We started out on what looked like a very picky, almost semantic, point with NDP-1 and NDP-2, where there was an amendment that I moved to clean up the definition of “leadership campaign expenses” and “nomination campaign expenses”.
Circulating now is something that I missed. I always knew there was a definition of “monetary contribution”, but I had forgotten that “non-monetary contribution”, which we were stuck on in terms of what it could actually mean, is actually defined in the Canada Elections Act. What's circulating is the definition in subsection 2(1) in French and English; it's in the middle box. The non-monetary contribution language in this amendment would mean exactly the same thing. It means “the commercial value of a service, other than volunteer labour, or of property or of the use of property or money to the extent that they are provided without charge or at less than their commercial value”.
There's a further provision in subsection 2(2) of the Canada Elections Act that says if property is worth $200 or less, it's given nil value. The reason this is important is that the definition already covers the volunteer issue that we were worried about, and the $200 or less covers the apple pie, cherry pie....
Voices: Oh, oh!
Mr. Craig Scott: Maybe not in your riding, where maybe some of these go for $300 or $400 a pop, but at least where I'm from, a cherry pie is about $100. Okay?
Without belabouring it anymore, I think we have a clear legal reference point for what “non-monetary contribution” means. I'd like to ask the folks from the Privy Council whether or not that would be how they would read the language too.
An hon. member: [Inaudible--Editor]
Mr. Scott Simms: All right.
The Chair: Let's have the discussion while that happens as if it's happened.
Is there further discussion on NDP-1?
Seeing none, let's call the question on the amendment to the amendment that would remove the word “any”.
(Subamendment negatived [See Minutes of Proceedings])
The Chair: It appears that we like the word “any”.
We will now move to the motion as written.
An hon. member: Could we have a recorded vote?
The Chair: Let's do that.
(Amendment negatived: nays 5; yeas 4 [See Minutes of Proceedings])
The Chair: As we know, a number of them were attached to it, or similar, or parts of the same conversation, so they all have now been defeated.
Chair, I just need to underscore my colleague's point. A big part of why there's so much commotion over this bill has been the lack of consultation with the obvious people.
It just can't be stated enough—because it's so hard to believe—but there was no consultation with the Chief Electoral Officer, no consultation with the elections commissioner, and no consultation with the Director of Public Prosecutions, all of whose areas are having major changes. It's just unfathomable. Students reading the history books are going to be saying, “Really? This is a joke, right? This is some kind of test by the teacher to see if we're paying any attention, because what government in its right mind, really, would think about changing the election laws as significantly as this government is, without even talking to the Chief Electoral Officer?”
It's crazy. It's just so crazy. This is a shame. I agree totally with Mr. Simms' approach to this, that it really is a shame that in a modern democracy like Canada's we would actually have to put in a clause that guarantees us Canadians that our minister of the day responsible for the election laws would actually set up a meeting and consult the Chief Electoral Officer before making any changes. It really is a shame.
It is a low mark for the government when the opposition feels that this is so important but it can be overlooked by a majority government. It certainly didn't do this kind of thing when it was in minority, I'll tell you, but in majority, the government would bring in these changes, and yet we have to put that in here.
It's almost as though the minister should get up in the morning, have a coffee, get showered—no Chair, I can speak for as long as I like—and then—I have the floor, sir—he's going to eat, and then we should remind him—I do—
I think Mr. Christopherson has just demonstrated quite aptly why we shouldn't allow television cameras into meetings like this at the House of Commons.
Mr. David Christopherson: You feel that way about all committees.
Voices: Oh, oh!
Mr. Tom Lukiwski: Look. The one thing I do agree with in what Scott was saying is that this should be a convention and certainly shouldn't be something that is ensconced in this.
Despite the protestations of my learned colleagues opposite, there was an awful lot of research and information sought by the minister before bringing forward the bill. Whether it would be through Monsieur Mayrand's appearances, previous appearances at this committee, recommendations he's made, the numerous reports that they had presented, including the Neufeld report, plus conversations.... Even though Monsieur Mayrand did not consider that to be consultations, he will admit that there were conversations. He did not consider them to be consultations, but he did say that they had conversations.
The minister gleaned from all of those elements the information that he thought was sufficient to present a bill. Now, clearly we have heard testimony and we have offered recommendations for change vis-à-vis amendments, which proves obviously that the government and the minister himself were listening.
To try to ensconce in legislation a requirement that any minister on any bill must be required to do this, this, or this before presenting legislation is simply not on. It should never be that way. Therefore, just based on that principle, we'll be opposing this.
I think it's important to take a step back. We can have a very spirited debate on whether this minister did or didn't engage in consultations. To me it's absolutely clear as day that he largely didn't, outside of a very narrow circle, and that, at a minimum, if there were consultations, they certainly didn't produce a sense of what was needed, given the fact that there has been so much reflective and reasoned resistance to much of the bill as we saw in the evidence period.
We had 72 witnesses, 69 or 70 of whom found problems with much of the bill or with specific parts. The convention, which is actually in the Elections Act context, is that the government, through the minister, would actively consult with opposition parties and any interested MPs, particularly, I guess, independents. I think that would probably pass the test if it were ever looked at judicially as a convention, even it couldn't be enforced. That was in no way respected here.
I would like to move an amendment that would keep the spirit of this but that would say that Bill in clause 5 be amended by replacing the first two lines in amendment PV-13— I'm not quite sure if that's the way to go—but where it says, “The minister shall engage in extensive consultations with the Chief Electoral Officer”, it would now say, “The minister shall engage in good faith consultations with the Chief Electoral Officer, opposition parties in the House of Commons, and independent MPs with respect to any proposed amendments to the act”. It continues in the last two lines.
I'm not sure if that's a friendly amendment.
That's why I get up every day.
First off, it was interesting to hear from the government that we don't need to put this in legislation because we have a long-standing convention, but the long-standing convention still didn't make them consult.
What kind of an answer is that? I mean, if you could point to the fact that there was a convention and it was being honoured and respected by the government, fair enough, but they didn't. That's why the amendment is there, and that's why we feel foolish actually having to debate this simple straightforward thing. This argument that we don't need it because there's convention doesn't wash because the convention doesn't work. That's why the amendment is here.
By the way, it looks like they're working up a head of steam to vote against it, so they're quite comfortable with it. The government needs to take note of what they are saying is okay in a Canadian democracy. Keep in mind the kind of precedent they're setting and how dangerous it is.
It's also interesting that one of the government members said he was pleased that the minister didn't share his recommendations with the Chief Electoral Officer. I have to say I found that to be a rather bizarre point of view. It's one that the member is entitled to take, but it's entirely bizarre in my opinion. That is what they should be doing, talking about the business at hand. One is the minister of the day and the other one is an officer of Parliament. They should be talking, and they should be talking about improving things.
To say that the conversation should not include talking about the recommendations is a bit difficult when the minister himself is the one who tried to stand up and spin that his meet and greet was consultation. I believe if you check the record he used the word “consultation”.
We have a government member saying it would be inappropriate for the minister to actually consult with the Chief Electoral Officer on any proposals, any discussions, that didn't happen right here and here only and therefore that consultation ought not take place. Yet we have the minister defending the fact that his original meet and greet and how-de-do meeting was actually consultation. Which is it? Was that meeting the total sum of consultation? That's the answer the minister gives. When we say, “You didn't consult”, the minister says, “Yes, I did. I had this one-hour meet and greet. That was my consultation.”
Yet the government members are now making the argument tonight that there shouldn't be such...and that they were glad that those discussions didn't take place.
So which is it? Did they take place and were they real consultations, or were they not? The government is on both sides of this one, again.
The last thing I want to mention, Chair, is that I can't believe the lead on the government side had the audacity, when we talk about lack of consultation, to refer to the Neufeld report. That has been used to beat them up more badly than they have ever had anything out of it. They started using it selectively, and the author said that they were misusing his quotes. For the government to point to that as their best form of consultation, along with discussions with the minister that maybe happened or didn't happen, that certainly wasn't any form of consultation by any definition that we're using here.
In summary, Chair, it's unfortunate that we have to do this. I can't believe the government is actually going to acknowledge that the convention doesn't work—because they did it—and they're going to vote against the amendment that would ensure that this could never happen again. That's where we are.
Thanks, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Simms, you're okay? Good.
We'll vote on amendment G-3.
(Amendment agreed to [See Minutes of Proceedings])
The Chair: It looks like that passes. Let's make them all like that.
(On clause 6)
An hon. member: Can we have a recorded vote?
The Chair: We'll have a recorded vote on clause 6.
(Clause 6 agreed to [See Minutes of Proceedings])
(On clause 7)
The Chair: We're now on NDP-8, which is to delete clause 7.
We're suggesting that in terms of this amendment, you'd be better off voting against clause 7 than trying to entertain an amendment that deletes clause 7.
Let me do that then. What's being called amendment NDP-7.2 I'd like to move, and it's with the chair. It's very short and I'll read it. The amendment would add a subclause to section 18, which now has three subsections. It would add proposed subsection (4), which says:
||(4) For greater certainty, the Chief Electoral Officer may communicate with Parliament or the public on any matter that she or he considers to be relevant to her or his mandate using any media or other means that she or he considers appropriate.
I'm hoping that in doing it this way we can get early agreement on something that was of great concern to the Chief Electoral Officer. It's only one of the many concerns with respect to section 18. The way clause 7 dealing with section 18 is currently written—it's important to know this in order to know why this amendment is needed—proposed section 18 is written in the way that says:
|| 18(1) The Chief Electoral Officer may provide the public, both inside and outside Canada, with information on the following topics only:
“May only” ends up creating the danger that this can be interpreted and indeed ultimately may be enforced in the courts as prohibiting the Chief Electoral Officer from communicating with the public, providing the public with information outside of that closed list.
As such, the Chief Electoral Officer presented his concerns about that.
The minister said on Friday—and he said this before—that there's nothing in the original section 18, even before the government amendments that we're going to see, that's intended to prohibit the Chief Electoral Officer from speaking, communicating publicly as he sees fit. In fact, the minister on Friday said that in terms of the Chief Electoral Officer's ability to speak publicly, he can say ”anything he wants”. In light of the concern, and indeed in light of even how the amendment about to be proposed by the government goes, I just want to have the clarity that what the minister said on Friday is exactly what everybody understands. That's why I'm framing it. It's for greater certainty.
Let me read it again because in the end we are circulating it.
Sorry, but I wrote the document just before the meeting. So I didn't have time to have it translated.
Again, it reads:
||(4) For greater certainty, the Chief Electoral Officer may communicate with Parliament or the public on any matter that she or he considers to be relevant to her or his mandate using any media or other means that she or he considers appropriate.
I am hoping this is completely non-controversial. Given what the minister said quite early on whenever he reacted to the Chief Electoral Officer's concerns that he would be muzzled by saying, no, that's not the intention, that's not the effect, the minister has confirmed that in the statement on Friday that I just read to you, and so therefore, I simply want, for the sake of the institution and the sake of clarity, to have this “for greater certainty” clause.
Mr. Chair, I agree with my colleague Mr. Scott. The minister's original intention was to handcuff the Chief Electoral Officer in terms of who he could talk to and what sorts of things he could talk about. The minister, in responding to some of the public backlash to this bill, identified this as an area in which he was going to make improvements so his terrific bill could be even more terrific.
The minister said in public that in terms of the CEO's ability to speak publicly he can “say whatever he wants”. Those are the minister's words. The minister's word is supposed to mean something. Ministers have lost their ministerial positions because they've misled. The amendment before us would make the bill consistent with the public commitment of the minister. Again, the minister said that in terms of the CEO's ability to speak publicly, he can “say whatever he wants”.
The amendment states:
||For greater certainty, the Chief Electoral Officer may communicate publicly on whatever subject she or he considers appropriate.
Now, I notice that the government is not yet on the speakers list, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Tom Lukiwski: I'm on there now.
Mr. Christopherson: Good. That's what I want to hear.
There should be a great, “We agree with you. That's a great idea, and we certainly want to honour the minister's commitment, so we can't wait to vote in favour of this”, but I will hold judgment until I hear what the member has to say.
Thank you, Chair.
Put me back on the list.
As I was saying just a few moments ago, the purpose of amendment G-4 is to clarify that the Chief Electoral Officer may implement public education and information programs to make the electoral process better known to students at the primary and secondary levels. There are quite a number of intervenors who mentioned that they had some concerns with the bill before we introduced this amendment, because it would prevent that type of cooperation between the Chief Electoral Officer and Elections Canada and student organizations. This clarifies that. This is in response to things such as Student Vote, civics. It gives certainty that the Chief Electoral Officer may continue with the same public education and information programs that he had been engaged in during previous years.
Also, and this just deals with the advertising, we still contend that the focus of Elections Canada advertising should be on the where, when, and how to vote. We have consistently seen and heard evidence that the voter turnout across Canada, and most alarmingly among young people, has been declining steadily over the last number of elections, all the time that Elections Canada was advertising why a person should actually get out and exercise their franchise, why they should get out and vote.
My purpose, as I've stated many times when we listened to our intervenors, was that in effect, if the advertising was focused on telling electors where to vote, when to vote, and how to vote, and what kind of identification is required, that would be the salient information that prospective voters need. Survey after survey has indicated that many times the reasons people didn't vote is they didn't have that basic information. The added benefit is that by merely advertising the basics, you are in effect promoting voter turnout because you're constantly telling people there's an election coming up, and here's what they need to know in order to cast their ballot.
We have in this country an excellent system, both within our schools and our political parties, within society as a whole, of engaging Canadians as to the rights and privileges of voting and why it is important to get out and vote. We do not think it is necessary for Elections Canada to continue spending advertising dollars on that focus when, in fact, they should be focusing their efforts on convincing people and telling them the information they need to get out and cast a ballot. That's what this clause does.
So we add:
||(1.1) For greater certainty, subsection (1) does not prevent the Chief Electoral Officer from transmitting or causing to be transmitted advertising messages for any other purpose relating to his or her mandate.
We're saying the focus should be on the where, when, and how, but it does not cause any difficulty for the Chief Electoral Officer or his staff in transmitting any other advertising messages relating to his mandate. It opens it up. It does not prevent the Chief Electoral Officer from speaking to the public. This simply talks about advertising campaigns relating to student votes, and what the focus of Elections Canada should be with respect to formal advertising.
There's nothing in this bill that says the Chief Electoral Officer cannot speak to the general public. The minister made that quite clear in his comments, which were quoted extensively by my friends opposite last Friday.
Amendment G-4 clarifies, to the government's satisfaction at least, what the focus of advertising campaigns should be on behalf of Elections Canada. It certainly includes the very important provisions with respect to public education, student votes, and student involvement.
Mr. Lukiwski, some time ago I had the honour of joining the Governor General when he went to China and Mongolia. In both of those countries, there are many reasons they love our country. One of the reasons is Elections Canada. It isn't so much the size of Elections Canada, or how they are able to conduct elections in a country this size; it simply is the independence. Every young democracy, and this country, praises us for its independence.
In the testimony we received here, time and time again witnesses praised the civics program, which you're doing as well, but each witness never said that the prescription to this bill was not to save this program; the prescription was to save the independence of the office, to allow it to invest in a program like civics. It gives them that freedom to do that.
What you have done here in your amendment is not something to give them freedom. You've cherry-picked something that you think you like, which is a good program. But by saying, “We'll give you independence,” in other words, choose a card from this deck of cards, the problem is that the deck only has one card. You're being way too prescriptive in the independence that you want to give.
Despite the fact that you keep focusing on the method of which voting...which is noble, which is what they want to do, but let these people decide how it is they will make democracy more effective.
In this particular amendment, at the end you say the following:
|| (1.1) For greater certainty, subsection (1) does not prevent the Chief Electoral Officer from transmitting or causing to be transmitted advertising messages for any other purpose relating to his or her mandate.
Well, the mandate was set by you, not by them. That's where the problem lies in all of this.
I don't accept this for several reasons. I think what you have done is you have curbed the independence and are pretending, and you're doing this by cherry-picking particular positives in this group.
My comments are also a question, and I hope someone on the other side is willing to answer it.
I would like to know why, on the topic of public education and information programs, the amendment specifies, “to students at the primary and secondary levels”. Why include such a small and restrictive specification?
I don't think anyone listened to my question. So I don't think I will obtain an answer to it.
Is there a reason for this?
A voice: No, no.
Ms. Alexandrine Latendresse: Okay.
I think this is a problem. We were told that many other groups were benefiting from those public education programs, such as aboriginals or university and college students. The programs can also be used to encourage young people who are not in school to vote. Elections Canada could target many people in the past. Programs were in place to try to encourage them to participate in elections.
I am wondering whether such a provision, which clearly specifies that the programs are intended for students at the primary and secondary levels, will mean that the Chief Electoral Officer will no longer be able to develop a new program targeting other groups. That's my question. I am very curious to know what the reason is.
This is not going in the order I wanted it to go. We need to get some clarity on what these changes mean before turning to what was my previous amendment with “for greater certainty”, which I still worry is necessary, but maybe not to the same extent as under the previous wording.
We're looking at all of amendment G-4, not just the subsections, right?
The Chair: It's all of amendment G-4.
Mr. Craig Scott: The first thing is, you should all know that current subsection 18(1) reads:
||The Chief Electoral Officer may implement public education and information programs to make the electoral process better known to the public, particularly to those persons and groups most likely to experience difficulties in exercising their democratic rights.
The current law allows Elections Canada, through the Chief Electoral Officer, or vice versa, to engage in public education outreach information programs across the board with there being this kind of purpose of gloss that is for those most disadvantaged or most likely to need this kind of education.
The government has essentially taken that exact idea, struck out the clause on all “those persons and groups most likely to experience difficulties”, and substituted “students at the primary and secondary levels”.
Just as my colleague Mr. Simms said, the government has indeed cherry-picked. After all of the days of hearings that we had with 70-plus witnesses, they were not.... In no way was there an outpouring of people saying that all they wanted kept is civics and Student Vote or like programs. There is all kinds of information about how Elections Canada engages in public education outreach to groups, Canadians in general, and how it should have every right—and this is Scott's point, I know—to expand as it makes sense.
We had testimony from the president of the Ethiopian Association in Toronto, and I honestly think his testimony could stand in for many new immigrant groups. He talked about how new Canadians in particular benefit from information programs of this public education sort that aren't limited to the who, what, and where list that's in the government's bill. He gave really good reasons why a lot of new Canadians benefit in particular from this kind of public education, including coming from systems and contexts where the very idea of an efficacious vote, the very idea of voting as a civic virtue and a responsibility is something that's laughed at as opposed to being part of one's life.
The kinds of work that we know through Mr. Kingsley and then Mr. Mayrand, the kinds of outreach public education work that would have fallen within this provision that exists now with respect to aboriginal Canadians and aboriginal reserve communities are no longer permitted by this because the list is a list of one: students at primary and secondary levels.
Also university students, we know, apart from those in school.... University level is where it can all end. If first-time university or college students have the vote and don't vote, then do that one more time, we've almost lost them for good as voters. Public education and information programs to make the electoral process better known to all those parts of the public have not been reinstated in the government's amendment. It is extremely important to keep that in mind.
Quite obviously, we have amendments coming up that attempt to broaden this to the general provision that we had before, but please, everybody listening here or outside, do not think that this is simply implementing either what we heard in committee or reflecting what the current law is. It isn't. It's coming back to a very truncated slice, however important, of the public who can benefit from public education.
The next thing is the current clause, before Mr. Lukiwski's G-4 amendment, starts out very worryingly. That's why we got into this discussion about what might be precluded. The current provision says that the Chief Electoral Officer may provide the public “with information on the following topics only”.
To provide information is a very general provision. The word “only” is very limiting. It gave rise to the concerns by the Chief Electoral Officer that his generally speaking out might be an issue, but he also said that wording caused him concern with respect to a severe limit on the ability of the Chief Electoral Officer to communicate with the public. He mentioned that it could include publication of research in areas that aren't in that list, online recruitment of election officers, publication of reports that aren't specifically mandated to Parliament, issuing news releases, a press conference, whatever.
The word “advertising” never appeared in this until.... The minister kept talking about how this is only about advertising, and the wording didn't reflect that.
Now we have Mr. Lukiwski's amendment saying this is only about advertising, and on the side he's saying, as I believe I'm hearing, that it can't therefore have the same effect that the Chief Electoral Officer worried about in the past. It can't have a muzzling effect because it doesn't occupy the space in the same way: it's not so general; it's only about advertising. I'd like to say that's a much more comforting argument. I'd still want to be fighting for a “for greater certainty” clause, given how all this started, but it seems much more plausible than it did under the old wording.
That said, I'm really confused by the “for greater certainty” clause, and I'm wondering if I can ask the folks from the Privy Council to help me. Just so that everybody knows, what this provision now says is:
||The Chief Electoral Officer may transmit or cause to be transmitted advertising messages, both inside and outside Canada, to inform electors about the exercise of their democratic rights.
That's a general category or idea. It goes on to say:
||Such advertising messages shall only address
Then it's the same list, the targeted list idea.
The “for greater certainty” clause then says that the subsection I just read doesn't prevent the Chief Electoral Officer from transmitting or causing to be transmitted advertising messages for any other purpose relating to his or her mandate.
On first blush, when I read the savings clause, I thought what's the point, because the first part says you can only do this, and the second part says you can do any other advertising you want. That clearly seems to be a conflict. I'm wondering if that is because the chapeau, proposed subsection 18(1), refers to informing electors about the exercise of their democratic rights.
What the savings clause refers to is anything other than that. Is that correct?
What's important to know here is that the government hasn't gone back to any general right for the Chief Electoral Officer to communicate by any means, including advertising, to encourage people to vote. It's about the mechanisms of voting. As long as people listening don't think that this “for greater certainty” clause has miraculously come in and allowed the Chief Electoral Officer to start doing what he did before, it won't, so that's clear.
That's something I really regret, because I thought on this clause this is where we were going to get a real coming together of the minister's perspective and civil society's and the opposition's perspective.
I said from the beginning, from the very first day, March 10—I think it was March 10 when the minister was here—can't we have these two things sitting side by side? Can't we have the old section 18 with the general mandate and the new section 18 with this very specific focus sitting side by side?
Unfortunately, the choice still has been made not to do that, with the limited exception of students in schools for a program and a general idea that you can advertise, but you can't do it on something called the exercise of democratic rights. Good luck to the courts figuring out that line on purposes.
Those are my real concerns.
I would ask the Privy Council guests one other question. This is definitely for the record. If a court ever were to look, I would hope that it would look at your answer.
In your view, is what Mr. Lukiwski said accurate in the sense of exactly the way the minister also said nothing in this affects the right of the Chief Electoral Officer to communicate about anything else? He can produce research and publish it. He can have press conferences. He can have news releases. Nothing in this will affect that. Is that correct?
Right, and that was one of the squeaky wheels. Good on them for being able to make that case, enough so that we have what's in front of us here, but it doesn't go anywhere near far enough, certainly not by the standard that the minister set out in what he said.
I'd like, Chair, for the record—and no, this is not the beginning of a redux—to note that the Native Women's Association of Canada came before us, and I want to very briefly quote their comments that relate directly to this:
||I also want to talk quickly about NWAC's working with Elections Canada. Basically the changes we see happening to the current section 18 of the Canada Elections Act, which provides a broad mandate for Elections Canada with respect to public information and engaging with electors, would limit the ability of the Chief Electoral Officer to communicate with electors to provide information through unsolicited calls. We had hoped in the future to deliver the guidebook we're developing for aboriginal women and girls about voting and to [do] work with our provincial and territorial member associations in a way that could be described as similar to this. This would prevent us from doing that work.
I haven't seen anything here that says they would now be able to re-engage with that.
Next is Mr. Jean-Pierre Kingsley, former chief electoral officer, who came here as an individual. He said:
||The Chief Electoral Officer must retain the authority to reach out to all Canadians, to speak to them about our electoral democracy, the importance of our constitutional right to vote, and the methods and the values at the core of our electoral system. He speaks without regard to partisanship. Candidates and parties do so typically in a partisan manner with the legitimate purpose of obtaining their vote, which is not a problem.
He also said:
|| The Chief Electoral Officer must be able to sustain important endeavours by academia such as the Canada election study, and by NGOs such as Student Vote and Apathy is Boring.
If I might parenthetically say so, Chair, the Student Vote one, to the best of my knowledge, would be captured by proposed section 17.1, but on the comments from Apathy is Boring and the concerns they've raised, they would still be shut out from having educational partnerships with the Chief Electoral Officer, which they now do.
To continue, he also said:
||In total disclosure, I chair the latter's advisory council. We have a major problem of participation in our elections. Less than 40% of young people between 18 and 24 actually vote in this country right now.
Again, if I may stop and just point this out, this bill, the amendment to the bill, the prying open of the ability of the Chief Electoral Officer to communicate with Canadians, would still not deal with young people between 18 and 24 years, except those who are still in high school.
To continue, he said:
||The Chief Electoral Officer must retain the authority to provide the information requested by the media, and to share any information he deems pertinent with Canadians at any time. His overarching concern is the integrity of our electoral system. Any concern by a political party can be raised at the proposed advisory committee of political parties for consultation. It can also be raised at this very committee at any time.
||Let me be clear. Absent the rescinding—
Note, Chair, that he didn't say “amend”. He said:
||Let me be clear. Absent the rescinding of the proposed section 18 in Bill C-23, Canadians will lose their trust and their confidence in our elections. That is not acceptable.
The government has not respected those views. They're not reflected in this amendment. Once again, the government is trying a little shell game. They're trying to leave the impression that they've understood how wrong...although it's hard to believe they made a mistake since the bill was so terrific. They've acknowledged that it's wrong. But this doesn't do the trick. It's a very small part, very, very small.
Last on this page—
The Chair: Mr. Christopherson—
Mr. David Christopherson: I said on this page. You have to listen.
The Chair: How many pages might there be?
Mr. David Christopherson: There are sufficient, but no more.
I want to also reference a letter signed by 160 Canadian academics, and in it they said this:
||Bizarrely, the Bill forbids Elections Canada from promoting democratic participation and voting through “get out the vote” campaigns.... This gag on Elections Canada would make Canada an outlier among liberal democracies, instead of the global leader it is now.
If I might, Mr. Chair, I have one more item, and then I will have finished.
During the course of hearing our witnesses, colleagues will recall that this card was handed out. Some of you will recall it. It was a card that was given out actually during the Quebec election. Just to try to jog memories, this card, put out by a number of partners, says:
||Top 5 reasons to vote in the Quebec election:
|1. Your vote is your voice. Use it. Loud and strong.
|2. 98 371 Aboriginal people live in Quebec - our numbers add up on ballots.
They go through the list, ending with the fifth point:
||5. Aboriginal youth voter turnout is only 50% of the Canadian average. Our voice should be much louder.
That was this card. We were all quite impressed with it. In fact, I just happen to have the Hansard from that day, and it's interesting. My colleague Mr. Reid said:
||But I really wanted to ask you about this card you handed out. This is really good. I followed, as everybody did, the Quebec election. I had not seen this until today....
||On the other hand, I look at what you have here—and I gather this was done with the CEO's cooperation? It was a joint effort?
The answer was, “Yes”.
Mr. Reid went on to say:
||I can't determine what accuracy this has, but I'm really impressed. I wonder if you could tell us more about this effort, which, as far as I know, is not being replicated at the federal level and perhaps should be.
Mr. Cormier answered:
||So my goal, eventually, is to get this out.
He meant the card.
||Obviously for the federal elections in 2015, we're going to go big. We've shown that it actually works really well. What's interesting with this particular version is that it was done in cooperation with the National Association of Friendship Centres, and it was targeted to aboriginal youth in Quebec, who are known to have a very low voter turnout.
I offer to government members to say I'm wrong, but to the best of my knowledge, this couldn't be done, because this would have the CEO involved in education and information programs in partnership with a group that is not targeting primary school and secondary school.
Having said all that, Chair, is Mr. Lukiwski on the list? Are you going to speak, Tom? We have lots of time.
I only ask because I did pose a scenario and said if I have this wrong about this card, I'd like to hear that from the government, but that's not going to happen if they're not going to speak, which means the answer is no, and it means that I'm right that this program couldn't be done at the federal level because proposed section 17.1 would limit the Chief Electoral Officer to implementing public education information programs to make the electoral process better known to students at the primary and secondary levels.
I already asked the experts whether or not under this bill all the things the CEO is currently doing he couldn't do except this, and they said yes. So I'm pointing to this information program that we were all so impressed with, particularly the government members, who thought it was a terrific idea, to use their favourite word, and yet, the amendment made would deny the Chief Electoral Officer partnership in this program.
Again, the shakes his head and says no, and if I'm factually wrong, I expect to be set right. I would never try to make a debate on something that's not what I believe to be factual or correct. I'm still not hearing that they're going to take the floor and correct it or say, “Give us a chance, Dave, and we'll show how wrong you are”. So I have to assume that the fact is that under the existing legislation this partnership can happen. The government members, as well as the opposition members, said it was a good outreach tool to encourage people to vote, in this case, aboriginal people.
Government, through the minister said, “We're going to let the CEO talk to anybody, say anything he wants, totally unencumbered.”
When we look at 17.1, this can't be done under the amendment, so either the government now starts reflecting, in amendments and votes, the word of their minister, or Canadians need to know that the muzzling of the CEO, except for a tiny itsy-bitsy little crack in the door, is still shut down, and that all the quotes that I read in the beginning about the damage to our democracy and the damage to the ability of Canadians to be encouraged to vote are all accurate, and the damage is there and this amendment does not fix it at all.
Thank you, Chair.
This issue goes back to a frustration that I've had with the administration of the advertising budget of Elections Canada for some length of time, that is, it put a tremendous effort into telling us why we should vote, why our voice is important, and so on, but inadequate attention, and indeed in some cases it seems to me no attention, on the practicalities of how to get out and vote.
As I pointed out numerous times in the course of the hearings, the survey done by the CEO post the last election as to why youth had not voted indicated that when they divided youth up into five subgroups, they found that three of those five subgroups weren't voting in large measure because they didn't know where to vote. In many cases it was because they didn't have voter information cards, which indicates that the CEO had not managed to locate them.
This may not be a specific youth problem. I suspect that it relates simply to people whose addresses had changed recently. The point is that people whose addresses have changed recently are the most likely not to be on the list, as indicated by the fact that they aren't getting a voter information card, so how to get a voter information card, how to get on the list of voters, how to become a candidate, how to vote when you are disabled.... As we saw from our witnesses, there are numerous forms of disabilities. Someone who is visually impaired does not suffer from the same problems of access to voting—the same in principle perhaps, but not in practice—as someone who suffers from a mobility issue.
The CEO has, in my view, paid inadequate attention on this very important issue, so fewer people have voted than ought to have been voting in these categories because they didn't know where to turn and how to find out that information. It seems to me that the CEO ought to devote more energy to this task, but it is really hard to design legislation to ensure that an officer of Parliament will actually do something proactively, so the whole effort in section 18, the changes to section 18 that are reflected in this section of the fair elections act, are designed to push the CEO in the direction of doing this kind of advertising. That is the entire purpose of it.
He took a view that he wouldn't be allowed to do certain other things. A number of the witnesses indicated their own fear that this would make it impossible for youth to vote and that kind of thing designed to start the process of educating young people about their right to vote. That particular problem is now being corrected as well. He made it very clear that the restrictions relate to advertising and advertising only, which is the point that Professor Scott clarified with the folks from the Privy Council Office.
That's the point. Advertising really should be about how to exercise your franchise in a country where people who are marginalized, that 15% of the population who don't have a driver's licence, or the people who have just moved, the people who are students or aboriginal or homeless or seniors, or those who care for them and want to ensure their right is exercised.... They were being neglected. They were being unjustly neglected. Hopefully, as a result of this legislation they won't be. I think that is a cause to celebrate, quite frankly.
Now I can come back to the issue with section 17.1.
I understand that the government continues to come back to the example of the survey conducted by Elections Canada, according to which one of the main reasons young people did not vote was a lack of information.
Committee members have heard testimony on that topic. Most youth group representatives told us the following. Many young people say they did not vote because they did not know where to go, but they may also have been somewhat ashamed because they had no legitimate reason. They simply didn't feel like voting that day or they weren't too sure of what was happening. It is easier to say they didn't know where to go then to provide justification or explain that they are not very interested in politics, that they are not very familiar with the issues, or something like that. All youth group representatives told us that we should not put too much stock in those answers because people did not always give the real reason.
It's possible to tell Elections Canada to focus on that issue without preventing the agency from developing other participation programs. I don't understand why the government continues to see those measures as completely incompatible. It's as if an absolute choice had to be made between that measure and a free for all, where nothing would happen. I don't understand why we cannot simply have both. It seems to me we could specify what we want the focus to be on without having to prevent Elections Canada from talking about other considerations.
I would really like to know how public education and information programs aimed at groups other than students at the primary and secondary levels will be able to exist.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I think the bottom line here is, this is a provision that is now better than the proposed section 18 that was tabled in the bill, but it still has the major limitations that we've been setting out. It's deeply, deeply disappointing and disturbing, including to go back to my colleague Scott Simms' image of cherry-picking.
What rationale, other than some soft spot for civic education, is there for restoring public education and information programs only to one sector? If you look at groups like aboriginal people in our society, new Canadians, university students, there's an indirect, an implicit kind of backing away from the same education that's valued for students. If it's valued for students, why isn't it valued for those groups? And if it's valued for students because one hopes it's going to lead to their being engaged, active, voting citizens, then is the inverse that...? Whether the hope is there, I'm not going to say, but the effect has to be that we don't care that the other groups are not going to be subject to the same encouragement and therefore may be less inclined to vote. So let's just call that indirect, maybe not intended, but unfortunate and clear in its effects, voter suppression. That's what it is. That's how it ends up.
Tom, that's how it ends up. When you ratchet back what already existed, when you ratchet back all the programs and the ability to run these programs that already exist and you only select one group, and by selecting the one group, you say that this is a valuable thing to do to encourage them to vote, but everybody else is now cut out. You don't worry. I'm saying in the effect that's what it does.
Just so everybody's clear, because it took a little bit of back and forth, the advertising thing now means that the distinction is between the exercise of democratic rights, and then there's the list, a limited list, and any other purpose can still be advertised for as long as it's different from the exercise of democratic rights. That's an unfortunate distinction in terms of potentially narrowing the Chief Electoral Officer's ability to advertise as it makes sense to him, and so that's also a limitation.
That said, when we do come to vote on this, I'll be voting for it, because as an amendment, it's better than proposed section 18 was, but I'm very disappointed.
First of all, on the question of whether or not it's suppression, the argument from the government doesn't wash. Currently he can talk to anybody about everything. They were shutting that down. Based on public backlash, the government opened it up a bit and said, “Yes, you know what, there would be a benefit to doing that with primary students and secondary students”, but they're not extending that to everybody else that there were programs with.
It's my understanding—I haven't yet heard a government member say that I'm wrong—that this card in its current format could not be done in partnership with the Chief Electoral Officer under the new law even as amended, even though it could originally.
Since the people who were in partnership with this said that it helped increase the turnout, it's a fair argument to say that if you remove it, the converse is true, and fewer people will vote. That is voter suppression.
Mr. Chair, I was beginning to think you were ignoring me.
Quite frankly, I come to this with generally the same themes, of course. What we're proposing here, paragraphs (g) and (h), if you'll notice, it's “Canada's electoral process”, and “the content of public education and information programs to make the electoral process better known to the public”.
These are all themes that we've touched on before, and quite eloquently in many cases, I might add.
The first one, though, is “possible or actual electoral irregularities”. One of the things that was brought about in discussions and through debate and testimony was some of the things that went awry. These were things that raised suspicion to the general public. It would be great if Elections Canada could communicate how they're dealing with that, why it happened, and how Canadians can avoid this in the future. The constant talk was about voting irregularities. People may have been disenfranchised, for example, and as a result of all of that, people are wondering.
For instance, I mentioned today in the media about voter identification cards. Well, they're causing irregularities apparently, according to the government, to the point where it would be great if the Chief Electoral Officer could address this with the public. Right now they're shackled in a way that they can't. That's the one exception I'm looking at that should come up, and it would be nice if the Chief Electoral Officer could communicate this.
I hope that this amendment will be in addition to what they proposed through G-4.
As we know, the current version of Bill lists specific measures as the only measures that the Chief Electoral Officer may communicate directly with the public about. It says ''with information on the following topics only''.
My amendment offers a new paragraph 18(1)(f) to extend that new subsection 18(1). It would now be paragraphs (a) to (f), and the (f) would make it, as previous motions from other parties have attempted to do, that the Chief Electoral Officer may also provide the public, both inside and outside of Canada, with:
||any other information that the Chief Electoral Officer considers necessary for increasing the participation, in the election and in the political process generally, of any segments of the Canadian public that have been historically underrepresented.
Again, looking over Preston Manning's testimony and that of many other groups, whether indigenous groups, low-income groups, it is strongly supported across Canadian society that the Chief Electoral Officer should have this catchphrase at the end of this list of things that he is specifically entitled to use for educational purposes for those groups that are historically under-represented in the political process.
It doesn't do any significant damage to Bill in terms of structure. I hope the Conservatives opposite will give it a fair consideration because it would certainly, I think—I can't speak for the official opposition or any other party, obviously—just make the overall reception of this act....
I do want to say on the record that I'm pleased with the government amendments. It's great to have the voices of so many critics and the public in general heard on this matter. It's important for Canadians to know that when they raised their voices and organized demonstrations and did all kinds of things to get the attention of the , they were heard.
They were heard, and the door opened a crack. Let's open it all the way.
This may be a point of contention to a great degree, and I may be mistaken here, but I think Ms. May does bring up a very good aspect in regard to those who are historically under-represented in this process.
My riding had the second lowest turnout of all ridings across the country in the last election.
An hon. member: It's not your fault.
Mr. Scott Simms: Thanks for that.
The worst was northern Alberta, up in Fort McMurray.
It was a 44% turnout. One of the reasons for that is we have a lot of people who work abroad. It is a transient community. I suspect by having this here.... I would like to see the CEO be able to reach out to people who are in a circumstance like this, whether they are as listed by Ms. May, or transient workers, people who work all over the world. For example, they can go to the office of the returning officer to vote at any point. A lot of them don't know that.
I understand they want to talk about their exclusive to how and when they want to vote, but I'm really worried about citizen engagement, because you have to reach out to a portion of the population that is under-represented, which takes a little bit of imagination. Unfortunately, they're being too prescriptive, to the point where I don't think they can do that outreach.
I hope I've done some justice to what Ms. May is saying. I think she has a valid point.
I listened carefully to my colleagues' comments on section 18. The government responded to concerns and even criticisms raised about this provision by moving amendments. The government put a great deal of emphasis on advertisement, but there is still some work to be done here.
That's why my colleagues and I put forward much more substantial amendments that help the Chief Electoral Officer regain his powers. We want the Chief Electoral Officer to be able to implement information programs and thereby communicate to the public any information he deems necessary to ensure that elections are conducted properly and that people participate in them.
As for the amendment I am now talking about, I heard Mr. Scott add a paragraph (f). We did something very similar. We want the wording to be the following:
||(1.1) the Chief Electoral Officer may
||(a) implement public education and information programs to make the electoral process better known to the public, particularly to those persons and groups most likely to experience difficulties in exercising their right to vote.
We are also adding to that section another paragraph, which I will refer to as (b):
||devise and test, in cooperation with the committees of the Senate and House of Commons that normally consider electoral matters—including studies respecting alternative voting means—an electronic voting process for future use in a general election or a by-election.
Let's be daring, let's be modern and help as many people as possible vote.
In closing, I would like to present an important point of view, that of the Chief Electoral Officer, Marc Mayrand. What he told us is actually very much in line with everyone's concerns. He said the following:
|I am unaware of any democracy in which such limitations are imposed on the electoral agency, and I strongly feel that an amendment in this regard is essential.
We are responding to that statement by putting forward this amendment.
As this is probably the only amendment I will discuss this evening, I would like to hear my colleagues' opinion. So I am calling for a recorded division on this issue.
Chair, I appreciate Mr. Lukiwski's acknowledging that the Governor in Council is not Parliament, but it has to be understood and underscored that the reason we have officers of Parliament is to avoid exactly this kind of scenario, in that they are independent of the government. It doesn't mean they are independent of any accountability, or that they are omnipotent in terms of their authority and power, but it does mean, at least in my view, that any curtailment of their authority would be Parliament's action, not the government's.
Remember, the government isn't even honourable members of the government caucuses, although I'm sure they frame themselves that way. The actual government is the cabinet. That's the government. That's why there's a difference between deputy ministers, department heads, and others who report to the government as opposed to the Chief Electoral Officer who reports to Parliament. If one assumes, and I'm not agreeing with it, but for the sake of argument, let's say there is some kind of touchstone that has to happen with Parliament vis-à-vis international involvement, then why aren't we looking at putting in a regime that provides a process for the Chief Electoral Officer to do just that, to have representatives from each of the caucuses meet with the Chief Electoral Officer if there needs to be some discussion? I'll tell you, I get the idea that you don't want somebody sort of going off rogue, going to an event that no one in Canada would go to, but quite frankly, if that's the case, we have a much bigger problem than simply attending one event. We have a huge crisis on our hands with an officer of Parliament. So let's assume that that's not really what we're talking about.
With the greatest of respect, Chair, it's hard not to be overly sensitive about control matters when it comes from this government and the . That's their cornerstone—control. So you can appreciate, I would hope, why we're very concerned that any of the authority of the Chief Electoral Officer would be fenced in by the government, which means that the rest of Parliament may not even know what marching orders he or she has been given or not given, where there's nothing to guarantee the rest of Parliament is to be told. Given the way the current government is trying to muzzle the CEO, I would bet that we wouldn't know about it, so there's a real reason to be concerned about this.
This is my last point, Chair. The government continues to disrespect the status of an officer of Parliament. I'd like to hear the government answer why they think that since this is an officer of Parliament, they should get any special say as the government in the activities of the CEO when the accountability mechanism is not back to the government, but it's back to Parliament, which is all 308 members and the other place.
Yes. This goes back to Monsieur Bellavance's earlier amendment that I foreshadowed in my comments.
So that everybody knows, effectively, at the moment, the Canada Elections Act allows for the Chief Electoral Officer to carry out studies on voting that include alternative voting processes. It could be different ways to organize polls, it could be.... You can imagine what that might mean. It also would include e-voting, electronic voting, as a test or an alternative process.
At the moment, this committee and an equivalent or a parallel Senate committee are the only ones that have to give permission for such tests. What the government has done in Bill is it has taken one alternative process out of all the others, that's e-voting, and made it subject to the plenary approval, that is, the entire House of Commons and the entire Senate. It's no longer within this kind of committee structure.
Now, e-voting is not just of interest to the younger generation and the Internet-connected generation; it's of interest to anybody who believes that at some point in time the combination of security, efficiency, and encouraging people to vote is going to require us to at least have e-voting as one feature of our system, and we want to be ready. To me, this signals a structural reluctance to even test it. It's also, in some sense, I have to say—I'm speaking clearly as an NDPer here—offensive to add to the authority of the Senate in testing on something that's involving electoral process. Symbolically, it's nuts. I honestly do not see the logic here beyond wanting to create extra hurdles for this one process.
In committee, we had an interesting perspective. I think some of you might remember my saying to the witness, “I hadn't thought about that.” It was disability rights witnesses. In particular, the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, if I'm not mistaken, were specifically expressing real concern about this. That also probably involves people with mobility disabilities too; it's less likely for them to easily get out to vote. They basically said that this is a provision that doesn't just affect students, but it's the kind of provision that affects them, because it's through e-voting that they can imagine they would be more included in the electoral process.
I'll end there and simply appeal to the government to let it go back to the way it was and not have this extra hurdle that involves not just us in plenary session, but the Senate.
That's all.... You wonder why we wanted to do this publicly. It really wasn't all the grandstanding. That can happen anywhere. Here we are. Here's a prime example. The current process for going into the future requires the approval of a committee of the House of Commons and a committee of the Senate. If they both agree, then we can go ahead and have the experiment, the trial, the test. The change now says that it has to be the whole House that votes and the whole Senate.
We respectfully, and I believe politely, asked why, and they won't give us an answer. Have we really come to this, that the government is now even refusing to give their spin rationale? They're just going to sit there and say, “We don't have to answer, so we're not going to. We're going to use our majority to ram it through, and you're just going to have to live with it. And why we did it remains a state secret.” Unless one of the government members wants to provide the why, the question becomes why is it even here?
I'm willing to bet that without offering a public reason why, the majority are going to use their power to ram this through. Above and beyond the no consultation and all the other nightmare revelations there have been since this was first tabled, now we've reached the point where we're at a public setting with a legitimate question about a relatively important change, and we've respectfully asked the government for their rationale, and there is none. Yet they're still going to ram it through.
That's the state of affairs right now in dealing with our election laws. The government of the day in Canada will not even give an answer to why when we ask a simple question before they use their majority to make it the law of Canada.
A voice: Mr. Chair—
Mr. David Christopherson: There we go.
Mr. Chair, now we're really getting.... We're probably better off with silence than that one, because the fact of the matter is that this committee exists as a subset of the House of Commons, and they have delegated their authority to this committee. That is the approval and sanction of the House, and as I understand it, it's no different from the Senate.
Currently both houses have said that they give their committees the authority to say yes. We've all accepted that. I'm not aware of anybody recommending a change, not from any of the caucuses or any of our witnesses. In fact, for that matter, I stand to be corrected, but I don't recall any recommendations coming from any Chief Electoral Officer's report, nowhere, and I still haven't heard an answer. Why are we going...?
Here's what I think, Chair, and then I'll end, if they really don't want to say anything. That whole government can't come up with one phony reason to put out as an answer. They're willing to just stay silent. Here's what I think, Chair. I think they want to do this because they want to do everything they can to slow down the implementation of e-voting, recognizing that nobody wants to rush into it until we're sure. I don't know when that will be, but I do know that we need to move in that direction, and the government doesn't want that to happen.
Why, Chair? Because it's likely that more people will vote. It's another aspect of voter suppression, passive-aggressive voter suppression, because measures that would encourage people and make it easier for them to participate have now been made more difficult by virtue of the process. That's why this is here. That's why they don't have an answer, unless suddenly they've come up with an unexpected rationale.
Tom can respond to me and that's fair game. When I'm done, he can go at me. But I'd still like to hear at least one legitimate reason why it improves our election law to take this approval away from the committee level and move it to the full chambers.
I was just trying to get the size of David's head to fit him for a tinfoil hat, because of another conspiracy theory.
Many other jurisdictions, as he should know and I don't know if he does know or not, have studied e-voting and point out many concerns. I know he would understand this. Even in their own NDP leadership convention, there were many problems with electronic voting.
There's yet another conspiracy theory. You're something else. This would be clearly a fundamental, and some would consider almost radical, change in the way Canadians have voted.
To suggest that you want only a certain set of eyes to deal with this rather than the entire Parliament I think is being extremely disingenuous, particularly as I point this out time and time again.
Mr. Christopherson said, “Why not Parliament? Why can't Parliament have a say in this? Why should it only be restricted to cabinet? Why should it only be restricted in this case? Why should it only be restricted to committees?”
For something of this magnitude, I believe Parliament should be extensively consulted and debate should occur, pure and simple.
I got you there, it's all right.
We'll vote on PV-16.
(Amendment negatived [See Minutes of Proceedings])
The Chair: Shall clause 8 carry?
An hon. member: A recorded vote please.
(Clause 8 agreed to: yeas 5; nays 4)
(Clause 9 agreed to)
(On clause 10)
The Chair: We're at NDP-15 and LIB-7 is identical. Therefore, one would be the other and the other would be one. Would you like to both speak at the same time, or each say every second word, or how would you like to do it?
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
The Chair: Technically NDP is first apparently. So would you like to move it, Mr. Scott? I have no trouble who wants to move it. Mr. Simms, please move LIB-7 and I'll say it was first.
Yes, that's how it works.
This is extremely important because for the first time it inserts a government body, the Treasury Board, to approve the Chief Electoral Officer engaging on a temporary basis persons having technical or specialized knowledge. I'll give you examples.
Mr. Neufeld was engaged on that basis to produce the report that the government cited a lot until it turned out to have things it didn't really like in it. The Institute for Research on Public Policy was engaged to do an entire process around deceptive calling. The advisory board of the Chief Electoral Officer almost certainly is hired on a temporary basis because of their members' specialized knowledge.
This gives the Treasury Board, and ultimately the President of the Treasury Board who's a cabinet minister, the authority to say no to that kind of hiring. It's not necessary. It's inappropriate to put it in here given the Chief Electoral Officer's need for independence in exactly this kind of hiring.
I asked the minister this question at least once in the House, it might have been twice, and he's a smart guy, he doesn't misunderstand questions. He answered an entirely different question than this when I asked. I don't think it's something I'm content to trust the government on at all.
When former auditor general Sheila Fraser appeared she'd had a lot of concerns expressed elsewhere, including in the Senate, and she came before us with two major concerns. This was one of them. I don't think I have to remind everybody about the thoughtfulness that usually goes into what Sheila Fraser has to say, especially in an area dealing with money and accountability.
An hon. member: A former independent officer of Parliament.
Mr. Craig Scott: Yes. I think it's important to be on the record as saying that this isn't something that fetters the commissioner, so why should it fetter the Chief Electoral Officer? Scott already said that. It's also the case that the Auditor General doesn't have a similar fetter for exactly the same kind of hiring. Again, it's unnecessary.
There's no reason that we shouldn't be worried about what the thinking is behind this. We know that at least in some quarters of the government, including the minister, there's this real antagonism toward Elections Canada and the Chief Electoral Officer, and some of it has come out whenever we talk about the advisory board. I asked the minister in the House if he would undertake to say this government would never deny remuneration to the advisory board under this clause. He pretended he didn't understand the question, and I never got an answer.
So I totally agree with Mr. Simms, and obviously Ms. May has the same amendment, that we have to cut out the authority of the Treasury Board and make this the same system as exists for the commissioner.
Your suggestion is that if there's a power to appoint, that means there's a power to assign costs to those people.
You're challenging the chair.
I always get mixed up on this. It's a tough one. If the chair's ruling is sustained, would that mean that they all agree with me or disagree with me?
The Clerk of the Committee (Mr. Jean-François Pagé): If they sustain, they agree.
The Chair: Shall the chair's ruling be sustained?
(Ruling of the chair sustained: yeas 5; nays 4)
The Chair: Okay, so the chair's ruling stands. We will therefore not deal with LIB-8.
We're on amendment PV-19.
Let's go to our master list and see what fun comes of that.
Ms. May, amendment PV-19, please.
We're now looking at the makeup of the committee that we were just debating, the advisory committee of political parties.
My amendment, Parti vert 19, is all about the scope of the work of that committee. My amendment proposes to expand the scope of the work by adding these words after what is found on page 11. At lines 8 to 9, it says, “The purpose of the committee is to provide the Chief Electoral Officer with advice and recommendations...”. My amendment would pick up to say:
||—related to increasing voter turnout, public participation in the political system, electoral reform and fairness of the electoral system, and upholding principles of fairness and access with regard to political financing.
That encompasses more than the words that are currently in Bill .
As you can imagine, Mr. Chair, there's a substantial movement across Canada that believes that any fair elections act starts with actually making elections fair and making sure that every vote will count. While it would have been beyond the scope of this bill to put forward an amendment that Bill actually put in place proportional representation, say, mixed member proportional, this amendment would at least draw some attention of the advisory committee of political parties to the issue of electoral reform, among other topics that are listed here in PV-19.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, for the chance to present this amendment, deemed presented by others in a process which I oppose, but here I am.
I'd like to move this amendment, Mr. Chair.
Although this amendment only deals with section 34, it's the same idea that is going to apply to section 35, so why don't I explain both even though the vote will only be on this one.
At the moment, we have a system under the Canada Elections Act whereby the first place party from the last election, the candidate coming up to the next election, is permitted to, I call it de facto appoint. It's basically giving a list of names of people to be appointed as deputy returning officers. The list can be as short as the person wants, so it ends up being an appointment.
For the second group, which is in section 35, not immediately subject to this amendment, poll clerks are appointed in the same way by the second place party's candidate.
That's the system we have now.
In this bill, another appointment has been granted to the first place party, and that's for the central poll supervisor. I'm not dealing with this provision, but it's to give everybody a sense that the system at the moment has these two appointments that at some level are meant to balance each other out—that's the philosophy—but it has now become unbalanced with the central poll supervisor having been thrown into the new act. We're going to get to that issue.
Nonetheless, the NDP is very concerned about continuing the system of politically oriented, politically sourced appointments. We think the time has come for Elections Canada to have the authority across the appointment system. This ended up being recommended by the Chief Electoral Officer after the Neufeld report. One of the reasons.... It's not just partisanization and/or the perception that the system can be politicized and that people don't necessarily understand the idea of balance producing impartiality, it's also to get rid of the role of parties and allow Elections Canada the full authority to be appointing all election day workers, which will enhance recruitment and training.
That is the rationale Mr. Neufeld used in his report for making this recommendation which the Chief Electoral Officer then took up after the Neufeld report.
What happens now under the system is that the Chief Electoral Officer or his or her returning officers have to wait until partway through the election to figure out who and how many they have to appoint, because the parties have up to a certain point to do so. It is one of the reasons for the irregularities that have been at the source of so much of the debate around this bill, because apart from a system that's overly complex on election day, the lack of training and quick training of recently recruited people is part of the reason. It's not just depoliticalization; it's trying to create one more way to lower the number of irregularities in processing voting on election day.
That's the background. This amendment is one of four, one way or the other, that basically ask us to adopt a system whereby, in this case, the deputy returning officer is appointed by the returning officer on the basis of merit, following a process that is fair and transparent. The same thing will be said in the next amendment on poll clerks. The same thing will be said on central poll supervisors and registration officers.
So that everybody understands, this is an attempt to depoliticize the appointment process, even though I recognize that in terms of this bill there are relatively few changes to this part of it, and it's only the central poll supervisor part that's really jacked up the political dimension.
There we are. I felt it was necessary to set that out because people may not exactly know the system.
Chair, throughout this process we haven't had much opportunity to really make improvements, in our opinion. Most of our time has been spent fighting against changes that we believe to be undemocratic. This is one area that is new. My understanding is that when we come to the central poll supervisor the government has heard loud and clear that's unacceptable, so we're expecting that appropriate voting reflecting that will happen in due course.
This has been in place since I got in politics. A similar thing exists provincially. It was based on exactly what Mr. Scott said. If you have two appointees, they cancel each other out. They're watching each other, and it creates a situation where the public's concerns.... We felt, as political people, and those who are with us, that it satisfied that need.
Canadians have spoken clearly on this one. I appreciate Ms. May reading that, because I think that more accurately reflects where we are. This is one, possibly the only one, where we're not pointing fingers and we're not saying the sky is falling, as it is with most other aspects of this bill. In this case it really is, let's take that principle of no, you're not going to add one more person appointed in a polling station to the mix of officers who are presiding in that location. It's good that we're stopping this new role, but let's take the full step and remove the political process completely, the partisan process, from the appointment of these officers.
Canadians have spoken loud and clear. Regardless of how we feel about the idea that they cancel each other out, they don't buy it, they don't like it, and we have a chance to change it. We in the NDP are agreeing that making that change would be a good move. We would hope the government would see their way clear to following through on their notion that the central poll supervisor shouldn't be added as an appointee. Let's do the whole job properly and go all the way and remove political appointments. Keep it under the purview of the CEO. Make sure everybody is trained to the same standard, is held to the same standard of accountability.
In my view, Canadians got it right this time, the parties got it wrong, and we have a chance to fix it right now. Hopefully, the government will be listening.
Chair, there are couple of things.
With the amendments to the central poll supervisor, which, you're right, David, will be coming forthwith, it really maintains the status quo. That's the bottom line here. The appointments, as always, will remain the same. There are no changes to the central poll supervisor's provision. We'll ensure that there's no change on that when we vote against the amendment, right? It has worked well. I think it has worked well. It has been proven over time that it has worked well. I see no reason that it wouldn't work well in the future.
I only want to make one comment, and that's to a comment initially made by Craig on the time required to train poll workers, and on another comment, David, you had made on whether we can't just enhance the current system. We have made an enhancement, certainly, on the training, because we've gone from day 17 to day 24 before polling day. A full week more will be allotted to training poll workers, which I think will go a long way to enhancing and improving the system and some of the logistical problems we saw in the Neufeld report of the last election.
We've recognized that. We've recognized the fact there needs to be more time given to training poll workers, and we've added that into this bill.