Mr. Speaker, first of all, I would like to wish all the women in the House of Commons and across Canada a happy International Women's Day. I commend the enormous contribution all women make to this great country.
I am pleased to take part in today's debate on the opposition motion moved by the hon. member for Hamilton Centre.
We are not opposed to the motion. We certainly are supporting the work of Elections Canada by making available all of our records from the last election for its investigation of the situation in Guelph.
Although we are not opposed to the motion, we must consider that the motion has been brought forward while the parties opposite have been conducting a baseless and unsubstantiated smear campaign against our government and our party over the course of the last several weeks.
There is nothing stopping the opposition from supporting Elections Canada's work right now. It could easily provide all of its records relating to phone calls and phone contracts made in the last election to assist in the agency's work. The Conservative Party of Canada is doing exactly that and will continue to do so. We encourage the opposition to do the same.
The opposition spent millions of dollars on hundreds of thousands of phone calls during the last election. This information can only assist Elections Canada in its work. If the opposition really wants to support the work of Elections Canada, it should provide all of its records relating to phone calls it made during the last election.
I repeat: we not opposed to this proposal. At the same time, however, I wish to make it clear that we are giving all of our information to Elections Canada. Nothing is stopping the NDP from providing its information to Elections Canada as well.
The motion, which is very vague, asks that:
(a) Elections Canada investigation capabilities be strengthened, to include giving the Chief Electoral Officer the power to request all necessary documents from political parties to ensure compliance with the Elections Act;
(b) all telecommunication companies that provide voter contact services during a general election must register with Elections Canada; and
(c) all clients of telecommunication companies during a general election have their identity registered and verified.
The existing Elections Act already gives the Chief Electoral Officer and the Commissioner of Canada Elections a number of powers in that regard. I would like to provide a few examples to the hon. members present in the House.
Let us first take a look at the Chief Electoral Officer. Canada has a very strict federal political financing regime that is intended to ensure the integrity, fairness and transparency of the electoral process.
To achieve that objective, the Canada Elections Act includes rules respecting the contributions and expenses that can be made by five types of political entities, namely: political parties, riding associations, candidates, nomination contestants and leadership candidates. The act also sets a limit on spending by a third party during an election.
All these political entities must submit detailed financial reports to the Chief Electoral Officer, within the prescribed timeframe. The political parties are carefully monitored and they must submit three types of financial reports.
First, each year every party must submit a financial transactions return that includes its revenues and expenses, and also a list of its donors. That requirement is found in section 424 of the Elections Act.
Second, a political party that is eligible to the quarterly allowance must also provide, for each quarter, a report on contributions received during that quarter. That is under section 424.1.
Finally, following a general election, every party must submit to the Chief Electoral Officer a report on all its election expenses. That is provided under section 429.
The Canada Elections Act already provides that the annual financial report and the report on a party's election expenses must undergo an external audit. To this end, the auditor for a party must have access to all the party's documents, as required under sections 426 and 430.
In order to increase the scope and effectiveness of this external audit, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs proposes to give to this auditor, who already has access to all the relevant documentation, new responsibilities regarding compliance. The government is currently looking into this recommendation.
When the Chief Electoral Office receives a party's annual financial report or its report on election expenses, he already has the authority to ask the registered party to correct its report, in the timeframe that he sets. That authority is found in section 432(2). For example, he may do so if the report seems incomplete or erroneous.
The Chief Electoral Officer also has another power. He can withhold part of the electoral expense reimbursement of a party that does not comply with its reporting obligations. Indeed, the Chief Electoral Officer does not issue the certificate authorizing the receiver general to pay to a party its electoral expense reimbursement until he is satisfied that the party and its chief agent have fulfilled their obligations.
I am now going to talk about the powers of the Commissioner of Canada Elections. There are more examples. While the Canada Elections Act provides stiff sanctions for a party that does not fulfill its financial reporting obligations, it also includes the necessary investigative authority to ensure compliance.
Thus, the Canada Elections Act provides for the appointment of an independent investigator: the Commissioner of Canada Elections. The commissioner is not appointed by the government, but rather by the Chief Electoral Officer. The Commissioner of Canada Elections has a well defined mission, to ensure that the Canada Elections Act is enforced and implemented. He has very broad powers at his disposal in carrying out this role.
If he believes that the public interest warrants it, the Commissioner may take all necessary steps, including spending for the purposes of investigations he conducts under the Canada Elections Act. A provision of the act also stipulates that investigators working for the Commissioner are public servants in accordance with section 487 of the Criminal Code. This provision enables the Commissioner and his investigators to request a search warrant from a judge when deemed necessary.
When he has reasonable grounds to believe that the Canada Elections Act has been violated, the Commissioner refers the matter to the director of public prosecutions who decides whether to prosecute with a view to punishment. If he makes this decision, the Director of Public Prosecutions Act guarantees that the director of public prosecutions is wholly independent from the attorney general or, more generally, from the government.
The Canada Elections Act also confers other powers upon the Commissioner of Canada Elections, including requesting an injunction during an election or entering into compliance agreements. A compliance agreement is a mechanism the purpose of which is to enforce the Canada Election Act. It is more flexible than prosecution, and it enables the Commissioner to enter into an agreement with the person who has broken the law. Under this agreement, the person acknowledges having broken the law and undertakes to follow it in the future. These agreements are conditional. Failure to honour such an agreement may lead to prosecution.
Elections Canada already has considerable powers with existing laws. Therefore, although we are not opposed to the motion, we are not certain that it really adds anything to the overall powers of Elections Canada and the director of Elections Canada to undertake its work.
In the motion, the opposition is proposing:
--that in all future election campaigns: (a) Elections Canada investigation capabilities be strengthened to include giving the Chief Electoral Officer the power to request all necessary documents from political parties to ensure compliance with the Elections Act; (b) all telecommunication companies that provide voter contact services during a general election must register with Elections Canada; and (c) all clients of telecommunication companies during a general election have their identity registered and verified.
We have no objection to such a proposal, but at the same time, it must be stressed that we provide Elections Canada with all our information. Nothing prevents the NDP from also providing Elections Canada with its information.
The NDP has sponsored this motion, yet that party has failed to provide its telephone activity during the campaign to Elections Canada.
There have been media reports about an investigation into a specific case in the riding of Guelph. Voter suppression is extremely serious and if something inappropriate occurred, the perpetrators should be punished. The national campaign team of the Conservative Party did not organize any such activities in this riding, and has no knowledge of the matter, but is cooperating fully with Elections Canada.
The opposition spent millions of dollars on hundreds of thousands of telephone calls in the last election campaign. If the opposition wants to help Elections Canada, it should hand over all its files on calls made during the last federal election.
In closing, as we can see, the Canada Elections Act contains many provisions to ensure the integrity, equity and transparency of the political financing system: contribution and spending limits for political parties; the requirement to produce a number of financial reports, and the requirement to have them audited by an external auditor; as an administrative measure, the possibility for the Chief Electoral Officer to ask that a report he deems incomplete or inaccurate be corrected and the possibility of withholding a portion of the election expense reimbursements from the parties if they fail to comply with these requirements; extensive investigative powers for the Commissioner of Canada Elections, an independent investigator appointed by the Chief Electoral Officer; and the power for the Director of Public Prosecutions to decide whether to initiate a prosecution under the Canada Elections Act, independently of the Attorney General or the government.
I repeat, we have no objection to such a proposal. The Conservative Party of Canada ran a clean and ethical campaign. It should be noted that we are giving all our information to Elections Canada. There is nothing stopping the NDP from giving its information to Elections Canada. If the opposition wants to help Elections Canada, then it should provide all the records relating to the calls made during the last election campaign.
The opposition spent millions of dollars on hundreds of thousands of phone calls during the election campaign, and it too should provide this information to Elections Canada.