Evidence of meeting #46 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 c-33.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

I call this meeting to order.

Good morning, and welcome to the 46th meeting of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. This meeting is being held in public and it's televised.

Pursuant to the order adopted by the committee on November 29, we have with us today the Minister of Democratic Institutions, the Honourable Maryam Monsef, to discuss the provisions contained in Bill C-33, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts.

The minister is accompanied by Natasha Kim, director, democratic reform, Privy Council Office; and Robert Sampson, senior policy adviser, counsel, democratic reform, Privy Council Office.

Before giving the floor to the minister, I want to make a couple of points.

I'm sure you all received the document sent to you by the Library of Parliament researcher comparing the recommendations in the Chief Electoral Officer's report and the items in Bill C-33.

Although Bill C-33 has not been referred to our committee by the House, the committee has invited the minister to discuss the content of the bill, pursuant to its permanent mandate under Standing Order 108(3)(a). Members will note similarities between some of the provisions of the bill and the recommendations contained in the Chief Electoral Officer's report, which the committee has been studying. Much of that study has been carried out in camera so members should exercise caution if they refer to the committee's deliberations.

The Chief Electoral Officer's report and all the recommendations are public. You could talk about them and talk about Bill C-33, which is public, but not what we discussed about the Chief Electoral Officer's recommendations.

Minister, welcome. Thank you for coming. The floor is yours.

December 13th, 2016 / 12:05 p.m.

Peterborough—Kawartha Ontario

Liberal

Maryam Monsef LiberalMinister of Democratic Institutions

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, and thank you, colleagues, for your invitation to be here with you today.

The last time I was here we talked about the Senate appointment process and the government's mandate and commitments on ways we can improve our democracy and our democratic institutions.

I'm very much grateful for the opportunity to be here with you today for a number of reasons. You've had more than 40 meetings; it has been about a year since this Parliament began sitting, and you and I very much walk the same path. We have the same challenges and we have the same goals of protecting what's working and what we are so fortunate to have and improving it further.

As always, your input and perspective are greatly appreciated. As my parliamentary secretary Mark Holland and I have travelled the country and studied the work we're doing, time and time again the testimony that has come before this committee comes up, around a family-friendly Parliament, for example. The work this committee has done and the conversations you've had come up again and again. As you know, my work on this file is shaped mostly by a desire to make this place more inclusive, to make the voting process more accessible. I know that together we share these objectives. We have a lot of work to do, and we've begun some of that work.

I also know that you have been reviewing the recommendations our Chief Electoral Officer made based on the results of the last election. I'm really looking forward to the results of that study. I'm looking forward to the possibility of hearing more about that work today. As I've said, we're very proud of the phase one reforms that we've introduced through Bill C-33. We believe it's a strong bill, but I'm also mindful of the fact that the bill could be further strengthened, and if your committee and the work you've done could contribute to that, I think we would serve Canada well.

Now, before I move on I think it's really important, given that it's the middle of December, Mr. Chair, that I take this opportunity to express how much I value—and I think we all share this—the work we've been able to do with our Chief Electoral Officer. He has served this country and Canadians for a decade, and his professionalism and dedication to this country and to the health and integrity of our democracy, I believe, are a model for public service. I'm sure we all wish him well in his retirement, which is imminent.

As you know, Bill C-33 proposes amendments to the Canada Elections Act. We introduced it in the House recently, and it's important to talk a little about the current Canadian context for Bill C-33.

You've been involved in this conversation, colleagues, as has the electoral reform committee. What Mark Holland and I have heard across the country is that, while it's important to enhance the way we vote, it's also really important to make it easier for people to get to the polling station, to prove their identity, to have the right information, and to remove unnecessary barriers that exist. This is in line with what we've heard across the country.

As we work towards electoral reform, while it's clear there are sometimes contradictory perspectives on process and many different perspectives, I think something we can all agree on is that our democracy is connected very much to who we are as individuals and to our sense of identity as Canadians. Canadian democracy continues to be a model for the world.

That's why I think it's really important that any improvements we make be in the best interests of all Canadians, and that's what Bill C-33 is all about. The changes we're proposing in Bill C-33 are about empowering Canadians with the knowledge they need and encouraging greater engagement in our democracy.

Bill C-33 is about helping more Canadians learn about the value of voting. It's about empowering more Canadians who qualify in casting a ballot. It's about breaking down barriers that don't need to be there, that currently prevent too many Canadians from voting. While it's true that the democracy and culture we have here in Canada are the envy of the world, and they work, we can't be complacent. The pressing challenge for us ahead I believe is to make sure that our democracy works for all Canadians without exception.

We want to make it easier for Canadians to vote, because when that happens, democracy is better. This is a goal that I believe we can all agree on. It can only be accomplished if we all work together. You may recall the conversation I had with the good folks at the press gallery after introducing Bill C-33, when I mentioned how important it is for me for this bill to have benefited from the expertise and contributions of all parliamentarians. I want to reinforce that here today. I am counting on your deep expertise and knowledge of electoral reform to achieve that.

To paint the picture of this suite of reforms that I have been mandated to ask for, I'm going to set aside Bill C-33 for just a moment, just to let you know what we've done in the past year and what's ahead of us. I have a feeling I'll be coming back to this committee again and again, and I think it's helpful for you to know what initiatives are likely to come before you for deliberation.

As you know, the Prime Minister set a rather ambitious agenda for democratic reform. While it brings many complex challenges, we are making progress on this agenda.

A non-partisan, merit-based appointment process for the Prime Minister to be advised on Senate appointments so that accomplished Canadians from all walks of life from across the country would be considered for the Senate has been established.

A parliamentary committee has studied electoral reform. The committee's report was received on December 1. The government will be responding in detail to that report in the new year.

The matter that brings me here today is an item that is in my mandate letter. As you know, the Fair Elections Act has unfair aspects which were controversial in nature but also unhelpful in engaging Canadians and allowing them to participate in their democracy in their ability to vote. These are things I have been asked to address through repealing those elements of the Fair Elections Act. These again are things that make it harder for Canadians to vote and easier for lawbreakers to evade punishment.

With Bill C-33, the government has introduced some amendments to advance these commitments. The focus was on making changes to those areas that we heard most loudly on from Canadians. We've heard from the debates that took place in the House and in committees like this one, during the last election, and from people, frankly, who I've met across the country in talking about electoral reform, that changes need to be made. There was no good reason why some of those changes were introduced in the first place.

There are other changes that have been suggested and the government will be looking to introduce further legislation going forward. I look forward to the input and advice of this committee to make sure that we're putting the best possible legislation forward to benefit all Canadians.

What is Bill C-33 about? It responds to the concerns that I've just shared with seven important reforms.

The first two reforms focus on making it easier for eligible Canadians to vote. Ultimately, it would increase voter participation through reinstating the voter information card and the vouching process.

The third reform is about engaging Canadians through education about Canada's electoral process.

The fourth, and this is something that I've heard across the country, is about engaging youth further by providing an opportunity for Elections Canada to pre-register youth ages 14 to 17, so that they can be invited to be part of the democratic institutions at an earlier age.

The fifth reform is about building more integrity into our voting system by giving Elections Canada the resources it needs to clean up the data in the national list of electors.

Our sixth reform would make the administrative adjustments necessary to formally return the commissioner of Canada elections to Elections Canada.

Finally, our seventh reform would make it easier for Canadians working and living abroad by expanding the right to vote to over a million Canadians, even if they've been away from home for more than five years.

Again, I want to be clear. I believe these are strong reforms that we've introduced. There's more work to be done and we'll be introducing further legislation, but Bill C-33 is the first of a series of reforms that will come before you for consideration.

Another area that is a priority for Mark and me is to focus on ways to improve access to the democratic process for Canadians who are often on the margins of our society. I'm talking about homeless people, young people, seniors, indigenous Canadians, new Canadians, those with physical disabilities, those with various abilities and exceptionalities, and of course, those who come from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

Bill C-33 aims to address some of those challenges for these groups by making voting easier for groups that traditionally and consistently experience difficulty proving their identity. There is also a great deal invested in enhancing youth participation through a future list of electors being generated, but as always, there's more work to be done.

Something that we can look forward to in the future is a commitment to bring forward options to create an independent commissioner to organize political party debates. The options that we present need to be informed by the input of Canadians, political parties, broadcasters, journalists, and others as we work towards this goal. We've learned that knowledge is key to democratic participation, and leaders' debates are an important piece of the puzzle when it comes to educating Canadians. I know that the Chief Electoral Officer's recommendations are before you. You'll be working together to enhance the accessibility of our elections. I very much look forward to hearing your recommendations on the Chief Electoral Officer's advice.

I want to thank you, again, for the opportunity to be here, Mr. Chair. I'm very happy to answer any questions that colleagues may have.

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Thank you, Minister.

We'll go to Mr. Graham for the first round of seven minutes.

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

David Graham Liberal Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Thank you, Minister, for being here.

I find Bill C-33 is a very important bill. As staff to the Liberal critic for democratic reform in the last Parliament, I was very heavily involved in fighting the unfair elections act. That said, you are aware that we were studying the election office's report and from the announced report there are five overlapping sections of the bill with our study.

I don't want to get too much into that, but I wanted to make sure you're aware of that part, which you've addressed, and I thank you for that. There are 132 recommendations in that report, of which there are 127 left. You just said there are going to be more bills coming. I'd like to get a sense from you of what the priorities are for us to study so we don't have the situation again where the bill comes before our study is complete.

I'd really like to make sure that we have the opportunity to study it in advance. I'd like to know, of those 127 remaining recommendations that didn't get addressed in Bill C-33, where your priorities lie for us to get through.

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

Maryam Monsef Liberal Peterborough—Kawartha, ON

Mr. Chair, I thank my colleague for his very thoughtful question.

While I'm not privy to the conversations you folks have through your in camera deliberations, I understand that reviewing and making recommendations on the Chief Electoral Officer's report is very much within your mandate. It's something I'm counting on. These changes we put forward in Bill C-33 I believe are straightforward. I'm not sure where you are in your review of them, but you're right that there's quite a bit more work to be done. I understand that you will be providing a report to the House in the new year. We're eagerly awaiting your recommendations.

On this particular bill, too, there were areas where we could have gone further, but the decision we considered to be the most thoughtful one was to just wait. An example is expanding the right to vote to Canadians living and working abroad for more than five years. We've expanded the right to those Canadians who have at one time lived here in Canada, but something that we're counting on this committee to study further and provide its recommendations on is the status of the children of those Canadians living abroad who are still Canadians but who have never lived in Canada. Do we expand the right to vote to them?

Ultimately, I believe my main goal with my mandate letter, the reason we all work very hard every day, is that we want to see more Canadians participating in their democratic process, whether as engaged and informed voters or as active participants and candidates. That is an area of key priority for me: accessibility and inclusion. That is something I think we can do in the months, if not years, ahead. That's something we can improve upon. These are some of my priorities that I think are important for you to know, but I'm also happy to have conversations with colleagues around this table about what you would collectively like to see moving forward.

I know that what you do in this committee, one of the things that's quite impressive, is you're able to work collegially. You're able to put partisan interests aside. You see the big picture and you move forward based on what's in the best interests of all Canadians. That's the spirit that I think we need to work towards to improve democratic participation. If there are areas you believe need to be at the heart of our focus, then talk to me.

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

David Graham Liberal Laurentides—Labelle, QC

The last three sections of Bill C-33 deal with the Frank decision and repositioning the elections commissioner. None of those topics were addressed in the election officer's report. What I'd like to know from you is, what approach you think we should take to reconcile our recommendations, which we cannot disclose at this time, with the bill that is already out. You're open to amendments, but they could become quite significant, so I want to get your take on that.

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Maryam Monsef Liberal Peterborough—Kawartha, ON

Okay. Not having seen the report—

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

David Graham Liberal Laurentides—Labelle, QC

We can't obviously as we're not in camera.

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Maryam Monsef Liberal Peterborough—Kawartha, ON

I understand. I believe the work that you've done, whatever areas of the recommendations they've been on, will be really important for everyone. The bill's going to come before you and we are open, as I mentioned from the very beginning, to thoughtful amendments, to further strengthen this bill. That's what the democratic process is all about. That's why committees are tasked with doing the important work they do, so that together we can make sure we put the best legislation forward for Canadians.

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

David Graham Liberal Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Thank you for taking the time to have this conversation with us. I think it's a very important one to have.

I have a few minutes left, and I'd like to give them to Ms. Petitpas Taylor.

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Ginette Petitpas Taylor Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Thank you.

Once again, thank you so much, Minister, for joining us this morning. I realize you're busy, and we appreciate having you at the committee.

Over the course of the summer, I had an objective that I was going to have one town hall on electoral reform. When I had my first town hall, I realized that many people at that town hall were oftentimes the same people I had at most of my town halls. I took it upon myself, however, to go out and to meet with different groups of people I wanted to meet with, specifically our marginalized population, our youth, and people who are oftentimes not engaged in the political process. Could you please specify how this legislation, Bill C-33, would involve more Canadians in the electoral process, especially among disproportionately under-represented groups?

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Maryam Monsef Liberal Peterborough—Kawartha, ON

Ginette, the first two measures are all about ID requirements. We know that homeless people don't have a fixed address. We know that students, for example, who are first-time voters, who are away from home and studying in a different community, may not always have their most recent address on their ID. We know there are individuals, for example, indigenous persons, who have been counting on vouching as a way of being able to participate. We know there are a lot of older adults. I'm from Peterborough—Kawartha, one of the oldest CMAs in Canada, where there are a lot of retirement residences, a lot of long-term care facilities. There were seniors who showed up with their voter information card during the last election thinking that they could use it as ID, and they were turned away.

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

We're out of time for this round.

We'll go to Mr. Reid.

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

Thank you, Minister. Glad to see you here.

I wanted to ask you, have you had a chance to read the letter I sent to you yesterday? Excellent. Would you be willing to answer questions today regarding MyDemocracy.ca?

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

Maryam Monsef Liberal Peterborough—Kawartha, ON

I want to thank my colleague for the very thoughtful letter that he sent and for the very important questions that he raised. I'm happy to answer broadly any questions you may have about MyDemocracy.ca, but also, Mr. Reid, I'm happy to come back to this committee and have an in-depth conversation about electoral reform, as you folks see fit.

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

Does that include, Minister, coming back, as the motion I had put forward on Friday suggests, to answer questions regarding MyDemocracy.ca and the government's planned agenda for electoral reform?

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

Maryam Monsef Liberal Peterborough—Kawartha, ON

Yes, if you believe that's a good use of your time, and if you think that is a good idea, I can make sure that I have the right time frame set aside, but also we'll make sure that we have officials in the room who can provide any technical explanations or descriptions as you see fit.

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

That's fantastic.

I do want to move to Bill C-33. In order to facilitate that, now that we know you'd be willing to come back, Mr. Chair, I move:

That the Committee invite the Minister of Democratic Institutions to appear for not less than two hours to answer questions regarding MyDemocracy.ca and the government’s planned agenda for electoral reform.

I take it, Mr. Chair, because we moved off the topic, that we can conclude that I haven't used up my seven minutes yet. I'm not using up the time for the questions to the minister.

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Right.

Mr. Chan.

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

Arnold Chan Liberal Scarborough—Agincourt, ON

I have a question on the motion. Is it the exact one that you filed? Is it verbatim?

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

Yes. If I deviated in any way, regard the written text as the one that is being moved here.

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Ms. Sahota.

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

Ruby Sahota Liberal Brampton North, ON

I have a comment on the motion. It's written in a way where it says “not less than two hours”. To me, I understand that the intent may be to have the minister here for a full two hours, but the way it reads, you could suggest six hours, eight hours, or whatever. I was just wondering if you'd be open to a friendly amendment to say “for two hours”.

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

For two hours. Yes, I would be agreeable to that.

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Are people ready for the question?

(Motion as amended agreed to)

You can carry on with your questions.