House of Commons Hansard #85 of the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was election.


Fair Elections ActGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.


Steven Fletcher Conservative Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate the minister for an excellent bill. I had his portfolio a few years ago, and I think it is a terrific bill. It is a bill Canadians will respect. When I have heard about this bill in my constituency, people think it is common sense that people identify themselves.

I wonder if the minister could again reassure us that people who can vote will have that opportunity, and those who cannot vote will not vote. Perhaps he could share with us some of the other identification methods that are available under this new bill.

Fair Elections ActGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.


Pierre Poilievre Conservative Nepean—Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member was a great minister in the democratic reform portfolio. He also presided over crown corporations. He has a very distinguished record, and I thank him for the question and the kind words.

On the issue of voter identification, here is the fundamental difference between what the fair elections act proposes today and what existed in the last election. In the last election, people could go in with no ID whatsoever and cast a ballot by having someone vouch for who they were. That form of identity vouching is gone. Every single person who votes will have to present a piece of identification showing who they are before they vote. If that ID does not have an address on it, they can co-sign an oath with another elector as to their address. However, there is a big difference. From now on, the list of oath takers will be put before the eyes of Elections Canada right after the election to find out if there are duplicates so that we can catch people who voted more than once. There will be a $50,000 fine for taking a false oath. Potentially, jail time could come along with that. There would be an external auditor to make sure that Elections Canada actually follows these legal requirements.

Because we will have required people to show ID proving who are before taking that oath, unlike under the status quo, if they have lied or cheated, we will be able to track them down. Under the previous model of vouching, where people could go in without any ID whatsoever and have someone vouch for who they were, if the system showed that they had voted more than once or had cheated in some way, we might not ever be able to track them down, because their identity had not been established. In other words, they could simply lie about who they were. There was no picture of them. There was no record of their existence. They literally vanished into thin air as though they never existed, but their vote was counted. That vote would have cancelled out the legitimate vote of an honest voter. That is another way of disenfranchising someone.

We are eliminating that practice and that possibility by requiring every single person to show their ID, by checking the list of oath takers for duplicates to catch people who vote more than once, and by having an external auditor oversee all of it so that we can ensure that Elections Canada actually follows its own rules.

Fair Elections ActGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.


Craig Scott NDP Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to orient my remarks in the following way: first, to briefly situate why there was so much concern when the bill was initially tabled in early February and in the months leading up to major concessions by the minister, not the minor or modest amendments that he just referred to; second, to outline what those amendments were that constitute a major victory for civil society and the opposition in making a bad bill less bad; and, finally, to go through 10 points about what still remains in the bill that makes it a bad bill unworthy of the support of this House.

On the first point, it has to be said that from the beginning, our worry was that the dozens of new provisions and changes in the bill created a tapestry that, in the result, whether or not by intention, would favour one party in the next election and lock into place a series of principles that were not themselves fair, despite the name of the act, the “fair elections act”. There was no better sign for those well aware of what the government is capable of and of the bill itself than the fact that on April 10 two very highly respected Progressive Conservatives joined in signing a statement about their concerns and about why the bill should actually be killed. Those persons were David Crombie and Allan Gregg.

They said:

This legislation is a blatant attempt by the Harper government to stack the deck in favour of the Conservatives in the next federal election.

These are two extremely knowledgeable members of Canadian society, one of them a former mayor of Toronto and a former Progressive Conservative minister and the other a deeply connected pollster and marketing person. Both these men knew what the current government was capable of. They read the bill, they understood it, and they used very strong language. “Stack the deck” is something that clearly suggests an effort to create an unfair elections act, the opposite of the title of the bill, the “fair elections act”.

With pressure from all sides—from civil society, from a vigorous opposition effort, from academics speaking out, and, I have no doubt, from a certain number of Conservative backbenchers who, either as a matter of principle or as a matter of feeling the pressure, weighed in—a number of major concessions were announced by the minister and indeed delivered upon in amendments at the procedure and House affairs committee.

I will list them. By listing them, I hope I convey how major they are and how the government was forced off of some elements that were at the very heart of the effort to “stack the deck”.

First, there was a fundraising exemption. Parties would be allowed to exempt from their campaign expenses all the costs of contacting previous donors from the last five years in order to raise more money from them. All the costs associated with that would not have to go into campaign costs. All kinds of reasons were given as to why this was a huge, unlimited exemption to the campaign caps at election time. That was removed.

Second, the government added to the original bill, Bill C-23, the fact that central poll supervisors would henceforth be de facto appointed by the first-place party's candidate or the first-place party going into the next election.

The central poll supervisor is in many ways the most important person at any given poll. The fact that this would unbalance the existing system—which unfortunately is already politicized, in that the deputy returning officer and the poll clerk are each appointed by the first-place and second-place parties respectively—was something that produced major concern. There was no logic as to why this should be the case. That was removed in one of the so-called modest amendments of the minister, but it is an amendment that I nonetheless would prefer to characterize as a major concession.

We have just had an exchange where the minister acknowledges that vouching for identity in and of itself is no longer part of Bill C-23 and remains so, but vouching for an address, which is the absolute key problem that had occurred when the vouching provisions of the Canada Elections Act were removed, has been restored.

That was not a modest amendment. That was a major victory for civil society and for the many witnesses who took the time and trouble to explain to Conservative members at the procedure and House affairs committee, to the media, and ultimately to the minister why the elimination of the current vouching provisions in the Canada Elections Act were deeply unfair and disenfranchising.

Fourth, there was a bordering on ludicrous limit on how long calling service providers and others had to keep data with respect to voter contact in the new voter contact registry. When Bill C-23 was initially introduced, it was to be only one year, which is barely enough time for information to come out in some context that there is a problem needing investigation. The minister caved with respect to the keeping of scripts and audio records. That was increased from one year to three years.

Many other problems remain with this voter contact registry system. I would call this a modest amendment, but nonetheless a significant one.

Fifth, the government heard early on that Bill C-23's elimination of the public education and information programming role of Elections Canada, especially targeted toward disadvantaged groups and those more likely to experience difficulties in voting, was an abomination. I knew early on that this was one area that a lot of Conservative Party backbenchers had great trouble with. I could have predicted from the beginning what would happen, which was that the public education role for Elections Canada was restored, albeit only for primary and secondary school students. All of the other outreach activities that Elections Canada had engaged in over the years or could engage in in the future have remained prohibited by the current version of Bill C-23.

Nonetheless, at least allowing a student vote and analogous programs to continue to be supported, funded, co-organized, and partnered by Elections Canada constitutes a major victory on the part of civil society, which very much put this issue near the top of its concerns.

Sixth is the fact that Bill C-23 contained no provisions that are necessary in a bill, for technical reasons, to allow communications between the Commissioner of Canada Elections and the Chief Electoral Officer after the commissioner would be moved from Elections Canada to the Director of Public Prosecutions. That was rectified by putting in communications authorizations. They are minimal and do not go as far as we wanted, but they are nonetheless important.

Seventh, it was very clear that the new section 18 of the Canada Elections Act was written in such a way that the Chief Electoral Officer would henceforth be prohibited from communicating with the public other than to provide information to the public on a very narrow set of functional questions, such as where one can vote, how one can vote, and what identification one can use to vote. The reason was that section 18 was worded to say that the Chief Electoral Officer shall “only” communicate about the following. Therefore, there was great concern that, whether intentionally or not, it had been written in a way that meant the Chief Electoral Officer could communicate on nothing other than that in the future.

Early on, the minister said that was not the intention, and when he announced his other concessions, he said that the Chief Electoral Officer could communicate freely in his own capacity. When the time came for the amendments at the procedure and House affairs committee, it was never expressed that the Chief Electoral Officer could communicate freely henceforth, but the way in which section 18 was rewritten satisfies me that the result would be that he could now communicate freely. I only wish the government had agreed to an NDP amendment to make that clear for the sake of certainty. However, I will go on record here, as I did at the committee, to say that it is clear from the record that the Chief Electoral Officer would now be able to say whatever he wants in whatever context, in Canada or outside of Canada.

Finally, of the concessions made by the minister, there was a very puzzling provision in Bill C-23 that basically said the Commissioner for Canada Elections could not begin an investigation until he or she had reasonable grounds to suspect an offence had been committed.

Anybody involved in the criminal law or investigative sphere knows that is a standard not for beginning an investigation but for receiving things like orders for wiretaps or other kinds of investigative measures. However, in common law and in every other investigative context, all investigative officers need is a reasonable suspicion to start an investigation.

That was changed in committee, and I am willing to concede that it was simply a mistake on the part of the drafters, although a puzzling one that I cannot understand being made by anybody who understands how criminal law investigation works.

The point is that a number of major concessions arose as a result of fierce opposition, an engaged civil society, and either persuaded or somewhat fearful backbenchers, who obviously weighed in with the government.

I would like to now move to why, despite all those concessions, there still remain so many problems with this bill that it does not deserve our support, quite apart from all of the process concerns about how it was generated and how even the amendments process was non-consensual, in that not a single opposition amendment of any substance was accepted. Despite the concessions that I mentioned earlier, there are so many problems that it deserves not to see the light of day. I will briefly now indicate 10 points.

First, the current Bill C-23 on which we are about to vote today would continue to eliminate the power of the Chief Electoral Officer to implement public education and information programs designed to enhance knowledge of our electoral democracy and to encourage voting. It would only bring back one context, and that is for primary and secondary school students. All other public outreach would remain prohibited.

Second, Bill C-23 would prohibit the Chief Electoral Officer from authorizing the use of voter information cards, or VICs, as a piece of voter identification to be used not on their own but alongside a second piece of identification. It would do this despite the fact that such cards are a method of enfranchisement that were introduced because of concerns about limited forms of identity showing address and despite the fact that smoother administration of voting on election day resulted from their use in various contexts in 2011. It would be prohibited despite there being no evidence whatsoever for believing these cards are, or are likely to be, a source of fraud. This remains the case, no matter how many times the minister gives an example of a hoax that was attempted by the television show Infoman that never actually reached fruition.

Third, Bill C-23 would require that the Chief Electoral Officer and the Commissioner for Canada Elections must now get the permission of government officials in order to remunerate experts and investigators whom they find necessary to hire on a temporary basis. Previously, they could have direct access to the consolidated revenue fund. Now the CEO would have to go through the Treasury Board and the commissioner would have to go through the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Fourth, it refuses to legislate powers that are necessary for full compliance with, and enforcement of, the Canada Elections Act, in light of the experience with fraud and breach of other electoral law rules in the elections of 2006, 2008 and 2011, notably, the power of the CEO to require registered parties to provide receipts accounting for their election campaign expenses and the power of the commissioner to seek a judicial order to compel testimony during an investigation into electoral crime.

Fifth, it unnecessarily transfers the commissioner to a government ministry, the ministry of the Attorney General, and away from the current location within the office of the Chief Electoral Officer, who is, I will remind the House, an officer of Parliament. This thereby creates corresponding negative consequences for the effectiveness of commissioner investigations and for the complementary roles that the Chief Elector Officer and his or her staff and the commissioner and his or her staff play in securing compliance with the Elections Act, well ahead of and well beyond the relatively limited number of contexts in which their focus is enforcement.

Sixth, the commissioner is fettered in ways that other investigative agencies are not. In particular, he or she is required to inform suspects if they are under investigation, and he or she is prohibited from explaining to Parliament and Canadians why an investigation has not led to charges of prosecution.

Seventh, it leaves serious loopholes in the voter contact registry system that is to be administered by the CRTC, which is a welcome addition to the Canada Elections Act, but which does not go far enough. The loopholes include: the fact that the voter contact scripts for live calls and audio recordings of robocalls do not have to be conveyed to the CRTC; the fact that no person or group is under any obligation to retain phone numbers of persons called, let alone to convey those numbers to the CRTC; and the fact that no affirmative obligations are placed on the CRTC to proactively inform the commissioner if and when a CRTC employee suspects wrongdoing. I speak obviously not of wrongdoing on the part of the CRTC, but on the part of the actors who have to report to the CRTC.

Eighth, the Canada Elections Act, through Bill C-23, retains a politicized system of appointing deputy returning officers, poll clerks and registration officers as elections officials or officers for election day. As such, the Canada Elections Act does not grant Elections Canada the full authority to appoint all elections officers on the basis of merit, with corresponding detrimental effects for Elections Canada's capacity to minimize election day irregularities through more timely recruitment and training for elections officers. It is one of the major outcomes of the Neufeld report saying that the ability of Elections Canada to appoint all elections officers would be the single most important way to enhance the capacity of elections workers to minimize irregularities that the government from the beginning tried to leverage as evidence of fraud, which it was not.

Ninth, is the problematic provisions relating to voter identification that create the danger of harassment and intimidation of voters, because identity documents can now be inspected by party scrutineers. They also dissuade people from actually vouching for an address because of the fear that the requirement that the person must have known personally the person being vouched for is very unclear as to how long and how well the voucher must have known the elector.

Finally, it increases the role of money in politics through unjustified increases in donation limits and also by creating an unworkable banking loan system that would actually, in ways that are too complex to explain, benefit well-resourced candidates and parties.

Therefore, I would like to move a reasoned amendment. I move:

That the motion be amended by deleting all of the words after the word “That” and substituting the following:

this House decline to give third reading to Bill C-23, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and other Acts and to make consequential amendments to certain Acts, because, amongst other things, it:

(a) was rushed through Parliament without adequately taking into account the concerns raised by over 70 expert witnesses and hundreds of civil society actors that speak to a wide array of provisions that remain problematic in this bill;

(b) prohibits the Chief Electoral Officer from authorizing the use of 'Voter Information Cards' as a piece of voter identification to be used alongside a second piece of identification, despite such cards being a method of enfranchisement and promoting smoother administration of the election-day vote and despite there being no basis for believing these cards are, or are likely to be, a source of voter fraud;

(c) refuses to legislate the powers necessary for full compliance with, and enforcement of, the Canada Elections Act in light of experience with fraud and breach of other electoral law in the 2006, 2008 and 2011 general elections, notably, the power of the Chief Electoral Officer to require registered parties to provide receipts accounting for their election campaign expenses and the power of the Commissioner for Canada Elections to seek a judicial order to compel testimony during an investigation into electoral crimes such as fraud;

(d) eliminates the power of the Chief Electoral Officer to implement public education and information programs designed to enhance knowledge of our electoral democracy and encourage voting, other than for primary and secondary school students; and

(e) increases the influence of money in politics through unjustified increases in how much individuals may donate annually and how much candidates may now contribute to their own campaigns, thereby creating an undue advantage for well-resourced candidates and parties.

Fair Elections ActGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

The amendment is in order and will be accepted.

Questions and comments, the hon. member for Kitchener—Conestoga.

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11:05 a.m.


Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, a number of months ago, I had the privilege of serving with my colleague on the procedure and House affairs committee. I know my colleague does his homework and is very well-informed on this bill, so I was rather surprised to hear him, at many times throughout his speech, use words like “mistakes”, “concessions” and “changes”, as if this was something unusual that would happen at committee level.

One of the things that he referred to was the retention of the student vote program. I can say, with confidence, that many of us approached the minister and said that in our ridings, this system was working well. That is the reason for having studies at committee, to allow input into that committee to conduct a more in-depth study than we can do in the House, with all 308 members.

I am rather surprised, then, to hear my colleague refer to these changes as somehow “big concessions”. The very point of having our committees is to study in-depth the legislation that is proposed and to then make recommendations to the House after the in-depth study.

Why is my colleague implying that the committee's work is somehow to simply rubber-stamp a bill that was passed here at second reading? This is the job of our committees. Why is he implying otherwise?

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11:05 a.m.


Craig Scott NDP Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am actually implying no such thing. I just wish this was the norm. This is an extremely unusual outcome for a government sponsored bill in this Parliament of the last two years. Amendments of this nature, coming for government legislation, are almost unheard of—

Fair Elections ActGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.


Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON


Fair Elections ActGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.


Craig Scott NDP Toronto—Danforth, ON

Yes, Mr. Speaker. As such, these were major concessions. The minister had no intention of making these kinds of concessions at the beginning.

It was not just good faith efforts in a committee; it was the overall pressure on our civil society, which realized what was going on in the bill.

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11:10 a.m.


Alain Giguère NDP Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, first and foremost, this electoral law is unprecedented. Traditionally in Canada, electoral laws were more or less consensual in that all of the political parties supported them, with the consent of the vast majority of civil society actors. For the first time in this country's history, an electoral law will be enacted in defiance of the majority of stakeholders.

My question for my distinguished colleague, who has clearly understood and defended the democratic perspective, is as follows. What fate awaits such a bill, which will immediately come under attack by first nations representatives? This electoral reform, this unfair elections act, will make it harder for aboriginal people to exercise their right to vote. It will also come under attack by students at schools and universities, who will no longer be encouraged to vote or motivated by this kind of electoral participation, which is the very essence of democracy. They, too, will have the power to mount a legal challenge. All other stakeholders who find their powers diluted, especially their legal powers, such as the bars of Quebec, Canada and Ontario, will intervene.

Can my distinguished colleague tell me what fate awaits such a bill, which will probably soon be passed thanks to the government's majority, a bill that offers so many grounds for legal challenge? What legal fate awaits this bad bill?

Fair Elections ActGovernment Orders

11:10 a.m.


Craig Scott NDP Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague's question actually builds into it an extremely strong set of arguments about why the legacy of Bill C-23 will be a lack of public trust and confidence in our electoral system.

We have given extremely good reasons why a whole range of sectors of society have not been dealt with fairly by the bill. We have not simply raised this for opposition sake, but the result is that the bill will be passed against major opposition, not just in the House but in society. As such, the former auditor general for Canada, Sheila Fraser, was correct when she said that the ultimate impact of this was going to be diminishing public trust in both our parliamentary institutions and our electoral system.

At some level it will be very important that we revisit key elements of the bill in a future Parliament and start again, more consensually, to produce a final version of the Canada Elections Act in which all parties and all key actors in civil society feel an ownership.

Fair Elections ActGovernment Orders

11:15 a.m.


Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet NDP Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, earlier, my colleague talked about the banking loan system. He said it was very complicated, but I would like more information about it. Can he provide a brief explanation?

Fair Elections ActGovernment Orders

11:15 a.m.


Craig Scott NDP Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, in what began two years ago as a good faith effort on the part of the former minister for democratic reform, a system of political loans was inserted into the Canada Elections Act, whereby essentially banks are now the central actor in providing candidates with loans in order to start up campaigns, before they may have raised money. The problem is with a whole series of limitations on how those loans can be guaranteed.

The banks appeared before the procedure and House affairs committee almost two years ago with respect to a previous incarnation of this legislation. They said there would not be the right kind of incentives for a bank to chase down all the guarantors in order to give out these loans. The Chief Electoral Officer said it would be unworkable because those who could guarantee and give loans within their individual donation limits would be impossible to track because of a whole series of fluctuations over the course of a year.

It was unworkable according to the Chief Electoral Officer and unworkable according to the banks.

The result is that those who need loans, especially non-incumbents because they have not yet raised money, are going to be at a disadvantage versus those who have had a chance to raise a lot of money, mostly incumbents, or can receive direct transfers or loans form a well-resourced national party and therefore have no need whatsoever to turn to the banks to help start up their campaign.

I think it is in the result. I do not think this is intentional on the part of the government, although it heard the concerns before. In the result, this bank loan system would give advantage to parties and candidates who are well resourced because access to it would only be needed by those who do not have resources. It would also be the case with this system that, when individuals try to access it, they may find the banks' doors are closed.

Fair Elections ActGovernment Orders

11:15 a.m.


Ryan Leef Conservative Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I would like to touch on the point my hon. colleague is making about parties being well resourced. Parties that are well resourced are indicative of parties that have the support of the Canadian public. The resources are provided by people who take out memberships in the party, believe in party philosophies, and are willing to donate money. It would only stand to reason that parties that are not well resourced are not well supported.

I am not sure I understand the member's logic that parties that are not supported by a membership and by membership donations, and do not have broad Canadian support, should somehow be given financial resources through some other means.

The member's argument about resourcing being indicative of incumbents' positions is not actually the case. I was not an incumbent in the last election but I was resourced. Resources do not equate to election success because the incumbent in the last election in the Yukon spent $20,000 more than he had in the election before and lost by 1,500 votes. That resourcing did not equate to election success, and that is not broadly the case across this country.

Maybe the member would wish to comment on some of those remarks.

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11:15 a.m.


Craig Scott NDP Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, if fundraising and resourcing do not affect elections, then we should talk about lowering campaign expense limits entirely. We should make sure every candidate has a much lower limit because it does not have impact, as the hon. member has indicated.

At the same time, unfortunately, in the norm, that is not the case. Especially with the spending limits per constituency election that we currently have, spending can make a major difference, especially major gaps in what candidates can spend.

Beyond that, the fact that a party has a lot of money is a sign of which sectors of society may be supporting that party and may be in a position to donate to that party. It has nothing to do with the level of support from society as a whole. Equating the fact that a party has been able to raise a lot more money from a stronger donor base with wealthier donors, on average, says nothing about its political support.

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11:20 a.m.


Mauril Bélanger Liberal Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak today to a very problematic bill that may put Canada in a very difficult situation down the road.

I will begin by trying to put the bill into context, the way I see it. After the last election, Elections Canada launched investigations into some of the practices that came to light during the election. I am talking about the mechanism one political party had created in order to get around the spending limits for national campaigns. The party would lend money to riding associations or local campaigns, which would then transfer the money to the central party to spend on advertising. This was the famous “in and out” scandal. Naturally, this led to a lawsuit, and the party was found guilty of breaking the law and had to pay a fine. This left a stain on this party, which is now in power.

The other incident began shortly before the last election. In a new approach to running an election campaign, the party would suppress the vote and reduce voter turnout in an effort to get its own candidates elected. The thinking was that it might have the better team or a better machine to get out the vote, so if it succeeded in discouraging others from voting, this would increase the chances of its candidates getting elected. I am referring to the robocalls.

By the way, this is a misnomer because in the riding that I have the pleasure of representing, people did not receive a robocall. They received a call from a person who gave them false information. That happened a number of times. I asked everyone who notified me of this to sign an affidavit. Everything I received I passed on to Elections Canada and the RCMP.

For example, a woman of a certain age had lived in a building for about 60 years. When there is a municipal, provincial or federal election, the polling station is always in the building. On election day, the woman received a call informing her that her polling station had been moved. She laughed at them, called them idiots and told them that she had already voted in her building and that what they were trying to do was wrong. That was one of the women who signed an affidavit in front of a lawyer. This complaint was sent to Elections Canada, and there were others.

This whole affair left a very bad taste in Canadians' mouths and put a black mark on the political party in power. It may have generated interest in amending the law. Canadians and parliamentarians called for amendments. In his reports, the Chief Electoral Officer called for changes to the law and the government promised to make some.

The previous minister had told the House that the bill would be introduced in a few days. We learned that he consulted his caucus and instead of introducing the bill the next day, as he was supposed to, he went back to the drawing board. With the last cabinet shuffle, the appointment of the new Minister of State for Democratic Reform caused quite a stir among Canadians.

As we know, the minister who introduced the bill is another sort of person, someone who is a little more acerbic and a little more partisan.

This resulted in the bill to amend the Elections Act, which was introduced a while ago. Canadians and MPs began to react. I would like to remind members of the reactions to the bill from right across the country.

The Cape Breton Post said:

Conservatives’ Fair Election Act anything but fair

That was in February.

An Edmonton, Alberta, newspaper called Le Franco published an article titled “Election Tension Intensifies”. The article said:

The 242-page fair elections bill was rushed through, even though it will have a significant impact on the democratic process. The bill, introduced on February 4, fundamentally changes the rules.

A headline in The Gazette read:

Bill could end vote drive campaigns

Elections Canada ads failed, minister says

A National Post headline read:

Electoral officer slams reform bill at meeting, vows not to resign

Draws applause

That article was written by Glen McGregor.

The Gazette said:

Anti-vouching provisions unconstitutional: critics

Fair Elections Act measure could affect the young, seniors and aboriginals

In another article in The Gazette, Andrew Coyne wrote:

What election problems do Tories want to solve?

The Winnipeg Free Press said:

Election bill helps Tories exclusively

The Chronicle Herald said:

Former watchdog slams electoral reform bill

Another headline in The Chronicle Herald read:

Some good, some bad


There are a few nuances here and there.

Another headline in the same newspaper read:

New Fair Election Act: not exactly as advertised

The National Post said:

Electoral reform based on mistrust

New bill removes chief electoral officer's power

An article in Le Devoir was titled “The Poisoned Ballot Box”.

A headline in La Presse read: “Ottawa wants to remove the CEO's power to investigate”.

Those are the reactions we saw across the country. Well-known and well-respected individuals even made some surprising comments. The first was Preston Manning, who was quoted in The Globe and Mail on March 1, if I am not mistaken:

Conservatives are increasingly not viewed as the party that most champions democratic values....

It was Mr. Manning who said that.

This created a situation in which we were forced to ask ourselves some questions. Some changes made to the law were completely unacceptable.

I was there when the Chief Electoral Officer spoke to the committee on March 6. I listened to his statement and shared it with my constituents. He tore apart the bill as it had been introduced.

Members will recall a situation we had never seen before. One of the country's top newspapers, The Globe and Mail, published scathing criticisms of the bill in five editorials—one a day. The following Monday, another editorial was published, entitled:

Kill this bill

Many people across the country shared the same opinion. They were not satisfied with the bill the government had introduced. There was a public outcry. Many organizations started petitions, as did the opposition parties in the House. As a result, the government realized that there might be a problem. The minister often quoted the Neufeld report in his answers in the House. He used the report to support an argument contrary to what the report was actually saying. It became clear that he was hurting his own party. Earlier, I listened to what the member for Toronto—Danforth said. I agree with him.

Some members likely exerted pressure within the government caucus. Others shared their opinions anonymously. This led the minister to change his position and make some amendments. I believe that 45 amendments were proposed in the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

All of these amendments were accepted by the government majority. However, approximately 150 amendments were proposed by members of the committee belonging to the opposition parties. I believe that only one of those amendments was accepted and it was a small amendment regarding a technical error in the bill. All of the other amendments proposed by the opposition parties were rejected. Members of NDP, the Liberal Party, the Bloc Québécois and the Green Party, as well as independent members, consulted their own constituents. Canadians reacted very strongly, so these members tried to amend the bill so that the unacceptable provisions would not be included in the Canada Elections Act.

Of course, amendments were made. I agree with what has been said. The bill has been improved somewhat, but not enough. That is where things stand today. Yesterday evening, we voted for two hours. That whole time, the government majority systematically rejected all the other amendments, even though many of those amendments made a lot of sense. They would have strengthened the Canada Elections Act and Canadian democracy. They would have protected Canadians' rights. Those amendments were not accepted.

Other troubling incidents have occurred throughout the process. Sheila Fraser, the former auditor general of Canada, made a rather strong statement. She said:

“ really is an attack on our democracy....”

The government's reaction was vicious. The Conservatives accused Ms. Fraser of being a spokesperson for Elections Canada and of being paid to say what she did. However, she earned the respect of all Canadians during her 10 years as auditor general of Canada. She did a remarkable job that affected all of us, as a government. I really must commend the work she did as Canada's auditor general. She has a great reputation. Yet the government, or some of its spokespersons, were quick to try to destroy her reputation. It really is unbelievable. There is clearly a problem when something like that happens.

The government may well have realized that resistance was mounting when they saw how the Senate would react, in advance of the study of the bill. They heard fairly strong comments from their own senators, who said that certain amendments would be appropriate. That is how we got to where we are now.

I would also like to point out that it was at that point that the government was quick to introduce a time allocation motion: the guillotine. At that time, we were just beginning to perhaps see, or hope to see, some openness to make this bill acceptable to Canadians and to parliamentarians. However, the government said no, that it was done and that we had to vote. There would be one day of debate at the report stage, which was yesterday, one day for third reading, which is today, and it will be over tonight.

I certainly intend to support the motion of the hon. member for Toronto—Danforth, seconded by his colleague from Sudbury, not to go ahead with this bill and pass it because I think that passing it would be a step backward, not forward, as the minister claims.

There is a list of proposed amendments, which are correct, but also a list of shortcomings in the bill that still does not recognize voter cards as a piece of identification. It is only recognized as proof of address. Voters can use it if they have someone there with them, but that is not always the case.

Elections Canada's role is seriously limited. It is unacceptable to separate the Chief Electoral Officer and the commissioner by sending the commissioner to a government agency where he will lose the independence of being an officer of Parliament.

Increasing the limit for contributions to political parties, just like the $25,000 contribution, I believe, that candidates can make to their own campaigns, is good for the wealthiest people in our country.

That is not a direction the government should be heading in. On the contrary, I do not think anything should be changed, unless the limits are reduced. Yes, that is challenging for political parties, but it forces them to open up to the public and encourage people to get involved in and contribute to their movement. That strengthens democracy and makes people feel like they are living in a country where their voices make a difference. I wish the limits had not been increased, but that is what will happen.

There is another thing that is really bothersome. Elections Canada has, over the years, developed a fabulous international reputation. I have had occasion to travel in a number of countries, Africa in particular, where there are electoral commissions.

These temporary or permanent electoral commissions are rather clumsy, poorly organized and highly controlled by governments.

These bodies are problematic, and the people rely quite a bit, when they have elections, on external bodies, and I have heard about Elections Canada's fabulous reputation in terms of going there to help.

Under the former chief electoral officers, Mr. Kingsley and Mr. Hamel, Elections Canada was able to build a solid reputation over the decades. However, if the bill before us today is passed by the House and the Senate and receives royal assent, it is a step backward. This will weaken Elections Canada and its ability to ensure that the electoral process is sound and transparent. This agency is supposed to be independent and report to the House, not the government. The agency has the ability to enforce legislation and, when that legislation is violated, to conduct investigations and impose penalties. The agency is asking for investigative powers, which it will not have, to maintain its reputation.

If this bill is passed, I think the government is going in the opposite direction and taking a step backward. This will weaken Elections Canada and its national and international reputation. It blows me away to see a government do this.

This was one of my responsibilities when I was a minister. We made a minor change to the criteria for redistributions. To make this change, I consulted with the officers of Parliament and with the opposition parties. That is how we went about amending the Elections Act. We did not go about it in a cavalier fashion as we are seeing today. The minister misinterpreted a report and made claims that were the opposite of what the report said. He made some amendments only because he was forced to do so, but he rejected all the other amendments presented by the opposition.

I hope that some of their members will heed the call to vote against this bill and that it will not become law.

Fair Elections ActGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.


Sylvain Chicoine NDP Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

Mr. Speaker, I also want to thank my colleague for his speech.

He spoke about a number of egregious aspects of this bill. We must remind Canadians that this is the first time in Canadian history that a party in power is forcing through a democratic reform bill that opposition parties and civil society do not want. The government's actions with respect to this electoral deform are quite simply disgraceful.

This bill is disgraceful because it will suppress the vote of people who are not partisan, such as seniors, students and aboriginal people. The government is trying to prevent them from voting by refusing to allow them to use the voter card, which is ridiculous. Nothing is being done to promote democracy or to encourage Canadians to get out and vote. At the same time, the government is encouraging shameful and undemocratic practices such as robocalls, which served to irritate voters and discourage them from voting.

This bill will not do anything to support the Chief Electoral Officer in his investigations. On the contrary, it will give him fewer powers. I would like to hear what my colleague thinks about that, since the party will be able to continue to cheat, as it did before, without being bothered by the Chief Electoral Officer, since he will not have the powers to investigate fraud.

Fair Elections ActGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.


Mauril Bélanger Liberal Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, the lure of power is very strong. When you have power, you want to hold on to it.

However, in a democracy, there are limits to what you can do to hold on to power. Over the past few elections, we have seen the systematic introduction of mechanisms and strategies to reduce voter turnout. This trend started in the United States with the Republicans. I guess it was imported to Canada to see if it could work here, along with the politics of division.

Unfortunately, it seems to be working because the Conservatives used certain methods to discourage people from voting and cause confusion. It is absolutely imperative that an independent agency, namely Elections Canada, which reports to the Parliament of Canada, maintain all its powers and be able to seek more. In fact, it asked for the power to compel witness testimony, which it is not being given. If Elections Canada is not getting the power it needs and is losing its independence, then we are heading in the wrong direction.

Fair Elections ActGovernment Orders

May 13th, 2014 / 11:40 a.m.


Francine Raynault NDP Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his speech.

By the way, I have been voting for decades and I have never received two voter cards in the mail. The bill would prohibit the Chief Electoral Officer from implementing public information programs. That bothers me because when we inform the public about bills and government measures, then the public is in a position to criticize the way the public good is managed.

What does my colleague think of the fact that the Chief Electoral Officer can no longer inform the public? I think this is dangerous because people will no longer get all the information they need to vote.

Fair Elections ActGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.


Mauril Bélanger Liberal Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, if I understand the meaning of the bill correctly, the only information that Elections Canada will be able to give the public is information about when elections will take place, where people can go to vote, and what they need to be able to vote.

Elections Canada is losing its freedom to encourage Canadians to vote, which is what it has always done. It encouraged young people of all ages, not just students, to vote. That kind of activity had a positive impact. Now Elections Canada will no longer be able to do it. If I understand correctly, it will now have to restrict such activities to students in elementary and secondary schools. It will not be allowed to encourage young people, seniors, aboriginal people and others, including homeless people, to vote. This is a step backward.

An organization like Elections Canada had the power to encourage Canadians to exercise their fundamental right to vote, but now it will no longer be able to do that. Why? We have asked this question but have never received an answer. Elections Canada should definitely be able to keep playing this role.

Fair Elections ActGovernment Orders

11:45 a.m.


Matthew Kellway NDP Beaches—East York, ON

Mr. Speaker, one of the amendments NDP members of the committee studying this bill put forward at committee was to insert a provision in the fair elections act to allow for the study of proportional representation systems that would ensure that every vote of every Canadian counted in an election.

Unfortunately, the Liberal member of that committee voted down that proposed amendment. I was wondering if our friend could explain why the Liberals voted against an amendment to study proportional representation.

Fair Elections ActGovernment Orders

11:45 a.m.


Mauril Bélanger Liberal Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will have to talk to that member to see why he did. I do not know. I will find out.

However, for the information of my colleague, he should know that the position of our party is indeed that when we form a government, proportional representation is one of the things we will look at very seriously. I, for one, have always supported an element of proportionality in our electoral system, not full proportionality but an element of proportionality. I have said that publicly before. I have had great discussions with Mr. Broadbent on this, and I would love to have the same discussion with that member, should he so desire.

Fair Elections ActGovernment Orders

11:45 a.m.


Djaouida Sellah NDP Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened closely to my colleague's speech. I have a very simple question.

In Quebec right now, in proceedings like the Charbonneau commission, people are fighting for more transparency around political party funding. However, the Conservatives have changed the rules in their own favour using the reform we are now debating.

I would like my colleague to comment on the influence of money in politics.

Fair Elections ActGovernment Orders

11:45 a.m.


Mauril Bélanger Liberal Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have always been in favour of limiting the influence of money in politics, be it corporate money or big union money.

Mr. Chrétien's government introduced a public funding formula for elections that was based in part on the formula introduced in Quebec by Mr. Lévesque. I supported that formula, and I still do, but the government is using its majority to eliminate it.

First the Conservatives lowered the limits, and now they are using the bill before us to raise them. Why? Are they doing it because the opposition parties, the Liberals and the NDP, are starting to catch up to them? Our fundraising efforts are going really well right now. We actually have more donors than the Conservatives. Is that why they decided to raise the limits? We will see.

Still, to answer my colleague's question, I think we definitely have to limit the influence of money on the electoral process.

Fair Elections ActGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell Ontario


Pierre Lemieux ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington.

It is a privilege for me to rise in the House to speak to the importance of the fair elections act, also known as Bill C-23. Today I will be focusing on the important measures taken by our government to protect democracy and to ensure the integrity of the voting process as well as on our commitment to combatting big money and minimizing the possibility of fraudulent voting.

We are very fortunate as Canadians to be able to exercise our right to vote through our democratic system. Sadly, in many countries, the voices of their citizens are frequently stifled by dictatorships and/or communism. We often hear news of fixed or rigged election results in these countries, which result in civil unrest, division, and violence. This is why our government fully commits itself to protecting the core Canadian values of democracy, fairness, accountability, and transparency through the fair elections act.

Our Conservative government is focusing on the Canadian value of democracy and it will continue to do so.

I believe that the bill will strengthen the integrity of the voting process. We continue to build on our record and, under the leadership of our government, we have taken action and introduced the best measures to protect and improve the electoral system. Complicated rules result in unintentional breaches and discourage ordinary people from taking part in democracy. That is why the fair elections act will make election rules more clear, predictable and easy to follow.

In order to follow the rules, parties must know what they are. The fair elections act will ensure that they know what they are by requiring the Chief Electoral Officer to take appropriate action. To ensure that the laws reflect the reality of the overall election process, an advisory committee of political parties would be created through legislation. It would be composed of the Chief Electoral Officer and two representatives of each registered political party.

The role of the committee would be to ensure that the views of the parties represented are considered in administering the election laws. Its mandate would be to provide useful advice and comments on any administrative or legislative issue related to the law or the administration of elections by Elections Canada.

The bill establishes that the committee's advice and recommendations are not binding on the Chief Electoral Officer. It should be noted that Elections Canada would have the power of final interpretation, but that the committee would safeguard the independent administration of elections. The committee would examine the Chief Electoral Officer's interpretations and suggest improvements when necessary.

However, we should understand that there is no perfect election system. Even though Canada has a particularly solid democracy, there are always things that can be improved. We believe that the measures I have just mentioned will help fine-tune the system.

Our government continues to take action when it comes to improving our voting system. In light of accountability and transparency, the fair elections act would help combat big money to encourage small donations and to eliminate taxpayer-funded handouts. This would also keep special interest groups, such as unions or individuals with deep pockets, from drowning out the voices of everyday citizens.

We believe that political parties should interact and engage with the public to advocate their cause, to be meaningful to Canadians, and to seek their financial support. This means that political parties and candidates need to be engaged, committed, and most importantly, relevant to Canadians so that they will make contributions from their own hard-earned money.

Political parties need to do their own fundraising and utilize resources at their disposal to encourage individuals to come out to vote. That seems like a win-win to me. As MPs who hold public office, we have a responsibility to keep ourselves and those around us accountable.

All of us here must lead by example come election time. The spending limit, although increased by our government from $1,200 to $1,500, would help political candidates do just that. Along with ensuring accountability, this spending limit would allow Canadians to make meaningful contributions to the parties they support.

Although I appreciate and listened to the views and concerns of the members opposite on the matter of vouching, it is my opinion that they do not understand that the majority of Canadians agree with our position that a person must show identification to vote.

I can assure this House that we are committed to strengthening our voting process and procedures. We will take the necessary action to reduce high levels of irregularities, which have been noted in studies, resulting from a process known as vouching.

It is indeed reasonable to ask people to produce identification prior to their casting a vote. When Canadians pick up a parcel at a post office, they are asked to produce a valid piece of ID. When Canadians embark on a plane, they are asked to produce a valid piece of ID. When Canadians set up new bank accounts at banks, they are asked to produce a valid piece of ID.

My point is that if one requires a piece of ID for many day-to-day dealings and activities, it is entirely reasonable that one would produce a piece of ID to prove one's identity to vote. What the opposition clearly does not understand is that Canadians agree that this is, indeed, entirely reasonable.

Our government has made the process simple, accessible, and clear for Canadians. There are currently 39 forms of authorized ID to choose from to prove identity and residence. I will not go through the list, for the sake of time, but I can assure members that it is extensive. That there are 39 forms of approved identification facilitates the ability of Canadians to show who they are.

What the members of the NDP and Liberal Party need to do is lay aside their ideological opposition to the fair elections act and a matter such as this and instead recognize that the measures are fair and reasonable and are considered to be so by Canadians.

To conclude, I would like to express my unwavering support for this bill. It is a remarkable initiative, especially when we consider that no one other than the Conservative government could achieve such an objective. Moreover, we worked with opposition members and, as a result, we made amendments to an already solid bill. We then introduced the improved version.

This bill will simplify our voting system and will protect Canadians from abuse of campaign donations—big money—and fraudulent phone calls. Our government is committed to protecting core Canadian values by applying this law. Unfortunately, the NDP and Liberals have always voted against these important initiatives.

As an MP, I often think about the importance of democracy in Canada. I sincerely believe that this bill is firmly based on the idea of an accountable, transparent and impartial democratic system for this country. I invite opposition members to join with us in supporting the bill, which is designed to defend our democratic system and improve the voting system.

Canadians want accountability, transparency, and fairness. This is what we are delivering through the fair elections act.

Fair Elections ActGovernment Orders

11:55 a.m.


Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet NDP Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, last week, I was at an event in my riding: the opening of a place called Dopamine. Many of the people who go there are homeless. There are many reasons for homelessness, including addiction. This community organization offers a service to help homeless people obtain ID cards.

I asked people in the organization whether that is an easy or difficult task, and they said that in order to get an ID card, you need ID. It takes months. There are a lot of hoops to jump through, and it is very difficult. That means that we are taking the right to vote away from a growing segment of society, the homeless. They are already disadvantaged. Now, democracy could not care less about them. Many of them will not have the right to vote because they will not be able to get ID cards.

In addition to all of that, those who look after the homeless in places like Dopamine will not be able to vouch for them because they do not have the same address. Earlier, the minister said that it has to be someone who lives in the same polling division. A person who is helping the homeless does not necessarily live in the same area, so the homeless are literally left out on street once again.