Evidence of meeting #72 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 donations.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Duff Conacher  Co-Founder, Democracy Watch
Jean-Pierre Kingsley  Former Chief Electoral Officer, As an Individual

11:45 a.m.

Co-Founder, Democracy Watch

Duff Conacher

Yes, sure. I'm human.

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

Chris Bittle Liberal St. Catharines, ON

Okay. That's fair

In the case of an individual such as Dan Aykroyd, who makes up half of your advisory committee and is a wealthy individual, you're far more likely to pick up the phone and answer his call than that of another member of your organization.

October 5th, 2017 / 11:45 a.m.

Co-Founder, Democracy Watch

Duff Conacher

He hasn't donated in quite a long time—he lends his name—but yes, I think if Dan Aykroyd called, for a whole bunch of reasons I would take the call.

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

Chris Bittle Liberal St. Catharines, ON

I guess if a ghostbuster is calling, you pick up the phone. That's fair.

In terms of your proposals, have you estimated what the additional costs to the federal government would be to enact what you're recommending?

11:50 a.m.

Co-Founder, Democracy Watch

Duff Conacher

The $100 donation limit would cost nothing.

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

Chris Bittle Liberal St. Catharines, ON

No, I appreciate that, but what would the costs be in terms of all of the other items?

11:50 a.m.

Co-Founder, Democracy Watch

Duff Conacher

If public financing were put in—and again, we think the case has to be made for it as well—our proposal is to start with a $100 donation limit and see where the parties are at after a year. I think you'd find they were just fine. Some of them will be suffering, but only because they don't have a lot of supporters, which is a democratic way to be suffering under a political donation system that's democratic.

In terms of strengthening the enforcement and disclosure, the disclosure is already being done. I mentioned the Elections Canada audit. They don't have that much to do in between elections other than take in your annual returns and sometimes run a by-election. I'm not sure why they haven't been able, in the last four years, to complete this audit that they promised to do in 2013. I don't see any extra costs there at all.

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

Chris Bittle Liberal St. Catharines, ON

On one of the issues, perhaps I don't quite understand how it's going to work out. We're all dealing with volunteers who are working at different speeds and not necessarily at our campaign offices nine to five throughout the week so in terms of donations being disclosed before the election, how can that be done realistically on the ground by volunteers for the candidates, especially in parties that perhaps aren't the major parties, parties that aren't in government and have much smaller organizations? Again, how much would Elections Canada have to expand to meet that need to get that information out before the election?

11:50 a.m.

Co-Founder, Democracy Watch

Duff Conacher

I don't think very much at all.

I appreciate that for some candidates it would be difficult, but leadership candidates do a disclosure every month leading up to the final week. If it were just one disclosure that had to be prepared a week before election day through an Internet system, this is what the Internet is for. You would just upload a comma-delimited file, and it would appear on Election Canada's website. It would be illegal for it not to be accurate. Elections Canada wouldn't have to do any verifying. They're still verifying some returns from 2015 from the parties, so that verification takes a long time, but just putting it up so that people could search it is not difficult.

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

Chris Bittle Liberal St. Catharines, ON

In an ideal world, would there then be a ban on donations in the last week of the campaign so that individuals could have this information? How would this work in actuality?

11:50 a.m.

Co-Founder, Democracy Watch

Duff Conacher

In the leadership race, if you were to get more than $10,000 in that last week, then you'd have to do one final disclosure. You could do the same thing for candidates. You're talking about $100 donation limits, so if they're not getting significant amounts in, the disclosure wouldn't have to happen. You could even have a threshold for the overall disclosure, so that if you didn't raise a certain amount, you wouldn't even have to do the disclosure at all. You might just disclose the number of donors you have, not the names, etc.

I don't think it's a problem.

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Now we'll go on to Mr. Richards for five minutes.

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

Blake Richards Conservative Banff—Airdrie, AB

I guess we'll carry on from where we left off before.

I want to let you finish where you were at, and I had a follow-up question that came to mind as you were speaking.

Before we do that, you commented on the lobbying side of it in terms of lobbying a staffer who would then obviously report on the conversation to their boss, the minister. I don't disagree with you, but I want to ask specifically about the portion of it that appeared to be cash for access, this idea that they were offering meetings, regular or monthly or however they want to term it, with a chief of staff to a minister in return for cash for their organization. It's cash for access basically done a different way. It's not the political party, but it's an association that certainly, at least from all appearances, one could argue is affiliated with or closely related to the party, given the staff, and even putting that aside, this is a member of a minister's staff offering access to the government to an organization for cash. I'd like to hear your thoughts on whether you think it's inappropriate, and also on what we can do to prevent those kinds of things.

11:55 a.m.

Co-Founder, Democracy Watch

Duff Conacher

I didn't mention this in my complaint to the Commissioner of Lobbying, but I think I should follow up on it in that there is a requirement under the Lobbyists' Code of Conduct to lobby in a way that meets the highest ethical standards. I think sending out a letter like that would not meet the standard of that principle set out in the Lobbyists' Code of Conduct. Since CCI is registered to lobby the federal government, they have to follow those principles and all the rules in the code.

That's the way to stop it. You can't be offering the flip side of cash for access where you have the access and you want cash. If you make it explicit and say that you can guarantee something, you're into the Criminal Code's influence-peddling section. I think the lobbyists' code is there as a non-criminal civil ethics code way of stopping that, and the commissioner should rule on that issue in this situation.

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Blake Richards Conservative Banff—Airdrie, AB

In terms of the third-party stuff, you were mentioning B.C. I'll let you finish your thoughts that you had there, if you can remember where you were going with it at that time. I think you said you thought that they were extending the reporting period out to 60 or 90 days prior to the election. I don't know, and maybe you won't either, whether B.C. has fixed election dates—

11:55 a.m.

Co-Founder, Democracy Watch

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Blake Richards Conservative Banff—Airdrie, AB

—because obviously the challenge there federally would be that if everyone knows when the dates are going to be, they also know the period of 60 or 90 days before the election, and therefore they could make sure everything came in prior to that.

Do you see that being a problem, and how would you see a way around that? I'll let you finish your thoughts.

11:55 a.m.

Co-Founder, Democracy Watch

Duff Conacher

It's a limit on ad spending during that 90-day period. Democracy Watch and the coalition's position is that a four- to six-month period is entirely appropriate. They're doing three months, and extending that even further is entirely appropriate.

What B.C. has done is that if you make a contribution to a third party that's going to be used—this is in the proposed bill, Bill 3—for government advertising, then it is limited to the limit they're setting on individual donations of $1,200, and it has to be designated as a donation for government advertising. Someone can donate a larger amount—a foundation can give grants to an organization or an individual can give a larger amount than $1,200—but that donation cannot be used in the advertising campaign that the third party might do.

Democracy Watch and the coalition agree with that limit. As well, it should be lower than $1,200. It should be $100, in the same way that you would limit candidates to receiving $100. Third parties could get huge grants from foundations for their programming, but in the case of election ads, they would have to get them in donations of $100 at a time.

It will be interesting to see whether that limit is challenged in B.C. when it's enacted, but in principle, it's democratic and ethical to limit the donations by third parties to those advertising campaigns.

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Blake Richards Conservative Banff—Airdrie, AB

Are you saying that you're okay with unlimited contributions coming in if they're not for advertising, or are you thinking that they should be restricted on other types of spending as well, because that's—

11:55 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Please give a very short answer. Your time is up.

11:55 a.m.

Co-Founder, Democracy Watch

Duff Conacher

Democracy Watch's proposal is that in between elections, there would be disclosure of how much each lobbyist or lobby group is spending on their campaigns. This is something we've proposed now for 24 years to the federal government.

When we see that disclosure, if we see that one side or another on any issue has millions and the other side just has thousands or hundreds, then we can see whether that's a problem and we need to actually limit donations in between elections.

In limiting them leading up to an election, it's entirely appropriate to start with that.

11:55 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Thank you, Mr. Conacher, for coming. You've provided some very interesting ideas. We certainly appreciate it. It was very helpful for our study.

11:55 a.m.

Co-Founder, Democracy Watch

Duff Conacher

Thank you for the opportunity, and I wish you luck in your deliberations.

11:55 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Thank you.

We'll suspend while we change witnesses here.

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Welcome back to the 72nd meeting of the Standing Committee of Procedure and House Affairs, where we are currently studying Bill C-50, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act in relation to political financing.

Our witness in the second hour is Jean-Pierre Kingsley, Canada's former Chief Electoral Officer from 1990 to 2007, certainly an icon in Canadian elections history. I'm sure people who have been here a long time, such as David and Scott, know you well from previous meetings and previous topics.

We're very excited to have you here today. We look forward to your opening comments.