I want to apologize to the committee for my tardiness. As the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley noted, I am going to blame my three-month-old son for that, who decided he was hungry just as I was leaving. Anyway, I want to thank the committee for inviting me here and for your commitment to study Bill .
I would also like to thank Minister Brison, who acted as Minister of Democratic Institutions during my parental leave.
I am accompanied today by two officials, as you mentioned, Mr. Chair, from the Privy Council Office: Allen Sutherland, the Assistant Secretary to the Cabinet for Machinery of Government; and Manon Paquet, Senior Policy Adviser, Democratic Institutions Secretariat. The DI team at PCO is small but mighty. I cannot say enough about the work they have done to prepare Bill . I really want to thank them for their hard work and dedication on this issue, but also on all things in our file.
Our government is committed to strengthening Canada's democratic institutions and restoring Canadians' trust and participation in our democratic processes.
We believe the strength of our democracy depends on the participation of as many Canadians as possible. By undoing the unfair aspects of the Conservatives' so-called Fair Elections Act, we are making it easier and more convenient for all Canadians to vote.
We are making the electoral process more accessible to Canadians with disabilities, as well as members of the Canadian Armed Forces, and we are restoring voting rights to more than one million Canadians living abroad.
We are strengthening our laws, closing loopholes, and bringing in robust enforcement regimes to make it more difficult for bad actors to influence our elections. We are requiring greater transparency from third parties and political parties so Canadians can better understand who seeks to influence their vote. This legislation will result in a modern, robust, and enforceable election law that addresses the realities of a modern election campaign.
Of course, none of this would have been possible without the hard work of this committee last year while it studied the recommendations of the Chief Electoral Officer, or CEO, after the 2015 election.
I believe you will find your work reflected in the legislation. Approximately 85% of the CEO's recommendations are contained in Bill C-76. This committee has already agreed in principle with over 50% of this bill.
There are also components of Bill that this committee has not studied. I appreciate that the committee may want to focus on these elements of the bill. Please be assured that my officials and I are prepared to provide whatever assistance you need.
Bill makes our electoral system more accessible for all Canadians. It increases the opening hours of advance polls, strengthens obligations towards Canadians with disabilities, expands voting rights to about a million Canadians living abroad, and makes it easier for Canadian Forces members to vote. The elections modernization act also encourages candidates and registered parties to campaign in a manner that will be more inclusive of persons with disabilities.
This bill also modernizes the administration of elections to make it easier for Canadians to vote, while maintaining strong and proven integrity measures.
As Minister of Democratic Institutions, one of my top priorities is to lead the Government of Canada's efforts to defend the Canadian electoral process from cyberthreats. Recent events on the international stage are a reminder that Canada is not immune from such threats. Bill proposes changes relating to foreign influence and online disruption that can be addressed within the Canada Elections Act.
While foreign entities were already banned from making contributions to political parties and candidates, our government is closing a loophole that allowed foreign entities to spend up to $500 on election advertising during the election period. In addition, all third parties will be required to maintain a Canadian bank account for all of their election-related revenues and expenses.
I also want to address the concern that foreign funds can be donated to third parties before June 30, then used during the writ or pre-writ period. Under Bill , third parties are required to disclose the source of all funds they used during the writ or pre-writ period, regardless of when they received the funds. Further, any attempt to conceal the use of foreign funds for regulated activities in the pre-writ or writ period will be illegal under Bill C-76.
New provisions of the Canada Elections Act will clearly prohibit publications and advertisements—online and off-line—aimed at misleading the public as to their source. Similarly, fraudulent uses of computers aimed at affecting the results of an election will be strictly prohibited.
We all have a responsibility to combat foreign influence in our elections. Therefore, organizations selling advertising space will be banned from knowingly accepting foreign-funded election advertising.
In order to ensure compliance and enforcement, the elections modernization act includes several measures designed to make the commissioner of Canada elections more efficient and independent. The commissioner will now have the power to compel testimony and we will restore his power to lay charges. A new enforcement tool and administrative monetary penalties regime will also be at the commissioner's disposal.
Canadians expect electoral processes will be fair and transparent. They want to hear from all sides, not only from voices with the deepest pockets. These values have shaped Canadian electoral and political financing regimes for over 40 years.
However, the advent of fixed-date elections has been a game changer. Political actors and third parties are now able to plan partisan advertising campaigns ahead of the election period and, by doing so, circumvent the spirit of our laws.
Bill will define a pre-election period during which reporting requirements and spending limits will apply to registered parties and third parties.
The pre-election period will begin on June 30 of a fixed-date election year. It will provide more transparency by requiring third parties who spend more than $500 on partisan advertising, partisan activities, and election surveys to register with Elections Canada. Third parties will also have a legal obligation to identify themselves in advertising messages.
New spending limits will also apply to both third parties and political entities during that pre-writ period.
Mr. Chair, we cannot take for granted Canadians' trust in their democratic institutions. The Government of Canada is committed to ensuring that our electoral process is transparent, accessible, reflective of modern best practices, and secure and sheltered from undue influence.
I look forward to your questions.
Minister, it's good to see you again. Welcome back after your break. I've never had to be in that situation, but I can tell you it must have been absolutely wonderful at the same time. It is good to see you back again.
When we embarked upon this several years ago under what was then called the Fair Elections Act, there were some glaring omissions and glaring examples of what I thought was something that went against the idea that every Canadian citizen has a right to vote. It is our charter right to do so. There are things that bothered me.
The most egregious example to me was the voter information card, which we commonly call in rural Canada and the rest of Canada the voter identification card. Even though it doesn't carry that title, that is what it really is to these people. I used to see so many people, especially seniors, who would put a magnet on this card, and put it on their refrigerator to make sure that they went to vote. Not only was it a reminder, but it said who they were. I thought it was a great tool because it's one of the only national databases of identification. I'm glad to see that this legislation brings it back. I would love for you to comment on that.
The second part I would like for you to comment on is something which I thought was puzzling at the time. I'd like to hear your thoughts on the commissioner having the monetary penalties put now in front of them under this legislation, which I think is long overdue. They were removed from Elections Canada and put into public prosecutions where I thought the commissioner's role was still independent within Elections Canada, but they needed to be within that organization in order to get a better feel for their position.
There are two parts to the question. Could you talk about the VIC as we call it and also the commissioner being placed back to where they belong?
Thank you very much, Scott, for your question and for your request on these two issues.
With regard to the VIC, the voter information card, this is really important for Canadians. In terms of establishing their residency, it's important to note that the VIC can't be used on its own, but can be used with other forms of identification to establish residency. When you think about it, there are not very many forms of identification that actually have your photo, your name, and your address on them. There are numbers of Canadians who don't have driver's licences, for example. For those Canadians, this is really important.
I thought that the acting CEO, Mr. Perrault, had a great point when he talked about the fact that this is actually about dignity for a lot of people. When you think about it, for a lot of married couples, particularly older couples, there might not be mail that comes in the name of both individuals, or there might not be bills or utility bills that could be used to establish residency. When I think about people in my community who really relied on the VIC, I think of elderly women in particular who needed that piece of identification, women who perhaps don't drive or have stopped driving and who don't have mail coming to them in their name that establishes residency with regard to Elections Canada.
In terms of re-enfranchising individuals and ensuring that we're providing dignity to voters and electors, I think it's absolutely critical that we re-establish the voter information card as a piece of identification that can establish residency when we're at a poll.
With regard to the second part of your question and putting the commissioner of Canada elections back within the house of Elections Canada, it's exactly what you're talking about with regard to being within that infrastructure as opposed to at the department of public prosecutions.
Furthermore, with regard to the commissioner, we've re-empowered the commissioner to lay charges and have also added a new tool, which is the ability to compel testimony in order to be able to enforce elections legislation. This was a case that was made very strongly by the commissioner. It's all well and good if we have in place a set of laws that are strict, that limit undue influence, and that really ensure people are abiding by the books, but if we don't have the tools and the ability to actually prosecute and ensure that those rules are being followed, then it's not strong enough. Personally, and on behalf of the government, I think this is very important to ensure that those laws are being upheld.
I'll start with the latter, which is that currently under elections legislation you have to be 18 to work in a polling booth. There was a very successful initiative out in British Columbia called “Youth at the Booth” during the last provincial campaign, which had high school students working on polling day. Elections BC talked about how great they were as poll workers, but also, it was a way to get them involved in elections and excited about the prospect of voting.
That's something the former CEO recommended in his recommendations following 2015. It's something that we think is an absolutely excellent initiative, particularly because we know that Elections Canada does struggle to fill the polls with poll workers during general elections.
By extending that pool, you're getting bright-eyed, eager students who are excited about this, and who then are also thinking about participating in the vote when they do turn 18, which leads to the idea of having a national youth voter registry. This basically would enable 14- to 17-year-olds to choose to register, so that when they turn 18, they get onto the electors list. Of course, that's kept in waiting until they turn 18. None of that information would be shared until they're 18, when the electors list is shared.
Given that we agree on those things, and given that Ontario is in the middle of an election where they're for the first time dealing with some changes they have made, some that are similar in nature or cover the same subject matter as some of the changes being proposed in this federal legislation, for example, the future voters registry, privacy policies for political parties, some limits and restrictions on spending by third parties, and government advertising restrictions, which is something the opposition has been suggesting as a potential amendment to this bill, would you say that it would be valuable for us to be able to hear from those involved in the Ontario elections, whether that be election officials, which we certainly should, or others who are involved in it, and hear about any of the difficulties they might have encountered in their experiences?
I think the last thing we would want to do would be to repeat any mistakes that might have been made there, or to not learn from those experiences when they're so readily available to us. What are your thoughts? Would it be advisable for us to hear from those involved in the Ontario election? Would you agree with me on that as well?
It was one of the arguments used by the previous government when they pushed through their voting changes unilaterally. They had the support of no other party.
You reflected particularly on women. I'll reflect on first nations in my constituency who have gone through this process, some of whom only have gained enfranchisement, or the right to vote, within their lifetimes. They've shown up at a polling booth where the polling clerk was a relative who was unable to vouch for them, nor was anybody else in the polling station, who may also have been related and, in some of the smaller communities, was certainly known to them. No one was able to vouch for them. They're often low income and don't have the proper ID. They're sent away from the polling station.
From the perspective of somebody who just in their own lifetime has gained access to our political conversation to then go through an experience, which is actually quite public, of being turned away and disenfranchised, with, as Mr. Richards talked about, all the evidence pointing in the direction that there is no sweeping voter fraud, using either the voter ID cards or vouching, can that experience not inform the way we consider the use of either of those tools to allow people to vote in our general elections?
Minister, first all, congratulations. I think we're all very excited for you on the birth of your child.
In 2008 I was a young volunteer on a by-election in Guelph. One morning while I was working in the office we started getting a whole bunch of phone calls that Liberal supporters all over the riding were having their brake lines cut. We started getting reports over the course of the next couple of days that across six or seven ridings in southwestern Ontario people had cut the brake lines of Liberal supporters and painted “Liberal” on their houses.
Then, in 2011, voters in Guelph and a handful of other ridings were phoned with a bilingual message claiming to be from Elections Canada directing them to vote in a different polling location than their voting cards stated. In many cases, these were very far away from their voting locations. A judge ruled that these people were called from the database belonging to the Conservative Party. Only one person was charged and convicted in this case, and there's nobody who believes that this person, if they acted at all, did so on their own.
The investigator, under the auspices of the commissioner, had a very limited ability to conduct that investigation, had to tolerate the Conservative Party's lawyer's presence at every single witness interview, and had no power to compel any testimony or to subpoena any actual materials.
Were the robocalls scandal to happen again in 2019, would the elections commissioner, under this act, have an improved ability to investigate? Do you believe this act will help dissuade the obvious election fraud conducted in 2011? What further powers does the elections commissioner have and why?
I can't comment specifically on what happened in previous elections, although I can say that I think these powers would definitely enable the commissioner of Canada elections to investigate more thoroughly any allegations or instances of attempting to misdirect individuals to vote at a different polling location.
I've heard compelling recommendations from the commissioner himself with regard to why it would be important, specifically because, as you know, with regard to the ability to lay charges, it's something that's under the office of public prosecutions. He has to get into a lineup, in terms of when that's able.... That can take a long time. Particularly when it comes to elections legislation, the timeliness of being able to lay charges is really important. It's important to demonstrate that the elections law is upheld. It's important to demonstrate that we as a country do not tolerate transgressions of elections legislation, and it's important to be able to actually pursue the case itself.
Number one, the ability to lay charges is very important. Number two, the ability to compel testimony is also very important, because when you have strong party systems and strong party loyalty, which, as you know, all of us who come from different political parties can understand, it can be difficult for individuals, who perhaps know something, to feel that they can say something or would say something. The ability to compel would give the commissioner the ability to further question.
What's important as well within this is that while he would have the ability to compel testimony, you cannot self-incriminate when you're being compelled to testify. When we're dealing with big scandals that have a big impact on the outcome of an election, it is important that there are the teeth to be able to uphold what really is excellent electoral legislation worldwide.
I'm glad to see you here, Minister. Just as I said before in the House, I'm very glad that you're back in the Commons, not just because I like you personally, but also because I think it's helpful with a bill like this—and with any bill, but especially one of this size—to have the minister here, as opposed to a temporary minister. I'm making the assumption that you were involved in the drafting of the bill and that Minister was not. It's just harder, I would think, to defend and to shepherd through a bill that you didn't have a hand in designing compared to one that you did. Having said that, I'm very pleased indeed to see you here.
You've indicated an openness to amendments, and I wanted to ask about one very specifically because, as you know, it is very near and dear to my heart. We discussed it, you and I, before the bill came to the House, when it was in the very early drafting stages and you were asking about suggestions we might have. This is the idea of the provisional ballot.
For the benefit of those who may not be familiar with the term, the idea is that when a person comes in to vote and lacks any ID, they can still vote, but the ballot gets placed into an anonymizing envelope, just as if they had submitted it. On the outside of the anonymizing envelope, they put down their information. In the event that the number of provisional ballots in that kind of anonymizing envelope is large enough to be greater than the margin of difference between the two leading candidates, at that point they're authenticated. Those that are for real are then used to decide the election. This ensures both that nobody who has the right to vote is turned away and that nobody votes fraudulently who does not have the right to vote—or even to vote in error, if they're not citizens and that kind of thing.
This wasn't in the bill. Would you be willing to consider putting it into the final version of the bill? If we introduced amendments to that effect, would you be willing to accept them?
Right. I don't think you'd find there's anything undignified about the process, which is used in a number of other jurisdictions. As things stand, someone who comes in and has to go through a process of either getting a written attestation or vouching does have to step physically to one side, depending on the layout of the station. They vary significantly depending on where they are. As you know, they can be put into church basements, community halls, fire halls, you name it. I must say I literally can't think of anything about this that could be categorized as undignified, but I will ask the Chief Electoral Officer as to his views on the subject when he's here later today. Obviously dignity is of concern to him.
Leaving that aside, I'll just point out that, in the absence of doing something like this, even with the vouching provisions that have been returned to this draft bill and the provisions for voter information cards being used as proof of residence, there's still a hole that's being left here. It's one that was in play during the Wrzesnewskyj and Opitz ruling, in which an attempt was being made at the Supreme Court to decide which of those two had been elected. This is the issue of people who are at mobile polls. Frequently, senior citizens, in many cases who are in residences, don't have identification. There's no one at their poll who can vouch for them because only other seniors in a similar situation—that doesn't include the staff—can vouch for them, and they're unlikely to either have the ID or to, in many cases although this isn't universally true, have a voter information card that would establish residence. They could be in a situation where either they can't vote or they have to vote in a way that is not permitted under this legislation.
What I'm suggesting would cure that problem. Nothing in the legislation as it stands now would cure that problem.
Keeping that in mind, Minister, I wonder if you'd be that much more open to the idea of adopting the provisional balloting suggestion.
Thank you for your presence here today.
I want to start by speaking about student engagement. I worked in a high school for 20 years, and I currently represent a riding that has three post-secondary institutions, so student engagement and student participation are very important to me.
This issue of the voter information card has come up. We often connect it with seniors, but I think it's also important for students, because not all students have driver's licences. My daughter is a perfect example. Bills come to me, not to her, at my house, and she still lives with us, so I think that the use of the voter information card as a piece for vouching is important, and you're using that in conjunction with other identification so it doesn't stand alone.
I'm looking at other things this bill does that encourage student participation and engagement. I would like first for you to comment on the youth registry. Can you explain how that works, how the information is kept, and how the information is gained in the first instance?
I'll just take a moment on the voter information card to say you're right that both students and seniors are least likely to have indications of residence, so the voter information card might be particularly important to those two groups.
On the issue of further improving engagement among students, it has been a long-standing problem that our next generation do not vote as often as older generations. We saw a bit of a change in the last election. It's something I know Elections Canada, indeed, all people interested in democracy, want to continue.
There are a couple of proposals in the proposed legislation that I think deal with it. One is the registry of future electors. The idea here is to develop a registry of young people who would, upon their 18th birthday, be registered for elections. The idea is that they would help develop that first appetite. The mystery of voting would drop when it's included, in fact, with civics classes, which some high schools have. I know Ontario has it, and other provinces do too. The idea of the registry of future electors plus civics classes would help demystify voting and get young people that first taste of voting, and once they have acquired that taste, it would ensure we have electors for life.
The other element that I think is important is participation in Elections Canada. There's a real issue the year of an election getting a sufficient number of people to work the polls, do all the interesting, supportive things we expect as Canadians to ensure the polls work well, and get the experience of Elections Canada. In her remarks, the minister mentioned the B.C. experience about the Youth at the Booth program, all of which suggests that, in fact, it's a great idea to get youth involved, let them see behind the scenes how elections really work, help create that taste for voting, and create that solid democratic foundation that we want to continue as part of our culture and heritage.
Yes, but again, if we're doing something.... This is to say that in 2018 and 2019 the reality of conducting an election has fundamentally changed—
Mr. Allen Sutherland: Right.
Mr. Nathan Cullen: —from what it was a generation ago in terms of the ability.... People used to look for Sears catalogues and library cards. The data sources were limited. We had door-knocking and phone banks. Now, any time someone clicks a survey on Facebook, we've learned that they might be trolled or exposed, and their data might be sold to political actors, to third parties or registered parties—it doesn't matter to me—and suddenly they're getting only this kind of information.... I think it's only going to get worse, so I wonder why, in a generational change, we're not doing more about it, Mr. Chair.
We're of course going to come to it with amendments. We just went through Bill . We put 300 amendments on the table, and one was accepted, so you'll forgive me if I'm a bit skeptical about how open the government is. We'll see if it's any different on this omnibus bill. It's open, but not accepting.
We've had some discussion. I won't get into it. I think the most important thing to hammer out today is the travel. We need to get to the bottom of that in terms of the other items on our proposed list. It's something that we have some leverage to discuss tomorrow. At the end of the day, we would like to see clause-by-clause on the 12th to get this bill back to the House of Commons. The committee is ultimately going to have make up its mind about how the witness schedule looks. I know the opposition expressed some desire to bring forward a witness list and they have tomorrow to do that.
As to what that witness list looks like, depending on the track the committee decides, it may be two separate lists. Are we going on the road? That's one set of witnesses. Are we staying here in Ottawa? That's a completely separate list of witnesses.
We've made a proposal on the committee travelling across Canada from June 4, 2018, until June 8, 2018, authorizing the clerk to organize travel with meetings in the communities in the following regions: Atlantic Canada, Quebec, Ontario, the Prairies, and British Columbia, but we all have to narrow that down. I'm sure the clerks would agree with that as it would be of much greater assistance. My understanding is that the Liaison Committee will meet tomorrow and that we can get a budget, finalize it, and move on, with advanced thanks to the clerks for assisting us, given the timetable.
We are proposing that the clerk organize at least one meeting between the indigenous communities, and that the meetings be balanced between urban and rural communities. This is what we heard especially from Mr. Cullen around the desire to travel. I guess I'll turn it over to the opposition to flesh that out with some specifics on that particular point.
If I'm hearing what I think I'm hearing, it's based on the discussions we had before the gavelling of the meeting here. Looking at the travel proposal, I agree that it's advisable that travel is something we settle on if we're going to be doing it, because we have to give the clerk a bit of time to arrange it, especially given how quickly it has to happen. I think it would be good to hear the thoughts of Mr. Cullen on this, because I know he was the one who first raised the importance of travel. I certainly agree with him; I think it is a good thing for us to be doing on this piece of legislation.
This seems to look similar, as far as I can tell, to what Mr. Cullen brought to the meeting last time, although it is different from what I think he had originally hoped to see, in that it is significantly less. I would love to hear his thoughts on the travel part of it. I'm not sure if I'm hearing that we would talk this evening about what the travel portion might look like. I agree, however, with the idea raised by Mr. Bittle of maybe leaving the discussion on the other elements for tomorrow when we see what the witness lists of all three parties look like and we can have some sense of what this would look like in practice.
I can certainly commit, if it would be helpful, to bringing a list to the meeting tomorrow of our proposed witnesses, at least the initial witnesses. I believe I've seen the government's proposed list already. Unless they're planning to add to that, I'm sure they can bring their list tomorrow, no problem. I don't know where Mr. Cullen is on that, but if he can commit to this, then we could have a discussion during the hour we have for business tomorrow and we could arrive at the rest of the elements. I would agree, given the amount of time we have now, that we should try to sort the travel out in this period. This would allow our clerk to get started on that as soon as possible, because it will be a very difficult undertaking in the short time frame that we have.
Those are my thoughts.
Thanks, Chris, for the comments.
Let me preface this very briefly by saying I don't blame anyone around this table for the circumstance we're in. Clearly, on the government's side, I don't think the timing of the bill and the study was of the choosing of any of the committee members—certainly not you, Chair, and certainly not the opposition—yet the bind that I feel myself in is that I have a similar objection because I don't like some of the rules that exist right now on voting reform. Bill addresses some of those things that we've talked about openly, vouching and whatnot.
As a parliamentarian, I also see and feel the responsibility of getting whatever we do to Bill right—amend, reject, whatever those options are—simply because in my experience if you rush legislation, particularly omnibus, it's inevitable you'll make some mistakes. The question is how grievous those mistakes are, and you realize them too late. Elections Canada tries to handle something voters experience at the election and it doesn't work the way that we were told and the way we hoped. I feel myself in a bit of a bind.
I'll start with the witness list and work backwards to the travel proposal. is back and re-engaged, and I just got a witness list from him and, yeah, it's exhaustive and exhausting to look at. We're going to spend tonight whittling some of that down because I have a few thoughts. I was borrowing a little bit from the electoral reform experience, because I think through those many long months of study we found some witnesses who don't immediately pop to mind who I think would be very helpful on this.
I appreciate the efforts in terms of the travel component and the way the motion is worded. As we know, in urban and rural experiences voting is different, and particularly first nations people have a different experience as well.
The initial proposal for travel makes sense. I would hope we would talk today about what a day would look like, because sometimes committees travel and it looks a certain way and other times it looks another way. We had raised the issue of talking to young Canadians when we're out on the road. We had raised the issue of potentially having.... When we go to towns sometimes we go to Halifax or Toronto and we see only experts, so-called experts, people implicated by it, but we have no access to average Canadians who don't have a Ph.D. behind their name. I think we're made more poor for it if we do that. I would advocate some small version of an open house, if we go places in the evening, and then in the daytime we give over to the experts who have lots of opinions about this.
In terms of the rest of the meetings, I remain very open to what we're doing right now. I know it's not always comfortable and it's hard to schedule with extended hours and sitting, simply because we've been given a Sisyphean task here and we ought to try to do as much as we can to get it right.
Other than that, my only other reservation, which I expressed to before, was the proposal of doing clause-by-clause all in one day. We have a philosophical objection to the custom that, if there are more than 80 amendments, suddenly we go on the clock, and that reduces us to five minutes per party per clause, I believe. I've seen from both sides, government and opposition, bills just brutalized because you're hammering through clauses by the end, by the evening sittings. Committee members don't really.... I think we stop doing our jobs at some point. It gives me angst to see a day of clause-by-clause on a bill that's 250 substantive pages. That's a lot.
The last I'll say is that the government talks about different numbers, but 85% of the bill was prestudied or 85% comes from Elections Canada. That's fine. The percentages are fine in terms of public relations or media, but I don't want to suggest that simply because 85% of the bill has been looked at, the 15% is going to be fast. It may not be 15% of the effort because of the stuff the government has added into this bill on top of the previous legislation. It's not simple or obvious things. We're talking about freedom of speech and some things that are potentially complicated. I don't have a pre-opinion as to what that will look like.
All that said, I think the travel is short, but it will work. If we can reconsider the clause-by-clause, that would be good, and we should talk about what a travel day looks like. If we go to Halifax, what does it look like? If we're in Toronto, what does the day look like? That will inform my feelings toward getting out on the road.
Members have rightfully noted that there's very little time left between now and the beginning of this proposed travel. I would just like to add that, should the committee agree this evening that they would like to travel and they would like to see a budget, we could put one together in time for tomorrow's meeting, but we would need more specific details about the cities the committee would like to visit. When I read this on the indigenous communities, perhaps the committee could specify an indigenous community and maybe some ideas about how we balance rural and urban, given what cities the committee wants to go to.
If this budget gets adopted by the committee tomorrow and is then approved by the SBLI, say tomorrow afternoon, we won't get House authorization probably until Wednesday, which only leaves us two to three business days to set up these meetings, which is going to be a challenge. We have a formidable team who's ready to put this together; however, there are some things that are going to be out of our control such as flights, hotel availability, and meeting room availability in some of the cities. There's going to be very little flexibility and very little time to adjust if we run into issues with the logistics.
A second concern that I have is that we don't yet have a witness list for any of these cities, or any of the cities that will be proposed, so it may be a challenge to find witnesses who are available and who will be adequately prepared to appear before the committee in those various cities. If the committee's desire is to travel, I would hope that we could get those names as quickly as possible so that we could communicate with those individuals and try to make sure that they're available for the committee. My fear is that we'll go to all the trouble, we'll set up the meetings, we'll travel, and then we won't have all the witnesses that the committee wants to see in those locations.
I have a couple of things.
The first one goes back to this discussion about rural communities. I really think that what Nathan first suggested, wherever it might end up being—and I'll get to that in a second—whether it be in Regina, Winnipeg, or Calgary, wherever it is, you can land there and you can be somewhere pretty rural in an hour's drive.
I really do think that we should try to make sure to include a rural perspective in this somehow. I really think that bringing a few people into the city from some rural area is not necessarily going to accomplish that as well as going to the community itself. That's partly because if we start to talk about this idea of maybe going to more of a town hall situation and you bring in a few people, their voices just get swamped by the other things that are being brought up. I think we really should look at one of these stops, at least, being one where we visit a rural community.
The other thing I would say is that—I think this would make the clerk's job somewhat easier—other than our prescribing that it's going to be somewhere near Winnipeg or somewhere near Regina.... We have three provinces there—Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta—and we're going to skip over two of the three, which is unfortunate to say the least, but that's the decision that's being made here, apparently. In order to do this in the easiest way logistically for the clerk, why don't we say that we'd be comfortable with flying into any of the major cities in those three provinces? Based on a flight schedule—getting from Toronto, which is where we would be coming from, and then to Vancouver, where we would be leaving next—logistically that just gives him more possibilities that he can deal with in terms of the flight scheduling and all the rest, so that he has some flexibility. That makes it a little easier.
This is going to be a very difficult job for him as it is. I'd like to try to make it as easy for him as possible.
Frankly, we can get that perspective in any one of those three, four, or five places, however many there are that we can fly into directly. I would think that certainly Regina, Winnipeg, and Calgary would qualify, and probably Edmonton too, and maybe Saskatoon, but I don't know. Whatever they might be, though, I just think we should be giving him the flexibility to logistically deal with it that way. Then we could look at a community that would have a hall that would be sufficient for interpretive booths and all that, a community that is an hour outside one of those places. Some of us who are from those areas.... I know Alberta pretty well, and I know Saskatchewan to some degree too. I'm sure others know of some of these other places. You could draw on that as well for suggestions on communities that we could look at.
It's a pleasure to be back before the committee. This is a bit unusual, but I didn't want to repeat what I said on Tuesday. My remarks are now on the record, with my statement appended to the evidence. As for what I didn't talk about on Tuesday, I focus on that in the table of proposed amendments to improve the bill. That way, you will have more time to ask your questions.
I would like to start by expressing my support for this bill. I think it is an important piece of legislation that will go a long way towards modernizing the Canada Elections Act and improving the integrity of the electoral process. The bill contains some 100 of the 132 recommendations made by Elections Canada, so it's no shock, then, that we generally support the bill.
As I indicated, I'd like to speak to a few specific issues, and they appear in the table, which I will get to shortly.
Generally speaking, the two issues I feel require further examination by the committee are privacy, which we discussed last week, and the rules governing third parties.
Again, on privacy and on third parties, these are two areas that may warrant, in my view, some further discussion and examination by the committee.
Before I get into the table, I just want to say a few words about the third party rules.
Overall, the proposals in Bill are a major improvement on the rules governing third parties. They expand the scope of the rules to include not just advertising activities but also all kinds of partisan activities. The scope is expanded. They also provide for rules that not only apply during the writ period but also the pre-writ period. They contain a number of measures to deal with foreign funding.
I want to note that there is some imbalance between the rules as they apply to third parties and parties in the pre-writ period. Parties would be limited only in their advertising expenses. Third parties would be limited in all of their partisan activities. They would have to file up to two pre-writ reports, and parties don't have to do that. I just note that. I don't have recommendations to that effect, but I did want to bring that to the attention of the committee, when you consider the overall regulatory burden on third parties.
While there are some important rules to deal with foreign funding, there is in my view a residual opening for foreign funding through third parties. There are some ways that this can be addressed. I will be making one particular recommendation in that regard.
I've not made a recommendation on the table in terms of the contribution rules to third parties. I think this is an area where there are a range of options. You need to balance Charter of Rights considerations. You need to look at the overall regulatory burden. I'm quite prepared to have a discussion on those topics with the committee, but I have not made a specific recommendation.
If you turn to the table, I'll take them in the order they appear on the table.
The first issue is a narrow but important issue. There is now in this bill a solemn declaration for voters. Voters would be required in some circumstances to say that either they are 18 or will be 18 on voting day. That's quite correct. However, they also are required to say that they are citizens or that they will be a citizen on polling day. That's something that they cannot make a declaration for. They do not know whether in fact they will become citizens on polling day. They don't control that. The ceremony has not taken place. It may not take place. My view is that certainly only citizens should be able to vote, even in the advance vote or special ballot. The oath should be amended to reflect that. Someone should not be called upon to say that they will be a citizen on polling day.
The second point is one of the issues related to foreign funding of third parties. One of the ways in which the bill improves the regime is that not only does it ban contributions made by foreign sources for the purpose of regulated activities, but it in fact bans the use of foreign funds. In some cases a third party may receive foreign funds and not be able to use them. They could have turned around and passed it on to another third party. That third party could then spend it. I would recommend that there be an anti-avoidance clause in the bill. There are other examples of such clauses in this bill, and the Canada Elections Act. That would deal with those kinds of situations where a third party is turning around and passing on foreign funds to avoid the restrictions in the act. That's an improvement that I'm recommending on the bill.
The third point relates to convention fees. The rule right now is that when a person buys a ticket to participate in a convention, the contribution that this person makes is then determined by looking at the price of the ticket minus the tangible benefits that he or she receives at the convention, such as the meals, beverages, and so forth. The bill recommends to also deduct from the ticket price a reasonable allocation of the overhead costs of doing the convention. It also allows for another individual to not only pay for that ticket but also deduct from the amount the overhead costs. The effect of that is that a wealthy person could, by buying all or most of the tickets, essentially pay for all of the party's convention costs.
There are number of ways to deal with that. The first way would be to simply not accept that there be a deduction of the overhead costs from the amount that constitutes a contribution. That is my preferred approach. In the alternative, one could say that this deduction only is allowable for a single ticket, not multiple tickets. It's a bit more complicated to administer. If that is not acceptable to this committee, then perhaps the law should be amended so that the party's annual return reflects the fact that a person has paid for tickets for more than one person to attend a convention, so that if a person buys a slate of tickets for a convention, that is simply reported in the annual report. At least there is some transparency in this regard.
The fourth point I want to raise is in regard to the issue of privacy that we have discussed. As I indicated last week, I am concerned by the fact that there are no minimal standards. Each party would decide which standard is appropriate for them. Perhaps more importantly, I'm concerned about the absence of oversight. On the first issue, the standards adopted by the parties in their policies should be consistent with those set out in the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, which is usually referred to as PIPEDA, and I do believe that the Privacy Commissioner is the appropriate person to provide oversight. I have discussed this with the Privacy Commissioner and he is in agreement with that.
The fifth point that I want to raise is.... This is actually a recommendation that came from Elections Canada. It's reflected properly in the bill. It's a recommendation to deal with the possibility of disinformation in cases where there's a publication that claims to be made by a party or a candidate, but it is not. In our recommendation, we should have made an additional element to that, which is that publications, whether electronically or traditionally made, that are claimed to be by Elections Canada, but are not, should be covered by the same prohibition. That's just an expansion of that same rule to cover false Elections Canada material.
The sixth one relates to an important clause in the bill dealing with cyber-attacks. I believe that is an important issue. There is a proposal in the bill relating to the misuse of or interference with a computer. However, in order for an offence to be committed, there is a requirement to show that there was an intention to affect the result of the election. In some cases, a foreign state or a third party may wish to interfere simply to disrupt the election or simply to undermine trust in the election, so the requirement to prove an intent to change the result goes too far. I think it needs to be expanded to cover other intents, which I've just mentioned.
Finally, the last one is a really technical one. It's a transitional provision regarding the reporting obligations for candidates. There should be a clause in the bill that says that if the rules come into force midway into the campaign or after the campaign, the reporting obligation at the end of the campaign should match the substantive obligations during the campaign. That's sensible. The drafting of this clause can be improved and should be improved. There are similar clauses in the bill that we feel are better drafted in that regard and we refer to those in the table. That is strictly a technical amendment.