Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to stand in this place and speak to the Liberals' attempt to fix the Harper Conservatives' unfair elections act. The bill we are debating today is Bill C-76.
How did we get here? The 2015 election campaign and the lead-up to it were certainly full of people's very legitimate and impassioned opposition and protests against the ransacking of the Elections Act. The dismantling of many of our electoral and democratic processes is certainly well documented. Whether it had been the New Democrats or Liberals who were elected to government, there was a very clear mandate from the electorate that the new government was to repair the Elections Act and roll back the unfair elections act that the Harper Conservatives had brought in.
What happened next? First of all, there is no other way to say it, the Liberals ragged the puck on their commitment to fulfill their election promise to make every vote count. Moving to a proportional representation system would have brought Canada in line with 90% of the democracies around the world, which do not use first past the post as a way to choose their members. Under such a new system, a party that got 39% of the vote would get 39% of the seats in this place.
I believe it was an election promise made by the Prime Minister 1,500 times. He was slow to establish the committee. I am very glad he took the advice of my New Democrat colleague, the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley, who proposed forming a proportional parliamentary committee. The Liberal government did not get the majority of the votes, nor did it have the majority of the seats on that committee. Also, for the first time ever, the committee included representation from members from the Bloc and the Green Party.
Nevertheless, there were 33,000 submissions from around the country, including some very innovative online submissions from people who used Twitter and other social media to get their comments and questions to the committee. There were hundreds of experts. The broad consensus was not to use the Prime Minister's preferred alternative, which was ranked ballot, but instead to move to a proportional form of voting.
Rudely and abruptly, it was pulled by the new democratic reform minister and cancelled entirely by the Prime Minister, bailing on a serious election promise.
That was one chapter in our attempt to fulfill the government's mandate. We tried to help but the government did not take up our offer. As my colleague, the member for Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, has just pointed out, British Columbia is voting in a referendum right now on whether to make every vote count. It is being done by mail-in ballot. I hope everybody will do their research, through Fair Vote Canada and the other organizations providing information to help people make the right choice. I am certainly going to be voting yes in the mail-in referendum, and hope others do too.
As for amending the Elections Act, the government took a year to do anything about it. The government introduced a bill, then sat on it for two full years. It then brought in this most recent version of the bill, on which we have had zero debate at this point. It brought in a new version of the bill, which was again stalled over the summer. Finally, it was up for debate in the House, and the government promptly invoked closure and stifled debate on the bill at every stage. Therefore, here we are in the final moments of the debate.
Deadlines have been missed. The Chief Electoral Officer said there had to be a complete, fully adopted bill in his hands by April 30, 2018, which was six months ago. Instead, the day after the deadline, the Liberals tabled this new bill. It is not enough time to get the job done.
Here we are. This is vitally important work. We have an election less than a year away, and yet we still do not have an adopted bill. The New Democrats have proposed one amendment after another and tried to be constructive in this process. I am very discouraged that the government failed to take our advice and that of the Chief Electoral Officer in a number of important areas.
For example, to be able to investigate spending, the Chief Electoral Officer needs to be able to see receipts provided by political parties when they spend in elections. As candidates, we are required to do that. If I buy a box of Timbits, I have to show that receipt and have it available for public view. It is not so for political parties. How can that evidence be compelled in a case where an investigation is needed?
The Liberals originally had that in Bill C-76. They then removed it from their bill. The New Democrats brought a motion forward to bring it back in, and the Liberals voted it down. The Chief Electoral Officer says he wants this amendment, yet it is still not in this bill. This is a lost opportunity to strengthen our democracy and transparency, things the government says it is all about.
Another failure of this bill is that it does not do enough to regulate advertising on digital platforms. Between Russia, Trump and Brexit, there have been ample examples of the ability for digital platforms to interfere with election results. There was a missed generational opportunity by the government to bring in legislation that would deal with that adequately. A year from now, arguably, our election will be vulnerable to deceitful messaging and disinformation at election time.
Another failure is that this bill, in the words of the Privacy Commissioner himself, “adds nothing of substance in terms of privacy protection.”
Right now, there is no oversight for political parties and how they store and manage data. There are no privacy rules applying to political parties right now. The Privacy Commissioner, the Chief Electoral Officer, the BC Civil Liberties Association and witnesses testifying from our counterparts in Europe all said our election process needs data protection.
The minister herself asked Canada's spy agency for advice. They said this bill is not strong enough, yet the Liberals rejected every amendment the New Democrats brought forward. There is only an unenforceable statement that political parties are meant to put on their website, but that is certainly not enough. Every witness at committee said that the status quo is not acceptable, and that this bill failed to provide the strength we really needed in this reform.
Another disappointment is a piece that I am personally very invested in, given that it is 2018 but this House only has 25% women elected. I am proud of my own party, the NDP, because we have extra measures built in to our nomination process, and 43% of New Democrat candidates offered for election in 2015 were women or members of equity-seeking groups. As a result, our caucus is 40% women.
It is not so for the Liberals and not so for the Conservatives. They do not have the same measures. My colleague, former member of Parliament and now mayor of Vancouver Kennedy Stewart brought forward a bill proposing incentives to parties that offered the public more gender-balanced candidate slates. The government voted it down. In the past few months, when the NDP tried to insert the same measures into the bill at committee, again our members were voted down.
This is taxpayer money. For example, taxpayers paid back the Conservatives $21 million in election spending rebates for 2015. Less of that would have gone to the Conservatives given that they only elected 17% women to their caucus. It is a great disappointment that that incentive did not move forward.
There were a few pieces that worked. I am very glad the private member's legislation by my colleague, the member for Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, was bundled into the bill. That legislation proposed a shortening of the election period, so that we do not have to go through the same suffering we did in 2015. We are glad the government did that.
We are glad this bill reinstates vouching for identity. We are glad it restores the voter ID card. However, to go back to vouching, we still have a big hole. I could be in a gym on election night with my neighbour who lives across the street but is not actually in the same poll. If I asked him to vouch for me so that I am able to vote because I do not seem to be on the voters list, that would not be possible, even though we are in the same gymnasium with the same volunteers.
For the government to not go all the way and take all the advice it received to make this bill as strong as it could have been represents another failure in Bill C-76. It is a disappointment and, again, a generational opportunity lost.