Thank you very much, everyone, for having me here today. Before I begin my remarks, I would like to introduce Isabelle Mondou and Natasha Kim, both of whom work in the Privy Council Office. They are exceptional public servants and they know more about all of these subjects than I do. I'm very pleased to have them at the table with me. I feel assured to have them at my side.
Without any further ado, Mr. Chair, it's a pleasure to address the committee on the . The bill will strengthen Canada's democracy by reinforcing the integrity of the special ballot voting system and ensuring fairness for resident and non-resident votes. The citizen voting act proposes to reform the vote by mail procedures set out in divisions 3 and 4 of the special voting rules of the Canada Elections Act.
The last major update to these procedures was back in 1993. The is in keeping with the government's objective to strengthen the integrity of our electoral process. It builds on the rules enacted by the in June of 2014, a bill with which I know all of you are deeply familiar.
The proposes six key measures to reform the special voting rules in the Canada Elections Act and proposes objectives of integrity and fairness.
First, the proposed legislation creates a single process for residents and non-residents who vote by special ballot. Special ballot voting procedures applicable to resident and non-resident electors will be harmonized. Non-resident voters will no longer automatically receive a ballot at election time, mitigating the risk that ballots will end up with unintended recipients. The requires that non-resident electors wishing to vote by special ballot must apply for one at each election, just as resident electors do now.
Second, the bill stipulates non-resident electors will only receive a ballot for the address at which they last resided in Canada. Non-resident electors will no longer be allowed to choose the riding in which they wish to vote.
Third, the bill builds on the by requiring all electors voting by special ballot, both residents and non-residents, include in the application proof of identity and residence according to the rules that are similar to those set up in the Fair Elections Act. At the moment, proof of residence in Canada is not required for non-residents. This shortcoming will be remedied, and as with other Canadians, proof of prior residence will be required for expatriate voters.
Under the , resident and non-resident electors voting under the special voting rules will have the same three voter identification options available in order to cast their ballots: a government-issued photo identification with name and address; two pieces of identification authorized by the Chief Electoral Officer, one with an address and both with a name; or two pieces of authorized identification with an oath or declaration of residence that is attested to by another properly identified elector from the same riding.
Fourth, the proposed legislation requires that electors voting from outside of Canada provide proof of citizenship. Currently, providing proof of citizenship is required administratively by Elections Canada for non-resident electors. The makes this a legislative requirement, including for resident voters temporarily outside of the country.
Fifth, the extends the special ballot voting procedures to the mandatory post-election audit that was introduced in the . As you will recall, we required that the Chief Electoral Officer appoint an auditor to ensure identification rules were administered in the course of a general election. That mandatory audit was to apply to domestic voting. The citizen voting act will see to it that it also applies to those voting from outside of the country. To this end, the Chief Electoral Officer will be required to engage an external auditor to carry it out, and he will also be required to report the results of this audit. The audit will look into election workers' compliance with resident and non-resident special voting procedures after every election.
Finally, the adds a new provision authorizing the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration to provide the Chief Electoral Officer with information such as the name, gender, date of birth, and address of persons who are not Canadian citizens, for the purpose of cross-referencing registrants in the national register of electors. This is to assist in deleting the names of non-residents from the register who are not qualified to vote. This suggestion came to me from the Chief Electoral Officer. He was concerned that there are people on the voter list who are not citizens, and one of the ways that Elections Canada can identify these non-citizens and remove them from the list is by having data on the identity of non-citizens who reside within Canada. So we have agreed to his suggestion and with the passage of this bill, we will permit the immigration minister to provide the Chief Electoral Officer with that data.
Before concluding my remarks to the committee, I would like to report that, following consultations with Elections Canada, and after looking at some of the issues that were raised during the debate in the House of Commons, the government will be proposing seven minor amendments to the .
First, the current bill provides that the Chief Electoral Officer may authorize types of identification issued by, among others, an entity that is “formed in Canada”. This ensures that identification documents must always be Canadian documents and thus reinforces the integrity of the identification procedure. Moreover, foreign-issued identification is likely to be harder to verify, and in some cases, it could be in another language. This requirement raises concerns that it would be difficult to determine whether an entity is Canadian. In particular, it has been argued that it would be difficult for poll officials to make such a determination.
We have noted the concerns and will be proposing to limit the application of this requirement to only electors voting by special ballot under divisions 3 and 4. This means that front-line officials at the polls will not have to evaluate whether a piece of identification was issued by an entity formed in Canada. Rather, this determination will mainly be required when Elections Canada reviews the identification documents provided by electors with their applications for special ballot prior to election day. In other words, it will apply to those voting by mail and those voting outside of the country, but not at the voting booth.
Elections Canada has access to more resources and will have more time than poll officials to assess whether pieces of identification have been issued by a Canadian entity. I believe this amendment will ensure not only that electors voting by special ballot provide Canadian identification to prove their identity and residence, but also that it will be easier for election officials to verify the acceptability of such identification.
Second, another concern that has been raised relates to the requirement in Bill , the citizen voting act, that residents wishing to vote by special ballot using the attestation procedure to prove residency must obtain an attestation from another elector from the same polling division. For those listening who are not familiar with the complexity of local voting, there are electoral districts that each elect one member of Parliament, but within those districts are polling divisions that break down the voting locations where people go to cast their ballots. The reason that the distinction is important is that it is much more difficult to find an attestor who lives in the same polling division or even to know if that voter lives in the same polling division if you are voting from outside of the country and you are resident abroad. This is not a problem when you're actually voting at the polling division location because you're physically there and the person attesting is physically with you, and they would know very well if they are at their appropriate location.
That brings me to the proposed amendment.
Because the requirement would be problematic, we would seek to change the requirement for the fact that the boundaries of the polling divisions are not published by the Elections Canada website until 24 days before the polling day. To facilitate the process, we will propose an amendment to allow non-resident electors voting by special ballot to obtain an attestation from an elector from the same electoral district instead. In other words, anyone living in the same district would be able to act as the attestor for the non-resident voter lacking proof of prior address. They will not have to be from the same polling division. These electors will therefore be able to kick-start the registration process from the day the election is called.
The third amendment that we propose, Mr. Chair, relates also to the attestation process. Bill currently provides that as part of the attestation, resident and non-resident electors voting by special ballot may sign a declaration to prove their residence instead of taking the oath. Those who attest to the residence of an elector who are abroad may also sign a declaration instead of taking an oath. An amendment will be proposed to clarify that the declarations signed by attestors from abroad will not need to be administered by another person. Signing a declaration will be sufficient to prove or to attest to the residence of an elector. This will simplify the process for electors and attestors abroad.
The fourth proposed amendment relates to the proof of citizenship that electors voting by special ballot would have to provide, if making their application from outside Canada. We will clarify the language to specify that proof of citizenship is required when the ballot is being sent outside of the country rather than to special ballot voters within the country.
The fifth amendment relates to post-election audit. Bill proposes to extend the audit to include voting by special ballot and to give the auditor access to all documents necessary to perform the audit. A technical amendment will be proposed to ensure that the auditor has access to all documents necessary to perform the audit for voting at the polls as well.
Sixth, an amendment will be tabled to mitigate the risk of a voter identification card being sent to Canadians at an address at which they no longer live, which would increase the risk of such cards falling into the hands of people who are not eligible to vote in our elections. This technical amendment will provide that all non-residents will not receive a voter information card. Under clause 3 of the bill as currently drafted, that exception would apply only to some non-residents.
As amendment number 7, finally, we will propose an amendment for resident electors who vote in person through special ballot initiatives. For example, such initiatives could be held at hospitals, universities, or at remote work locations, as has been done in the past. An amendment will enable those electors, like electors who vote at the polls, to present an original piece of identification, and not only copies, as is currently provided by Bill .
I hope that committee members will support these amendments. I believe they are sensible and that they are consistent with the goal of the bill.
I can just wrap up by highlighting the principle at stake here.
Mr. Chair, we believe that people should provide ID when they vote. This ID should show who they are, where they reside, and in the case of people living abroad, where they used to reside. Those people voting outside of the country should be required to prove that they're Canadian citizens. The Constitution does give every Canadian the right to vote, but that right is predicated on citizenship—explicitly predicated on citizenship—and so too should be the identification requirement for those who are casting a ballot from outside Canada's borders.
Thank you very much.
Okay. It's just that I'm used to hearing that I need to have my original. If I don't have my original driver's licence with me in my car when the police pull me over.... It's that sort of thing. I'm not used to hearing the reverse. It's interesting that it can actually arise in the law.
Minister, one of the things that has been a frustration to me as we've gone through this bill and the more general updates that you made to the Canada Elections Act about a year ago is that in critiques of the legislation, critics have been happy to point out the constitutional right that all Canadians have to vote and to stress the importance of going to extraordinary measures to make sure that every Canadian who is constitutionally permitted to vote is not deprived in some form or other of that vote, without any regard being given to the fact that there is another side to this problem.
In the event that someone gets to vote illegitimately, to vote in more than one riding, to “riding shop” and choose to have their vote go not to the riding in which they resided when they were last in Canada but rather to the riding in which their vote is most likely to make a difference.... If that sort of thing can go on, then other Canadians can have their vote devalued to nothing by seeing the outcome of that election manipulated.
This never gets mentioned, yet it is clearly the deprivation of every Canadian so affected of their right under section 3 of the charter to have a vote and to have that vote count. I'm glad that you continue to fight this fight, notwithstanding the fact that many of the advocates neglect that key aspect of the issue at hand.
I want to focus a little more closely on the issue of riding shopping. At this point, what will happen, as I understand it, and I'm seeking your confirmation on this, is that, if I leave the country—currently, I live in the town of Perth in Ontario—and want to vote in a future election, I will always be voting based on the address I was last at in the town of Perth, regardless.
So if that town is moved from one riding to another via redistribution, I am attached to that location, not to a particular riding. Is that correct?
And my colleague understands.
Thank you, Chair.
Thank you, Minister, for coming here today. We appreciate it.
Jumping right into it, the first obvious question we've had of witnesses, including the Chief Electoral Officer, was whether or not the international registry is broken. Nobody so far has said that there is any kind of problem with the existing registry to lead us to eliminate it.
That would be the first question. I'm going to ask you three, and then my colleagues will deal with some of the amendments you've suggested.
So the first question is: if it's not broken, why are you fixing it?
Second is the issue of only being able to apply for your ballot after the writ is dropped. For the life of us, we can't figure out why on earth the government would want to limit the application for a ballot until after the writ is dropped. The Chief Electoral Officer spoke to the difficulty and time-consuming nature of checking all of these applications to make sure everything is okay. Then to say that you're going to limit it to after the writ is dropped.... Why not allow it at any other time? What is the big prohibition against allowing people to register some time before the actual writ is dropped?
Also, Minister, you made reference to proposed subsection 143(2.11). You offered a modification, I believe, about the chaos that's going to happen as a result of using language about ID issued by an entity “otherwise formed in Canada”. Originally in the bill, this was going to change in all voting stations right across Canada, not just when voting outside Canada. I understand you're limiting it, but that still just limits the chaos.
The Chief Electoral Officer has said that he doesn't understand why on earth you would have to bring in language that makes it so unclear. Here's what he said, exactly:
First, it's not clear from a legal point of view what this actually means.
I'm making reference, of course, to identification that's “incorporated or formed by or under an Act of Parliament” or of a legislature “or that is otherwise formed in Canada”. We didn't know what that meant.
We asked the Chief Electoral Officer. He said:
First, it's not clear from a legal point...what this actually means. Certainly, it is broader than simply entities incorporated under Canadian law, but what exactly is meant by “otherwise formed in Canada”? Does it include entities incorporated abroad but registered in Canada? What else does it include?
I cannot see how election officials, especially deputy returning officers at ordinary polls, will be able to decide whether a particular bank or credit institution, such as Amex or Visa, was incorporated or formed in Canada.
This is at ordinary polls, but it is still applied to polls outside Canada. We need some clarification there.
I have to say that, as much as Mr. Reid seems to be quite enamoured with this legislation, as far as we're concerned, really this is just the unfair elections act, part 2. There's nothing here, in our view, that helps. In fact, the Chief Electoral Officer started out:
It is clear that these new rules will make it harder for electors abroad to vote.
Now, I remember that this government didn't have an awful lot of respect for the Chief Electoral Officer. When the government completely changed all of our election laws, he wasn't even consulted. But Canadians still care what he says. Given, Minister, that you're saying it's going to help and he says it's going to make it harder for voters to vote abroad, I suspect most Canadians are going to trust an officer of Parliament, the Chief Electoral Officer, rather than the sponsoring minister of Bill C-23.
There are questions in there, Chair. I will leave it to the minister to—
Thank you so much. It's always a pleasure to come before this committee and to present the main estimates.
I'm pleased to be here today with the acting clerk, Marc Bosc, and Mark Watters who, you will remember from the last time we were here, is the chief financial officer. We are also joined by Stéphan Aubé, chief information officer; Philippe Dufresne, law clerk and parliamentary counsel; André Gagnon, acting deputy clerk, procedural services; Benoit Giroux, director general for parliamentary precinct operations; Patrick McDonnell, deputy sergeant-at-arms and director general of the protective service; and Pierre Parent, chief human resources officer.
Today I will be presenting the House of Commons main estimates and the supplementary estimates (A) for 2015-16. I'll begin with a presentation of the main estimates and will conclude with the information for supps (A).
The 2015-16 main estimates total $443,449,000. This represents an increase of 7% over the 2014-15 main estimates funding levels.
For reference purposes, you have received a document outlining the year-over-year changes for the main estimates between 2014-15 and 2015-16. I will proceed by providing an overview of each line item in the main estimates along four major themes: budgets for members, House officers and presiding officers; House Administration; electoral boundaries redistribution; and employee benefit plans.
I will start with the budgets for members, House officers and presiding officers.
At its meeting of March 3, 2014, the Board of Internal Economy acknowledged an increase of 2.2%, effective April 1, 2014, to members' annual sessional allowance and additional salaries. This funding is statutory in nature and is in accordance with provisions in the Parliament of Canada Act. The increase amounts to $1.2 million for all fiscal years beginning with 2014-15.
There are also several items in the main estimates that relate to the House of Commons administration.
The first item included under this theme is funding of $5.7 million that is required for ongoing maintenance and life-cycle replacement costs for information technology assets resulting from the long-term vision and plan. This plan will result in modernized buildings and information service platforms for parliamentarians over the next 25 to 30 years, ensuring the continued availability of appropriate space and services.
Next, as you know, improving the disclosure of members' expenses has been an ongoing priority for the board. The members' expenditure reports are now published on a quarterly basis and provide considerable enhancements in the reporting of travel and hospitality expenses that are intended to ensure alignment with the Government of Canada's proactive disclosure of ministerial expenses.
To this end you will note that the main estimates allocate $3.3 million for fiscal year 2015-16 and subsequent years to sustain improvements in the public reporting of members' expenditures. Permanent funding is required to expand claim processing and verification, as well as monthly and quarterly reconciliation processes, to respond to additional inquiries from members' offices and to ensure an appropriate level of support and training for members and staff.
The main estimates also include temporary funding in the amount of $758,000 for the 24th annual meeting of the Asia-Pacific Parliamentary Forum. This upcoming conference for parliamentarians representing the 27 member countries of the Asia-Pacific region will be an excellent opportunity to foster parliamentary diplomacy, advance Canadian objectives internationally and showcase Canada's west coast. Planning is already well under way for this meeting that will take place in Vancouver in January 2016.
The main estimates also allocate additional resources related to security. Security within the parliamentary precincts has always been a priority, but in the wake of the incident last October and heightened terrorist threats, an enhanced security posture has been necessary. To fund the arming of all House of Commons uniformed protective service personnel, temporary funding in the amount of $932,000 was requested through the supplementary estimates (C) for fiscal year 2014-15. Permanent funding of $533,000 is required for fiscal year 2015-16 and subsequent years.
If the committee would permit, I would also like to provide a brief update on some of the other advances that have been made to enhance security for parliamentarians, employees, and visitors to Parliament Hill.
In the coming weeks we'll be finalizing our review of the internal and external reports that have come as a result of the attacks on October 22. I will be reaching out to key stakeholders, including the board, caucuses, independent members of Parliament, House administration employees, and others to provide what information they can about this terrible incident and the steps we have taken to help reduce risks in the future.
While for our own security I am limited in the amount of specific detail I can provide about our security posture and some of the improvements to the physical security of our buildings, I can say that work on conducting an independent security assessment is progressing well. Further, we have implemented a program to oversee and monitor security enhancements and various physical security upgrades to buildings in the precinct and they are progressing as planned.
Recently, it was announced that there are new protocols in place for visitors to Parliament Hill. Tickets are now required to visit the Peace Tower, the Memorial Chamber and the East Block. Additionally, visitors are only permitted to bring one bag into the Parliament buildings and there is a size restriction. Ticketing and bag check services are offered at no charge at 90 Wellington Street, across from Parliament Hill.
Security at constituency offices has also been a focus of our attention, and we have worked with members and their staff to assess and enhance these particular security needs. The deputy sergeant-at-arms and director general for the protective service contacted hundreds of local police departments across the country in communities where constituency offices are located to ensure that these premises will be regularly patrolled and included on the priority response list.
I'm especially pleased to report that the progressive development of an emergency notification system has begun. Once it is fully deployed, this system will be able to reach all parliamentarians and employees to provide reliable information and clear instructions should there ever be an emergency in the future. These important messages will be able to be simultaneously transmitted through email, voice message, text message, and desktop pop-ups.
Finally, as you know, last October I requested that the Ontario Provincial Police conduct an independent investigation into the death Michael Zehaf-Bibeau. The OPP has completed its investigation and I have received a copy of the report. A redacted version will be available to the public in the coming weeks. The House of Commons incident response summary will also be released to provide additional context on the events of October 22 and to provide further detail about the improvements that have been taken to enhance security in the precinct in recent months.
Returning to the main estimates, an additional $78,000 in compensation has been allocated for House Administration employees. This funding specifically covers the 1% economic increase approved in 2013-14 for senior managers, in line with the economic increase granted by the Treasury Board to its senior management.
Additionally, the main estimates provide a $22,000 increase for pages' remuneration. Compensation for our pages increases in lockstep with the average increases in tuition fees at the University of Ottawa and Carleton University. I have no doubt that we all want to ensure the page program remains competitive and continues to attract the brightest and the best from across the country.
You will note that the main estimates also reflect reductions for two instances of temporary funding following the hosting of two parliamentary conferences: $227,000 for the 40th Annual Session of the Assemblée parlementaire de la Francophonie, which took place in July 2014; and $167 million for the 11th Conference of Parliamentarians of the Arctic Region, which was held in October 2014. This funding for these two very successful conferences is no longer required.
We'll now move on to funding that is allocated for the electoral boundaries redistribution. Following the latest census, 30 new constituencies will be added for the next general election. To address the financial implications of these 30 new constituencies, the main estimates include temporary funding of $17.5 million for fiscal year 2015-16 and permanent funding in the amount of $24.5 million for fiscal year 2016-17 and subsequent years.
This funding takes into consideration requirements for members, including pay and pension, travel, telecommunication services, office budgets, and parliamentary and constituency office expenditures, as well as additional funding requirements to enable the House administration to support the institution and to ensure the same level of service for the expanded membership.
The final item that is included in the main estimates is an increase of $967,000 to employee benefit plans for fiscal year 2015-16 and subsequent years. This is a non-discretionary statutory expense that, in accordance with Treasury Board benefit rates, has been adjusted from 16.5% of salaries to 16.8% of salaries effective April 1, 2015.
Let me turn now to supplementary estimates (A).
This now concludes our overview of the House of Commons' main estimates.
I would now like to speak about the House of Commons' request of $15,981,000 for supplementary estimates (A). This request includes funding for 5 items.
The first item addresses funding in the amount of $1.2 million for the increase to members' annual sessional allowance and additional salaries, which became effective April 1, 2015. This funding is statutory in nature and follows an index published by Employment and Social Development Canada. The funding request associated with this 2.3% increase for 2015 also takes into account the impact of 30 additional members following the next general election.
The second item included in the supplementary estimates (A) is for $6.5 million for the implementation of new security measures across the parliamentary precinct. This includes the measures I referred to earlier and other actions taken as we continue to assess our security posture within the precinct
The third item, for which funding of $3.8 million is requested, pertains to the increased resource requirements resulting from the commissioning of the Sir John A. Macdonald Building and the building at 180 Wellington Street as part of the long-term vision and plan.
The fourth item also relates to the House of Commons' commitments emanating from the long-term vision and plan. Specifically, funding of $2 million is required for the maintenance and life-cycle costs of building component assets.
The final item included in supplementary estimates (A) is for funding of $2.4 million for the economic increases for House Administration employees. The agreement provides economic increases of 1.5% for 2014-15, 0.75% for 2015-16 and 0.75% for 2016-17. The funding will be used to cover economic increases for employees of the Protective Service, the Procedural Clerks and Analysis and Reference sub-groups, the Technical group and unrepresented employees at the House of Commons.
This concludes my overview of the House of Commons 2015-16 main estimates and supplementary estimates (A). At this time I would be happy to answer any questions you might have.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for being here.
Mr. Speaker, you indicated that around $6.5 million will be needed for implementing new security measures and you described some of them. Others, obviously, you can't. Quite obviously, as estimates, this dovetails with aspects of the budget implementation act, wherein there's a new organization of security on the Hill with regard to something called the parliamentary protective services, the PPS. That's what we're now going to be calling it, PPS.
It won't be any surprise to you that at least this opposition party has some concerns about how all of this could play out. It's important for everybody to know that the new bill requires that the new director of the PPS be an active member of the RCMP, who will serve under the dual authority of you and I believe the Speaker of the Senate. Apart from the PPS being entrusted with security throughout the precinct and on the Hill, there's also some reference to “an arrangement” for the RCMP as an independent entity to somehow fit into all of this.
The employees association for the House of Commons protective services has just appeared before the public security committee to express some of its concerns, and I think they relate to how well this money is going to get spent. Are there problems?
Ultimately, they say, “Our concerns about upholding parliamentary privilege remain”, and the organization “does not believe that it is in the interest of our democracy to give control of security within the Legislative power to the Executive power, this said”—and this is important—“with the utmost respect for the quality of the work of the RCMP in its primary mission—which is not the protection of the Parliamentary Precinct.” That's the concern that's been put on the table by the current people who are protecting us within the buildings as such, and I think we need to take them seriously.
The first question I have is this. Is it clear from the way this has now been structured that you, as Speaker, and the Speaker of the Senate will jointly be in charge of appointing, or deciding, and/or recommending the new director of the service? Is that clear? Or could that turn out to be something that comes from elsewhere in the system?