Thank you very much.
Good afternoon everyone.
I am delighted and honoured to be here with you today.
Good afternoon, and thank you for your invitation to appear today.
It is an honour to be before the committee this afternoon. I was appointed minister just four weeks ago today, and this is my first appearance as a minister before a committee of the House. I'm delighted that it's with all of you today.
I would like to introduce my parliamentary secretary, Andy Fillmore, member of Parliament for Halifax, and my deputy minister, Ian McCowan, who is the deputy secretary of governance of the Privy Council Office. Also joining us are Allen Sutherland, assistant secretary to the cabinet, and Natasha Kim, director of democratic reform.
I am pleased to be here before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs with its valuable knowledge and insights on many of the electoral matters mandated to me by the Prime Minister. I have a deep respect for committees and the important role they play in our Parliament. I'm eager to engage, consult, and work with the committee to improve Canada's democracy. The studies you conduct and the years of experience you bring to the table are a few of the many reasons I will particularly value working with all members of this committee and hearing your contributions to these files.
I would like to focus my remarks today on my new mandate letter, as well as on BillC-33, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act. If it pleases the House to adopt the bill at second reading, I would, of course, look forward to returning to this committee to discuss it in more detail.
I will turn now to my mandate letter. As you know, my overarching goal, as Minister of Democratic Institutions, is to strengthen the openness and fairness of Canada's public institutions. I have been mandated to lead on improving our democratic institutions and to restore Canadians' trust and participation in our democratic processes.
I have been mandated to lead on improving our democratic institutions and to restore Canadians' trust and participation in our democratic process.
In terms of my specific mandate, allow me to begin with the topic of electoral reform, a topic on which I know there are strongly held views. Much has been said about this already.
Our government consulted broadly with Canadians on electoral reform over the past year. Any proposed changes to the foundational values of how we elect our representatives should have the broad support of Canadians. More importantly, Canadians would expect to be consulted before embarking on a change of this magnitude.
Public consultations came in many forms. In reaching out to Canadians, there was tremendous work done by the Special Committee on Electoral Reform, several members of which are here today; by members of Parliament representing all parties in the House; by the cross-country ministerial tour; and through the government's engagement of over 360,000 individuals in Canada through Mydemocracy.ca.
In fact, the consultations launched on electoral reform make it one of the largest and farthest reaching consultations ever undertaken by the Government of Canada. This conversation was at times spirited, and it was a conversation in which many had legitimate and passionate views. I respect and thank each and every Canadian who participated in these discussions on something as fundamental as how we choose to govern ourselves.
I appreciate the diversity of views. It was our responsibility to listen to what Canadians said in these consultations and to take that into account.
A clear preference for a new electoral system, let alone a consensus, did not emerge from these consultations.
Without a clear preference for change, much less a specific preferred alternative system, a referendum could be divisive and not in Canada's interests.
Consequently, changing the electoral system is not within the mandate the Prime Minister has given me. We listened to Canadians and made a difficult decision, but I am confident it was the responsible one. The first past the post system may not be perfect. No electoral system is, but it has served this country for 150 years and advances a number of democratic values Canadians hold dear, such as strong local representation, stability, and accountability.
My job is to strengthen and protect our democratic institutions. We remain committed to improving this country's electoral system in many ways, which I will turn to now. There is much useful work to be done to improve Canada's democracy, and I look forward to working with the committee on this important responsibility.
First, I would like to highlight new items in my mandate letter to strengthen and protect the integrity of the democratic process. As we have seen globally, there is increased concern that Canada's electoral process could be susceptible to cyber-attacks in a bid to destabilize Canada's democratic governments or influence the outcome of an election. We must guard against this.
In ensuring the integrity of our democratic institutions, I have been mandated, in collaboration with the Minister of National Defence and the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, to lead the government of Canada's efforts to defend the Canadian electoral process from cyber-threats.
This will include working with the Communications Security Establishment to analyze risks to Canada's political and electoral activities, and to release this assessment publicly. As well, I intend to ask CSE to offer advice and information to Canada's political parties on best practices they may wish to consider when it comes to cybersecurity.
As I've previously stated, this is about assisting parties to protect themselves. Ensuring the safety of our democratic system is a non-partisan issue. It is vital that we protect Canada's democratic infrastructure from cyber-threats. I hope you will agree that we must protect our democracy from emerging threats.
I've also been mandated to introduce legislation to examine and tighten the rules surrounding fundraisers attended by the Prime Minister, ministers, party leaders, and leadership contestants.
Federally, Canada has among the strongest and most stringent political financing rules in the world. Nonetheless, it is essential that Canadians continue to have confidence in our political finance and fundraising laws, and we must seek ways to ensure such confidence in the strength of our system is regularly enforced.
One such way to do that is to bring even more light to fundraising activities. We believe that Canadians have a right to know even more than they do now about political fundraising. We will take action to ensure that fundraisers are conducted in publicly available spaces, advertised in advance, and reported on in a timely manner after the fact. These changes will increase openness and help ensure that Canadians have continued trust in their political financing regime and in their political system generally.
I look forward to discussing with other parties any additional ways we can enhance transparency in the fundraising system. This is an area where all parties have an interest and experience to bring to bear.
I will also work on recommending options to create an independent commissioner to organize political party leaders' debates, reviewing the limits on the amounts political parties and third parties can spend during and between elections, proposing measures to ensure that spending between elections is subject to reasonable limits, as well as supporting the president of the Treasury Board and the Minister of Justice in reviewing the Access to Information Act. I am confident you share a desire to work on these important matters with our government.
In addition, I am the lead minister in relation to Senate reform, including the government's non-partisan, merit-based Senate appointments process to fill Senate vacancies.
I am also responsible for working to pass amendments to the Canada Elections Act to make the Commissioner of Canada Elections more independent from government and to work to repeal the the elements of the Fair Elections Act that make it harder for Canadians to vote.
In terms of this final point, as you know, the government has already introduced Bill C-33, which proposes seven measures in this regard. This bill is designed to increase voter participation by breaking down barriers to voting while enhancing the efficiency and integrity of Canada's elections. These elements are at the heart of our electoral system and I am pleased with the legislation that has been put forth. Should the House refer Bill C-33 to committee after second reading I would look forward to working with the committee in its study of this legislation.
While not a specific item in my mandate letter, as I noted earlier, it is my overarching mandate to strengthen and protect our democratic institutions. That includes continually working to improve the Canada Elections Act and the administration of elections. I am very pleased that this committee is charged with the same goal particularly in relation to your current study into the Chief Electoral Officer's recommendations report following the 42nd general election. I know this committee has been working quite diligently on this report, which includes 132 detailed recommendations to further modernize and strengthen the integrity and accessibility of our electoral system. Your work will help inform the government in the next step of modernizing our electoral system. I welcome your insights into these matters and improving the Canada Elections Act with you.
I'm eager to begin the hard work necessary to achieve these mandate commitments given to me by the Prime Minister.
Canada's democracy remains the envy of the world, but we should never become complacent. Our system is trusted by Canadians and renowned worldwide because we are constantly working to improve it.
I hope I can count on your expertise and your contributions on Bill C-33, on your contributions and expertise on the recommendations from the CEO of Elections Canada, and as I continue to work to fulfill the mandate set before me.
Thank you again for inviting me here today. I look forward to working on my mandate, I look forward to working with all of you, and I would be happy to take your questions.