Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to stand to speak to this legislation.
The Liberal government is really good at saying one thing and doing another, and Bill C-76 is another classic example of exactly this point.
First, the fact is that this is an omnibus bill. It is a 350-page bill. The Liberals can say what they want about the previous government's use of omnibus legislation, but they have plain out campaigned against the use of it. The 2015 Liberal Party platform said:
...Stephen Harper has also used omnibus bills to prevent Parliament from properly reviewing and debating his proposals. We will change the House of Commons Standing Orders to bring an end to this undemocratic practice.
Here we are today, debating a 350-page piece of legislation. It is certainly omnibus legislation, and not the Liberals first use of it either. There is a term I could use to describe that, but it is unparliamentary language so I will not use it.
However, members do not have to take it from me. Senate Liberal Joseph Day stated recently, “This government has evidently abandoned its election promise to end the practice of omnibus bills”, and indeed it has. Bill C-76 is a shining example of that.
That is not the only broken promise or the use of Liberal doublespeak I will be talking about today. In fact, that is just the tip of the legislative iceberg on the level of egregiousness the Liberals have used in this bill.
What is worse is that the Liberals sat on the predecessor of Bill C-76, which was Bill C-33, for almost two years without debating it even once. November 24, 2016, was when Bill C-33 was tabled. It is now past the eleventh hour. The deadline of April 30 was set by the acting Chief Electoral Officer. He stated for some time, as did his predecessor, that action needed to be taken by a certain time in order to change electoral legislation.
I think it was a few weeks ago when the acting Chief Elector Officer was before the procedure and House affairs committee once again. He testified that April 30, 2018, was the absolute drop-dead date that he would need to have legislation, with royal assent, in order to have it implemented prior to the 2019 federal election. Maybe the Liberals slightly misunderstood that and thought it had to be tabled by April 30, because that is when they tabled the legislation. However, the Chief Electoral Officer was quite clear that the bill would need to have had passed and received royal assent by that date. Therefore, here we are late into May and just starting to debate it.
The Liberals have slapped a bunch more changes on Bill C-33 and have rushed it out the door. We have even heard reports of the Liberal's minister did not knowing what was in the bill. This was indicated in a Huffington Post article, entitled “Bill C-76: Democratic Institutions Minister's Office Didn't Know Elections Bill Closes Loophole”. Even their own minister and his office were not familiar themselves with what was in the bill. That is how quickly the Liberals rushed this thing out. Then they expected members of Parliament to digest the 350-plus pages so quickly that after one hour of debate, they gave notice of time allocation.
The minister has invited members of Parliament to submit amendments to the bill, but as it turns out, the bill already would accomplish things that the minister did not even realize. The minister's communications director told the Huffington Post in that same article “neither she nor [the minister] was aware that the bill actually addresses the long-standing loophole.”
He went on to say:
She wasn't certain why all the government's communications material relating to Bill C-76, the Elections Modernization Act, makes no mention of it or why officials had also glossed over the change.
As a legislator, that certainly does not instill too much confidence in me and my colleagues when neither the minister nor his staff know what this legislation does, or what is even contained in it. I am not sure whether that is incompetence or a result of political masters having no idea of what bureaucrats are doing, or what it is, but any way, it is completely unacceptable.
What we have in Bill C-76 is the Liberals claiming to fix a problem, but actually making it worse in the process. What they are proposing with regard to third party spending, for example, would increase the potential opportunities for foreign money and foreign interference in our democratic process. There have been numerous claims about millions of dollars in foreign funding being funnelled into third party advocacy groups here in Canada during the last election. It is something we have raised time and again as an issue and a problem. If we look at the Ontario provincial election currently in progress, we can see the practice of third party advocacy and advertising in action now. Global News reporter, David Akin tweeted on May 4:
Coincidental? As shadowy @ActWow seeds social networks fear-mongering about Ford cutting healthcare, latest release from @ontario_liberal party is … fear-monering about Ford cutting public services.
Akin was wondering whether the messaging being tied together in that regard was just coincidental.
Canadians would certainly not have an issue if these third parties were solely funded and supported by Canadian money, because third party groups certainly have a right to have its say in our elections. However, I think people would expect that these would be funded and supported by Canadians, and not a result foreign money coming in to push viewpoints upon Canadians and to interfere in our elections. However, we are certainly seeing more of that. We are seeing foreign entities funnelling money into Canada through these third party groups to try to affect the outcomes of our elections. I think all Canadians expect that only Canadians should be allowed to determine the outcome of our elections.
Foreign interference in Canadian policy is happening already, and it is time that the Liberals realized it. There are groups like the U.S.-based Tides Foundation that have poured considerable amounts of money and manpower into shutting down our oil industry. Its goal is to land-lock Alberta and our oil, and it does not care how many Canadians it puts out of jobs. It does not care how many opportunities are lost to Canadians as a result. It is not concerned about that.
The loudest groups, like those against the Trans Mountain expansion project, are usually foreign funded. They are acting in ways that do not serve the best interests of Canada. However, only Canadians should be able to determine Canadian policy.
Currently, Canadians are allowed to contribute $1,575 annually to political parties or to candidates, and corporations or unions are completely banned from making those types of contributions. Under the government's proposed legislation, foreign entities could contribute an unlimited amount to third parties to engage in campaign activities just weeks before an election.
Third parties wish to behave like political parties and engage in campaigning. That is certainly fine. We live in a democracy. They are able to do that. However, they should be required to follow the same rules that political parties do. They should be held to the same kinds of standards that political parties are. If a political party needs to account for and pay for campaign expenses like polling and organizing rallies, so should third parties.
If not, John Ivison of the National Post rightfully pointed out that it could lead to U.S.-style political action committees emerging, funded in part by foreign money, to influence federal elections. It is not just me and my colleagues in the Conservative Party who are speaking to this; it is coming from a media source as well, and others out there. It is certainly a pretty accurate concern. It is a concern that many Canadians would have if they were aware of this.
Does the Liberal government want to see big money, foreign-backed political action committees here in Canada? I ask because that is what we are getting, and it is due to its inaction on this very serious threat to our democracy. The vote and voice of each Canadian is diminished when foreign parties try to sway the outcome of our elections. Foreign interference in our elections is a concern I have heard from many Canadians, and I am sure that all members have heard those same kinds of concerns.
I will turn now to another common concern I hear, namely, voter identification. It is really unfortunate that the Liberal government is going to weaken the laws on the requirements for proving one's identity when one votes. The Liberals want to move backward and allow the use of voter information cards as acceptable pieces of ID for voting.
There is a high rate of error in the elections register. Elections Canada shows that in the National Register of Electors, there can be error rates as high as 16% in the records at any given time. It is a very significant, high rate. In the last election, the rate of erroneous cards sent out was also quite high. There were nearly one million of them erroneously sent out in the 2015 election. This policy could really have far-reaching implications, and certainly leaves our Canadian democratic process open to the potential for fraud.
In their response to Parliament and written Question No. 333, Elections Canada and the Privy Council Office said that “there were 986,613 updates to elector information during the revision period which resulted in another Voter Information Card (VIC) being mailed to the elector.” That was during the last election.
As well, there were 509,397 individuals who received voter information cards, representing about two per cent of the voter information cards, who proactively advised Elections Canada of incorrect information on the cards. Those are the numbers of those who notified them.
How many more did not, in fact, notify Elections Canada of errors? It was about 16%, as I mentioned earlier, according to the testimony of the previous Chief Electoral Officer, Mark Mayrand, of Elections Canada. He confirmed the statistic I just gave: 16% of entries in the National Register of Electors are erroneous at any given time. He also indicated that after the revisions period during an election, the error rate is still approximately 12%. That is a pretty significant error rate, one that could potentially affect three million or four million electors, because the National Register of Electors contains about 26 million electors.
This legislation would allow the use of the voter information cards, which have an average error rate of 16%, as an acceptable form of ID to vote. Again, 16% is roughly four million electors. That means that with voter information cards, nearly four million electors could be sent erroneous information. For the life of me, I do not understand how the Liberal government could see that as acceptable. Right now, there is a long list of potential pieces of ID that can be used and are acceptable to Elections Canada for voting.
There are 39 potential forms of ID available for electors to use. They range from drivers' licences, to bank statements, to letters confirming residency, and even e-statements and e-invoices are acceptable if they are shown on a mobile device. There are 39 different forms, and it is hard to imagine a scenario in which someone would not have one of the 39 forms, and yet they would have a correct voter information card. That is very hard to imagine.
It is really not too much to ask that Canadians show some form of ID before casting a ballot? That is not unreasonable, and it is not just me who thinks that. Canadians overwhelming accept that showing ID before voting is a positive thing. When polled, 87% of Canadians indicate it is reasonable to require someone to prove their identity before they vote. The Liberal government needs to explain to those Canadians why it does not think that ID should be required to vote. Why does it not want to protect our electors from potential voter fraud?
We want to encourage as many Canadians as possible to vote, but we have to do everything we can to ensure that we prevent all potential avenues of voter fraud as well. People are expected to show ID before they rent a car, check into a hotel, buy alcohol or tobacco, or consume marijuana, and before they board an airplane. I could go on and on with that list. Why not for voting as well? That is a question the government has failed to answer, but leave it to the government to introduce a bill that is 350 pages long and lacks some specifics.
There have been all kinds of attempts by the government to make changes to its benefit. The Liberals have been caught in scandal after scandal, with ethics violations and cash for access to the Prime Minister, and when they tried to make electoral changes to their benefit. If they had wanted to do something to strengthen democracy rather than attempt to benefit themselves, they would not have sat on their hands with this piece of legislation for two years. They waited until we were past the eleventh hour to bring forward this legislation, and nothing was done to properly consult with opposition parties in the process either.
Conservative Party members have raised the issue of foreign interference in our elections multiple times. The Liberals could have maintained that voters need to have proven identity to vote. They could have ensured there were proper privacy safeguards for our children, but none of those things were done. We are left with a massive disaster of omnibus legislation that the Liberals are trying to rush through after waiting and delaying and making other attempts to try to benefit themselves. Here we are with legislation that is 350 pages long. After one hour of debate, they moved notice of time allocation. It is absolutely astounding that the government breaks every promise it has made during the election. It continually says one thing and does another, and this legislation is another example of that.
We will continue to push the Liberals on that, and I know that Canadians will hold them accountable as well. I look forward to taking questions on the bill.