid workers during an election campaign and in the time prior to the writ period, as well.

When this change was implemented, the limit on third parties was a maximum of $100,000 during an election period, and no more than $4,000 within a specific electoral district. Even $4,000 in any given electoral district, I think, is high. Four thousand dollars' worth of advertising in any given riding could have a substantial impact, especially if we're not entirely clear where that funding is coming from and whether there is some foreign influence.

One of the things on which we heard testimony was the need for anti-collusion measures to ensure there's not a close association between multiple third parties. That's where my concern lies as well. If you have multiple third parties each running four thousand dollars' worth of ads in any given electoral district, you're looking at a major concern, especially when political parties are capped very stringently in terms of how much money they can spend in any given electoral district. Looking at the upcoming election, that's just shy of $100,000 in a given riding per registered candidate. That's a concern.

We should hear from Mr. Essensa in terms of how those limits were implemented and how they were enforced. I think that's one of the concerns we've heard from witnesses and from Canadians, as well: that it's well and good to have limits, to have limits on third parties, to have limits on foreign influence, but if it's not clear how these rules are enforced, if it's not clear that they can be enforced in some situations, then we have major concerns. To hear from Mr. Essensa, hear his commentary on exactly how that will be undertaken, I think, will be exceptionally interesting.

In the legislation prior to its introduction in 2016 and its implementation for 2018, there were no rules about whether third parties could collaborate on political advertising campaigns, and a very few of them working with political actors, to get around campaign finance regulations. That's a concern. Something I would be very intrigued to hear about from Mr. Essensa is whether he's aware of examples provincially, prior to the introduction of the bill, where political parties were working with third party organizations to coordinate a message, to coordinate a strategy in terms of working toward a common outcome, but in a way in which the campaign finance regulation was being subverted and people were getting around the rules.

On the anti-collusion measures that are envisioned in the provincial legislation, I think it would be worthwhile to hear his commentary, and then hear suggestions about the way in which, at the federal level, when we are reviewing the amendments, we can work to ensure that we have strong anti-collusion measures, as well. No one wants to see a system in which political actors, parties or party candidates are working very closely with third parties to get around the spending limits and spending caps. I'll be intrigued to hear from Mr. Essensa in terms of where things can happen and where things can go from there, as well.

Most of us around this table at one time or another have been candidates for a nomination. We've had to run for the nominations for our specific parties and then win those nominations. Sometimes members are required to win multiple nominations as different elections come on. We've seen that in different political parties.

One of the things that I find intriguing with the provincial example is that prior to the changes, there were no limits on how much a person could give to a nomination contestant. Substantial amounts of money could go into a nomination contest and could effectively be used as advertising for a general election, but under the auspices of a nomination race. It allowed those running for nomination in political parties to substantially influence an election campaign prior to the actual election campaign simply by having a delayed nomination contest, especially in situations where there was a tight riding where that added spending limit could be done with no limits on either the contributions or the spending. Games could be played, but that was something that was cracked down on within the legislation that was foreseen.

Now individuals can only give up to $1,200 to association and nomination contestants of a party annually, aligning it with the amounts that can be given to a political party or to a nominated candidate. As for the amount of money the contestant can spend, that's been capped at 20% of the candidate's spending limit in an electoral district in the previous election. In a riding where there's about a $100,000 spending limit, which is generally about where spending limits are—a little less in some ridings and a little more in others, depending on the size and the population—you're looking at a $20,000 limit for a nomination contestant. Again, it's not an insignificant amount of money, but it's still substantial enough that you're looking at a way in which the money can be spent. However, it nonetheless affects how that is undertaken.

More generally, in terms of financing, again, something that Mr. Essensa can comment on, especially as it relates to our legislation, is the amount of money and how it is distributed to political parties. In one sense, the provincial government was behind us federally in terms of how parties are financed. Until very recently, corporations and unions could make political contributions. Certainly in Canada that practice has been banned for many years. Initially the limits were reduced under former prime minister Jean Chrétien, but certainly they were banned altogether as one of the first acts by former prime minister Stephen Harper when he took office in 2006. This certainly changed the ways that parties fundraise and the ways that parties finance their election campaigns. I think that's a worthwhile conversation that needs to be had.

I find it interesting that prior to that change provincially, an individual could donate as much as $33,250 in any given election year by making the changes throughout the different levels—to the party, to the electoral district, to the nominated candidate—in a particular by-election. There are these situations in which, in each case, they can be making these donations. Hearing from Mr. Essensa in terms of how that has come to play and how that has happened would be worthwhile.

More generally as well, in terms of his contribution to our studies at hand, is the way in which funds are raised. We've certainly seen provincially what has been referred to as cash for access fundraisers. Provincial ministers were, at the time, given quotas of how much funding had to be raised in a certain time. These funds were raised by directly advocating and asking for contributions from those who may lobby or hope to do business with a provincial ministry.

The changes that were undertaken by the provincial government were what some would consider very strict, some would say draconian. Rather than addressing the problem of decision-makers being influenced by financial contributions, there was a movement to, effectively, ban all political actors from attending fundraisers, with few, if any, exceptions. This applied to pretty much anyone other than staff, which I found interesting. A chief of staff to a senior cabinet minister could attend, but a nominated candidate in a riding that is unlikely to go to a certain political party is banned from attending a fundraiser.

There's been interesting commentary on that. Interesting commentaries were that cardboard cutouts have been used in place of an actual member or minister attending a fundraiser.

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Mr. Nater—

12:15 p.m.

Conservative

John Nater Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

It's germane to this topic at hand, because it talks more generally about ways in which funds are raised, whether it's through political parties or to third parties within this, and may provide Mr. Essensa, who's coming on October 2—

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

There are just a couple of things, Mr. Nater. First, I think that's related to another bill that we have discussed, so it's not as relevant. Second, I'm just curious. You began by outlining a lot of important work the committee has to get to. I'm wondering if you think that speaking ad nauseam for a witness to come, who's already agreed to come, and we're all agreed is coming, helps move us quickly toward that.

The other thing I'm getting confused about is that I thought we agreed on Tuesday to set a date to go to clause-by-clause. The committee members all agreed. I'm not sure how we didn't actually set a date.

September 27th, 2018 / 12:15 p.m.

Conservative

John Nater Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

That's certainly an interesting observation. It's important that we discuss this bill. It's important that we recognize, as well, that there are discussions happening on this bill, in places that are not in this committee. I think that a sign of good faith from all sides is, hopefully, forthcoming. We've been very clear on our side, to the minister directly, to the parliamentary secretary, of certain concerns we have, particularly as they relate to third party financing and foreign influence.

We do have a bill before the House of Commons—I believe it's Bill C-406—which directly deals with foreign influence. That's not dealt with as strongly as it should be in this bill.

We need that show of goodwill. There have been discussions going back and forth between our shadow minister and the minister for the past five to six days, since last week.

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Ruby Sahota Liberal Brampton North, ON

Do you know if they're on that subject matter?

12:15 p.m.

Conservative

John Nater Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

I was not privy to those meetings, but I know those topics are going back and forth. I'm hopeful that perhaps the minister is currently in the cabinet meeting as we speak. I'm hopeful that perhaps there may be word sent down at some point that we could very much go ahead with where we're going. Certainly, from our side, we've expressed our concerns about where we stand on this bill.

We recognize that in this committee there are three of us. There are 96 or 97 of us in the House of Commons. In the same way, Mr. Christopherson is one on this committee, he's one of 44 in the House. We do not have a majority, as the government does. The government will pass its legislation, one way or another. It has the tools at its disposal to do so. We do not. We do not have those same tools. Our only tools are persuasive arguments that Mr. Reid and Ms. Kusie can make, mine being less persuasive, and the element of time.

12:15 p.m.

Linda Lapointe Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, Lib.

That's alright, you can continue.

12:15 p.m.

Conservative

John Nater Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

I was going to say something in French, but I'm not going to try it. I do not practise my French quite as—

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Ruby Sahota Liberal Brampton North, ON

I would like to make a one-minute rebuttal, and I'll give the floor back to you.

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

David Graham Liberal Laurentides—Labelle, QC

At least you are admitting it's a filibuster.

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Ruby Sahota Liberal Brampton North, ON

Yesterday I reminded you that this motion I brought forward that you are making an amendment to probably seemed eerily familiar to yours. When passing Bill C-23, you brought forth a very similar bill. I have to remind you that at that time all other parties in Parliament had a lot of issues with many of the clauses in that piece of legislation, but none of it mattered.

Now we have support from three parties in the House on this piece of legislation, yet time and time again they've been stalling, and many tactics are being used on the other side. They've been stalling the bill from moving forward.

These types of motions are not unheard of. We've been given quite a lot of time. Previously, all that was given to clause-by-clause was 15 hours. I recall that only a few weeks were given at that time as well.

I just want to remind you, to refresh your memory on that notion.

I understand that you want to see the chief electoral officer of Ontario. As the chair has pointed out, the chief electoral officer is finally available, so we're all really excited to have the chief electoral officer here. We're not trying to withhold the knowledge and wisdom that he would bring in order to pass this legislation with appropriate amendments that might be needed. We're looking forward to that.

I hope that maybe we can vote on your amendment. Regardless of how the vote goes, we would still be seeing the chief electoral officer on Tuesday. We all look forward to that testimony. We all look forward for us to move forward to clause-by-clause, see this legislation through and give it the scrutiny that it deserves.

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

John Nater Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

Thank you, Ms. Sahota. I appreciate the commentary.

I do appreciate something more generally, Chair, and to the committee. I do think that this committee has operated very well. I think it will continue to do so, notwithstanding my extensive comments on the matter at hand.

I want to go back to the motion and to the amendment. My amendment does, no question, take out the drop-dead date of clause-by-clause of October 16, the date that we are to report back to the House. I appreciate very much the leniency provided to the chair through the motion that he may limit. I think that's something we are generally okay with.

There are going to be clauses that we are going to agree to and that we are all going to agree to, and they can be dealt with very quickly. I hope that we will come to an understanding informally. The term is gentlemen's agreement. I don't know if there's another way to say that, that's not....

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

David Graham Liberal Laurentides—Labelle, QC

It's a handshake agreement.

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

John Nater Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

It's a handshake agreement.

I hope that we can get to the point where there is a handshake agreement for certain clauses as they come up that we do away with....

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

David Graham Liberal Laurentides—Labelle, QC

We still have to schedule clause-by-clause. I'm still waiting for the results of that.

Your handshake isn't worth that much right now.

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

John Nater Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

I'm hoping we can get to a point where we can establish that as we go through.

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

David Graham Liberal Laurentides—Labelle, QC

I'm sure you are.