Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I will need only five or six minutes for my opening remarks. The first part will be in French.
The second part will be in English. I will switch only once, except for question period, obviously, if there is one.
I always begin my remarks by saying what a privilege it is to appear before you. You represent the Canadian people, and it has always been a tremendous honour for me to serve Canadians through members of Parliament.
I believe this is the committee's 72nd meeting, Mr. Chair, and I would venture to say that I am the person who has appeared before this committee the most since 1990. I may be mistaken, but it may be worth checking.
This bill concerns two important elements. I think that any bill amending the Canada Elections Act, by its very nature, is significant since it is separate from any other piece of legislation.
My comments are based on my understanding, in other words, my interpretation, of the bill. When I would prepare for a meeting like this, I would always keep in mind the important involvement of my staff and all the work they did leading up to my appearance before the committee. Today, I am here alone, so I will be raising questions rather than providing answers or feedback.
I took note of some of the comments that were made in the media, the minister's opening remarks, and the statements of the acting Chief Electoral Officer. I also noted the document of so-called technical amendments the acting Chief Electoral Officer had submitted as an attachment. I was surprised to learn that such consultation had not taken place prior to the document being submitted.
In the past, during most of my tenure as Chief Electoral Officer, I would be given a copy of the bill so that similar technical amendments could be considered beforehand, even though the committee might not agree with them going forward. Nevertheless, there was some initial awareness.
Money in politics is the toughest topic in the world concerning democracy—not only in elections, but concerning democracy. Canada's system, as was mentioned by the minister, is effectively second to none. The reputation is there. However, most unfortunately, the number of followers is few and far between. It is the toughest topic.
Canada has succeeded over the last 15 or 20 years in coming out with a regime that, in my mind, is exemplary. Therefore, the changes that are contemplated must always weigh the value of the change versus how it would impact on the Charter of Rights, the right to be a candidate, the right to contribute, freedom of speech, and freedom of association. It is against that background that I always make my comments before you.
I will be commenting more with respect to the first aspect of the bill. It deals with the timely, or more timely, reporting on fundraising events. I was wondering why would this not occur during an election period. Why is this an exception? If there is a time when people really need to know who is contributing, it is during the election period. We don't have this reporting now. This bill would prevent that from happening at this critical moment in the existence of a democracy.
Why is there an exclusion for individuals from reporting? Why are 18-year-olds not reportable as attendees or contributors? Under the present law, the name of a Canadian who is under 18 years of age appears if the person makes a contribution. There is no exception by age. There is an exception if you're not a Canadian, obviously, and if you're not a Canadian, you can attend but you cannot contribute.
Part of the reasoning of the bill is to make it known who is attending as well as who is contributing, so I don't think that excluding them automatically is necessarily a good idea.
I would also make a comment about the staff of the person organizing it. There are staff members in the Canadian political system who are exceedingly important, and their attendance at an event carries weight unto itself. So the automatic exclusion of those persons from being named, I think, turns us away from the purpose of the statute.
What I'm really saying is that we should be following the rules concerning donations from those under 18 years of age. You can have a six-year-old making a contribution in Canada. There was this debate at one time, because there was an exception for a family making contributions which effectively made the family exceed the limit but not the individuals. I was asked at the time whether there should be a law against this, and I said no, because we have to be careful about how much we put into the statute or the regulation, and we have to let people come to their own conclusion if they find out that a six-year-old contributed.
As I read the bill, there are persons or entities who would be organizing events beyond the existing ones under the Canada Elections Act. These are all the different agents of parties and local riding associations. I'm asking the question quite honestly: Who would these people be? They would be people who support either the party or a particular candidate or an existing member of Parliament. If this is to occur then it has to occur with the knowledge beforehand of that public office holder—I did not see that in the bill, although maybe it is in there—and not after the fact, with a person having organized something for us—thank God—and having done half the organization and spent half the money. We cannot have that. We must follow the rules about who can spend monies under the Canada Elections Act.
What it raised in my mind was a question of whether there is a tie-in lacking about third parties here, someone out there, an entity. What is an entity beyond the entities under the statute? If it's an individual, is that person effectively engaging in what we would call a third-party activity? Is any advertising taking place before the other entities come in? There are anti-collusion measures under the statute. I don't know if this ties in to the third-party regime, but one also considers, as we saw, that foreign monies can get into third parties under the present statute. I thought I would raise this as a concern. It may not be valid in terms of what the bill says, but it lit a light.
The $1,000 penalty for a summary conviction, I found to be low. The entities that would be charged are entities—parties, etc.— that effectively have money or should pay more for that. I don't think there's anything left that's a penalty of $1,000 under the statute. I think we got rid of that in the 1990s and maybe early 2000s, so I was surprised when I saw that. I said we're certainly not talking about a deterrent. The deterrent of course is the summary conviction, but still there should be a penalty. I know that the monies will be forfeited that were gathered at a wrongfully held or a wrongfully reported event, but still I found it odd that it was so low as a penalty.
What this bill raises with me, by the way—I was alluding to this in my earlier remarks—is the whole issue of the timeliness of reporting contributions. Of course, there are expenditures here, but reporting contributions.... There are regimes in different parts of the world where the reporting has to be quasi-automatic. Within 24 hours, the candidate and the party have to report, and it's published on websites so that people know who's contributing as the event is unfolding.
I will admit that the limit of $1,550 right now is a very reasonable one and should not lead one to suspect that an individual is trying to do something wrong by contributing that. There are relationships that are made when firms, or partners of firms, or people working with the same organizations, all participate in an event. This bill will help us to understand those better, so that's good.
With respect to the definition aspect—and this is going to be my last comment—and the separate reporting for leadership and nomination contests, this is the way the statute has been interpreted, and I suspect that putting that in the bill is meant for greater certainty.
Those were my introductory remarks, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you very much.