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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

December 13th, 2016 / 12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair. We were at one minute and 45 seconds when we stopped.

First of all, Minister, thank you for coming here to talk about Bill C-33.

Minister, I've been on this committee for over a decade, through a number of election cycles, starting under the Chrétien government, and every election cycle, the minister, or rather, I correct myself, the Chief Electoral Officer submits a report on recommended changes subsequent to the election and the experiences that he—it's been a he so far, so that's not sexist language—Mr. Kingsley or Mr. Mayrand, thinks ought to be made based on the experience.

Then the procedure and House affairs committee engages in an exhaustive review of that report, makes recommendations based on a riffing off, if you like, of the CEO's recommendations, submits those, and the government responds. It may respond in a way the committee judges to be satisfactory or unsatisfactory, but the fact is that you wait for that process.

You moved ahead without waiting for our report, and although we're not permitted to say what we were discussing, I can tell you that some of what we were discussing in our report was, I thought, of enormous use, and cannot be dealt with in some supplemental piece of legislation because it very much featured some of the key issues that you're dealing with and setting in stone in this piece of legislation.

May I ask why you didn't follow the precedent of all your predecessors in this regard and wait until our report had been submitted? If I may say so...well, let me just stop there and ask that question, Minister.

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

Maryam Monsef Liberal Peterborough—Kawartha, ON

Mr. Chair, first, I'm thankful to the honourable member for his decade of service on this committee. I used to watch committee proceedings like this on television, and I'm continuously in awe of the work that you do and the collegial way in which you do it. I've been following the work of this committee closely. I know that you've been working on a review of all the recommendations—over 100—that the Chief Electoral Officer made. I can assure you that nothing is set in stone.

As you understand the parliamentary process, introducing the bill is step one. There will be ongoing debate, and your recommendations and the work that you've done can be formulated into thoughtful amendments to the bill. As I've indicated, I'm interested in making sure that the strongest possible legislation moves forward, and that includes input from you as well.

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

Mr. Chair, I will split my time with Mr. Schmale.

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Jamie Schmale Conservative Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes—Brock, ON

Thank you very much, Minister. It's always good to have my geographical neighbour here at this committee.

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

Maryam Monsef Liberal Peterborough—Kawartha, ON

We're neighbours. That's right.

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Jamie Schmale Conservative Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes—Brock, ON

It's nice to see you again. Given the fact that you're here at this committee to talk about Bill C-33, and the fact, as Mr. Reid was saying, that it kind of jumped ahead of the study we're doing in committee, you also mentioned in your speech that there is further legislation coming. I think Mr. Graham asked the question, but I just want to clarify a little sooner, based on the timeline that we don't come back until the end of January, and you said, I believe, that in the spring you're coming.... That doesn't really give us much time to get the study done, get the information to you or to Parliament, and allow that to be incorporated into your legislation. Given the fact that you're here because you kind of jumped ahead, how are you going to have the correct information in front of you and be able to get in a piece of legislation in time to actually make our work worthwhile?

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

Maryam Monsef Liberal Peterborough—Kawartha, ON

Mr. Chair, I want to thank my neighbour for his question. The work that I'm doing is guided by my mandate letter. I think it was the Clerk of the Privy Council who said that, of all the government web pages, the page with our mandate letters is the most frequently visited one. So there's some interesting trivia for you, if that's helpful in any way to guide the work that you do.

Repealing the unfair aspects of the Fair Elections Act is part of my mandate. Putting together a process for appointments to the Senate has been part of my mandate. The establishment of an all-party committee was part of my mandate. Moving forward, creating the office of a debates commissioner is something that is going to require significant deliberation, coordination, consultation, and study. That's something that I'm counting on this committee to help support. Moving forward, areas around the review of the Elections Act itself as it pertains to various ways that our elections are governed is in line with my mandate. I'm looking forward to working with this committee.

The changes that we proposed in Bill C-33 were relatively straightforward.

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Jamie Schmale Conservative Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes—Brock, ON

I don't mean to cut you off. I do only have a limited amount of time, and you did mention a few things.

How do we have a guarantee that this will not happen again with what we are working on?

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

Maryam Monsef Liberal Peterborough—Kawartha, ON

When is your report going to be delivered? Perhaps that's an area that you can provide me with some clarity on, Mr. Chair.

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Our time is up, but if you have any answer to that, go ahead.

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Jamie Schmale Conservative Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes—Brock, ON

I was going to say that was the first part of my question.

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

I'm happy to respond.

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Jamie Schmale Conservative Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes—Brock, ON

That was the first part of my question, how this has happened, and we jumped ahead of the process, and the fact that, as I mentioned, we come back at the end of January. You're saying in the spring there's more legislation coming, so how do we have a guarantee here as a committee that you're not going to jump ahead? If that is the case, what is the point in our doing this work, as Mr. Reid pointed out?

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Maybe you could wait until later because his time is up.

Mr. Christopherson, you have seven minutes.

12:35 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Minister, thank you very much for coming. We very much appreciate it.

I have to tell you, you being here is a complete shemozzle. I am so confused. I am further confused as to why you're here talking to us about this bill.

The fact of the matter is there's only so much I can say in terms of our in camera talks, but there are smart people in this room, such as Kady O'Malley, who can look very carefully at the chronology of what has happened to get some idea of why you're in front of this committee. I can assure you that it wasn't to talk about the pleasantries of Bill C-33.

The fact of the matter is you say things such as “eagerly awaiting”, “walk the same path”, “if we all work together”, and “collegial”. The fact is that we started an excellent process of working together on this committee to review the recommendations of the Chief Electoral Officer. We were going along working, and we have dual tracks and lots of stuff. We're doing good work; we thought we were doing good work. We're feeling good about it. That's not to say we've agreed on everything, but in terms of process, we were working as a team trying to come up with rules that everybody thought would be fair. Then, all of a sudden, out of nowhere, thump, and Bill C-33 lands in the middle of the floor of the House of Commons on the very same day that we're about to meet and continue working. We're left, or at least I was left, wondering what the hell? What is going on?

On the one hand, we have a committee that's working together. Your government, Minister, promised that you were going to treat parliamentary committees with the respect they deserve, that you were going to bring back the importance of parliamentary committees, yet all we've seen are insults, especially with this committee as a result of Bill C-33. Then, I won't dwell on it but I have to say, we watched the absolute disgrace of the government's response to the electoral reform committee's tabling of that report, where you were on your feet apologizing.

Again, I'm kind of stuck here because I can't talk about what was said in camera, but I can say—and if somebody wants to hold me for telling tales out of school, fine, but I think I'm walking the line carefully—that Mr. Graham, to his credit, came to me immediately afterwards, when we were seized of the bill being tabled, and said, “How can we fix this? What can we do?” I said my goal was to get us back to work, that after all these decades in public life I didn't need another headline, and that what I wanted to do was some good work.

Then I happened to bump into you, Minister. I won't talk about the full conversation, but I think it's fair to say that we actually bumped into each other twice in the hallway on that day, and you were asking the same as Mr. Graham, “How can we fix this?” My response was the same, that an apology would be a good way to start. I still haven't heard one.

You go on and on about Bill C-33. We didn't call you in here, Minister, to talk about Bill C-33, because it hasn't been referred to us yet.

What I as one member of this committee want to know is how do we continue to do the work that we're doing—which is supposed to show the respect and importance that this government was going to return to committees—when you drop that bill on the floor, looking for all intents and purposes as nothing but a diversion to get you and your government out of trouble for the heat you were taking on the broader file that was going down in flames?

If it's not that, at best it's a lack of respect or consideration for this committee. At worst, it's a total disregard for committee work, which happens to have been reinforced by the comments. I accept that you've apologized; nonetheless, it happened. I happened to walk into the House as you were beginning and I couldn't believe that was the response.

Minister, I am still angry about the process. At least the previous government didn't pretend to want to make the committees important. They at least were clear about their disdain for parliamentary committees and the work they do. Fair enough; that has been dealt with. Those chickens came home to roost, and that's why you, Minister, are sitting where you are sitting, in large part because of that attitude. You can say you're going to do something different, but so far we hear talk, talk, talk, but none of the walk.

So, Minister, I need a couple of things from you, starting with an apology to this committee, as you apologized to the last committee, for the way you have treated the work of this committee. Second, I'd like to get some idea of how you think this parliamentary committee is going to continue to do its work in light of you dropping bills on the floor that cherry-pick issues we're working with.

I'll end on this final point. When you say things such as, “When will your report be ready,” it is a very good question, but that is the kind of question that should be asked at the beginning of the process of our work if your ministry is serious about coordinating it with the work of your government. Right now, there's a disconnect.

I need to hear from you, Minister, how you think we are going to respond and get back on track, or are we not going to be able to? Are we just going to continue to have this government pitted against its own parliamentary committees?

12:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Minister, you have about 45 seconds.

12:40 p.m.

Liberal

Maryam Monsef Liberal Peterborough—Kawartha, ON

Mr. Chair, I want to thank my colleague for his work and clarify that the repealing of the unfair aspects of the Fair Elections Act did not come out of nowhere. They were very much publicly shared through my mandate letter, as given to me by the Prime Minister.

I continue to have a great deal of respect for the work that you do. There are areas within Bill C-33, which I outlined earlier, that I'm counting on you to do further analysis and study on.

Can we do things better? Absolutely. Am I committed to that? I can guarantee that to you, Mr. Christopherson.

I will end on this. In March 2014, I watched you advocate for the very changes that we brought forward in Bill C-33. That's the important work that we're here to do. Mr. Christopherson, I'm going to count on your expertise and wisdom to make sure that more of the recommendations from the Chief Electoral Officer make it into legislation so that we can improve access and engagement for all Canadians.

12:45 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Wow. If that's the approach, Minister, to responding to everything that's happened, I'm sorry, but your government is just not getting it.

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Ms. Vandenbeld.

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

Anita Vandenbeld Liberal Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Thanks very much, Minister, for being here today and for being so willing to come before our committee to answer our questions.

I'd like to take a moment to pick up on what Mr. Christopherson said. My understanding from your testimony just now is that you are very open to having amendments to Bill C-33 that could be informed by the discussion that we have been having. We can't discuss what we've been doing in camera, but if there are aspects where we've had deliberations and dialogue, the work that we've done is going to be useful when we receive Bill C-33, and we're able to put forward amendments.

Could I clarify that you would be open to amendments that are informed by the dialogue we've been having?

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

Maryam Monsef Liberal Peterborough—Kawartha, ON

We believe this is a strong bill, Anita, but absolutely. That's why the bill is coming to you. We're counting on your deliberations to further enhance it.

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

Anita Vandenbeld Liberal Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Thank you.

I'd also like to ask about an element that is not in the Chief Electoral Officer's report, but is in Bill C-33. It is one that is of personal interest to me, having worked overseas for many years with the United Nations and other organizations. There are some very good Canadians who are abroad, who are doing work promoting Canadian values. In my case, I even received a peacekeeping service medal from the Governor General for the work that I was doing in Kosovo with OSCE, and yet, had I continued that work, I would have become ineligible to vote in Canadian elections, as have many other Canadians, because of the changes that were made by the previous government.

I understood you to say earlier that you were looking to our committee, not only to look at that aspect of Bill C-33, but to decide on some of the parameters and how this would actually apply.

I also know there is a court case right now, a charter challenge, Frank v. Canada.

Could you elaborate on why it is important that a young generation of Canadians who are going around the world and starting businesses...? We have doctors and teachers who are going around the world. There are all kinds of Canadians who are doing very good work around the world. To lose your right to vote because you have gone abroad to promote Canadian values, I think, is wrong.

Could you elaborate on that and tell us what you see our committee doing in that regard?

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

Maryam Monsef Liberal Peterborough—Kawartha, ON

Mr. Chair, the world is changing. Globalization means that people, especially younger people, frankly, are travelling abroad to see the world, to contribute to the complex challenges that exist, and also to bring different ways of doing things, different ways of thinking, back to Canada.

We want to promote that. We want to promote the sharing of Canadian values abroad. The right to vote is protected for Canadians. This is one of those fundamental rights that we have as Canadian citizens. Our government believes that a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian.

Yes, there is a court case that will be heard in February. We are mindful of that, but I've heard stories like yours, Anita, and I've also heard stories of young people whose parents are working abroad. These are people who didn't choose to go abroad. They went because they had to.

I'm getting letters and emails from them saying, “We're paying attention to what's happening to our country. When we're old enough to vote, we want to be able to, but right now we can't. That's not right, and it's not fair.” We agree.

These are young people who have lived in Canada at one time, and so the provisions that we've introduced here will grant them the ability to vote, just as it will for over a million Canadians. As I mentioned earlier, what we need deeper analysis on from this committee is this: the children of those Canadians living and working abroad who may have come to Canada to visit, but have never actually resided in Canada, have never lived here. Do we extend the franchise to them, too?

That's an area that requires cross-party conversations, something that this committee is very well positioned to do.

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Anita Vandenbeld Liberal Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

How much time do I have left?

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

You have one minute and 15 seconds.