Mr. Speaker, I rise today as we are at the final stages of Bill C-76. This is the Liberals' attempt to fix the attack on our democracy that came out of the last Parliament, when the Harper government moved what it called the Fair Elections Act, which was clearly the unfair elections act. It tried, in various ways, to disenfranchise a number of Canadians, particularly low-income Canadians, indigenous people, young people and people one would suspect Stephen Harper did not think supported him.
Rather than make policies that appealed to various groups, the Conservatives' approach was to write legislation in our Elections Act to make it harder for them to vote, which was quite cynical and nefarious. We have been waiting a long time for this bill from the government. It actually introduced one almost two years ago that would have undone the unfair elections act. Then it did nothing with it for 18 months. It did not move it, debate it, or talk about it. It waited until we had this bill, Bill C-76, which is much larger and takes on more issues.
The policy does not have to do anything. The policy is not enforceable. It does not mean anything with respect to protecting our democratic values. They just need to have a policy somewhere. We have warnings from around the democratic world, from our European allies and our American cousins, saying that we have to fix this because the attacks are coming. The disruptions, disinformation and misinformation, the fake news campaigns that we see on social media are genuine threats to disrupting free and fair elections in their countries and obviously in ours as well.
The bill is flawed, to say the least. There were hundreds of amendments at committee. We have 179 amendments here, from all parties including the government side. The Liberals took three years to get to this point and they got it wrong on many levels.
It is unfair to simply criticize legislation. We are always working to improve things, to make them better, because this should be non-partisan. We all agree that elections are vital to the health of our country and those elections must be free and fair. We must allow the parties to argue their points and let Canadians, in a free and fair way, make the decision as to who they wish to speak on their behalf. However, we know that on some of the most important aspects of our democracy, Bill C-76 made a half-hearted attempt or no attempt whatsoever.
We moved motions to include the idea of my friend Kennedy Stewart, the mayor-elect of Vancouver, to reimburse parties according to how fair they were toward women and other under-represented groups in Parliament. We know the facts and they are undeniable. This Parliament is 26% women. The last one was 25%. Under the current trend, it will take 80 years until we have a gender equal Parliament, unless we do something about it. We proposed to do something about it by amending the bill and the Liberals said they did not want to talk about it and voted against the idea.
The Prime Minister loves to talk about what a feminist he is, but he does not like to do much about it. Things like this, like pay equity, things that matter to women, the feminist across the way cannot be bothered to raise his hand in effort.
We also tried to include electoral reform changes. We all remember the famous and often repeated promise from the Prime Minister to make every vote count, to ensure that 2015 was the last election under first past the post. We wanted to help the Prime Minister keep that promise. What a radical idea. The Liberals did not want to talk about that either.
We also believed that we should talk about younger people voting. We have support from some Conservatives and some Liberals to just study the idea, to have Elections Canada look at what it would mean to our democracy if 17 year olds voted. What would the effects be? What would the impacts be, positive and negative? That would be for a future Parliament, not even this one. A future Parliament could look at lowering the voting age. The Liberals did not want to talk about that either.
We talked about Sunday voting and all the evidence from democracies around the world, including sub-national democracies in Canada, the provinces and municipalities. We know if we allow for Sunday voting, rather than a Tuesday, which is an odd day to have a vote, it can raise voter participation by 6% or 7%, particularly for marginalized voters. We have all the research on this. What do the Liberals want to do? They want to study it more, which I have begun to learn is Liberal code for “no”. When we ask them to do something, they say “We should study that”. We have come to learn over these past three years that “study” means “no”. It is just that they can say it with a smile rather than simply reject the idea.
The lion's share of the work and the evidence that we heard was around this issue of privacy. Let us understand what we have learned, and these have been hard lessons over these last number of years.
Our British cousins learned through the whole Brexit episode that Cambridge Analytica and a whole bunch of dark and dangerous companies were out there micro-targeting voters through social media, through harvesting data out of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and all those accounts that people use for social interaction but also for their political and news interactions with the world. There are companies that were able to break the code of Facebook, sneak around the walls of Instagram and find out more about people than people ever wanted them to know, and not just about those people, but also about their friends and connections. Then they would target them.
This is a dangerous problem because the ability to spread the lie becomes so much more powerful. We no longer use the scattergun approach to say that a candidate is terrible, or one's friend is a terrible person, or this policy is going to lead to that. They can hyper-target particular voters they are looking to sway. The British learned this the hard way. Ask the British Prime Minister how the whole Brexit thing is going for her. Ask the Irish and the Scots how they are feeling about it. We know that the vote was not done fairly, and there was some participation of Canadian companies.
The privacy and ethics committee in this place, made up of all parties in this place, said in its conclusion that political parties must fall under privacy rules to protect our free and fair vote. In rejecting our amendments, Liberals on the committee rejected the analysis and understanding of Liberals on another committee, and not just theirs. They also rejected the opinion of the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada who said to us that if there is one area where the bill has failed, it is privacy.
The Privacy Commissioner told us that Bill C-76 contains nothing of substance when it comes to privacy. OpenMedia conducted a poll of Canadians and found that 72% of Canadians want political parties to have some sort of rules governing their management of data, their protection of the data they gather. Let us all admit; the other parties will not admit it, but we will, and one day they will join us here: Political parties are in the game of understanding voters. That has always been true. That has gone into overdrive in the last 10 to 20 years.
With the advent of the Internet and social media, the ability to gain information about voters, multiple points of data about each individual voter at the voter level and then target those voters with specific messages can be a positive thing. If someone is interested in the environment and pipelines and wants to know why the Liberals spent $4.5 billion on a 65-year-old pipeline, a political party might want to know that so it can talk to people about what a dumb idea that was, especially for a climate change fighting Prime Minister. That might be a good bit of data to know. However, we also know that parties are collecting this massive amount of data with no rules or oversight whatsoever.
Let us look at the Europeans. The justice commissioner of the European Union, which is on the verge of having elections, said that we can no longer treat this as business as usual. The threats coming from foreign governments, foreign agents and domestic folks that are looking to simply subvert our elections, to cast doubt on the democratic process is real.
The U.S. justice department, under Donald Trump of all people, has said that it is information warfare, that there is an interference in the U.S. mid-term elections going on right now that is connected back to Vladimir Putin.
All these examples are coming forward to us from our own experts, from international experts, and the Liberals said, “No, we do not care. We simply do not care.” They are going to allow the bill to go through without any significant and meaningful changes to protect our democracy. What is an election bill for if not that? I am simply at a loss for words when I talk to my Liberal colleagues and say that not one witness said that we should just leave the whole privacy thing alone, that everything is good, that the status quo is fine. Every single witness, including our own Chief Electoral Officer, said it is imperative to act, and the Liberals shrugged.
Here is the question and I will leave it at this. There are challenges and tensions that exist within each individual MP, their loyalty and observation of what their party wants and their loyalty to country. This is a clear case where, if we only are here to defend Canadian democracy and make sure our elections are free and fair, the choice would be clear, that we need to approve the changes that the NDP is proposing, suggested by our Chief Electoral Officer, our Privacy Commissioner and every expert we talk to.
The Liberals consistently chose party over country. That is unacceptable regardless of what Canadians feel like, regardless of what their voting intention is.
Bill C-76 has to do better. We can fix it at the very last moment if people are willing to work together.