Mr. Speaker, free and fair elections are a fundamental part of our Canadian democracy. Unfortunately, the entire democratic institutions file has been a failure since the Liberals took office.
One of the greatest promises they made in the last election was that the 2015 election would be the last election under first past the post. There was no asterisk. There was no disclaimer. There was no fine print that said it would be the last election under first past the post unless, of course, they did not get the type of electoral system they wanted that would benefit them, “them” being the Liberal Party.
There was no such asterisk. There was no such small print. Nonetheless, the Liberals walked it back, and they blamed everyone else for their failure. They blamed the opposition. They blamed the committee itself. They blamed the multi-party committee, which came to a general consensus. They blamed that committee, which included Liberal members, for its failure. They blamed the general public for not having a clear consensus on what an alternative electoral system ought to be. However, the failure rests with the Liberal Party. It is, and it continues to be, the Liberal Party's failure.
While the Liberals were failing at the electoral reform committee, they also introduced Bill C-33, which they claimed would implement many of the recommendations from the Chief Electoral Officer following the 2015 election. Here are the facts. Bill C-33 was tabled at first reading on November 24, 2016, nearly two years ago. Today that bill remains at first reading, unmoved and unloved. We have to question the motivation of the current Liberal government in introducing that bill, then allowing it to sit at first reading and never once bringing it forward for debate in this august chamber.
In testimony at committee, when the eminent political science scholar, Dr. Paul Thomas, questioned the very motive of the Liberal Party, he said:
The government's management of this file has been very poor, in my opinion. If [Bill C-33] sits on the Order Paper for 18 months, it says something about the commitment of the government to get this moving ahead
However, that is exactly what has happened. The Liberals introduced legislation for window dressing and allowed it to sit idly by.
There are other failures in the democratic institutions file. Take cash for access, for example, and the ethical lapses of the current Liberal Party when it comes to fundraising. The Liberal government had barely been sworn in when it was already using its ministers to fundraise, using lobbyists who were registered to lobby their own ministers to fundraise from them. Rather than admitting that they were wrong to be fundraising from access to federal ministers, the Liberals tried to legitimize this practice by introducing Bill C-50. Of course, being Liberals, they left a great big loophole, what we call the Laurier Club loophole, allowing their well-funded Liberal donors to continue to have unfettered access to Liberal decision-makers, as long as it happened at Laurier Club events. They might as well have named that clause the Laurier Club loophole, because that is exactly what it is. Rather than dealing with the issue, rather than dealing with the unethical nature of selling access to senior ministers of the Crown, the Liberals simply used legislation to try to legitimize their bad practices.
The Liberals' failures do not end there. The Liberals even failed in the appointment process for the Chief Electoral Officer, the person in charge of ensuring that our elections run smoothly and appropriately, free from all interference.
The former chief electoral officer, to his great credit and foresight, announced that he would retire early from his position. He announced this in the spring of 2016 to allow whoever succeeded him as CEO to have enough time to get familiar with the job and to prepare for the 2019 election. However, at the end of December 2016, when he formally resigned and retired as chief electoral officer, there was no replacement in the offing. In fact, there was no replacement until this spring, nearly two years after Mr. Mayrand announced his retirement.
Even when they finally replaced the Chief Electoral Officer, they could not do it without failing. The media reported that a new Chief Electoral Officer had been chosen on April 4, 2018. They noted that someone had been selected, that the consultation had been done with the Leader of the Opposition and the leader of the third party.
Lo and behold, weeks later, we found out that the original name circulated in both the media and to the opposition was in fact not the new Chief Electoral Officer. Rather, the very competent interim Chief Electoral Officer was appointed as the permanent replacement. I have to wonder how the Liberals could have waited nearly two years to appoint the person who was already doing the job. It is yet another example of the Liberal government's failing on the democratic institutions file.
That brings us to this bill itself, Bill C-76. Both the former and current Chief Electoral Officers were very clear about the need to have this legislation tabled and implemented early so that they could be prepared for the next election. In fact, when the acting, now permanent, Chief Electoral Officer, Stéphane Perrault, appeared before committee, on April 24, 2018, he stated:
When I appeared last February, I indicated that the window of opportunity to implement major changes in time for the next election was rapidly closing. That was not a new message. Both Monsieur Mayrand and I had previously indicated that legislative changes should be enacted by April 2018. This means that we are now at a point where the implementation of new legislation will likely involve some compromises.
What did the Liberals do? They sat on their hands for nearly three years and then finally tabled Bill C-76 on April 30, 2018, the same day the Chief Electoral Officer said he needed legislation fully enacted, with royal assent. The Liberals only introduced it on April 30 and then expected the opposition and the third party to simply roll over and allow this legislation to pass expeditiously.
We cannot ignore the fact that this very debate we are having in this chamber is under the guillotine of time allocation. Frankly, I am shocked, because it was the Liberal Party and the Prime Minister who introduced and supported a motion that would have amended Standing Order 78 so that:
No motion, pursuant to any paragraph of this Standing Order, may be used to allocate a specified number of days or hours for the consideration and disposal of any bill that seeks to amend the Canada Elections Act or the Parliament of Canada Act.
Here we are with a bill that has 401 clauses and 352 pages. It is a bill the Liberal Party itself accepted as being flawed by introducing 65 amendments during the committee analysis, because it recognized that despite waiting nearly three years, it was rushing at the last minute to try to get some legislation on the books, and it tried to correct its own legislation this past summer.
We see that work has yet to be done in the Senate, in the other place. I am intrigued to see what amendments it will be relying on to fix some of the concerns expressed about this piece of legislation.
This legislation is flawed, and we will be voting against it.