Does the committee agree to that?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Chair: Those will be the rules for that meeting tomorrow.
Welcome to meeting number 103 of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. This meeting is being televised. Pursuant to Standing Order 111.1(1), the committee is considering the proposed appointment of Stéphane Perrault to the position of Chief Electoral Officer.
For members' information, the Chief Electoral Officer is appointed by the resolution of the House of Commons to hold office during good behaviour for a term of 10 years. The Standing Orders provide that no later than the expiry of a 30-day period following the tabling of the nomination in the House, which was May 8, a notice of motion to ratify the appointment will be put under routine proceedings on the Order Paper.
We are happy to be joined today by Mr. Perrault, who is no stranger to this committee.
You've been here many times. Thank you.
He has appeared on behalf of Elections Canada on numerous occasions and in various capacities since 2007. Since December 2016, he has been the acting Chief Electoral Officer.
Mr. Perrault, welcome back. You can now proceed with your opening comments.
As you might imagine, it is a great honour and privilege to be here today before members of this committee.
The Chief Electoral Officer of Canada plays a role that is critical for the functioning of our electoral democracy and that comes with important responsibilities.
In the few minutes that I have, I would like to inform members of how I would intend to discharge those responsibilities, should this committee and the House of Commons decide to appoint me to that position.
Before I do so, however, I believe that it is appropriate to say a few words about my background and qualifications.
I was born and grew up in Montreal, but have spent my professional life in the Ottawa region where I raised my family. I am a lawyer by profession but, above all, I am a career public servant. I have worked in the federal public service for over 20 years, first in the Department of Justice and the Privy Council Office, and then at Elections Canada, where I have been for more than 10 years.
Throughout my career, I have been motivated by the opportunity to contribute to the public service and, in particular, Canada's outstanding institutions.
I admire above all respect for others and dedication—and believe that professional success is measured by the ability to contribute to and support performing and collaborative teams.
Throughout my 20 years in the public service, I have been involved in matters related to our electoral process, including in my work at the Department of Justice and at the Privy Council Office. As you know, I have also been acting Chief Electoral Officer for the last 18 months and have been active in preparing the agency for the next general election.
I would like to share my thoughts on how I see the role of the Chief Electoral Officer in supporting our electoral democracy.
It is the responsibility of the Chief Electoral Officer to oversee an inclusive and trusted electoral process that meets the evolving needs and expectations of Canadians. Our electoral process has endured the test of time and is highly regarded around the world, yet there are clear signs that adjustments are required.
Canadians are changing their voting habits. They expect and take advantage of flexible service options. Of the 17 million Canadians who voted at the last general election, four and a half million voted before polling day, which is an increase of over 100% from the previous election. That trend will continue as we move towards the next general election. We see it provincially and internationally. Of those who voted last fall in New Zealand, 47% voted before polling day. In order to meet the changing expectations of voters, we need to modernize our process and adjust it to the evolving reality.
As you know, I have been leading the agency in its work to improve services at the polls, through the use of electronic poll books as well as in the redesign of record-keeping procedures. These changes will allow us to speed up service to voters, in particular at advance polls, while ensuring the integrity of the process by improving record-keeping.
An equally important part of the Chief Electoral Officer's responsibilities is ensuring that the vote is inclusive. Electoral democracy is a promise of equality. It is the promise that all citizens, whatever their circumstances or condition, will have the same right and opportunity to select their representative. The quality of our electoral process has to be measured to a large extent by its inclusiveness.
While legal barriers to voting have been gradually removed, exercising the right to vote remains a challenge for some Canadians. When advising Parliament on new rules or designing services and procedures, the Chief Electoral Officer must be able to look at them not only through the eyes of the many, but also through the eyes of the few for whom voting may be a challenge: seniors, those who live in care facilities, new voters, voters with disabilities, voters in remote areas, and indigenous voters.
One of the roles of the Chief Electoral Officer is to actively engage these electors and to consult them on their voting needs and experiences at the polls. In recent years, Elections Canada has set up an advisory group on disability issues, and that has been of tremendous value. However, we need to do more.
A few weeks ago, Elections Canada held what we called a “demo day” with various stakeholder communities, to look at some of our changes in services and products for the next election. I invited political parties, new Canadians, youth, indigenous Canadians, and representatives of disability groups to tell us their perceptions of these changes and what further improvements we could make. This past year, we also set up an ad hoc panel of teachers to hear from them on how we could improve the tools we provide schools in support of civic education. A consultative approach with end-users helps to ensure that our products and services are inclusive and meet their needs.
Another critical role for the Chief Electoral Officer is to preserve trust in the integrity of the electoral process. That has always been an important aspect of the mandate, but it is increasingly important today, with growing concerns around disinformation, foreign influence, and cyber-threats.
This is why over the last 18 months, I have been investing considerable effort in upgrading and renewing Elections Canada's IT infrastructure. With the support of government security partners, we have redesigned our database architecture, renewed aging software, and are in the process of migrating to a new and more secure data centre. However, these are not one-time efforts. Technologies evolve, and systems rust out and become vulnerable to new threats. Elections Canada must continue to renew its systems on an ongoing basis, and to do so must improve its capacity to work across electoral cycles and not just from one election to another.
A final aspect of the mandate of the Chief Electoral Officer that I would like to highlight relates to the importance of ensuring a predictable regulatory environment for parties and candidates.
As members are well aware, elections are by nature highly competitive and require a robust regulatory framework that ensures their fairness. However, competing parties and candidates require, above all, clarity and predictability as to the rules and how they will be applied to them and to their opponents. Training for parties, for official agents, as well as for other participants is critical and must be the cornerstone of Elections Canada's regulatory function.
Where the law is grey, it is the role of the Chief Electoral Officer to bring clarity. Disagreements on matters of interpretation are unavoidable, but Elections Canada needs to be clear and predictable. This is not always easy. The regime is sometimes complex, as members know, and predictability is often in the eyes of the beholder.
However, there are critical success factors. The first is transparency. As an agency, we cannot be predictable if we are not transparent. We need to explain why we take a particular position and, if at some point in time we feel compelled to change that position moving forward, we need to say on what basis and explain the consequences for participants.
The second is sustained engagement with regulatory stakeholders. We cannot be predictable if we work in isolation. Predictability requires a healthy regulatory relationship. We need to understand the realities and activities of parties and candidates and be able to discuss them in a relationship based on trust and mutual respect. This is an area where I believe Elections Canada, with the support of political parties, has made much progress. However, efforts must be sustained for progress to continue.
Should the committee and the House grant me their trust in appointing me to the position of Chief Electoral Officer, I will endeavour to preserve that trust by adhering to the highest standards of integrity and neutrality, and I will continue to work with parties and with parliamentarians to support and improve our electoral democracy.
I think it's a bit of both, to be quite frank. I think the debate was more one of principle than one of practical concerns in the sense that I certainly see that during the writ period, our role is to inform voters about where, when, and how to register and vote and to make sure they have the correct information.
Motivating voters during that period is a tricky thing. It's hard to motivate without touching upon issues, and that is something for parties and candidates to do. It's not our role to define the hot-button issues for the election, the ones that trigger participation. So during the writ period, our role is to inform about where, when, and how to register and vote.
When you look at it more broadly, what we found unfortunate with the current legislation is that when you're engaging youth, for example, and you're speaking to groups that straddle the line, in CEGEP, for example, in Quebec, between 17- and 18-year-olds, you're not supposed to talk about the importance of voting to young voters just because they're 18-year-olds.
I think that's a bit unfortunate. I think we do have a role to play to educate the population, especially youth, outside of the election period about the importance of our democratic institutions and about the importance of voting. However, when the writs are issued, then our role shifts, and our role is to inform voters about their voting options.
I certainly can speak at fair length to my experience of the process. I don't think it's for me to speak to other people who may or may not have been involved in the process.
In my case I submitted my application. There was an interview, I believe in early November, so the process ended at the end of October, if I'm not mistaken. Early November there was an interview with members of the Privy Council Office. 's office and PMO was there. There were, I think, five or six people there, so it was a fairly extensive interview.
That was followed by a reference check. It was a 360 reference, so there was someone from the outside, someone from the former employer, and a current employee or former employee. That was before Christmas.
It was followed by a series of psychometric testing. There's some online testing, two separate tests that are done online. Then, with a psychologist, there's a 90-minute live interview, which is basically a mental agility test. Again, it was very thorough. It went on for about 90 minutes.
That was before Christmas. I did get a call, I think, in February, from . I understood from her at that point that she was just doing a personal check on all of the people on the list. I don't know who these people were. She called me for a brief interview over the phone, and that was the last formal aspect of the process.
We haven't begun executing that plan.
This summer, we'll be starting work on the guidebooks for poll workers and the training material. What we will need to do is to build those guidebooks based on the current legislation, but also contemplate adjustments to those guidebooks for .
When I appeared on the main estimates, I said that we are migrating 27 systems to a new data centre and we need to do integrated testing on September 1. We will proceed with that plan and, once we've done the integrated testing—it's a tight schedule, but things are going quite well—once we've solidified, then we will look at what IT changes are required for Bill .
I think we're looking at 18 systems that are affected by Bill . We will look to minimize. In some cases, they are minor changes, while in others, they're more comprehensive. Once we've done the integrated testing, we will then look at the other IT changes that are absolutely required for implementation of C-76. If it's not absolutely required, it will be deferred.
Then we're going to do a second series of integrated testing on January 1. Hopefully, at that point in time, there will be no further impacts on the IT system, so that we can do our simulations in the field with the new systems, as we planned.
There are a few elements to answer there.
Apart from parties, which of course we do party by party as there's no other way of doing it, for candidates, we don't do party by party. We take them by region, and we don't prioritize based on party affiliation. It comes in and, if you file earlier, then you will get your audit done faster. There are candidates who get their rebates faster than others, but that would not be across party lines.
I do think we need to improve the timeliness of audits. I think that in today's world, timeliness of information is critical. People talk more and more about real-time reporting of contributions. We're not there yet, but I'm pretty confident we'll get there soon enough. As soon as the election is done, people want to see the returns and they want to make sure that they're audited.
We will need to make some improvements on how we do audits of candidates. It may not be for the next election, but we need to reduce that timeline, both to increase the transparency and to make sure that reimbursements are done in a timely fashion, and if there is a minority, for example, that candidates have that reimbursement to fight the next election.