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

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Ruby Sahota Liberal Brampton North, ON

Okay.

The acting Chief Electoral Officer was here earlier this week, and he thinks the existing legislation and the reporting rules now in place make a good balance. He thought it was a step in the right direction for transparency.

My question to you relates to our discussion about civic engagement and how some people who cannot spend time volunteering often make up for this by donating money. Do you think that reducing the amount that can be donated could be reducing some people's right to civic engagement?

11:35 a.m.

Co-Founder, Democracy Watch

Duff Conacher

If the amount that they can give is more than an average voter can afford, it's an undemocratic and unethical system right away. It violates the fundamental principle of one person, one vote. It's like saying if a person doesn't have as much time to volunteer for a party, they should have more votes on election day, a whole bunch more. We would never allow that. Why would we allow it with money?

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Ruby Sahota Liberal Brampton North, ON

Earlier you stated that psychological studies have demonstrated that when a doctor receives free samples from a pharmaceutical company, it changes the way the doctor feels about that brand. Would you not say that about free services such as volunteering or door-knocking? Couldn't a candidate or an MP feel more favouritism towards the person who volunteered for them?

11:35 a.m.

Co-Founder, Democracy Watch

Duff Conacher

Yes, and the position of Democracy Watch and the coalitions is that volunteer labour should be tracked and disclosed. That's important, because another way that funnelling occurs is by giving people time off from their work, pretending they're not paid for the time off, and then paying them with a Christmas bonus for taking that time off and going out and helping a party or a candidate. Let's start with tracking volunteer labour, which is easy to do. A campaign knows its volunteers, so let's just put the volunteers up on a website as part of disclosure. The definition of “contribution” in the Canada Elections Act is money, property, or services. Volunteering is a kind of service.

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Ruby Sahota Liberal Brampton North, ON

From my experience in my campaign, the majority of my volunteers and door-knockers were kids under 18. I don't know how people would feel about disclosing the names of children on sites already aligning them with a certain party over another. These kids have a future. They don't know what career they may want to get into. This could impact a lot of options for them in the future. They are just trying to figure it out, get involved, and see how they feel about a certain party. They may not even think they are NDP, Liberal, or whatever, but they want to get involved and learn more.

Although it seems as if you're solving one problem at the extreme end, some of these rules may be creating a lot of deterrents for people wanting to get involved at the grassroots level. I think—

11:35 a.m.

Co-Founder, Democracy Watch

Duff Conacher

Just to respond to that, essentially what you just said was that governments or others would discriminate in hiring, I suppose, and other issues based on which political party you volunteered with. You are saying that the Public Service Commission of Canada, and across the country, is not—

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Ruby Sahota Liberal Brampton North, ON

I think a lot of people are hesitant to be labelled with a certain party if they want to be seen as non-partisan in any job in the future—of course.

Also, I don't know a whole lot about—

11:40 a.m.

Co-Founder, Democracy Watch

Duff Conacher

Okay, but they are making a donation—

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Chris Bittle Liberal St. Catharines, ON

Mr. Chair, I have a point of order.

Mr. Conacher hasn't interrupted any other members of the committee during their questioning. Perhaps he could be directed to wait for the end of the question before he interrupts.

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Let's just carry on.

You have a minute and 15 seconds.

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Ruby Sahota Liberal Brampton North, ON

I have one specific question.

You mentioned somewhere that the more a person donates, the more benefit they get for tax credits. Could you clarify that? The way I understand it, the most you get is when you make that middle amount, about the $400 mark. You get more in return for that. As your donation gets higher, the percentage of credit that you get back is less, according to Elections Canada.

11:40 a.m.

Co-Founder, Democracy Watch

Duff Conacher

That's true, but to get the maximum deduction, you have to donate the maximum amount. You are benefiting from being able to make that maximum donation. You can't get it unless you make that donation.

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Ruby Sahota Liberal Brampton North, ON

Can you educate me a bit more about Quebec? When did they change their laws to make it the $100 donation that you think is ideal?

11:40 a.m.

Co-Founder, Democracy Watch

Duff Conacher

That was in 2013, after Elections Quebec disclosed its audit, which showed that $12.8 million was likely funnelled between 2006 and 2011.

They also had, of course, a huge corruption scandal, much of it rooted in the political donation system at the time.

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Ruby Sahota Liberal Brampton North, ON

Has there been any examination of whether money is still being funnelled, at that lower amount? Have corruption and influence stopped in Quebec?

11:40 a.m.

Co-Founder, Democracy Watch

Duff Conacher

It can't legally be funnelled anymore. They've made.... The federal system legalizes funnelling and makes it very simple to do, because it's so wide open. Elections Quebec and the police in Quebec have not charged many of the people who gave that $12.8 million. They can't. They go to the executive and say, “Was that your money? Did you decide to donate it?” They say yes, and the head of the corporation says yes as well. You can't charge anyone, because you need intent in order to charge them for a violation of the donation limit.

It has been made effectively illegal now in Quebec, because you can give only $100, and if you give more than $50, it's routed through Elections Quebec. It would be almost impossible to funnel a donation in Quebec now without getting caught.

October 5th, 2017 / 11:40 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Thank you, Ms. Sahota.

Now we'll go into the five-minute round. We'll start with Mr. Richards.

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

Blake Richards Conservative Banff—Airdrie, AB

Thanks for being here. This is a related topic, but one I would love to have your comments and thoughts on.

You mentioned your ideas about the changes that you would like to see made to donation limits and things like that. There's already some concern out there about third parties working with, or allegedly working with, political parties to oppose another political party or a particular candidate, and things like that.

I wonder if lowering those limits might increase that sort of activity. Even since the election, we've seen organizations that are working with political parties or things like that. One example that comes to mind is the news reports from July about this organization called the Council of Canadian Innovators, which was set up in November 2015, right after the Liberal government was elected. In fact, I think it was a week after the government was sworn in that it was set up.

It has four full-time staffers currently, as of July, three of whom were former Liberal staffers. One was a former EA to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, another had been the Minister of Foreign Affairs' campaign manager, and their director of communications had been a spokesperson for Ontario Liberal cabinet ministers. In their fundraising letter that was sent out, they indicated that they would offer monthly meetings with the chief of staff to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change in return for a $10,000 donation. That was one of the rewards you received.

Since then, apparently the minister's office felt that was something they wanted to correct. Actually, the chief of staff hadn't met with them monthly; he had only met with them three times since October 2016 up until July of this year. They said they needed to correct that so that it only indicates regular meetings rather than monthly meetings, which I'm not really sure solves any kind of problem that exists.

I want to hear your thoughts on this idea of organizations connected with a political party using those connections to fundraise for their organization and advocate for things that would align with the government or that particular political party.

Would you see that as another version of cash for access? I certainly would say it appears to me as something unethical and sleazy. Would you agree with that characterization? If so, what would you suggest be done to try to prevent those kinds of things from occurring?

11:45 a.m.

Co-Founder, Democracy Watch

Duff Conacher

Democracy Watch filed complaints with the federal Ethics Commissioner and the Commissioner of Lobbying about the Council of Canadian Innovators' appeal to its members, and also its lobbying activities overall.

They're registered to lobby Chrystia Freeland's department. They haven't lobbied her directly. Our position is that rule 6 of the Lobbyists' Code of Conduct means that if you are lobbying one of her staff or senior officials, you're lobbying her, because they're going to report what you said to her.

We filed a complaint saying that they are not allowed to do that. They can't be, because a co-manager of Chrystia Freeland's 2015 campaign is the executive director of the Council of Canadian Innovators.

If the Commissioner of Lobbying allows that, then that's what every lobbyist who might have helped a party or a candidate during the 2015 election will start doing: they won't lobby the person they worked for, they'll lobby their staff. That would just make the Lobbyists' Code of Conduct a huge loophole. It would be meaningless.

We're hoping the Commissioner of Lobbying will make the right ruling, which is that you can't lobby a minister indirectly and say you're not lobbying the person you worked for and helped get elected. Yes, you are. Why would you lobby the senior official if they're not going to tell the minister what you said?

On the Ethics Commissioner side, the Ethics Commissioner has sent back a ruling to us. We're questioning her, because she didn't even look at some of the facts of the situation and the issue of whether preferential treatment is being given.

You had also asked us about third parties. Generally Democracy Watch and the coalition's position is—and this is what the government is apparently looking at for another bill—that third parties should be limited in their spending for a longer period than just the election period campaign. B.C. has just limited it to 60 days before the writ is dropped, so it's essentially 90 to 100 days before election day. That's appropriate. B.C. is also—

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

You're over time, Mr. Richards.

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

Blake Richards Conservative Banff—Airdrie, AB

I had a follow-up to that question, but I guess I don't have the time right now.

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

We'll go to Mr. Bittle now.

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

Chris Bittle Liberal St. Catharines, ON

Thank you so much.

Thank you, Mr. Conacher, for coming to appear before us today.

Democracy Watch is similar to a political party in that it relies on individual donations as its sole source of funding, correct?

11:45 a.m.

Co-Founder, Democracy Watch

Duff Conacher

Yes, that's right.

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

Chris Bittle Liberal St. Catharines, ON

I notice on your website that there are different options that are similar to what political parties offer, in that someone can choose a different donation amount from $5 a month up to $100 a month. Are you more likely to answer the phone call of an individual who's donating $100 a month to your organization than someone who's donating $5 a month?