House of Commons photo

Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word was elections.

Last in Parliament October 2015, as NDP MP for Toronto—Danforth (Ontario)

Lost his last election, in 2015, with 40% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Reform Act, 2014 February 3rd, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I would simply like to address where we might go in the future with respect to Bill C-586. By that I mean, once it hopefully gets to the Senate and becomes law, before dissolution of this Parliament, what could a future Parliament want to do to improve it?

Where these comments are coming from is that in committee the NDP would have preferred to see considerably bolstered transparency on the new model that the bill represents. The new bill would require after each election that each House of Commons caucus, as its first order of business effectively, vote on each of the following four rules. These are rules that are written in some detail in our colleague's bill. First is the review and removal of the party leader. Second is the election of an interim leader, if in fact the leader has been removed. Third is the election and removal of caucus chairs. Fourth is the expulsion and readmission to caucus of a caucus member. After each election, that is what is to take place.

It has become an optional model rule system as opposed to a mandatory system, so each party would look at the rule and say whether it wants it or not. It would then have to report to the Speaker what its decision was on each of those rules, yes or no.

I will come back to that basic framework in a second. I did want to also note one of the things that has changed in the bill. It was just the subject of the exchange between the minister and our colleague. Paragraph 67(4)(c) of the Canada Elections Act says the leader of the party must sign the papers of candidates for them to run in the name of the party. That rule would now be changed. It would now be a person designated by each registered political party. It is very important to know that it again creates an optional rule. Each party would decide for itself.

However, it is also important to note that—not to go too far into nirvana as the minister of state wanted to—it would no longer mandate and make only the leader of the party responsible for that signature, but it would not prohibit it. Therefore, it would still be possible for a party to say it would ask the party leader to do the signature. That would not be fully in the spirit of the change, but it would be fully within the law. I want to make sure that we do not get too carried away with the accolades being directed in the direction of the Prime Minister by the minister.

With respect to the system that would be put in place by the bill, the optional model rule system, I have said on several occasions—including in the House at second reading when the issue was knowing in advance that our colleague wanted to see these changes—that a spotlighting role for making sure parties take responsibility for at least deciding on each of these rules would be welcome, and it could actually have a beneficial follow-on impact in other areas of how we try to produce a bit of transparency without over-regulation. We can see how that could work in a few other areas as well.

I firmly believe that the transparency function of spotlighting could be beneficial, saying at least a party has to decide and be accountable for a decision once it has decided to reject the model rule, not the mandatory rule that is in the act. That said, I do feel that our colleague was basically put in a position to maybe concede a bit too much on the transparency front. Therefore, in committee, we did move several amendments to make things more transparent. I am here to signal that, when the time comes in a future Parliament, I certainly will be pushing for strengthening the transparency parts of the bill.

Let me go through the five amendments we would have like to have seen. The first is that at the moment the amended bill that is before us requires the chief electoral officer to be informed by each party, effectively 25 days from polling day, which person is responsible for signing off on candidates.

We would like to have seen that within a month after each election, every party must designate which institutional position has that function, so that for the next three to four years everybody knows where the rubber hits the road, who actually has that function, rather than it being potentially up in the air until right into the election and then, lo and behold, the system says that the party members must say who the person is.

Obviously, it is compatible that once the institutional actors are designated, then 25 days before polling day they will know who is occupying that position and then further inform the Chief Electoral Officer. We would very much have liked to have seen that change for greater transparency and for, I would say, a bit more pressure on parties to ensure that the person or persons chosen to make the candidate endorsement decisions are appropriate in an evolving democracy.

The second amendment is that at the moment, in the amended bill we have before us, each party is to tell the Speaker whether it has adopted each one of these four rules, but there is no specification that this must be in writing. It could easily be verbal, and obviously that could mean standing in the House and it would be recorded by Hansard, but there is no requirement even for that. It could be quite an informal conveying of this information, at least by the language of the bill. We wanted to ensure that it was in writing so that the beginning of the paper trail could be set up, which itself could then turn into greater transparency through one or two of the other amendments we had suggested, which is to ensure that when the decisions are made, the media and the public are in a position to know they have been made.

The third amendment is that at the moment it is now written to say whether the party did or did not adopt the model rule. Did the party adopt the rule that says there must be a caucus chair elected after the election, and then re-elected after the next election? The NDP is probably going to vote against that rule because we elect our caucus chair every year. We also have a rule that says there must be gender equity so that at least one of the chair or the deputy chair must be a woman. We will have no choice but to vote against it, but we will have a rule. However, there is nothing in the bill to say the party must report to the Speaker what rule it uses instead of the one that it has rejected. From a transparency perspective, I would like to see this changed in the future, so that not only does the party report yes or no, but it says what the rule is.

The fourth amendment is that the Speaker receives this information, but then what does he or she do with it. There is no specification in the bill that the Speaker has to do anything in particular; stand in the House and announce it or whatever. At minimum, and perhaps even more important than standing in the House and announcing what the Speaker has heard from each party, is to have a tailored accessible website where each party's decision is recorded, where journalists and the informed public know where to go and where the spotlighting effect can be increased by virtue of the recording on the website of where each party stands. That would of course be enhanced if each party also has to say what rule it has adopted in place of the one it may have rejected.

The final amendment goes back to the question I asked my colleague earlier. There is something extremely ironic in that a lot of pressure was put to change the model from binding rules to an optional-rules approach, a model-rules approach. Yet when push comes to shove, layered on top of this through the government's efforts, is a rule that says once a party's members have voted they cannot vote again. Each party is locked into its vote, and it is binding on the party until the dissolution of Parliament. There cannot be any revisiting.

If the members learn through all kinds of pressure from society that they took the wrong decision and, let us say, the Conservative Party votes not to have a rule electing its caucus chair, for four years the Conservatives are stuck with that rule. No amount of agitation within the Conservative caucus will allow that rule to change. I found that to be a particularly odd insertion and almost ironic in light of the fact that the whole bill is organized around the optional nature of the rules, and yet once a party has chosen which rule to take, it is bound to it. I would certainly want that to be removed in a future Parliament as well.

This is a bill I personally will be supporting. I have been supporting it from the beginning, and I will be recommending the same to my colleagues.

Reform Act, 2014 February 3rd, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Wellington—Halton Hills for what is becoming the end of a marathon on this bill and for the leadership he has shown.

I have a simple and fairly pointed question, which is this. One of the amendments that has gone through committee and is now part of the package is that when a caucus meets after an election and votes on the rules, the rules will now be binding, which will mean that we cannot go back on those rules for the entire Parliament, until dissolved. There is something ironic about that, because the whole framework has now been made non-mandatory with respect to parties having to choose the rules or not. However, it is a ratchet; if the NDP caucus chooses a rule that is not one of the ones on the menu, and three years later says that it was a mistake and wants to improve it, make it more “Chong-like”, it cannot do that.

What would the member say to the insertion of that requirement to create a ratchet so that all parties would now be bound not to change these rules for four years? It strikes me as a rather odd insertion in the bill.

Citizen Voting Act February 3rd, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for the kind of debating that really elevates the scrutiny of bills in the House. There was a conscious effort to address a number of concerns that were heard in the first part of the debate so far. I truly appreciate the effort.

I want to ask two quick questions in clarification.

First, it is not true that it is merely an extension to the existing Bill C-23 procedures because subsection 143(2.11) is reworded to prohibit the authorization of any documents to be used for ID unless issued by a government entity in Canada or by an entity incorporated or formed in Canada.

The wording is done in a way that a number of possible things that are currently among the 39 pieces of ID may no longer easily qualify. Private leases that are not issued by corporations is one. The other is that it will be very unclear whether utilities bills, credit card bills, et cetera necessarily meet this new definition.

I am not saying this is deliberate, but the government has tried to come up with a definition of documents originating in Canada that actually, it appears, would not cover all 39 that currently exist. I know Elections Canada is very concerned about the administrative chaos that this could cause.

Second, is there any harm in extending the period when one can actually register, especially when we have fixed statutory elections?

Citizen Voting Act February 3rd, 2015

Mr. Speaker, right now, citizens of France living overseas can vote electronically, and Americans living abroad can vote by email.

Bill C-23, the unfair elections act, contains a provision that stipulates that the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada must conduct a pilot project or test on electronic voting but that he must obtain the consent of the entire House of Commons and the Senate—not just one committee, but the entire Senate.

Does my colleague think that this is a coincidence?

Citizen Voting Act February 3rd, 2015

Mr. Speaker, following up on the question just asked, I am wondering whether the bill would exclude the families of Canadian Forces from the special rules that continue to apply to the Canadian Forces and how that would be rationalized.

Second, what conceivable justification is there for creating such a short window for applying for a special ballot, receiving it, and then voting? What would be the problem in allowing registration well in advance of an election or, as the Americans do, from day one each year? On January 1, Americans can register for whatever elections are coming up that year. What would be the problem in having that system?

Citizen Voting Act February 3rd, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I thought I would follow up on the answer just given by my colleague for Ottawa—Vanier.

Back in 2006, when there was agreement by all parties to change this rule, the government of the day then replied to say, “Let us not do this immediately”. It was something along the lines of having to do a comprehensive study of the special voting rules to do this.

Now, 10 years later, I am not aware that any such study was ever done, let alone one involving any committee of the House. Is my colleague from Vanier aware of a study?

Citizen Voting Act February 3rd, 2015

Mr. Speaker, I thought it might be good to follow up on the point about ganging up to try to swing ridings somehow or other. The number of citizens abroad who actually vote suggests that is unlikely to ever be effective, if it ever occurred. Elections Canada will confirm in testimony that it has never seen any organized effort, ever, to try to channel votes to particular ridings using the flexibility that currently exists in the Canada Elections Act to vote where one has a specific number of relatives. It is a fictional concern. The member for Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor put it well to say it is a solution in search of a problem.

Could the member tell me what the big problem is with the current flexibility? If individuals are away from Canada, what says that the last place they happened to live is their most meaningful link to a country? Why would there be this geographic fixation? If students live abroad, is it not just as meaningful to say that where their parents currently live is a valid place for them to exercise their valid right to vote as a citizen?

We are not going to go to the wall to say that the current flexibility of the list should stay, but the fact of the matter is that it is not as if it were an abuse problem either.

I wonder if my colleague could comment.

Citizen Voting Act February 3rd, 2015

Mr. Speaker, ironically, it is indeed a response.

However, it is a response that goes against the decision. It aims to fix things ahead of a confirmation from the Ontario Court of Appeal, or perhaps even the Supreme Court.

It was a very reasoned decision, and I think the government's chances of winning the appeal are no more than 5%. This response confirms that from now on, people will have the right to vote even if they have been outside Canada for five years. The government does not want it to be too easy.

Citizen Voting Act February 3rd, 2015

Mr. Speaker, we know from the court case and from some other testimony that the government alone believes that 1.4 million or 1.5 million Canadians would potentially be enfranchised by getting rid of the five-year rule.

In terms of those of the right age who would have the right to vote and would be added to this—beyond the military and diplomats, et cetera, who are excluded from the provisions of all this—let us say that the court in the Frank case said that it was at least a million, that does not mean that people would want to vote or would try to register. However, the fact of the matter is that it is a right to vote and if someone has that degree of connection to Canada that they want to vote, then a certain percentage of that one million people would be what we are dealing with.

The idea of shoving all of this into the campaign period and overburdening Elections Canada makes no sense. Contrast that to France, which has gone out of its way in recent years to make it easier and easier for citizens abroad to vote. They can do it postally. They can vote by Internet now, and they can also go to one of over 700 locations around the world to physically vote. France does it three different ways to make it as easy as possible.

While France is trying to make it as easy as possible, the government here is going in the opposite direction, in the name of some kind of weird set of principles that have no application to any known mischief or problem.

Citizen Voting Act February 3rd, 2015

Mr. Speaker, it would be a really good idea to warn friends and students to be prepared, as my colleague said.

However, no one can register until an election is called. People can have their identification ready, but they cannot register.

Furthermore, it is not clear whether we can contact people in advance to ask them to swear that a certain individual was in a certain riding and sign an attestation. The bill is not clear on whether that can be done in advance. It may be that we have to wait until the election is called. There are some real obstacles, and this should be clear to the minister. I do not know why these obstacles exist.

In the United States, for instance, people have to register every year. However, people can do it on January 1 every year, whereas here you have to wait five years, or until the election is called. It makes no sense.