Mr. Speaker, I am happy to have this opportunity to speak to you today about Bill C-23 at report stage. We are studying the report that the committee produced about this bill to change our elections legislation.
To begin, I would like to talk about the process because there are some major problems with the process that Bill C-23 has gone through so far. I have been a member of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs for three years now, so I have heard from the Chief Electoral Officer, the Commissioner of Canada Elections and various Elections Canada employees on the subject of our elections legislation many times.
Three years ago, we studied the report of the Chief Electoral Officer, who recommended changes to our elections legislation. He said that parts of the bill should be amended to improve democracy in Canada. We worked on that for months, and the committee produced a report that included an analysis of each of the Chief Electoral Officer's recommendations.
After the robocall scandal broke, the NDP moved a motion in the House calling on the Conservatives to amend the Canada Elections Act, in particular to give Elections Canada the investigative powers it needed to request all necessary documents from political parties to ensure their compliance with the Elections Act.
Under the existing legislation, all candidates from each riding and political party must produce the documents requested by Elections Canada, such as invoices or other documentation, to verify their election spending. However, although $33 million was given to political parties during the last election, these parties did not have to submit any documentation. Elections Canada must simply assume that everything is fine and that the parties are complying with the Canada Elections Act.
I think this is one of the major flaws of Bill C-23. The Chief Electoral Officer has been calling for this very important power for a very long time. This power would help him investigate cases of fraud. However, when Bill C-23 was introduced, the bill did not provide for this power.
The motion I mentioned was unanimously passed by the House nearly two years ago and it contained that provision. However, when the bill was introduced, that provision was not there. I do not know when the government decided to change its mind. Perhaps it was when the court found that it was the Conservatives' database that was used in the robocall scandal. I do not know. The Conservatives tend to be rather unhappy when Elections Canada investigates cases of fraud, since they are generally the guilty ones.
Several months after we moved our motion, the minister of state for democratic reform at the time announced that he would introduce an election reform bill the following Thursday. However, on the Wednesday afternoon, right after the parties' caucus meetings, the bill mysteriously disappeared. Poof, no more bill. It was as though it never existed and it was never mentioned again.
Everyone wondered what had happened and where the electoral reform bill went. We will never know. We do not know what exactly was in the bill. We did not hear of it again until this past winter, when the new Minister of State for Democratic Reform introduced Bill C-23.
Not only does this bill not contain the powers requested by the Commissioner of Canada Elections and the Chief Electoral Officer or any of the requested measures that should be part of electoral reform, but it also includes changes that are both unjustified and downright harmful to our democracy. The government is trying to pull the wool over Canadians' eyes so that they do not realize that it is failing to do what needs to be done to improve democracy in Canada.
For example, how does it make sense to move the Commissioner of Canada Elections into the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions? We have no idea. The Conservatives say that it will make him more independent.
However, both the current and the former commissioners came to tell us that this move would not make the commissioner more independent and that it would instead interfere with his work. The Conservatives are telling us that it will help the commissioner, but the Commissioner himself is saying that he does not need to be more independent and that he does not understand the need for the changes.
This is all a show to hide the fact that the Commissioner made specific requests. He said that he is the one who investigates electoral fraud, and he told us specifically what would be really helpful to him during investigations. Nothing came of that. Instead, they are playing chess. The pieces are being moved around but nothing at all has changed in terms of the Commissioner's ability to properly investigate fraud.
There have been major problems throughout the process. When the Conservatives introduced the bill, we suggested that it be sent to committee before second reading. Basically, that would have given witnesses the opportunity to talk about what is in the bill. We would have had far greater flexibility to change various elements and produce the best electoral reform possible. That is the goal, really. I am certain that everyone wants that. The witnesses who would have appeared could have told us what needed to be changed.
Then we would have had a meaningful debate at second reading. The Conservative majority would not have imposed its will. The Conservatives decided to change everything just because they felt like it and because it would be to their advantage. This bill amends one of the most fundamental statutes in Canada. It affects 34 million Canadians. It affects every Canadian's right to vote. There was no pre-consultation with the Chief Electoral Officer, the commissioner or the political parties: no one. The Conservatives show up with this bill and force it down our throats, telling us it is good enough.
Now, because we fought quite hard and told the Conservatives that they could not just change the Canada Elections Act like this, they ended up backing down on some of the points that I thought were the most damaging. The only amendments proposed and adopted in committee—obviously those proposed by the government—mitigated some of the most troubling aspects of the bill. However, this does not change the fact that the bill fundamentally poses a lot of problems. Given the choice between the Canada Elections Act in its current form and Bill C-23, even amended, I would choose the Canada Elections Act because this bill includes too many changes and has too many flaws and problems to be acceptable.
In short, when the Conservatives introduced Bill C-23, it was a very bad bill. Currently, with the amendments, it is a very bad bill. The amendments do not go far enough for me to support this bill.
Now, how did things go in committee? Dozens of witnesses came to tell us that there were major problems with the bill that absolutely needed to be addressed and that the bill did not make sense. Finally, they managed to push hard enough that the government backed down a little on some things. However, overall, did the government representatives in committee listen to the witnesses? Did they really listen to the proceedings and take witnesses' opinions into consideration? I do not think so. The witnesses, who are experts on the subject, raised many points that did not find their way into Bill C-23 or the amendments. I guess we will have to wait for a new government in 2015 before the changes that really need to be made to the Canada Elections Act are finally made.
In the end, in a 21st century democracy and in a country like Canada, which is internationally respected for its democracy, it is a real problem for such a fundamental bill to be changed, introduced and imposed by a majority government that does not hold consultations and does not listen. It does not want to listen to anyone and does not want to hear about any problems with the bill. The government thinks its bill is terrific, and that is that.
The Conservatives really need to do better. They need to hold real consultations. A real reform of the Canada Elections Act is needed.