Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to our opposition day motion. It is an extremely important motion and I am glad to hear it may have the support of all parties, although I am not so sure after hearing comments in question period.
If our motion is passed, it will give the Chief Electoral Officer the power he needs to get his job done. That is really what is at stake here, to ensure our most precious national institution is protected to the fullest extent possible. These tools are needed and have been requested and we believe our motion deserves firm support.
We need to get to the bottom of this so-called robofraud scandal, not just in this immediate instance but for a greater problem in Canada, which is citizen disengagement. Voter turnout is dropping in the country. In 1950 voter turnout was close to 80%. In the last election, it was just over 60%. That 20 percentage point drop should be a warning sign. All the bells should be going off that something is desperately wrong in Canada and it needs fixing.
At the current rate of decline, I can see voter turnout dropping below the 50% level some time in the near future. It was not too long ago that we used to poke fun at the United States for its low turnout levels. Now we are almost mimicking exactly the same levels of turnout. This is a huge problem and I propose that this is not due to apathy or disinterested citizens sitting on their hands. It is part of a large problem, which really has to do with the work of political parties. Currently, all parties contact supporters. That is the heart of this process and what we do throughout all campaigns, but there is a concerted effort often to discourage voters. Because resources are often so tight for campaigns, political parties tend to ignore non-voters.
This has a cumulative effect that was acknowledged by the Royal Commission on Electoral Reform back in the early 1990s. This cumulative effect means that our turnout will continue to drop lower and lower, and we have to do something to fix it. Unfortunately, very little from the very well-conducted Royal Commission on Electoral Reform was implemented. However, I have to compliment my colleagues across the room. They have done a couple of things that are worth noting. One is bringing in legislation for fixed election dates and tougher spending limits on political parties. Banning donations from organizations and unions was a good move, and I applaud that action.
In addition to the current problem of declining voter turnout in Canada, we have a new problem, one that has just emerged, and that is the possibility of fraudulent voter suppression. This is a huge problem. We can see parties ignoring voters, sometimes trying to discourage them with ugly pictures or harsh words, but fraudulent suppression is a much bigger problem. This is something new that has washed up on the beach of Canada and we need to give the Chief Electoral Officer sufficient powers to deal with it.
Included in the allegations that are being widely investigated by Elections Canada is the issue of robocalls and live calls telling voters that their polling districts have moved or that the hours have changed. I have had reports of both of these kinds of calls in my riding of Burnaby—Douglas. One voter wrote me an email and said that he had received a robocall telling him that the hours had changed at his polling station. I was knocking on doors last Saturday and another voter told me that he received a call saying his election station had moved when it clearly had not. These two voters were smart enough to disregard these robocalls and go on their merry way to exercise their democratic right.
These are serious allegations and they really need to be investigated to the deepest possible extent. That is why the Chief Electoral Officer needs new powers and the tools to do the job necessary to get to the bottom of this. The investigative capabilities need to be strengthened to give the Chief Electoral Officer the power to request all necessary documents from political parties to ensure compliance with the Canada Elections Acts.
Thousands of dollars were spent on the Royal Commission on Electoral Reform. The documents make a great Friday night read for anybody in the House and they are worth going through. A panel of experts said that we were risking a serious democratic decline in Canada and that giving more power to the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada would be one of the key things that would make our democracy more secure.
Millions of dollars are spent on sending soldiers abroad, on sending election observers abroad to monitor elections in other countries to bring democracy to those countries. I do not see how we can do that with a straight face if our own Canadian democracy is facing one of the biggest scandals, if substantiated, that we have ever had in Canadian history.
That is the trick here. The Chief Electoral Officer needs the power to get a handle on this so he can assure Canadians that things are either okay and this is some kind of mistake, or that there is a real problem that needs to be investigated and either substantiated or disproved. We could then amend the Elections Act to stop this kind of thing from happening.
These are not the only problems with our democratic system in Canada. Not only do we have declining voter turnout in elections, but citizen participation between elections is also declining. They are often closely related.
I am proud to say that I recently brought forward a motion that, if passed, will change the petitioning process in the House. Currently, we only have a paper-based petition system. I am proposing that the House move to e-petitions. I hope my motion will be adopted. If so, this will allow citizens to become more engaged between elections. It will bring those people into the process who would not normally be brought into it. Under this proposition, citizens will be able to submit signed petitions online. The Conservative government in the United Kingdom passed a law that if a petition received over 50,000 signatures, that issue would be debated in the House of Commons. It would be debated outside of regular business hours to ensure it would not interfere with the regular business of the House. This gives citizens direct access to the democratic process. Its time has come in Canada.
We have had all these problems with robofraud and calls that should not exist and all the questions around that matter. Then we are back and forth on whether to give the Chief Electoral Officer investigative powers. We need to bring forward something positive and proactive to encourage citizens to participate in their governance in their communities. The e-petitions idea is something that we should pursue.
The opposition day motion proposes that Elections Canada investigation capabilities be strengthened to include giving the Chief Electoral Officer the power to request all necessary documents from political parties to ensure compliance with the Canada Elections Act.
We are also proposing that telecommunication companies that provide voter contact services during a general election must register with Elections Canada. That is such a great idea. It is something I have been studying my whole life. I am very excited that this may happen in Canada.
Our third proposal is that all clients of telecommunication companies during a general election must have their identity registered and verified. Technology has moved on. It used to be door knocking, sending letters around to folks, gatherings, getting people out to vote. We now have massive constituencies and millions of Canadians to communicate with so of course we are going to use telecommunications. In the 21st century we need a 21st century Canada Elections Act to cover this new technology to ensure it is working to the benefit of voters, not to their detriment.
This motion is extremely important. Yesterday I was of the opinion from what the said that it would have support, but today it is looking a little different. We will have to wait and see what happens when we vote on the motion. This motion is something I wholeheartedly support.
The robo fraud problem is grabbing the headlines. Once it is investigated and people are either sent to jail or fined, it will go away, but it will pop up again. In order to protect our democratic system, the most important thing to do would be to ensure that the independent officers who oversee our election processes are given the powers they need to get the job done.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join the debate on the motion brought forward by the NDP member for .
I would like to begin by stating that as the government that brought in the Federal Accountability Act bringing lasting and significant change to address accountability in government, we are not opposed at all to this motion. Our government fully supports transparency and accountability. It is for this reason that we in the Conservative Party have been open in making all of our records available to Elections Canada officials as they get to the bottom of allegations made in Guelph. Such actions as were alleged in Guelph are unacceptable and we will continue to do all we can to assist Elections Canada investigators.
However, the opposition parties are using this motion to yet again continue their baseless smear campaign with more unsubstantiated attacks in the House of Commons as well as in the media. Over the course of the debate today, they have made, and I am sure they will continue to make, more false allegations and launch more smears against Conservative MPs and candidates, and what is worse, the volunteers and supporters of our great party. It continues to be clear that those members do not have any information on which to base their attacks. Indeed, it is hearsay.
I would like to use my time today to speak about government action that brings true accountability and not to continue a baseless smear campaign for political advantage.
When I speak of accountability, our government is one of accountability. In 2006 when we first came to power, it was on a promise to bring back accountability to the way government works. That is exactly what we have done.
One of the first major pieces of legislation that our government brought forward was the Federal Accountability Act. In fact, I know Bill was the first bill brought forward by our government in 2006. The act, and its action plan, was one of the most comprehensive initiatives ever undertaken to address accountability in government and it has made lasting and significant changes to the way government works.
We strengthened and streamlined how government works in our country while making it more effective and more accountable to Canadian voters. Our actions helped to earn back the trust of Canadians in their government institutions. The Federal Accountability Act amended 46 existing statutes and created two new ones. Some of these changes came into force at royal assent on December 12, 2006, while others were subject to coming into force dates set out in the act or established by order in council.
The introduction of Bill was accompanied by the federal accountability action plan which organized the various elements of the Federal Accountability Act along 14 themes. As well, it set out related policy initiatives. We reformed the financing of political parties along with donation limits. We banned secret political donations, although the NDP has since elected to take some of those, it appears. We strengthened the role of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner and the Auditor General. We toughened the Lobbyists Registration Act and cleaned up government polling and advertising. We strengthened access to information legislation bringing crown corporations under the access to information legislation, as well as auditing and accountability within departments.
The record very clearly shows our Conservative government does not just believe in open government, we in fact have provided open, transparent and accountable government for each and every Canadian. Ours indeed is a government of accountability.
With respect to the current situation, since Elections Canada began looking into reports from the media and other sources about a specific case in the riding of , our government and the Conservative Party of Canada have been open and transparent with all of our records, making them available to Elections Canada so as to assist in its investigation. The Conservative Party did not organize or know about any such activities in the riding, but the opposition continues to launch baseless smear campaigns against our party. If the opposition members truly wanted to support Elections Canada and its work in this specific case, they would do as we have done and provide all of their records related to calls they made during the last election: absolute transparency.
Both parties opposite spent millions of dollars on hundreds of thousands phone calls during the last election, and they have thus far refused to disclose these details to Elections Canada officials. Why is this not their top priority instead of continuing their baseless smear campaign? Canadians need to ask themselves that very essential question. If any untoward behaviour is uncovered, the Conservative Party of Canada demands that all those responsible be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
As for the motion before the House today, to have the government table legislative amendments which would strengthen the powers of the Chief Electoral Officer in the wake of these exaggerated allegations, I am not opposed. However, it must be said that the Conservative Party of Canada has provided all of our information to Elections Canada to assist it so we can get to the bottom of what has happened in the investigation going on in Guelph. We do this willingly. There is currently nothing preventing the NDP or Liberal Party from giving over their own information willingly to Elections Canada officials. As the has stated, we have been very clear about the Conservative Party of Canada's activities. All the calls made by the Conservative Party are documented. All of those records are available to Elections Canada. We will be looking forward with great interest to see what documents exist on the NDP's and Liberal Party's telephone activities during the campaign.
The Conservative Party of Canada ran a clean and ethical campaign and would never tolerate such activities as have been alleged by the parties opposite. The Conservative Party was not involved with these fake calls in Guelph. If anyone on a local campaign was involved, he or she will not play a role in a future campaign. Voter suppression is extremely serious and if anything improper occurred, those responsible should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. The job of a political party, and indeed our job as politicians, in a campaign is to get voters out to the polls. We do not engage in voter suppression.
However, the exaggerated allegations and baseless smear campaign which the opposition parties continue to press demean the millions of voters who cast legitimate votes in the last election. The opposition paid millions of dollars to make hundreds of thousands of phone calls during the last campaign. Before they continue with these baseless smears, opposition members should prove their own callers were not behind these reports.
The motion before the House lays out three points: Elections Canada investigation capabilities be strengthened, to include giving the Chief Electoral Officer the power to request all necessary documents from political parties to ensure compliance with the Elections Act; all telecommunication companies that provide voter contact services during a general election must register with Elections Canada; and all clients of telecommunication companies during a general election have their identity registered and verified. The Conservative Party is thus far the only party that has documented all calls during the campaign and made all of those records available to Elections Canada. Why are we the only ones who have done this? Yet the opposition members continue to run a baseless smear campaign against our government, launching false allegations against dozens of Conservative MPs and candidates.
I would like to take a few moments to address some of the facts in the opposition's allegations.
After weeks of unsubstantiated attacks in this place and in the media, it is clear that it has no information to back up its claims in this smear campaign. Canadians rejected this type of mud slinging in the last election.
In the case of the electoral district of , as has been stated previously, the Conservative Party of Canada has made available to Elections Canada all information in regard to our calls made during the campaign. It is obvious that the Conservative Party was not involved with the alleged calls in that riding. If something improper did occur, we expect that those responsible will be fully held to account.
The NDP and the Liberal Party have made a number of new allegations about similar deliberately misleading calls made in other ridings during the last election, in which we, the Conservative Party of Canada, categorically deny any involvement. However, when the interim was asked eight times for evidence on CBC's Power and Politics, she was unable to provide any evidence at all. We have heard that from the member for . We have heard it from the interim leader of the Liberal Party. They have no evidence. They are simply throwing out baseless allegations.
The NDP claim that received fraudulent calls. However, the NDP riding association president, Wolfgang Ziemer said it is not true. He said, “There's just no way that I can add any fuel to this fire, if there is a fire. I have no idea how the riding got on” the list.
The Liberals claim that received fraudulent calls, but the Liberal candidate said it is not true. “Barry Peters said he doesn't recall hearing about any suspicious calls either while out door-knocking nor back at the office”. That was reported on Global News on Thursday, March 1.
The Liberals have claimed that in some ridings Liberal supporters received calls at inconvenient times that could be described as harassing from people who identified themselves as calling from the Liberal Party of Canada. However, the Liberal Party paid millions of dollars to make these calls and hired firms to say these exact scripts to Canadians, but the Liberals have not yet released the scripts, nor have they provided their call records. We have to ask why.
In the Liberal campaign in Haldimand—Norfolk, Bob Speller complained that harassing calls were being made on his behalf late at night, but his campaign paid First Contact $4,062 to make calls. The Liberal candidate in Niagara Falls, Bev Hodgson, has complained that harassing calls were made on her behalf at night. Her campaign paid First Contact $11,300. The same goes for the Liberal candidate, Mark Eyking. His campaign paid First Contact $11,753.
There is a pattern here: First Contact, First Contact, First Contact.
The Liberals have claimed these calls originated in the U.S., but the Liberal Party is the party that sourced its voter phone calls from the U.S. during the last election. A CBC investigation conducted during the campaign traced some of these calls, the calls that the Liberals have been complaining about, back to Liberal-affiliated call centres. The CBC traced these calls back to Liberal-affiliated call centres.
Let us not forget that this is the same Liberal Party that recently revealed that one of its own backroom operatives, Adam Carroll, was behind a dirty, sleazy, underhanded campaign of vicious, anonymous smears against the . Yet this is just the latest in a long history of shady Liberal practices that indeed harm our democracy.
During the 2011 election, Liberals were caught and charged for stealing opponents' election signs, a violation of the Elections Act. Also during the 2011 election, Joe Volpe and a campaign worker were caught taking Green Party literature directly from people's mailboxes. It is ironic that Mr. Carroll, as I mentioned earlier, the one who committed the dirty, sleazy, underhanded attack campaign against the , also happened to work on Mr. Volpe's campaign.
In 2004 the Liberal Party had callers running a push-poll, and you might remember this, Mr. Speaker, asking about how people felt about the Conservatives being taken over by right-wing Christians. It was outrageous. Actions like this even made Liberals like the current member for condemn their party's activities.
We must not forget the sponsorship scandal where Liberals admitted taking envelopes filled with cash, which were never reported, and giving them to so-called orphan ridings to fund their campaigns.
It is up to these same Liberals to prove that these are not Liberal calls before they continue making their extreme, baseless allegations and undertake yet another vicious anonymous smear campaign against dozens of decent, upstanding Conservative MPs and candidates from the last election.
In conclusion, dirty tricks such as these led to the fall of the Liberal Party and to a clear call for more accountable governments. Here, our Conservative government was elected on a platform of accountability, and with the Federal Accountability Act we helped to earn back the trust of Canadians in their government institutions.
While I do not oppose the motion brought forward by the hon. member for , I strongly oppose and reject the baseless allegations and unsubstantiated smear campaign by the parties opposite.
Our government and the Conservative Party of Canada have been nothing but open and transparent with Elections Canada about all the calls made during the last election. On their part, the Liberals and NDP, as I have said many times in this House, spent millions of dollars on hundreds of thousands, and millions, I would argue, of phone calls during the last election. If the opposition truly wants to support Elections Canada, they should provide all of their records relating to the calls they made during the last election, just as the Conservative Party of Canada already has.
It is interesting that this debate has been brought to the floor of the House of Commons today. Of course, we know what the motivations of the member are in doing so, to further propagate the baseless, unsubstantiated smear campaign that we have seen in this House for some days. However, Canadians are not fooled by this. I have received messages from people from coast to coast to coast, from campaign volunteers, everyday people who got out and voted, people who are asking why the House of Commons is not concerned about their priorities. They want to know what is going on with the House of Commons.
It is clear that voter participation was not suppressed in the last election. The member who spoke previously was not fulsome in his answer in suggesting that he was talking about percentages while I was talking about numbers in absolute terms. He knows very well that the percentage of voters between the 2008 campaign and the 2011 campaign went up, not down. He knows that full well. He is just not providing that information to the House, and that is too bad.
We saw voter participation increase in virtually every riding in the country. That is wonderful, a great statement that we have in fact turned around a bit of a trend. We have turned it around, and how did we do it? We did it by providing more, not less, days to vote. We turned it around by encouraging each and every Canadian voter to get out and vote.
The Conservative Party did what other parties do. We contacted Conservative Party supporters and encouraged them to get to the polls. We won a strong, stable, national Conservative majority government and are proud of that. Based on that strong, stable, Conservative majority government, Conservatives are undertaking the priorities of Canadians by protecting the economy and providing more hope and opportunity for Canadians. We are focusing on the priorities of each and every Canadian, including protecting victims by bringing in new crime legislation.
Conservatives are also doing more than that. We are moving against past egregious acts, like the long gun registry. Other members have mentioned Nipissing—Timiskaming. I think the voters in Nipissing—Timiskaming spoke out loud and clear in the last election when it came to the long gun registry. We cannot forget about that.
We also cannot ignore the fact that the Liberal Party wants people to forget about what it ran on in the last election. That is why it is launching this baseless, unsubstantiated smear campaign. It ran a campaign of higher taxes and wasteful spending. At a time when Canadians are concerned about that, when they see foreign countries undergoing difficulties as a result of wasteful spending, that is what the Liberal Party ran on. That is why voters did not vote Liberal.
We see a collection of failed Liberal candidates coming forward, stepping up and suggesting that something untoward happened and that this is the only possible way they could have lost the election. However, in virtually all of these ridings, certainly all of the ones I have seen mentioned, voter participation was up. More people voted, not less.
More of those people voted Conservative, because they saw us as the only party fit to guide this country through this difficult global economic time. They put their faith in the of this country. They put their faith in the of this country. They put their faith in Conservative candidates from coast to coast to coast. They put their faith in those volunteers who were doing the hard work of knocking on doors. They put their faith in each and every person who came up them, friends and family, and said they were going to vote Conservative.
That is how Conservatives won the last election. We won it with hard work. We won it with dedication. We won it with a vision and a plan, an aspiration to make Canada even greater than it ever has been, because we believe Canada's best days are ahead.
As I have said, Conservatives have no problem providing additional authorities and supporting this motion that is before the House, but let us also be clear: ours is the party that is providing transparency, ours is the party that has brought accountability to Canadians, ours is the party that believes in open government, and ours is the party that is delivering on the promise that we made to Canadians. We can never forget that.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to inform the House that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for .
I am pleased to have an opportunity to rise today to share my thoughts on an important issue that goes to the heart of the legitimacy of this House, democracy.
Old habits seem to die hard with the Conservatives. One year later, almost to the day, another scandal on electoral fraud has broken out. I am starting to have serious misgivings about the democracy in which we live.
It discourages me when I see the extent to which this electoral fraud seems to be par for the course for this government. Over recent years, this government has tried an increasing number of strategies that push the limits as to what is acceptable and what is unacceptable in Canadian politics. The government was found guilty only last year of electoral fraud during the 2005–2006 election. This five year dispute, categorized as “administrative” by the himself, smacks of growing contempt by this government towards Canada's democratic institutions.
This perception has been reinforced by the behaviour of this during last year's debacle. As reported by numerous university professors, who were signatories to an op-ed published in La Presse on April 25 of last year, and I quote:
|| His most virulent attacks were reserved for the judges that he described more than once as “activists” who meddle in politics. In saying this, it is in fact he [the Prime Minister] who was politicizing the administration of justice. This is a dangerous and slippery slope at the bottom of which it is not judges who have the most to lose. [...] When the time has come that judges have to fear the criticism, and even the reprisals of political leaders, the rights of everyday citizens will hold hardly more weight than those of the state. Never before have our leaders dared to venture in this direction.
A press review by Manon Cornellier published in Le Devoir on March 3 demonstrates the furor with which Canadians are reacting to this new scandal.
Canadians are fed up, frustrated and indignant. Their confidence in the electoral system has been even further shaken. Who can blame them when increasingly scandalous revelations are being systematically disclosed? How can the government accuse the opposition parties, which are representing the real concerns of Canadians, of orchestrating a smear campaign, when we are aware of the dubious tactics employed by this government?
The general indignation felt by Canadians in all regions of this country shows the extent to which Canadians are becoming increasingly cynical about politics and about our government. I am particularly concerned by the serious consequences that this growing feeling will have for our future generations.
I am pleased to be one of the 20 or so young members of this House, because I hope that our involvement in politics will restore hope to Canadian youth. We have to let them see our commitment, and above all our integrity.
How is that possible when this government continues to act so inconsistently? It abolishes the firearms registry. It changes the census rules, citing the violation of people’s privacy, among other things, but has no hesitation about introducing a bill that is potentially dangerous to individual rights and freedoms: Bill . It is completely baffling.
We must acknowledge, at all costs, that this scandal shows us that the electoral landscape is no longer the same in Canada. The age of innocence, of trust, has unfortunately come to an end. Canadians are witnessing a scandal that shows just how much some people will play with the electoral system in order to prevent people from participating in an institution that is fundamental to our rights and freedoms. This is serious, it is sad, it is disappointing and it is deplorable.
In Canada, there used to be good faith, over and above our political differences. We all agreed that respect for democracy and freedom of expression was fundamental. Clearly, that is no longer the case. The election fraud scandal shows us that there are players who will not hesitate to subvert the system in order to give voters false information and harass them.
This is not just an issue of robocalls. It would have been the same scandal if the method used had been an email or a letter. It is election fraud, which is deplorable, and the use of communication methods to misinform voters and affect their participation.
The NDP is proposing something very important in today’s motion. The NDP is proposing that we take strong action to find the guilty parties and restore Canadians’ confidence in the electoral system.
This is a bold motion whose only purpose is to give the Chief Electoral Officer additional powers so he can get to the bottom of this scandal. Canadians all across the country would think that a motion like this is essential. I am pleased to learn that the government is going to support it. However, this government has proved that it is afraid of the outcome of an investigation, afraid to discover who is responsible for the election fraud that insulted so many Canadians. Why such cowardice on the government’s part?
Losing the confidence of the electorate is the real issue here, because losing the confidence of the electorate means losing one’s own legitimacy in this House. If the people view their own electoral system—the pillar of the democratic foundation of this country—with cynicism, and observers are worried about respect for the independence of the judicial system, how can we allow machinations like these to be repeated? It is the responsibility of the government to prevent scandals like this from taking place. This is one more example in a long list of cases of mismanagement of public funds.
I thought of my constituents as I rose today. They are the ones who are the biggest victims in all this. This is an affront to the fundamental rights of people to participate, express themselves and organize in a democratic and participatory community. Thanks to their right to vote, the people of Terrebonne, Blainville and Sainte-Anne-des-Plaines, just like the people of Guelph, Nipissing-Timiskaming and elsewhere, have the chance to directly influence federal politics just once every three or four years. It is a very important time for them, because an election makes them think about their collective future, their dreams and their values. Those thoughts, that discussion, that participation are sacred. Voting means having the right to think and express oneself. The five-week election campaign is when the greatest number of people get involved.
My constituents are very concerned and rightfully so. What are they going to think about the quality of our democracy from now on? How can I tell them with confidence that their fundamental right to democratic expression will be respected in future?
I want to point out that in Terrebonne, Blainville and Sainte-Anne-des-Plaines there are a number of veterans who risked their lives to give us this sacred right. There are women—and today is International Women's Day—who fought for the right to vote. In this House, unfortunately, we are in process of debating whether that right to vote was violated. I find that unbelievably sad. People were outraged when Maurice Duplessis had dead people voting for him. I wonder which is worse: doing that or preventing the living from voting.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague from on her excellent speech. There will be many more fine speeches from my colleagues over the next few minutes. This being International Women's Day, I would like to express my great pride in working alongside such great women. Every day we see the quality of the NDP caucus improving because of these women. First of all, I would like to wish every woman on the planet, regardless of her political allegiance, race or religion, a day that is filled with happiness, joy and smiles, and I hope there will be many other days like this one in the future.
Today, we are debating a motion that concerns respect for democratic rights and freedoms, which are extremely important in a country like ours, a civilized, industrialized country that has always been a leader in terms of democratic rights, and one that has even helped a lot of countries in the world make sure that their rights were respected. The right to vote for one party or another must be exercised in a free and enlightened way. It is a right that, in most democratic countries, is recognized in the constitution. In this country, it is recognized in particular in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
But throughout the course of human history and in today's society, many women have been victims of injustice and their rights have been violated. As I said earlier with great sadness, many people, and not just women, have died because they tried to vote or because they stood for election. This is very important today. Discussing this issue today, in 2012, is extremely important and it goes far beyond the scandal that we are dealing with these days. Yes, fraud is suspected. Let us call it a scandal.
Although the motion put forward by the hon. member for focuses primarily on strengthening integrity in our democracy, it has become necessary because of the alleged electoral fraud that went on behind the scenes during the last election campaign. What happened, exactly? First of all, there were the robocalls on election day or a few days before by people claiming to work for Elections Canada and giving out incorrect information about the location of polling stations. Then, calls were made to ask the voters who they were planning to vote for, and if the voters answered that they would not be voting for the Conservative Party, they received another call sometime over the next few days from someone who claimed this time to be working for Elections Canada and who provided totally misleading information about the location of the polling station. Finally, and this is what is most disturbing, supporters of other parties received harassing calls made by people claiming to be working for the party these people supported, the Liberal Party in this case. They were sworn at over the telephone at two o'clock, three o'clock or six o'clock in the morning. This is unacceptable in a civilized society like ours.
RackNine, a company that provides automated calling services and is often used by the Conservative Party, is one of the companies involved. The ties between RackNine and the Conservative Party are very strong. RMG is a company that works in voter contact, database management and fundraising for the Conservative Party and several other right-leaning groups, among others. The former Conservative campaign manager, Tom Flanagan, even attributed the Conservatives' 2006 election win to RMG.
What rules were broken? Provisions of the Canada Elections Act, including paragraph 281(g), which states:
|| 281. No person shall, inside or outside Canada,
||(g) wilfully prevent or endeavour to prevent an elector from voting at an election;
Paragraph 482 (b) states:
|| 482. Every person is guilty of an offence who
||(b) by any pretence or contrivance, including by representing that the ballot or the manner of voting at an election is not secret, induces a person to vote or refrain from voting or to vote or refrain from voting for a particular candidate at an election.
The Chief Electoral Officer even submitted a series of recommendations to the Speaker of the House of Commons on legislative reforms after the 40th general election. Among other things, he asked for the power to order that political parties provide any documents or information that may be necessary to verify compliance with the requirements of the act with respect to election expenses returns. At present only local campaigns must file documentary evidence to support their election expenses returns. In his request, the Chief Electoral Officer indicated that his provincial counterparts have this authority, and he also pointed out that political parties receive public funds based on their election expenses returns. It is very troubling to read such things.
What is the crux of the matter? It is about ethics and morals. The government has much to learn in that regard. It is disappointing that the government does not respect the will of 61% of the voters, who did not vote for the Conservative Party, its ideology and its complete lack of integrity.
I too have the feeling that in front of me is a party that totally rejects the results of the last election and that is doing and will do everything in its power—granted by only 39% of the voters—to make sure it never happens again. It is as if we were seeing the beginning of a dictatorship. It is as if this government wanted to put everything in place to make sure that people vote for it and that people comply with what the party dictates. Nevertheless, the current ran his election campaign on the importance of accountability for members of political parties, integrity and respect for the vote.
What point has the reached on this issue? He has reached a dead end. There has been no concrete action by the on the extremely important matter of making the voters more confident in our political system. Yes, he is the leader of his party, but he is also the of all Canadians. It is the 's duty to uphold the integrity of the electoral process and the democratic system, to ensure that members of Parliament are accountable and that people's votes are respected. They are free to vote for anyone they want, and this freedom is guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
At present, the current government is doing nothing but throw the accusations back at the other parties. It is refusing to deal with the situation and is putting the blame squarely on others. We have seen the party in power follow a strategy aimed at distracting and confusing people ever since accusations were made against this government, which is totally disrespectful of the democratic values that are so dear to Canadians. As I said earlier, we were leaders in respecting democracy. Here in the House, we were able to debate legislation and to amend and adopt motions that were respectful of everyone's choices. We cannot do that anymore. This government has brought in 17 time allocation motions.
Between the Conservatives’ electoral fraud and the Liberals' unfair tactics, it is not surprising that Canadians think Ottawa is corrupt. Only the NDP respects Canadians and is determined to help Canadian families move forward. The Conservatives must start co-operating with Elections Canada and stop blaming everyone else, including Elections Canada, for this so-called election fraud.
The NDP not only wants to throw light on the deplorable situation that allegedly arose during the last election campaign, but it also wants to ensure that major reforms are made right now. The motion mentions six months, but we have to take action right now to ensure that this type of scandal never happens again. The government has done nothing to assist the investigation into the so-called election fraud during the last election or to make sure that what was done is never repeated.
That is why our motion would make it possible to strengthen the authority of Elections Canada by giving it greater powers to carry out its investigations. That is what we want. We will give our full support to this motion.
Mr. Speaker, I think I am glad to join this debate. It is an unfortunate one, but it is here and we will have to get to the bottom of it. Whether we like some of what is being tossed around or whatever, it will have to be done. It did not come as a result of anything that Liberals did, that is for sure.
I am fortunate to have an opportunity to speak today. I am splitting my time with my great colleague from . Whoever was behind trying to prevent him from coming back here, I am so glad that person lost. We have a great member and we want to keep him here.
This morning, when I opened my newspaper, I was surprised and pleased to read that the government had finally reversed itself on an important issue of national electoral accountability. The headline optimistically spoke to the government's impending flip-flop on the issue of giving Elections Canada the investigative power for which it had clearly asked.
Despite this projection and my optimism that maybe this issue was going to finally be dealt with in a more positive way, the earlier today signalled he was preparing for yet another about face on something that was very important to Canadians. After stonewalling for weeks, the government has finally, but reluctantly, bowed to public pressure, maybe. We will see what happens over the weekend.
Members can understand the confusion about the Cons position. Just a couple of days ago, the stood in the House and attempted to convince Canadians, as he did with the in and out, that he was the only member who had heard nothing about Elections Canada's request for important new powers. That shocking and unbelievable statement was made following the coordinated and shameful actions of government MPs to block new and important audit powers for the Chief Electoral Officer. What could they possibly be afraid of if they are all so innocent?
What is the government's position at 4:25 p.m. on Thursday afternoon? Perhaps the government should just come clean and be honest about a few things. Media spending in the 2006 election, voter suppression in the 2011 election and its position on the matter of giving Elections Canada the power to sort this out quickly and decisively so we do not continue some of the rants that have gone on in the House today and other days.
The robocall and the voter suppression tactics used in the last election seemed to emanate from somewhere within the governing party. We are not entirely certain of all of the details, but rather than helping to dispel these concerns, the government has adopted a strategy, similar to what it has done before on the in and out and others, and that is deny, deny, distract and disguise. That is the game plan.
If only the government would stop stonewalling and start co-operating with those seeking to sort this out, this would not have to continue in the manner that it has today. The deny, deny, distract and disguise strategy, as the Conservatives clam up, has been a bit of a moving target, with answers changing continually to every question they are asked.
Let us talk about what we actually do know. When the government was faced with accusations in Guelph, the government fired a junior staffer, claiming that the 23 year old was a lone, partisan mastermind. He must be a brilliant individual to have done all of that. Then it moved to block the efforts of Elections Canada to compel documentation, and later claimed to know nothing about it. Then, as a distraction, again, it falsely claimed that the Liberal Party paid American firms to suppress our voters. Now that takes the cake for one of the most ridiculous statements I have heard in the almost 13 years I have been in the House.
This absurdity is compounded by the actual fact that earlier this month, five years after the last campaign ended, the Conservatives finally admitted to coordinated and intentional wrongdoing in the 2006 election with their in and out. As a result of its inappropriate actions, the Conservative Party will be forced to repay taxpayers $230,198. Those are facts. We are not inventing it. We are not saying it. They are on the record, and it has just come out. The government is not appealing it. We all remember how Conservatives stood in the House and did the exact same thing, saying it was not true. They denied, distracted and disguised unlawful actions in another way.
It was not until the RCMP and Elections Canada executed a search warrant and raided Conservative Party headquarters that the truth started to leak out on that issue. I find it unbelievable that they would have to do that to a major political party in our country.
In the 2006 election the Conservative Party exceeded its spending limits by over $1.3 million. This illegal activity funnelled money from local campaigns to the national Conservative campaign to sidestep the rules as if to say, “Let's not break them too much. We'll just go around them”, so that no one would catch them. This coordinated and intentional scheme allowed the Conservatives to collect Elections Canada rebates that they did not deserve. Members will remember that we get money for every vote we get.
In November, in a related case before the criminal courts in Ontario, top Conservative officials pleaded guilty to four charges that they had knowingly violated the Canada Elections Act during the 2006 election. They were not members of the NDP or the Liberals, but four Conservatives who pleaded guilty. They were forced to pay the maximum fine possible under the Canada Elections Act. I guess they had not learned enough at that time.
These past actions have been verified by the courts, so forgive me if I have trouble accepting the new Conservative lines.
It is clear that voter suppression techniques were used in the 2011 election, as demonstrated by the firing of a Conservative staffer. So far, more than 30,000 Canadians have contacted Elections Canada with their concerns about the 2011 election.
Where does that leave us today? We have to get to the bottom of this clear affront to our most basic democratic right, the right to vote. This is critically important and something that all Canadians, all of us in the House and throughout Canada, value. People have lost their lives to provide us that right. Therefore, we should not sit back and allow votes to be completely skewed by election tactics.
The governing party has been convicted of illegal electioneering in the past, so it must co-operate with authorities in a way that will reassure Canadians that democracy is alive and well in our precious country. Elections Canada must be given the powers and resources it needs to get to the bottom of this scandal. We cannot wait five years as we did with the in and out scheme so the Conservatives can break more laws.
I suggest an alternative strategy for the Cons. If they are innocent, they should just co-operate. If they are guilty, they should come clean with Canadians.
What is on the table today? Elections Canada wants and needs the power to force political parties to verify their election expenses with detailed records and receipts. This is a very simple power that will help improve accountability for past as well as future elections. It is also a requirement already imposed on private Canadians for tax purposes. Why should the Conservatives or anyone else not have to prove their expenses before getting refund from taxpayers?
The question is this. Why is the government fighting this? If it has nothing to hide, let us put this behind us, move on and give Elections Canada the tools and resources it needs.
There is saying, “The truth shall set you free”. I know the 's personal fondness for songs by the Beatles. During his last public medley, he serenaded the crowd by telling them “he gets by with a little help from his friends”. I would hope he might also take note of another appropriate John Lennon song titled Gimme Some Truth. In case he does not know the lyric, it simply goes like this, “All I want is the truth, Just gimme some truth”.
Mr. Speaker, for the last two weeks, this House has been seized, indeed gripped, with a very important issue. It strikes at the very core of why we are here, the prospect of electoral fraud after a comprehensive, sophisticated, nationwide, organized attempt to prevent Canadians from voting through suppression calls.
Voting is a sacred duty that we try to instill in our children from a very young age. This civic duty and engagement is part of our social contract as a democratic society. Yet sadly, election after election, voter turnouts are stagnant or decreasing as voters become disenchanted, cynical and disengaged. As a result, fewer and fewer Canadians vote. With organized groups attempting to subvert our right to vote, how can we blame them?
One of the last safeguards Canadians have is Elections Canada and the Canada Elections Act, an organization and legislation that distinguish us from, and cause our electoral democracy to be revered by, most other countries. Just weeks ago, before the controversy erupted over voter suppression robocalls, the Conservative government used its majority on committee to deny Elections Canada the additional powers it was requesting to undertake its important work as the elections watchdog. Surprisingly, or not, weeks later Elections Canada would be faced with over 31,000 people calling on it to examine fraudulent and malicious voter suppression calls that went out across the country throughout the election and on election day.
The motion before us today is calling on the government to equip Elections Canada, rightfully, with the tools to ensure that in all future campaigns it will be armed with the ability to investigate even more thoroughly. This would include granting the Chief Electoral Officer the power to directly request all necessary documentation from political parties, to ensure compliance with the Canada Elections Act, and to ensure that call centres and other telecommunications companies involved in the election are registered and that their clients are clearly identified.
On election day, almost a year ago, after knocking on doors and greeting people around the city, my wife and I arrived at my campaign office to find it in a state of chaos. My campaign staff were frantically answering the phone calls of hundreds of Guelphites who received fraudulent robocalls from a person claiming to be from Elections Canada. The caller informed them that, due to high voter turnout, their polling location had changed to the Old Quebec Street Mall. We rushed over as fast as we could with drivers to ensure voters were given the opportunity to get to their proper voting location. There is no telling how late we were for some voters.
I remember very clearly speaking to a young woman and her older father who had received the call. As the Old Quebec Street Mall was out of their way, they had made an effort to come out, only to discover they had been misled. Frustrated, they were turning away to go home when they saw me in the mall. The young woman explained to me that she and her father had stood in line, only to be turned away after getting a call changing their voting station. They were tired and frustrated. She needed to get her father home and they would not be voting in this election. I was saddened as I watched them go, knowing that something, someone or some group of ill-intentioned people had prevented them from voting. I did not know then that it was as pervasive, organized and sophisticated a campaign across Canada as it is now revealing itself to be.
In the weeks following the election, I submitted a list of 80 names we were able to record on election day, with comments and in some cases call display numbers from their phones. These 80 electors had received a robocall from someone purporting to be with Elections Canada misdirecting voters to the wrong polling station. These events were reported in Guelph media but did not break nationally until recently. That is what prompted Canadians from coast to coast to recall the events of that day. We now know that the number which showed up on so many call displays was that now-infamous 450 area code, from a disposable cell phone bought under the name Pierre Poutine, registered to a Separatist Street in Joliette, Quebec but used in Guelph. Of course, this is a ridiculous pseudonym cribbed from a restaurant in Guelph. The phone made two calls to Conservative call centre RackNine, one presumably to set up an account and the other to record and distribute the malicious and fraudulent call which misled voters on election day.
Pierre Poutine was not the only Guelph connection with a relationship to RackNine. A campaign staffer for the Conservative candidate also had an undisclosed commercial relationship with RackNine. This is illegal under the Canada Elections Act.
Days after the story broke, just weeks ago, the Conservative government was all too happy to throw a 23-year-old staffer under the bus. The declared the case closed once this young man had taken the rap. Interestingly, the staffer denied his involvement. He called on the real guilty party to come forward. Of course, we have learned in the past couple of weeks just how far reaching these fraudulent calls were that were made across the country. We know now that this was much too complicated an operation for a lone Conservative partisan in Guelph to execute.
In my riding, voters were misdirected to the Old Quebec Street Mall, while in Saanich--Gulf Islands, British Columbia, voters were misdirected to St. John's United Church. In Sydney, Nova Scotia, the other side of the country, voters were asked to travel 30 kilometres out of their way to vote in New Waterford. This happened in ridings throughout Canada. This required organization with a national scope, significant financial resources and access to a national list of electors who had been identified as Liberals, NDP or Green supporters, or people who would not say how they were voting.
The Conservative Party wants Canadians to believe that this is all an unsubstantiated smear by the opposition. It cannot deny the evidence offered by over 31,000 Canadians who complained about these calls in recent weeks, or the thousands who called their candidates on election day.
Take for instance Arnold Dodds, from Kingston, who reported receiving a phone call soliciting his support for the Conservative Party during the election. He said he was a Conservative supporter, but because Conservatives unnecessarily closed a prison farm he would no longer be voting Conservative. Not surprisingly, he received a phone call on election day misdirecting him to the wrong poll. Similarly, Peggy Walsh Craig was sent to the wrong poll in , just as Raymond Young was in , Cape Breton.
Therein lies the pattern across Canada. The Conservatives may accuse these individuals of unsubstantiated smears, but aside from the denial and allegations clearly betraying their own insecurity, there is no way that so many Canadians are inventing such a malicious electoral fraud. Since opening its investigation in Guelph, Elections Canada has expanded its investigation to include Thunder Bay, Kingston and Nipissing--Timiskaming.
What is clear from the fallout of the scandalous behaviour in the last election is that the Canada Elections Act needs to be retooled to better equip Elections Canada investigators. Politics is now a professional industry of mark