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House of Commons Hansard #92 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was elections.

Topics

Opposition Motion--Canada Elections ActBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:10 a.m.

NDP

Robert Chisholm NDP Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is important to keep reminding the minister that the Conservative Party is under investigation. It is the Conservative Party that Elections Canada has asked for information. It is the Conservative Party that has failed to provide that information.

The minister seems to think the Conservatives will support the motion and that they have been helpful to Elections Canada. He has said that the other parties should do so as well, but it is the Conservative Party that has been asked to make information available and it has refused to do so.

Why have the minister and the Conservative Party not been prepared to honour the request by Elections Canada?

Opposition Motion--Canada Elections ActBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Tim Uppal Conservative Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, I remind the member that the Conservative Party of Canada is assisting Elections Canada in the work it is doing in looking into this matter. I also remind the member that the opposition, which spent millions of dollars on hundreds of thousands of phone calls, is not providing the information. Opposition members need to provide their information to Elections Canada on the contracts they signed for those phone calls, where the phone calls came from and who they called. It is the opposition that needs to assist Elections Canada in providing information. The Conservative Party is.

Opposition Motion--Canada Elections ActBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, we need to remind the government of the in and out scandal. That is something in which it has paid tens of thousands of dollars. Ultimately the Conservatives had to be brought kicking and screaming before they finally were held to task for their responsibility for the in and out scandal from Elections Canada.

Now we have yet another incident with Elections Canada, where the Conservative/Reform Party has been accused of voter suppression, very strong allegations.

Over 30,000 Canadians have contacted Elections Canada. Does the minister not recognize that those Canadians have legitimate concerns? Does he not recognize that those concerns must be addressed and the best way to address that is to ensure that all the records of the Conservatives on file need to be submitted to Elections Canada?

Opposition Motion--Canada Elections ActBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

Tim Uppal Conservative Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member may speak very loud in this place, but at the end of the day, the fact is the Conservative Party is providing the information to assist Elections Canada in its work. The Liberal Party spent millions of dollars on thousands of phone calls. Why is it not doing the same? Why is it not assisting Elections Canada in getting to the bottom of this?

Opposition Motion--Canada Elections ActBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Liberal Toronto Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the chance to speak in this debate. I want to indicate that our party will be supporting the motion. We would like to see it strengthened. We would like to ensure that the motion refers not simply to future elections, but to the election of which we just had. Six months is too long. I hope there can be some discussions among the parties to ensure the motion is strengthened.

I would like to give a bit of historical context to this issue. I read the wonderful book by Alan Taylor called The Civil War of 1812. We are all reading about the War of 1812 because it is our 200th anniversary. There is a wonderful description in the book of how Simcoe recruited his surveyor general, David W. Smith, to stand for an assembly seat in Essex county in 1792. The book says:

Smith entrusted electioneering to his wealthy “friends”, who campaigned in the traditional style by lavishing music, food, and alcohol—rather than policy discussions—upon the voters. A paternalist rather than a egalitarian, Smith advised his campaign manager, “Let the peasants have a fiddle, some beverage and beef”.

Anticipating victory, he planned a culminating celebration, “I beg an ox be roasted whole on the common and a barrel of rum to be given to the mob to wash down the beef”. The book goes on to say, “As Simcoe expected, Smith won his seat”.

That is how politics was conducted in 1792 by the ancestors of the Tory Party, which is now in place.

I would like to simply bring that up-to-date by drawing attention to a comment that was made to me by a well-known Conservative, who I will not name. He said to me, “Give me a computer and give me an Internet access and I can boom your house and cellphone from three continents away at the same time with the same or different message”. It is the same party but just a different technology. As opposed to ox and booze, nylons and rum, we have a new way of reaching people, which is give us a computer and an Internet access and we can boom one's house and cellphone.

We have to understand how politics has changed and become such a technology-driven system. However, behind every technology, there still are human values as to how we campaign, how we relate to voters and what the limits are.

We need to have clear laws. We need to have clear accountability. We need to ensure that people are held to account for the things they say. We need limits as to how much an individual can spend in each riding and limits as to how much parties can spend, as we all know. That is the Canadian way.

This basic practice in Canada has only been challenged by one party and actually by one person. It was in another life that the current Prime Minister challenged this system. He said that they did not want this system, that we wanted the American system. He said that they wanted a system where people could spend whatever money they wanted. He said that they wanted a system where there was unlimited access to dough. He said that was the kind of system they wanted for Canada. In that case, known as “Harper v. Canada”, and I have to mention the name because it is the title of the lawsuit, the Supreme Court of Canada said that it was actually reasonable and fair for Canadians to limit the ability of third parties to spend as much money as they wanted in the course of an election campaign.

That same Prime Minister, again in another life, described the people at Elections Canada as “jackasses”. The same Prime Minister led his party through the so-called in and out scandal. Day after day in question period, his party refused to recognize the problem, refused to provide the information. His party forced Elections Canada to go to court to get the documents from the party, which finally, after a five year process, copped a plea, accepted the fact that it had done wrong, paid back the money and paid a fine as well.

That has become the culture of the Conservative Party of Canada. In carrying out that culture, it has, at the same time, and it has to be said very clearly, created a very complex but, nevertheless, effective system of communicating with voters across the country.

The minister of state just gave his ritual response. In the course of his speech and in answer to the questions that were asked yesterday by the parliamentary secretary, the robo response king of the House of Commons at the moment, said that our party and other parties paid millions of dollars to make hundreds of thousands of calls. Of course we did. So did the Conservative Party. That is the common technique that is now used by all political parties. Some of the calls are made in person by phone banks, some of them are so-called robocalls and some of them were tele-town halls where people were brought together to listen to a conversation with a political leader or a candidate. That is one of the techniques that we use.

What needs to be clear is that all of these systems can be abused, just as there have been abuses in the past. Is our Canada Elections Act keeping up with the abuses and potential abuses and are we now able to say that we have a system of regulation and real accountability to public authorities that is equal to the technologies that exist?

There is nothing wrong with a robocall per se. There is nothing wrong with people phoning and saying that they are calling on behalf of the Conservative Party and asking how a person intends to vote in the next election. Voters can either tell them to go away, that they do not want to be annoyed, or they can give them the information. In fact, when I hear this called a robocall issue, it is not really about robocalls. It is about misinformation in calls. It is not even about a call that is unpleasant, a call that says the voter's Liberal candidate or New Democratic Party candidate has done this, this and this. There are all kinds of negative things said during campaigns.

Every member of the House has been in an all candidates debate. When somebody on the other side says something we object to and do not think is true. We have all seen leaflets that say negative things about our parties, our candidates or our leaders. There is a difference between hardball, tough politics, even negative politics and dishonest politics. We need e to understand where the line is to be drawn. There are tough things that are said and things said that we might think are unfair. I happen to think that many of the things that were said about our former leaders were very unfair. They help to suppress votes, discourage voters and create a climate that creates negativity, but I would not say that they were illegal.

I do not always agree with what is said and sometimes I think it is unfair. The negative ads against our leaders were hard. I am sure my colleagues in the Conservative Party and the NDP will agree that these ads could be considered unfair. But there is a difference between tough politics and dishonest politics, between negative politics and politics based on fraud. That is the question now facing Elections Canada.

I am sure the minister's speech will be repeated by all the Conservative members who speak here today. It will be repeated again and again. The Conservative Party is under investigation. That party is the one under a very clear court order to produce the documents in question. The Conservatives have no choice but to comply. We have indicated that we are prepared to co-operate with Elections Canada and hand over any information we have, without any questions. That is what the Liberal Party of Canada will do.

We need to know exactly what the problems are. Some calls were made that cannot be explained, but they must be explained. The Conservative system is very centralized when it comes to its philosophy and organization. We need an explanation for the calls that were made last year at Passover to Jewish families by callers claiming to be from the Liberal Party. Those were not robocalls. They were made by real people who claimed to be calling on behalf of the Liberal Party. We know, however, that the campaign office of my colleague from Mount Royal was closed. His office did not make those calls. So we need an explanation. If the same thing happened in several other ridings, it is hard to believe it was a coincidence.

If it happens in one riding, we can say that it is clearly a rogue situation. However, it happened in a riding that requires a password to access the central system. How does the company involved get access to the central system? How does one get access through the company? Those are perfectly legitimate questions.

One of the first examples I heard about did not involve the Liberal Party at all, but rather involved the Bloc Québécois in the riding of Rivière-du-Loup in the byelection of 2009. We heard of an example where a call was made indicating that it was a call from the Bloc. It was not a call from the Bloc. It was a call coming from somewhere else.

How do we explain these phantom calls? How do we explain the number of phantom calls? There is a difference between a call that is dishonest, a call that is intended to suppress a vote and a call that is exactly intended to misdirect someone to a polling station at place Y when in fact it should be place Z. How do we explain the number of times that has happened?

If I were given a computer and Internet access, I could boom a person's house and cellphone from three continents away at the same time with the same message or a different message.

How do we track down this information? What if some of those calls were coming from offshore? What if they are offshore and off book in terms of how they are financed? These are legitimate questions. When something happens once we can say that it is an accident, when it happens twice we look into it but when it happens dozens of times in dozens of ridings there must be some other explanation, and there must be some way of getting to the bottom of what that is.

If the government is sincere in saying that it wants to get to the bottom of it, it is the Conservative Party of Canada that can get to the bottom of it the easiest: the campaign team, the people working in the war room that was specifically intended to deal with close ridings.

No one involved in the business of politics today can have anything but a grudging sense of admiration for the discipline and organization that goes into the Conservative campaigns. They have a central message that it is repeated over and over again. They have raised a lot of money and that money is put into creating the greatest and latest technology that is available.

The problem is that we need to get to the bottom of this. We need to know the values of the people who are behind that technology and behind that impressive organization. That is the issue that Elections Canada can get at from a certain perspective but it is an issue that only the members of the Conservative Party can deal with themselves.

Have the Conservatives created a culture in which winning is everything? Have they created a culture in which they say that we are sore losers? Looking over at the other side, I would say that they are just a bunch of sore winners. They do not let up. They are relentless in their determination to go forward in the way they have, such as in 2006 with the in and out and the brazenness with which they defied any questioning with respect to this subject and with respect to the fact that they resisted Elections Canada and finally had to succumb to a subpoena and a police raid in terms of seizing documents.

That is the question. What are the real values behind the machine? Yes, as professional politicians, we must admit that the machine is very professional. It is monitored very closely from the centre, but the fact that it is so closely monitored from the centre means that very few accidents happen in the ridings. That is why we want answers to our questions and, quite frankly, why we will not give up.

We are not going to let go of this. It is not a pleasant subject. We are constantly having to ask questions about things that we cannot quite believe could be happening. They are not based on, in the words of my colleague opposite, unsubstantiated smears. They are based on complaints from Canadian citizens.

The member opposite shouted out just now that it is too late. I have news for the member. It is never too late for justice and truth to come out. It is never too late for people to bring forward complaints. Someone receives a call early in the campaign and is asked who they are going to vote for and either declines to answer or says it is none of the caller's business because the call is coming from the Conservative Party. Then two days before the election that person receives another call saying the polling station is in Kalamazoo. It is very important to recognize the kind of conclusion we expect people to draw from that. When they hear and read about other people getting these calls, they say they got that call too. That is why we have an absolutely unprecedented number of complaints coming into Elections Canada.

The Conservative Party is going to have to come to grips with the fact that it is not a matter of what the Liberal Party thinks or does, or what the NDP thinks or does, or what the Bloc or Green Party thinks or does, it is about the Canadian people and what they think. It is about the forms that they are signing, the things that they are saying. The argument of the Conservative Party is not with the Liberal Party and it is not with the NDP, it is with the Canadian people. Conservatives have to understand that. They reposition themselves for the umpteenth time and their talking points shift the blame from one party to another party to somewhere else. They have to look into their own hearts and minds and ask themselves a simple question: have we done something here that we should not have done?

I make no bones about it. This is an unprecedented situation, to quote Mr. Kingsley. We are literally in uncharted waters. Those so-called experts or others who say there is nothing to all of this stuff do not really understand the implications of what happens when bad values and good technology get mixed up in the same lethal cocktail. This is what happens. This is why Elections Canada needs these additional powers.

I am glad the Conservatives have backed away from their previous position. They have done a 180 on this issue. It is time that they did. However, we need to make sure that it applies not to future elections, but to this election. We need to make sure that it applies to what is happened in these campaigns. I look forward to those discussions.

We have gone from the serving of beef and beer, from nylons and rum, to where we are today. It is something we have to come to grips with as Canadians. Corruption is corruption is corruption. It should not happen wherever it happens. We have to deal with it today.

Opposition Motion--Canada Elections ActBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

Edmonton—Sherwood Park Alberta

Conservative

Tim Uppal ConservativeMinister of State (Democratic Reform)

Mr. Speaker, I thank the leader of the Liberal Party for his speech today. During his speech he talked about the fact that members of a specific religion received phone calls at a time that was not respectful. The callers said they were representing the Liberal Party. Very respectfully, very sincerely, I ask the leader of the Liberal Party this question. The Liberals themselves, and he admits it, spent millions of dollars on hundreds of thousands of phone calls across the country. Is it not possible that the source of those phone calls, who claimed to be Liberals, were actually Liberals?

Would it not just make sense for the Liberal Party to provide all the information regarding those calls to Elections Canada? The Conservative Party is assisting Elections Canada. We provided information. Why does the Liberal Party not do the same?

Opposition Motion--Canada Elections ActBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Liberal Toronto Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, first of all, we are. Second, the reason the Conservative Party is co-operating so profusely with Elections Canada is because it has a subpoena that requires it to do so. It has to produce documents. This is not a situation where Conservatives can run across the street and say to Elections Canada they will do it quite gladly. They have a court order telling them they have to produce documents under the Criminal Code of Canada. That is the reason they are doing it.

With respect to the issue that I raised, I know the minister was listening carefully. I raised the example of the member for Mount Royal because first, these calls were not robocalls, they were calls made in person. Second, they were calls that were made when the member's office was not open. The calls were not being made on his behalf. That is an extremely clear and categorical answer that I can give to the hon. member.

I can also say that, of course, everyone here is co-operating with Elections Canada. There is a bit of difference between co-operating with Elections Canada and being required to do so because of a court subpoena.

Opposition Motion--Canada Elections ActBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, it feels somewhat strange and familiar to be onside with the hon. member on a file. Let me reaffirm that we will be strengthening this motion. I committed to that publicly last night, I did this morning at the news conference and I will again. We will be strengthening this so it applies to past as well as to present elections. This new law would apply to any file in front of the Chief Electoral Officer. He could use it at his discretion.

To get back to a macro view of all this, the hon. member is very well travelled in the world and has a very sophisticated, civilized world view. He and I were recently in Morocco together as international election observers, helping that country with its election. I would ask the hon. member what he thinks all this and the other actions of the government are doing to the great reputation that Canadians are proud of, in terms of the damage to that very proud reputation that we have.

Opposition Motion--Canada Elections ActBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Liberal Toronto Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I think it is doing its share of damage. We all watch how politics are practised in a number of countries. It is interesting to me how a number of the consultants who work for the Conservative Party, as well as consultants who work for other parties, are all doing international work. They are doing work in Israel, the U.K. and Australia. It is troubling because we see these things happening. Techniques and philosophies are being applied, such as voter suppression, which is in itself wrong and, even worse than that, voter misinformation. So this is a very serious question for Canada's reputation.

We have a great deal of confidence in Elections Canada, unlike the government, which refused to vote for a motion indicating our support and confidence in Elections Canada. So it is a very serious question the member poses.

Opposition Motion--Canada Elections ActBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Liberal Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, there is something else that we all should be concerned about. We are often called to travel abroad to encourage fledgling democracy and the multi-party system in certain countries, and even to participate in elections as observers.

Could the hon. member for Toronto Centre speak to the effect the current situation in Canada might have on our international reputation?

Opposition Motion--Canada Elections ActBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Liberal Toronto Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, that is an important question. I fully agree with the hon. member who just asked that question.

I began my speech by talking about the Canadian system we have created. In my riding, we can spend roughly up to $80,000. When I talk about this situation with my American colleagues, they cannot believe that the Canadian system is like that, but it is. There is a ceiling on contributions from individuals and we do not get money from corporations or unions, just from individuals.

That is the system the Prime Minister of Canada does not accept. He wants to create a system in which money can buy anything, where nothing else matters but money.

I am convinced that the system we have created in Canada is good and that we must do everything in our power to maintain it.

Opposition Motion--Canada Elections ActBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

LaVar Payne Conservative Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Speaker, I listened quite intently to the member for Toronto Centre, particularly when he said that now is the time to get back and to follow this through, and that Canadians will not forget. I have a comment in terms of the Liberal Party of Canada about the ad scam. There were brown envelopes and money missing. There is still $40 million missing. I know the Liberals would love to help get that funding back.

I know there are some left-leaning websites out there that some opposition MPs are tied to, that are encouraging all of these 31,000 contacts. I also understand that the Liberal Party has a machine that does its centralized calling as well. So I would ask the hon. member if in fact the Liberals are doing this. Are they going to provide those records to Elections Canada as well?

Opposition Motion--Canada Elections ActBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Liberal Toronto Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, if the Liberal Party has a machine, it has avoided my detection over the last number of years. What the Liberal Party has, as I assume the New Democratic Party has, as I am not familiar with what systems it uses now, is a number of contractors who also make calls. As my party has indicated publicly and to the hon. member, the Liberal Party is going to be sharing all of that information with Elections Canada, just as I understand you are doing as well.

The difference between you and us is that you are doing it because you are under subpoena, we are doing it voluntarily.

Opposition Motion--Canada Elections ActBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Just to remind all hon. members, it is not the Chair who is sharing the information. He ought to direct his comments in this direction.

Opposition Motion--Canada Elections ActBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to address a question to the hon. leader of the Liberal Party. He made reference to the fact that we have seen in previous election campaigns instances of election crime, essentially. Calls misdirected voters and reported to be from the Bloc when they were not.

The most comprehensive example of a previous election fraud effort was in Saanich—Gulf Islands in 2008. Robocalls were made to NDP supporters to get out in support of a candidate who was actually no longer in the race. This allegedly and arguably changed the result of the election and denied the Liberals a seat. The NDP members were so upset in Saanich—Gulf Islands by this crime that even though it was a Liberal Party candidate who was the biggest victim, the NDP filed a complaint with Elections Canada. The Liberals filed a complaint. Elections Canada simply did not get to the bottom of it.

I would like to ask the hon. member for Toronto Centre if it is too late to go back to what is essentially a cold case to figure out who stole the election in 2008 in Saanich—Gulf Islands?

Opposition Motion--Canada Elections ActBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Liberal Toronto Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, the simple, hard fact is a lot of calls are hard to trace. It is no accident that they are hard to trace. Offshore calls are particularly hard to trace. It would not be difficult to place offshore calls into Saanich—Gulf Islands.

This is something that we all have to come to grips with. To repeat the quote that I made before, “In this world today, all you needs is a computer and access to the Internet, and you can have access to all kinds of things. It is very difficult to trace them”. I think that is something we have to take a hold of. We need to make sure that all of the calls made are not only reported to Elections Canada, but that a record of those calls is kept for an extended period of time.

Opposition Motion--Canada Elections ActBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I apologize for interrupting my hon. colleague's intervention. This will be brief.

I just want to point out for the record that the Leader of the Liberal Party, on a number of occasions in his intervention, mentioned that the Conservative Party of Canada has subpoenas or is under court order to produce documents. That is absolutely false. That is an incorrect statement. Could he have the opportunity to retract his statements?

Opposition Motion--Canada Elections ActBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:45 a.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh.

Opposition Motion--Canada Elections ActBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

I am not sure that is a point of order. It is a point of debate. Order, order. The hon. member for Québec.

Opposition Motion--Canada Elections ActBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:45 a.m.

NDP

Annick Papillon NDP Québec, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to share my time today with the hon. member for Vancouver Kingsway.

I am very pleased to have the opportunity today to support the motion moved by my esteemed colleague from Hamilton Centre. This motion, which would give the Chief Electoral Officer the power to request documents he deems necessary to investigations, is very important to me.

Canadians' right to vote is a symbol of democracy and something we can all be proud of. This right gives qualified voters the right to express their personal opinions freely and confidentially. This precious right is essential to the proper functioning of our democratic society.

Today, March 8, is International Women's Day, and I think it is important to note that this right was granted to Canadian women in 1918. The acquisition of this right was one of many pivotal moments in the history of Canadian democracy. Unfortunately, events of the past few days are anything but reassuring. The latest information from across the country suggests that some of our fellow citizens were tricked and thus deprived of their right to vote. These allegations are alarming.

I would like to briefly review the events that point to a need to strengthen Elections Canada's investigative powers.

Last week, we learned that during the 2011 election, robocalls falsely informed voters that their polling station had changed. Other individuals received harassing phone calls from people claiming to work for the party those individuals supported. These tactics persuaded voters not to cast their ballots. Should these allegations prove true, they would constitute very serious election fraud, and that is why they must be treated with the respect our Canadian democracy deserves.

Since this information surfaced, Elections Canada has been so overwhelmed with calls from individuals claiming to be victims of fraudulent calls that it has made an online form available to simplify the complaints process. At least 31,000 complaints have been received so far.

I would note that Elections Canada is a non-partisan, independent organization that ensures that Canadians can exercise their democratic right to vote. Elections Canada plays a key role in preserving a fair and honest democracy.

The problem is that there are currently no controls over the use of robocalling. Parties are not subject to privacy legislation or rules governing telephone solicitation. Parties are only required to comply with the provisions of the Criminal Code and the Canada Elections Act.

For that reason, the Chief Electoral Officer recently complained that he could not carry out proper investigations without full transparency by all parties.

In fact, the Chief Electoral Officer submitted a series of recommendations to the Speaker of the House of Commons on legislative reform after the 40th general election. He asked for the power to request that political parties provide “any documents and information that may be deemed necessary to verify compliance with the requirements of the Act with respect to the election expenses return”.

At present only local campaigns must file documentary evidence to support their election expenses returns. In his request, the Chief Electoral Officer indicated that his provincial counterparts have this authority, and he also pointed out that political parties receive public funds based on their election expenses returns.

The NDP wants to give the Chief Electoral Officer the authority to ask for documentation if he considers it necessary. This would ensure that the Chief Electoral Officer has the information he needs to fulfill his obligations under the Canada Elections Act. According to a report released last week, in committee, Conservatives opposed the Chief Electoral Officer's request that he have the authority to demand invoices and documents from political parties.

Now, the government is saying that it was not aware that Elections Canada claimed that it did not have the powers or the resources to investigate as it should. I now hope that the government will stop putting its head in the sand and will finally provide the Chief Electoral Officer with the power he requested so that he can conduct a full investigation.

Another aspect of the motion moved today would ensure that all telecommunication companies that contact voters during a general election are registered with Elections Canada.

Elections Canada is now spending a lot of time and a lot of taxpayers' money to find the telecommunication companies involved in the scandal and trace them back to their clients. Right now, there is a lack of responsibility from these telemarketing companies, which is particularly problematic when we consider the trend toward the outsourcing of calls and the use of automated telecommunications.

This results in a system where an increasing number of the tools that can be used during election campaigns require less and less accountability and are harder and harder to trace.

Under our motion, the identity of telecommunication company clients will have to be registered and verified so that it would be impossible for the imaginary Pierre Poutine of the non-existent Separatist Street in Joliette to order automated calls.

If those involved had not known that their actions would be difficult to trace, they would have never authorized the calls that disrupted voting on the very day of the election. The registration of telecommunication companies and their clients would prevent this type of scandal from happening again in the future. The NDP is continuing to do everything it can to resolve the current scandal. The Conservatives, on the other hand, will continue to divert attention and blame others without addressing the issue head-on.

In fact, since the rigged calls were first revealed, the government has only admitted that there were some irregularities in the riding of Guelph, in Ontario. As for the rest, including the repeated automated calls to destabilize their opponents, the government has been saying that the allegations are exaggerated. If such is truly the case, the Conservative Party should not have any reason to prevent the implementation of a registry for telecommunication companies that contact voters.

And, if this is not enough to convince the government, a survey conducted by Angus Reid shows that 81% of Canadians and even 72% of Conservative voters are calling for an independent inquiry to get to the bottom of things. In addition, 55% of the 1,667 respondents chosen at random as part of a telephone survey conducted by Forum Research said that elections should be held in the ridings where it has been proven that fraudulent calls were made.

In that same survey, one out of ten people said that they had received an automated telephone call about a polling station change during the last election. If we project these results to the 12.5 million households in Canada, that means that approximately 250,000 households would have received fraudulent calls.

As if that were not enough, this morning La Presse reported that an employee of Responsive Marketing Group, which raised funds for the Conservative Party, was fired after he harassed party members and contacted them under false pretences. This information came to light several days after party supporters in Quebec began to complain about being harassed by fundraisers.

Political analyst Guy Lachapelle, who teaches at Concordia, said that the Conservative fundraiser's aggressive approach mirrors tactics perfected by the Republican Party in the United States. He added that there should be a law to protect people from this practice because it is misrepresentation and puts undue pressure on defenceless individuals.

In addition, Le Devoir recently reported that voters were relentlessly solicited by the Conservative Party, which made false claims that they had pledged to donate money. It goes without saying that this is an issue that hits close to home for Canadians. People want answers, and that is why we want all parties to agree. Increasing accountability by requiring telecommunication companies and their clients to register is the most effective way to ensure that Canadian elections continue to be free and democratic.

In closing, I hope that the government will not stop at voting in favour of the motion, but will also act on it so that we can investigate potentially serious actions without delay and safeguard and preserve Canadians' confidence in our democracy.

Opposition Motion--Canada Elections ActBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:55 a.m.

Cambridge Ontario

Conservative

Gary Goodyear ConservativeMinister of State (Science and Technology) (Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario)

Mr. Speaker, Elections Canada has limits on contributions or what someone can donate to a party. The way the Liberals have gotten around that is by borrowing, in some cases, hundreds of thousands of dollars and then not repaying those loans. Elections Canada is having some difficulty determining whether those are contributions, which are then clearly illegal, or loans that simply were not repaid. The NDP has also taken cash from unions, which is also illegal.

I am not opposed to this motion, but I am concerned that it does not allow Elections Canada to investigate the illegal contributions by unions to the NDP and the non-repayment of loans contribution scandal by the Liberals. Maybe I could get some clarification on that.

Opposition Motion--Canada Elections ActBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:55 a.m.

NDP

Annick Papillon NDP Québec, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to point out to members that there is something that I was unable to quantify today: the price of our Canadian democracy. Mr. Speaker, allow me to tell you and all my hon. colleagues that Canadian democracy is priceless. It is about time we strengthened the Canada Elections Act and gave Elections Canada the tools to investigate what seems to be the worst case of election fraud this country has ever seen.

Opposition Motion--Canada Elections ActBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:55 a.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I find it interesting that the Minister of State (Democratic Reform), per the government line, is trying to avoid talking about the issue at hand. The issue at hand relates to Elections Canada and the 30,000-plus Canadians who have phoned it to say they were manipulated in some way. We do not know the content of all of those calls; all we know is that there are very strong allegations from coast to coast about how the Conservatives may have manipulated the last federal election.

I am wondering if the member would agree that the best service the Conservative Party could give to Canadians today would be to stay focused on the issue. We are talking about voter suppression, the wrong information given to Canadians, which ultimately led to many Canadians not participating in the last election. Would she not agree that, in essence, that is the focus of the debate we should be having today and on Elections Canada's ability to rightly investigate the matter?

Opposition Motion--Canada Elections ActBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

Noon

NDP

Annick Papillon NDP Québec, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his comments. That really is what we must focus on. As legislators, how can we enhance the Canada Elections Act and provide Elections Canada with more tools? That is the crux of the matter. Democracy is at stake, and it is priceless. It is our duty to Canadians to ensure that this does not happen again.

Opposition Motion--Canada Elections ActBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

Noon

Cambridge Ontario

Conservative

Gary Goodyear ConservativeMinister of State (Science and Technology) (Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario)

Mr. Speaker, I have a quick comment. I just found out that these are actually not calls but form letters directed through an NDP website to Elections Canada.

I wonder if the member could confirm two things. Are these all legitimate calls or are they form letters instigated by the NDP, and will this motion allow Elections Canada to investigate the illegal cash contributions by unions to the NDP and the loan fraud by the Liberals?