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Evidence of meeting #47 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 parties.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Ian McCowan  Deputy Secretary to the Cabinet (Governance), Privy Council Office
Natasha Kim  Director, Democratic Reform, Privy Council Office

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Thank you, Minister.

We'll start our first round of seven-minute questions with Ms. Sahota.

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Ruby Sahota Liberal Brampton North, ON

Thank you.

Thank you, Minister Gould, for being here today. Congratulations on your new role.

You spoke a little about your mandate to work with the defence minister and the Minister of Public Safety regarding cyber-attacks on our electoral system. What are some of your main worries and what areas will you be focusing on? Why do you think this is an important part of your mandate?

I also want to highlight a bit of what we heard today at a youth conference we were both at. I thought that was quite interesting. There was one youth who came up at a Canadian universities event and spoke a little about algorithms and news that is fed to us online. I think that's been a concern. It's been brought up in a lot of other committees that I sit on. It influences the way we think when we're targeted by websites and presented the fake news that we've been hearing a lot about. What are some of your thoughts on this and how it relates to your mandate?

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Karina Gould Liberal Burlington, ON

Thank you very much for the question.

I think it's a very important and timely question to be asking. It has been four weeks now. I haven't had the opportunity at this point to sit down with CSE. We've had some preliminary discussions, but that's something that will be coming in the near term in terms of what this looks like and what the breadth of the mandate will look like.

My mandate letter talks specifically about political parties and ensuring that the Communications Security Establishment is analyzing, monitoring, and reviewing what the potential threats to political parties' information systems could be and then providing information as to how they can protect themselves.

It's really important that we do this right and that Canadians have the confidence that this is not about the CSE going in and looking at political parties' information systems, but rather about them providing an overview about best practices on how they can protect themselves and identify potential emerging threats.

The conversation you raised this morning was in regard to a young man who works in artificial intelligence who was talking about the fact of how news sources in many ways, in some respects, can be targeted to individuals based on their preferences and the silo effect of how we consume media and information as citizens. His concerns were about how we ensure that we get a diversity of views that are reaching many individuals.

I think that is definitely an area we need to be considering and looking at. It's something that I'm definitely concerned about, but it's a question of how we as a government, we as parliamentarians, and we as political leaders engage with this. I think in Canada we have one of the highest per capita uses of Facebook, and we know that Facebook and other social media will push information to you based on your own preferences. So how do we ensure that people are getting a diversity of viewpoints to make informed choices, but also have the digital literacy to be able to look at these and understand where they're coming from and make those informed choices?

It's a really important conversation to be having. It's something to start thinking about. As political leaders, it's incumbent upon us to make sure that we're doing what we can to ensure people have that access to diverse points of view and different sources of information. I think it's a really important thing.

It will be about us determining what is the breadth of democratic institutions in Canada and does that include the media, and then how do we work in partnership with the media for them to have access to those tools as well. That's something that I think will come in time. Of course, I welcome points of view and ideas or thoughts from either this committee or other members of Parliament on that.

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

Ruby Sahota Liberal Brampton North, ON

Thank you. It was definitely a big concern for him and the other youth sitting at my table.

I'm going to share my time, if there is any, with Mr. Graham.

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

David Graham Liberal Laurentides—Labelle, QC

How much time do you have left?

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

There is two and a half minutes.

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

David Graham Liberal Laurentides—Labelle, QC

I want to get into process a bit. You're aware that the procedure and House affairs committee has been studying the Chief Electoral Officer's report for some time now. I think if we look at how much is left, we have a good 20 or 30 meetings left on it, and possibly more. There's an awful lot to do.

It's been in camera. I can't go into the details with you, but I know that it's within your mandate and your job to bring in more legislation on democratic reform, on changes in general.

I wonder if you can give us a sense of timelines, if you have any idea of when you're expected to do stuff and if it be helpful for us to get our reports to you, or if you want us to get interim reports out. Do you have any comments on that?

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

Karina Gould Liberal Burlington, ON

Yes. Thank you very much.

I appreciate that the committee is currently reviewing the recommendations from the CEO of Elections Canada following the past election. I appreciate that there are 132 recommendations, so this is quite a big task nonetheless.

I really look forward to receiving your input on those in terms of the direction as we move forward. Of course, we have an election in three years. We don't want to push it too long, because we want to make sure that those recommendations can get in ahead of time and with enough time for Elections Canada to implement those.

If there is a possibility for interim reports, which I believe the chair had maybe commented about in The Hill Times, I would welcome that. The depth and the breadth of the study you're undertaking is very valuable.

I hope I can count on you to get those to the public and to me in a timely fashion and that we can get to work on implementing legislation that will be in effect for the next election. I know that for many members of this committee it's very important that we make sure we get this done, so that ahead of 2019 we don't face some of the issues we faced in 2015.

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

David Graham Liberal Laurentides—Labelle, QC

How much time do I have?

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

You have 20 seconds.

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

David Graham Liberal Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Thank you.

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Mr. Reid, go ahead.

February 7th, 2017 / 12:20 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Minister, thank you for being here. Thank you, as well, to your very competent staff and your parliamentary secretary; it's good to see you here.

Thank you also for making time to meet with me on Tuesday of last week.

I want to ask you a number of questions. I submitted a letter to you yesterday to assist you, recognizing that some of these things are matters on which you might not be prepared if you didn't have a bit of advance time to work on them. I apologize for the fact that they came to you with only 24 hours' notice, but we only learned you'd be here Friday afternoon—not quite after work hours, but after I had departed, at any rate.

I have a series of five questions. I might just read from the list and then ask you them. If you don't mind, I'll start with the third question. These all relate to the MyDemocracy.ca survey or instrument. The third question on that list is, has the government retained or destroyed the data produced by responses to the field test and the final MyDemocracy.ca survey?

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

Karina Gould Liberal Burlington, ON

Thank you so much.

I appreciate the fact that you sent the questions so we could be prepared for them. I have brought two technical staff with me today who are prepared to answer these for you.

12:25 p.m.

Ian McCowan Deputy Secretary to the Cabinet (Governance), Privy Council Office

Mr. Reid, I'll start, and Ms. Kim can add in as she sees fit.

In terms of the data elements, Vox Pop still has the data set. There are two data elements that have been generalized, the year of birth and the postal code, simply because the analysis around those has already been done. Other than those two elements, the data set is with Vox Pop.

I'm not sure if Ms. Kim has anything to add.

12:25 p.m.

Natasha Kim Director, Democratic Reform, Privy Council Office

No, I don't, other than to say that the final report has been published on the website.

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

Okay. This allows me to move to questions four and five, which were really alternatives. Given that the data hasn't been destroyed, will you commit to sharing it with Parliament or with the general public, while obviously excluding information that could be connected with specific individuals?

12:25 p.m.

Deputy Secretary to the Cabinet (Governance), Privy Council Office

Ian McCowan

Mr. Reid, you've just gone to the heart of the issue. You'll be aware from the Vox Pop survey and final report that the government has indicated publicly that they would only be receiving data back in aggregate form. That has been clearly stated.

We just got your request yesterday night, so we are going to have to review it, but it's going to be reviewed in the context of what I just said, namely that there is a commitment on the part of the Government of Canada to get only aggregate data back in this exercise and, obviously, to ensure that all privacy requirements are met. What I would say, if it's satisfactory, is that we'll take that one away. We just got it last night. The concern is the one that you yourself have identified.

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

Right. The fact that the minister is coming back for a second meeting will allow us to deal with this further. We'll pursue it at that time. Let's just leave it there.

I'll turn now to question number one. Did the government exclude from the final MyDemocracy.ca survey any questions that were included in the November 2016 field test for the survey or that were recommended for inclusion by Vox Pop Labs' academic advisory group?

12:25 p.m.

Deputy Secretary to the Cabinet (Governance), Privy Council Office

Ian McCowan

I am going to need Ms. Kim's help on this, but let me just start by describing the overall response. As for why the field test was done, there were a number of objectives. One was to ensure that in the end survey we would have a limited number of questions—obviously, you get a higher response rate when that's done, making sure that usability is high—but another was specifically for the purpose of developing the archetypes, groupings, or clusters that were fed back as part of the response to the survey.

As for your question about what was different in the field test versus the final one, I think there were six factors at play that led to changes between the two. First, as I said, there was an effort made to use the pretest to determine what the best clusters were. There was some analytic work going on in that regard. Second, there was an effort to see how the survey length could be brought to an appropriate size in order to maximize the user experience and response rates.

The third thing was trying to avoid unnecessary duplication. There were a number of questions that were in a similar kind of space. Fourth, a few questions were removed, as they were perceived as being too sensitive in our effort to ensure that the questionnaire was well received by Canadians writ large.

Fifth, some questions were used to assess user satisfaction, whether there were issues encountered, and how users responded to them. Finally, as was noted in the media, there were a few questions that were accidentally included in the pretest, and that obviously was not replicated in the final survey.

I don't know if Ms. Kim wants to add to that, but that's a quick summary.

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

Let me just hop in then. Thank you.

That was a double-barrelled question I asked. The answer is yes, there were some questions that were in the field test that were not in the final survey. You didn't answer regarding any questions or recommendations for inclusion by the Vox Pop Labs advisory group, and because I'll be out of time before I can ask the next question, I'll just ask it now.

Are you willing to share what those questions were? Moreover, are you willing to share the results of the answers to those questions, the ones that were asked in the field test that were not included in the final survey?

12:25 p.m.

Deputy Secretary to the Cabinet (Governance), Privy Council Office

Ian McCowan

You asked three questions, and if I don't get to them all, Mr. Reid, you can follow up in the next round and make sure I get them covered.

In terms of the results, I'd give the same answer that I gave last time, that it is subject to our having a look at what exactly can be provided, given the pledges made on the government's only getting aggregate data and making sure that privacy rights are respected.

As for your question about the development or the design, the questions were developed over a number of weeks. It involved Vox Pop, who have some expertise in this area, and an outside academic panel. There were obviously departmental officials. They're exempt staff involved in those discussions, so it was an iterative process, and it was not something that was done in one moment. That was basically the nature of the development process.

I'm not sure if Ms. Kim has anything she wants to add.

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Thank you.

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

Thanks. We're out of time. To all the participants, thanks. It's much appreciated.

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Mr. Christopherson.