Evidence of meeting #73 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 ontario.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Eric Montigny  Professor, Department of Political Science, Université Laval, As an Individual
Leslie Seidle  Research Director, Institute for Research on Public Policy, As an Individual
Mary Dawson  Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner
Karen Shepherd  Commissioner of Lobbying, Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying
Greg Essensa  Chief Electoral Officer, Elections Ontario

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

John Nater Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

Very good.

Another point you raised was about the reporting requirements with some exemptions. One of those exemptions is for minors. We have had the discussion around this table on where you draw the line in terms of minors. My three-year-old daughter probably doesn't need to be reported, but a 16- or 17-year-old high school student active within the party should perhaps be reported.

Do you have any thoughts on whether there should be a differentiation made or a blanket prohibition of anyone under the age of 18 being reported?

11:35 a.m.

Research Director, Institute for Research on Public Policy, As an Individual

Dr. Leslie Seidle

Well, the age of 18 is a reasonable one. Perhaps it might be lowered a bit. I wouldn't, however, go as far as Mr. Kingsley did. I think he talked about reporting on the presence of seven-year-olds. I may be wrong. I may have got that number wrong, but I know it was a single digit. I wouldn't go any lower than 16.

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

John Nater Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

This is very quickly for either of you.

Mr. Montigny, you mentioned this perhaps leading into a type of lobbyist registry. Do you see as a potential cost or resource challenge for Elections Canada developing an entire apparatus to deal with a registry beyond perhaps what's envisioned in Bill C-50?

11:35 a.m.

Professor, Department of Political Science, Université Laval, As an Individual

Eric Montigny

If he hasn't already, the Chief Electoral Officer will soon ask to manage the registry himself. We're putting in place an infrastructure that may seem lessened right now, but in the future, it will become increasingly important and increasingly bureaucratized within Elections Canada.

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Thank you, Mr. Nater.

We'll go on to Mr. Christopherson.

October 17th, 2017 / 11:35 a.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Thank you, Chair.

I'd like to thank you both for your attendance today. We appreciate it.

I'd like to follow up on the five days, because it has been the focus, as Mr. Nater said, of a fair bit of discussion here. One of the things that Mr. Kingsley just kind of threw out there and I grabbed immediately, as I thought it solved one of our problems, was this issue of the notice of who's going to be there in five days. I think it was Mr. Nater who raised the possible concern that wink-wink, nudge-nudge, certain people could know who's going to be there suddenly at the last minute, and therefore the intent of the bill would be thwarted.

Mr. Kingsley threw out the suggestion, which I'd like your response to, that if you're not named on that notice effective at least five days before the event—by the way, that's also too soon, but let's just use that for now—then you can't show up. I liked it because it would immediately prevent any kind of wink-wink, nudge-nudge, and would thwart that go-around in terms of having somebody show up, supposedly as a surprise but not really as a surprise to everyone.

I'd like to hear your thoughts on just going a step further and saying that if you're one of the listed people and you're not on that list five days before, you can't go to that event.

11:35 a.m.

Research Director, Institute for Research on Public Policy, As an Individual

Dr. Leslie Seidle

I give Mr. Kingsley points for creativity on that one. On the other hand, it seems to me to be an example of...well, to put it bluntly, interference in internal political party affairs. Yes, the act already regulates lots of party affairs, but....

Then there would be easy ways of getting around it. Minister X is on the program as coming to the fundraiser. Then that person falls ill two or three days before the event. It's only reasonable that he or she be replaced by somebody else. Surely you would not bar that person from substituting for the minister who was already on the program. That would be way, way too intrusive. As to the kinds of sanctions you would have for that in the statute, I think you'd be getting into some very tricky areas.

11:35 a.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

We've run into an area where I completely disagree with your thinking—totally. Yes, it interferes, but everything we're doing here interferes in the internal business of parties. That's the whole idea. You're not supposed to have free rein to do whatever you want with whatever money you want. So I have to tell you that I disagree. I think if somebody falls ill, that's unfortunate, but a lot of unfortunate things happen. I have fundraisers in my riding. I guarantee you that my leader doesn't suddenly show up if I get ill; it's just too bad, so sad.

Remember what the offset here is. The government, through this bill, is trying to dampen access for cash. I won't get into a debate. I'll give you an opportunity to respond, if you wish, but I just want to say that I completely disagree. I think the whole idea is to interfere in the internal business of parties to ensure that their actions are not against the public interest.

I'll give you a chance to answer, if you want.

11:40 a.m.

Research Director, Institute for Research on Public Policy, As an Individual

Dr. Leslie Seidle

We can leave it at that. I would put it on the record, though, that the point I was making was about interfering more than necessary, or interfering in an unreasonable way. But I would reiterate my point about the practicality of it, which is, I think, the more important one.

11:40 a.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Sure.

Yes, Mr. Montigny, please jump in.

11:40 a.m.

Professor, Department of Political Science, Université Laval, As an Individual

Eric Montigny

It's a big debate, which is raised by the exchange I just heard, whether political parties are increasingly becoming public organizations or if they are remaining private organizations.

That being said, as I said, an electoral change like the one we have before us today moves in the direction of creating a registry to regulate relationships of influence, much more than to monitor contributions associated with activism.

11:40 a.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Does this tie into your thinking about how this might end up, in your view, like the lobbying...?

You know what? I found that very interesting; I know you answered one question, but I'd appreciate you just expanding on it a little more. I'm not quite getting the slippery slope of concern that I think you're suggesting we may be getting onto. I want to understand your point, because it seems to be an important one to you. Would you please expand on it and help me understand it better?

11:40 a.m.

Professor, Department of Political Science, Université Laval, As an Individual

Eric Montigny

The primary purpose of the Elections Act is to ensure the transparency of funding contributions, and to fundamentally support a cause based on its ideas and values, and to engage in a democratic debate related to our own values within a political party. This is the essence of a political contribution. It's a democratic right.

In my opinion, this bill prevents relationships of undue influence, which are more like lobbying. In this case, it is a question of meeting with politicians to put forward a project, and to use the political contribution to do so.

This bill applies the same reasoning as that used to regulate lobbying, but this time it will apply to political parties. It will have to be evaluated a few years after its adoption, but I am afraid that political fundraising events will be turned into influence communications events, rather than activism events. That's my central concern, because the perspective of the relationship that political parties have with their activists are being changed, as is the relationship in terms of influence communications framework.

So we're applying a registry logic that will become more and more complex over time, because we will always want more transparency. It seems to me that we are on a slippery slope that can ultimately transform the relationship that political parties have with their activists.

Does that answer your question?

11:40 a.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Yes, thank you. It would affect it in that they would shy away from being active, because it would give them a label. That would be your concern.

11:40 a.m.

Professor, Department of Political Science, Université Laval, As an Individual

Eric Montigny

We've seen a drop in individual contributions in Quebec. This is less so at the federal level, but in Quebec it's now very inappropriate to contribute to a political party. So there is a negative connotation to political donations and, ultimately, it undermines democracy. If it's no longer appropriate to give money and contribute to a political party based on its values, convictions and activism, it undermines the link the party must maintain with civil society or with its activists.

11:40 a.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Thank you.

We've had submissions from Democracy Watch. Duff spent a fair bit of time focusing on the contribution threshold. It was his opinion that lowering that threshold—he pointed to Quebec as an example, and I think you said that might be a bit low, but I'll give you a chance to comment on that—would solve an awful lot of these problems.

You have that experience in Quebec. Could you just expand on how you think it would be so much better for our electoral system if we lowered that threshold, and again, where you think it will have an impact and why?

11:40 a.m.

Professor, Department of Political Science, Université Laval, As an Individual

Eric Montigny

The Quebec legislation is recent. It was passed in 2012.

That said, the chair I co-lead on democracy and parliamentary institutions is currently conducting a study among the various political parties on the impact of the legislation. We are comparing the federal government to the Quebec government. There are two very contradictory aspects that arise at the same time. First, at the federal level, allocation to political parties based on the number of votes received was abolished, while Quebec went in the opposite direction. Currently, the funding of political parties in Quebec is 80% dependent on public funds, government funds. It's the opposite of what existed prior to the 2012 reform. This is a very important change, and we want to measure the impact of this situation on activism.

It's a question of balance. The fairness principle is at the heart of both the federal and Quebec legislation, as well as primacy of the voter and transparency. These are central principles. At a cost of $1,500, despite the tax credit, can we consider that all our citizens have access to fundraising activities? The question is valid. Not all of our citizens can afford it. I think we have to find a balance.

The preliminary results of the research we're conducting in Quebec show that $100 is still very little. There can be a balance, without going to extremes. However, the fundamental test is knowing whether the average voter can attend an event like this. Otherwise, it really becomes a question of “paying for access” if the price to attend an event is too steep or the majority of voters.

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Thank you.

11:45 a.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Thank you, Chair.

Thank you very much, gentlemen.

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Now we'll go to Mr. Graham for seven minutes.

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

David Graham Liberal Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Mr. Montigny, I have several questions for you. Earlier, you talked about including more people in opposition parties, but not in smaller parties. When should a party be more open?

11:45 a.m.

Professor, Department of Political Science, Université Laval, As an Individual

Eric Montigny

Thank you for the question.

I'll come back to the principle of cartel parties, or the cartelisation of parties, which can be found in the bills on the reform of the Elections Act. Well-established parties will put in place measures that either favour them or make it easier for them to meet these obligations under the act because they are highly institutionalized and well-established. They have significant funding, which is stable every year.

My fear—in the dynamic of the bill that will ultimately have to be assessed—about the accountability plan is that it is too important. There are political parties, for example, that are not covered by the bill, but I can give you the example of Quebec where, with contributions of only $100, it is difficult to collect individual contributions to cover audit costs.

So we must be aware that, when the burden of accountability is added to the institutional capacity of new parties or emerging parties, we need to be able to respond.

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

David Graham Liberal Laurentides—Labelle, QC

A party isn't recognized until it has a seat in Parliament.

It seems to me that when a party has at least one seat, it should have the ability to report on attendance at a partisan event.

When a party doesn't have a seat, we can't know who attends the events. I understand your philosophical idea, but I hear things.

11:45 a.m.

Professor, Department of Political Science, Université Laval, As an Individual

Eric Montigny

I don't want to get into specific situations, but the smaller parties represented in the National Assembly, which are not caucuses, are much less institutionalized than the political parties that form the caucuses in the House. As a result, the administrative burden will be much greater for parties that are not highly institutionalized, even if they are represented in the House, than for parties that, for example, hold departmental party or first opposition party functions.

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

David Graham Liberal Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Mr. Seidle, I'll go to you for a few moments. You mentioned that the system in Canada is one of the most progressive in the world for finance rules. Can you draw some comparisons to other countries and who's doing it better or worse than we are? Do you have thoughts on that?