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Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs
Tuesday, June 5, 2018
[Recorded by Electronic Apparatus]
C-76, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act and other acts and to make certain consequential amendments.
We are pleased to be joined today by Taylor Gunn, president and chief election officer of CIVIX, and Duff Conacher, co-founder of Democracy Watch.
For the committee's information, you have the list from the clerk of the total number of witnesses. The good news is that they've all been invited—all 300—and we've accommodated everyone who's interested. If there are any more who express an interest, we have slots this week and can fill them. We should be finished with witnesses this week.
We can do some opening statements.
Mr. Gunn, maybe you could start, and then we'll hear from Mr. Conacher.
It's a privilege to have been here a few times before. In case you don't recall who we are and what we do, I'll explain that we're a Canadian civic education charity that works to develop the habits and skills of citizenship within students under the voting age.
Our primary piece of work is the student vote program, which is a parallel election for kids under the voting age. You may have been aware of that. We're running one in Ontario right now. We expect probably around 300,000 kids to go through that process by Thursday of this week.
An interesting addition to our work is that we ran our first student vote outside of Canada in Colombia two weeks ago, with 31,000 kids participating. Hopefully, that will open us up to more countries and we can export our Canadian democratic values.
We've also started a new program that's all about news literacy and “mis-, dis-, and mal-information”, which relates a bit to what's in this bill. That's something that I might bring up later.
It's a privilege to be here. I can't say that I object to much—or maybe anything—in the proposed bill. I'm really comfortable giving more time to Duff, who might have some more specific points. There are some things I can comment on around the preregistration, and maybe a little bit around the foreign interference, with what we've learned over the last few months, and then on another couple of small points.
I'm happy to give up my time to Duff or to end short so that you guys can have a break and plan for your next session.
Thank you to the committee for the opportunity to testify before you today.
I am testifying here in my role as co-founder of Democracy Watch, which, if you are not aware, is a citizen advocacy group. We've been working since 1993 to make Canada the world's leading democracy, pushing for changes to require everyone in politics to be honest, ethical, open, and representative, and to prevent waste. A total of 190,000 people have signed up to send a letter or petition in one or another of our campaigns from across Canada.
Today, my submission is based largely, as Mr. Gunn mentioned, on earlier submissions made to the Special Committee on Electoral Reform.
Bill C-76 makes many good changes, reversing many of the unfair changes made by the 2014 so-called Fair Elections Act, but the Democracy Watch position is that the negative effects of many of the changes in that act were exaggerated. As a result, the reversal of those changes will likely have little overall effect on what actually happens in elections. Like the 2014 Fair Elections Act, Bill C-76 unfortunately doesn't live up to its name. It's called the elections modernization act, but like the Fair Elections Act, it allows many old-fashioned, unfair, and undemocratic election practices to continue, as follows:
Number one, of course, the vote-counting system doesn't count votes in a fair way, and usually produces false majority governments. It also doesn't allow voters to vote “none of the above”—a key option that voters should have, and already have in four provinces—and it doesn't fully fix election dates, as the U.K. has, to stop unfair snap election calls.
Number two, it continues to allow the baiting of voters with false promises in ads. The Canada Elections Act prohibits inducing voters to vote for anyone by—and this is the actual wording—“any pretence or contrivance”. However, the commissioner of Canada elections refuses to apply that measure to a blatantly false promise or false statement made during an election. A clearly worded “honest promises” requirement, with significant penalties, is clearly needed. It's the number one hot-button issue for voters: even if they vote for the party that wins, they don't get what they voted for because of blatantly false promises.
While clause 61 of the bill adds some specifics to the measures in sections 91 and 92 of the Canadian Elections Act concerning false statements about candidates, the measures actually significantly narrow the range of prohibited false statements. That is a move in the wrong direction. Dishonesty in elections should be broadly defined and discouraged. It's a fundamental voter rights issue. They have the right to an honest campaign so that they know what they're voting for honestly, and misleaders, as opposed to leaders, should be discouraged with significant penalties.
Related to that, the bill does not do nearly enough to stop the new form of false claims, secret false online election ads, including by foreigners. Bill C-76 trusts social media companies to self-regulate, only holding them accountable if they “knowingly” allow a foreign ad, but not saying anything at all in terms of their knowingly or in any other way allowing a false domestic ad. Again, clause 61 narrows the definition of “false statements”, but it still would be illegal to make a false statement about a candidate.
In terms of the “knowingly” standard, the social media companies will easily be able to come up with evidence that they didn't know an ad had been placed. It's not going to be enforceable. They'll get off every time, so that doesn't discourage them from allowing secret, false, online election ads by people in the country or foreigners.
Media and social media companies should be required to report all details about every election-related ad to Elections Canada during the six months leading up to an election, so that Elections Canada can check whether the ad is false, whether it exceeds the third party spending limits, and whether it is paid for by a foreigner. All those three things are illegal, but if Elections Canada can't see those ads, which they can't because they're micro-targeted, how are they going to enforce those laws against false and foreign-sponsored ads, and ads that exceed the third party spending limits?
Don't trust the social media companies to self-regulate in this area. Require them to report every ad to Elections Canada. During those six months, empower Elections Canada to order a clearly false or illegal ad because it's foreign or exceeds the spending limits to be deleted from a media and social media site and impose significant fines on the violators.
In terms of what the bill also does not address, annual donations are still too high. Bill C-50 doesn't do anything about this. As a result, the parties all rely on a small pool of large donors who donate thousands of dollars or more. That facilitates funnelling as SNC-Lavalin was caught doing. It also facilitates lobbyists bundling donations to buy influence. That's all undemocratic and unfair.
There are seven practices the bill does not address that should be switched to be overseen by Elections Canada or other watchdogs.
One is unfair nomination races. Elections Canada should be running all of them. The reform act has not changed anything. All the parties have handed back to party leaders the power to approve election candidates, sometimes with someone in their party headquarters' office as a screen.
Another is unfair leadership races. Elections Canada should be overseeing them.
Another is questionable auditing. Elections Canada should be auditing parties, candidates, and third parties.
Another is unfair election debates. Elections Canada or a commission should be running them with their rules. Hopefully a bill making that change will come soon, before the next election.
Another is biased election polling station supervision. The ruling party and second party choose those people and can force the returning officer to appoint whom they want. Elections Canada should be appointing all the polling station returning officers.
There is the questionable use of voter information. The bill does not extend the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, PIPEDA, to the parties. The law should be extended to the parties with the Privacy Commissioner doing enforcement.
Another is unfair government advertising. Hopefully there will be a bill coming on that as well with the Auditor General or Elections Canada empowered to stop any ads that are partisan in the six months leading up to an election, and a full prohibition on government ads during the three months before an election.
There is the third party spending limits area. There's no way to stop Canadian businesses and citizen groups receiving foreign money from entities that frees up other money they have to use for third party election advocacy activities, unless you're going to prohibit foreign-owned businesses in Canada and foreign contributions to citizen groups completely. This bill does go quite far in requiring the separate bank account to be set up. I think the problem with it is it's discrimination against citizen groups that take donations versus unions and corporations that are also third parties. It's very easy for them to shift money into this bank account, but a third party is going to have to do special fundraising to get money into that account if it's a citizen group. It's going to make it much more difficult for citizen groups. They are allowed to donate into the account from their own funds that they may have gathered throughout the year, obviously not foreign funds. I think the overall effect is going to make it much more difficult for citizen groups to gather any funds compared to unions or corporations.
The disclosure of the reports and the limits are all good as well, but you need a limit on government advertising as well to make it fair for everyone leading up to the pre-writ drop period and the election period. Overall, I don't see any reason to increase the third party limit during the election period. That's a bad idea. That's a move in an undemocratic direction because it would allow wealthier interests to spend more. The cost of online ads is much less than traditional advertising was when the limits were first set. Even though the new limit covers more expenses, including surveys and going door to door and things like that kind of outreach, I don't see a reason to increase the limit. I think it's a move in a bad direction. How was the limit chosen? How were all the limits chosen? Are they based on anything? Are they based on looking at what parties spent on ads in the pre-writ period in the 2015 election, before the 2011 election?
It's the same with third parties. Is it based on anything that's been reported to Elections Canada? I know that the figures in 2004 limiting third parties were arbitrary, but now we have some track record and I think it should be examined.
I'll just finish with this point. The limits as stated in the government's backgrounder are not the same as what's in the bill. I'm quite confused by huge discrepancies in the amounts. The pre-writ limit for party spending says $1.5 million in the backgrounder, but in the bill, it says $1.1 million. In the backgrounder, it says it's adjusted for 2019 figures based on inflation, which is 30% inflation which we don't have now. All the limits are the same. For third parties, there's a $300,000 gap between what it says in the bill and the backgrounder, and for a riding there's a $3,000 gap.
An hon. member: [Inaudible—Editor]
Mr. Duff Conacher: The pre-writ period and the writ period. I'm not sure where those figures came from in the backgrounder.
I would just make the overall point: how are these limits set? Why not look at what parties actually spent in the pre-writ period leading up to the 2011, 2015 elections. It's the same with the third parties and what they spent during the election. Set a limit based on that. I don't think any of the limits are very meaningful—any of them—because very few parties are going to spend that amount in July and August. People don't usually run big ad campaigns in July and August, especially for voters, because they're not paying attention until September after the writ is dropped.
Finally, overall enforcement must be increased. The fines must be increased. The watchdogs must be made much more independent. The length of time for bringing complaints must be extended from 30 days after an election to one year.
I welcome your questions about any of those points. Thank you again for the opportunity.
If they're going to enforce a rule that says a false ad can't be run, then everyone has to view them as completely non-partisan. Right now, the ruling party cabinet chooses the Chief Electoral Officer. The director of public prosecutions is chosen by a committee that has a majority of ruling party members on it.
There's a better way. There's an independent commission in Ontario. The way it appoints judges is the world-leading model, and it should be used for every single appointment of every government watchdog at the federal level. You need these people to be viewed as completely non-partisan, not tainted by even the hint of an appearance of bias. If they're going to stop false ads that are online and curtail people's free expression, you don't want anyone thinking they've done that to protect one party, help one party, or hurt another party.
We'll go to questioning now.
We'll start with Mr. Bittle.
Mr. Gunn, can you comment on the register of future voters?
It's a trend with election management bodies. The purpose is to be able to communicate with younger electors once they are 18.
It seems like there's a couple of different methods for this. One, which they have in Ontario, is that the young people are supposed to opt in before they are added. Another version is where information is shared from wherever it can be collected with the election management body, where it's not an opt in.
I wasn't sure with this bill.... It says it may be opt in. I'm not sure whether it's going to be opt in or not. The opt-in provision represents potentially a teachable moment in schools and in other ways, as long as it's properly funded and executed, but it is also challenging. I believe that Elections Ontario found it challenging to obtain the numbers they were looking forward to in building that preregistration list. Of course, the alternative is that the information is shared behind the scenes. Your name appears on a list where you have no education or understanding about the list, what its purpose is, and you lose the potential for that teachable moment.
It's one of those things that beyond the bill, it comes down to the execution and delivery, and again, the challenge of whether or not it's opt in. With all of these things, I always advise that maybe it shouldn't be an election agency that's running these types of educational campaigns but organizations that are already active in schools and have the experience and knowledge on how to make something out of that.
I think it's great that it's in here. I wouldn't rely on it to increase turnout, but it's a trend that's being seen across Canada. I don't think anyone should object to it.
Then you have things such as whether the election is competitive. Is it a change election? You still have citizens who will feel that their vote doesn't count. That's based on the electoral system, and nothing is happening on that one.
You have things such as how people receive their information in elections. You do have accessibility. This came from the national youth survey that Elections Canada has now done twice. There are motivation factors, accessibility factors. All those things come into play, and all of them have to be done at the same time. You can't rely just on civic education, for example.
I still would suggest and advise to anyone that the most effective dollars spent on potentially grooming a young person into a citizen is civic education. Then, of course, it comes down to education that is not just out of a textbook, making sure it's experiential. I'd point out that especially when you get into things such as cyber-threats or foreign interference in our elections, you can do the top-down...or the advice that you have in the bill of how people detect these ads and this sort of thing, but if you're not doing the bottom-up at the same time, almost like citizen preparedness or resiliency, you won't get the effect you're looking for.
Outside of this bill are things such as empowering organizations to do the things that Elections Canada either doesn't have the ambitions or aspirations to do, and being more aggressive in tackling these types of challenges. I know that's out of your hands, but someone should be concerned with it, because there isn't a mechanism right now for groups like ours, and maybe others, to be creative.
Political parties have supporters, and they don't like other political parties. What's to stop thousands of individuals from bombarding a political party or a political organization as a coordinated campaign to undermine a party?
I'm referring to the other information that's gathered and what parties are doing with it, whether parties are renting their lists to raise money and things like that. There is some compromise position here, I think, to bring the parties—I know they're a different kind of entity—under some of those rules and not allow them to be self-enforcing, which essentially is what the bill does.
Now, it's Mr. Richards.
When you were before this committee—I think it was about a year or so ago now—you stated that you'd like to see disclosure for lobby groups or third party groups in their spending between elections. I'm assuming that's still your position. Given that this is not addressed in Bill C-76, do you think that this legislation should be amended to include that kind of disclosure requirement so that it's out of the writ and the pre-writ periods?
Going beyond the pre-writ period, yes, I think we should still have disclosure under the Lobbying Act of any spending on any campaign. It doesn't have to be right down to the dollar, but a range could be given for round figures, just to get some sense of how skewed things are in terms of the resources of different stakeholders working on any issue.
Some people have said—Senator Frum, for example—that there won't be any disclosure until after the election. There will be with this interim report, and it could disclose quite a bit.
This is done by leadership candidates in leadership races, the disclosure monthly and in the last week as well leading up to the leadership vote. I don't see why it cannot be applied to everybody. Voters have a right to know who is bankrolling every interest, candidate, party, and third party trying to affect the election.
If a snap election is called, I don't know where they're going to get funding from. They can transfer from their bank account themselves, and I'm sure they'll send out an appeal right away to get some funds in. It all will be limited, however, based on how much money they have in an account that's not foreign money, that is not dedicated to other programs, and that can be shifted into an account specifically for the partisan activities.
C-76 goes further than B.C. because of this special bank account you have to set up.
A number of people have raised this issue of collusion, or perhaps co-operation if we want to call it that, among a number of third parties. That might be seen as a way for an organization or individual to work with a party, for that matter, to get around spending limits. What are your thoughts on that? Do we need to be doing something more about that? Do you think that's a problem we need to deal with?
I've said this, I believe, before the committee before. This is a very difficult area. Once the election happens, unless there's outright fraud and it has very clearly affected the election, it's almost impossible to get a judge to say, “I'm going to overturn what tens of thousands of people just did.”
Therefore, you need to be doing real-time auditing, checking, verifying, and going in with the power to say, “I want to see all of your emails from the last log”, and things like that, to ensure that those kinds of things aren't happening.
After the fact, you can penalize people to discourage them, but what they win is a lot. They win power. There are lots of people out there, I think, who would be willing to be the sacrificial lamb who goes to jail for a couple of years to have their party win power.
Empower Elections Canada much more, both on the secret, fake, foreign, and false online election ads and on everything else, to be in there having full disclosure so they can stop anything that is unfair and undemocratic.
Now we'll go to Mr. Cullen.
Thank you to our witnesses.
I'm just reading through some of our background documents on this. Has the CEO not asked for the repealing? I'm talking about false or misleading statements, particularly about the personal character of the candidates. Has the CEO not recommended repealing this section? They thought his feeling at the time was that defamation and libel can be dealt with better at court than it could be by Elections Canada.
Again, libel court doesn't help you very much a year later if it's damaged the election result, so I think the definition should be broad. I think it should include blatantly false promises, which you have to catch after the fact. However, for blatantly false statements, Elections Canada, or a commissioner under it, should be there.
C-76 dealt with false statements and false promises. Let's just walk through one.
The last time you both appeared we were talking about electoral reform. We were talking about a specific promise that 2015 would be the last election under first past the post.
In your ideal scenario, what would happen next if the law prevented parties from making false statements?
Pretense is a false claim, contrivance is a false claim, and a false promise is a false claim, so I don't know why the commissioner's role—
Justin Trudeau would have to pay a year's worth of salary and the party would pay a fine.
It has to be stopped. Voters right now are playing poker when they go to vote. They don't know who's bluffing. Their money is on the table.
It has to be stopped, and the only way to stop it is a serious penalty after the fact. You're not going to be able to reverse an election result based on a false promise.
There is this distinction between third parties raising money and advocating for candidates or for issues versus what parties can raise money for to advocate for issues or their candidates. Why should there be any distinction? If Canadians are sitting there and want to donate to one of the political parties to voice their political expression, or want to donate to a business association or a non-profit environmental group, why should the government care how they choose to voice their democratic rights through their donation in this case?
C-76 deals with.
C-76 buys $500,000 of Facebook ads, which would be a lot, to advocate for a political party or for an issue, unless Facebook reports that, unless the third party, the foreign entity, reports it, how would we know it happened?
C-76, what responsibility do they have?
Now we'll go to Ms. Tassi.
Thank you, Mr. Gunn and Mr. Conacher, for being here today. I'll start with Mr. Conacher.
I know that your passion is democracy and ensuring that people have an opportunity to participate in the democratic process. Can you speak about the way you believe Bill C-76 will contribute to voter participation? What are the strengths in Bill C-76 that you see?
I mentioned that these are all good changes. I haven't spoken on any of them because we don't really have any qualms about them. You can debate whether someone who is abroad forever with no intention of returning should have the right to vote, but they don't vote, so it's not a big problem. That's why I say that most of the changes are good, in good directions, but I don't think they're going to change much of what actually happens, because I don't think they....
Even saying that Elections Canada can only inform people about how to vote, when that was done, voter turnout went up by the highest amount in the last election, from election to election, since Confederation.
A lot of the issues about the unfair elections act were unfair because the act didn't address the 10 things I listed, which this act does not address, either. It's not modernizing elections. It's still allowing a lot of old-fashioned, unfair, and undemocratic practices.
C-76 will result in more voter participation, that the provisions are in there to increase voter participation with things like accessibility, voter information cards, and the like? Would you agree with that?
Mr. Gunn, considering Mr. Conacher's statement about the voter information cards, I know that youth really struggle with identification, particularly youth who are at school and don't have a driver's licence. What do you think of the voter information card? Do you believe that for youth it's an important piece of identification for them to be able to use?
Going back now, Mr. Conacher, to this notion of money and limits, I want to get back to this premise. I remember that in your previous testimony you spoke about it as well. You suggest a $100 limit for donors, and you suggest that limit because you feel that a limit has to be placed, so you deem $100 as affordable to most people. Is that the idea?
Clinical tests around the world have shown that very small gifts change how people make decisions. For doctors and—
Thank you to both our witnesses for joining us today.
Mr. Conacher, I know you were before the committee to talk about Bill C-50, but I don't recall your joining us to talk about the leadership commission debate, the organizing commission, but I know you mentioned it in your opening comments. We did table a report back in March. During our process of deliberating on that matter, we were informed by Andy Fillmore that the government simply wouldn't have time to introduce legislation to create such a commission, so rather they will likely do that through a grants and contributions scheme.
We have yet to see anything come of that, but I would be interested in your thoughts on the matter. Would a grants and contributions model be supported by Democracy Watch, or would you rather see something with actual legislative backbone to create such an institution?
Having third party groups run things, some would say would balance it. You'll have different groups running it. Some will have a certain slant and run it that way because they have an interest, and others will balance it by having a different slant. I think it's better to put it into a non-partisan commission.
I know Elections Canada itself doesn't want it, but it can be a commissioner under Elections Canada, just like the enforcement is now, and have all sorts of fairness rules. The broadcasters are using the public's airwaves. Require them to air it on the public's airwaves. They already gouge us enough and use the airwaves as they want. The airwaves are a public resource. They're licensed to do it. An election is important. The debates should be running on all the broadcast outlets whether they want to run them or not. That should be what's on during prime time that evening.
I think that's the better way to go than grants and contributions.
You mentioned in your opening comments the term “modernization” within the title of the bill. Certainly technology is changing. Technology changes fast. There are both positive and negative consequences of those changes in technology. You certainly hit on one of the points in terms of real-time disclosure. We already have it fairly quickly in terms of leadership races and things like that.
Then you also hit on some of the more...I hate to use the word negative, but it has negative consequences in terms of social media advertising. There are both sides of it—the benefits and the challenges of technology's quick changes. I know you've talked already about the self-policing aspect of Facebook.
I want us to go a step further. I want you to elaborate a little bit more on that foreign influence on Facebook, and I should say on other social media platforms as well—we shouldn't constrain it to just Facebook, but certainly that's the one in the news—and how we might see a legitimate enforcement regime to really crack down on that foreign influence.
I know Mr. Cullen mentioned that about half a million dollars is a significant Facebook ad buy because the ads are so much cheaper.
What would you envision as an enforcement scheme to effectively deal with foreign powers using domestic platforms?
Just require all media companies and all social media companies to report every election-related ad to Elections Canada for six months leading up to an election. Give them the power to stop false ads, and stop an ad that doesn't identify the third party. They have to know who paid for it. They have to know where it was targeted as well, all the details. Then they'll be able to also enforce the spending limits that would apply in the pre-writ period.
Otherwise they won't know about the ads. The rules will be there. Just don't leave it to the social media companies especially to self-regulate, because their incentive is to make money, not to stop an ad because someone may not like it.
I'm just wondering if any other bill has been looking at that. Are you leaving that within the management of Elections Canada?
Personally in the past year and a half, I voted using a variety of methods. Provincially we use those tabulators. Provincially for the leadership race, we voted online. In last year's leadership race, we used a tabulator as well. There are a variety of options right now.
I'd be curious, Mr. Gunn. Do you use any different types of voting methods for student votes or is it an x on a piece of paper right now?
I wonder whether the right motivation is solving that problem to make it easier to use machines or we should be investing in finding ways to make sure there are actually more people to work on election day.
I do believe that everything can be hacked. I just wonder if that's a concern of the committee. Although you're saying that maybe you're making the electoral process more secure with the bill, you may be missing a part that you should be looking at.
I appreciate the comments.
Sorry, Mr. Chair. I know I went over.
Mr. Graham, you have two minutes. I know you can get seven minutes into two.
Would you consider yourselves a third party in elections?
I also mentioned that Elections Canada should be doing audits of third parties, and should not be allowing people to choose their own auditors. This is also a way of combatting non-disclosure of donations of over $200 that would violate the disclosure rules. Give Elections Canada that audit power, and I think you can keep the donation disclosure limit at $200 and above.
With respect to the $25,000 donation, do you find that this donor has any different an influence on your organization than the other donors?
C-50. That's why they should be restricted. When you talk about restricting third party citizen groups with respect to how high a donation they could have as the Public Policy Forum recommended in its recent report, you then also have to look at foreign-owned corporations and their ability to do an internal transfer of money to support what they do as a third party.
It's an area that should be looked at, but the place to start is with disclosure of how much is being spent by various interest groups in between elections on everything. You're going to have it for elections, although after the fact; it should be before the fact. Then we can start talking about whether we should limit donations to citizen groups for certain purposes.
You mentioned right at the beginning that four provinces have the option to choose “none of the above”. Roughly how many people choose that? Give me just a ballpark figure.
In terms of overall increase in voter turnout, I work with a charity called Democracy Education Network, and we also do voter turnout initiatives. We have two going on in Ontario, and we did them in the last election. One is VoteParty.ca. It's all aimed at voters because the best way to increase voter turnout is to get voters reaching out to non-voters. We have VoteParty.ca so that you can make a vote date with a non-voter and take them to vote with you. We also have VotePromise.ca so that a person can make the vote promise to help a non-voter vote.
I'll just pick up on some earlier questions very briefly. All of the messages should be aimed at telling voters to reach out to non-voters. That's how you'll increase voter turnout. Trying to reach non-voters with all the ads.... They're not paying attention, and they're not engaged. That's why they're non-voters. You don't reach them.
We'll suspend and bring the next witness.
For our second hour today, we are pleased to welcome Henry Milner, associate fellow, department of political science, Université de Montréal.
Professor Milner, thanks for coming. You can go ahead with your opening statement.
Professor Henry Milner (Associate Fellow, Department of Political Science, Université de Montréal, As an Individual):I was under the misapprehension that I was going to be one of five, but it turned out that the five are the entire morning session, rather than just this hour. That is okay with me, but it means that I haven't prepared an exhaustive critique or analysis of Bill C-76. I'm just going to talk about the things that are of particular interest to me and where I think I can make a contribution.
The first thing is you will see in my presentation that I've done this before. It's nice to come to such a situation and be basically positive, rather than be here to criticize and be negative, which is the more normal situation for people like me. Much of my efforts have been around electoral reform. That experience was slightly less positive, if I may say, than this one will turn out to be, I think.
I think that I was in front of the same committee—although I think it was across the street from Parliament—being critical of the Fair Elections Act for various problems with it that seemed to have been rectified in Bill C-33, which I was happy to see presented way back when. I had assumed that this issue was now going to be resolved, but it turns out it's only now that the process continues. It has been widened, as I don't have to tell you, with a number of other areas.
From my point of view, the crucial aspect is access to make it easier for people to inform themselves. That's my specialization, political knowledge. I've published a great deal about that, including the political knowledge of young people, by comparing different countries, including Canada, and physical access to the voting booth in terms of some of the restrictions that were brought into the Fair Elections Act that have been removed in Bill C-76.
In my own work, my particular concern has been on the political knowledge aspect, so I was very concerned with the Fair Elections Act's efforts to reduce the ability of Elections Canada to provide information, especially to young people, but not only to young people, so they would be more able to participate in an election at the right time. I think that those aspects of Bill C-33 have found their way into Bill C-76, in terms of the role of Elections Canada, in terms of allowing registration before the age, in fact, encouraging young people to register before the age of 18, as well as other aspects, which are not just for young people, but for people with handicaps and so on. I'm very happy to see that.
In terms of what I would like to see added, there's only one aspect that seems to me to be missing. Once one is really looking at the entire electoral process—and I know there was some discussion of it in the consultation process that took place—perhaps regulate the question of leaders debates during the election period. Set up a process that would be standardized, so that people could expect it. I know that's a complicated issue and I certainly don't want to delay the implementation process, but I do think it's missing from a law that tries to be quite comprehensive about the way we run election campaigns.
My other problem wasn't part of the Fair Elections Act, but with the way the last election was run. It was that it was so long. I don't have to remind you that it lasted more than 11 weeks, I think. That was tied to a change—a change which I had something to do with—namely, fixed election dates. I testified before that, especially in the Senate committee, that was responsible for that issue. I have talked about that in other places, including the House of Lords in London.
When fixed election dates were adopted—and the 2015 election took place under fixed election dates—this silly idea of now doubling the time for the campaign was combined with it, which of course made us look bad, those of us who favoured fixed election dates. People were saying now it's a free-for-all, that it lasts forever, and all kinds of money is being spent. I'm glad to see that we're going back to a seven-week campaign like in the Fair Elections Act. That's the one additional factor that I think is very important, and there are some other specific procedures around this that I'm in favour of. I don't have anything particular to say about them.
My real concern is that this happen. We have an election coming up in a year and a half and I'm concerned that the necessary aspects of this law won't be implemented early enough so that they can actually work appropriately. I'm torn between wanting to improve Bill C-76 in any possible way and wanting it to move quickly. Having it move quickly is, I think, in many ways more important, especially the information aspect and so on. We would like to see Elections Canada again able to implement its various information programs.
I have to tell you—and I don't know how many of you are aware of this—that there's a very absurd thing taking place next week in Toronto. I'm not sure how many of you are aware. Probably none of you are aware, but a citizens' group tied to the Canadian Federation of Students.... I think I have it here if you'll just give me a minute. The Council of Canadians, the Canadian Federation of Students, and some individuals hired a law firm to contest the Fair Elections Act. I was one of those who wrote affidavits for this contestation, which is only now coming before the Ontario Supreme Court. All of us—there are several of us, though not as many as you'll be hearing from—those of us who opposed the Fair Elections Act, are required now to be cross-examined by government lawyers to defend our criticism of the Fair Elections Act, which, of course, will no longer exist, hopefully, very soon.
I guess the business of Parliament moves slowly. I found it quite strange, but when I was speaking to the law firm that's running all of this, I asked them why they wouldn't just drop it. They said they weren't sure that the new legislation replacing the Fair Elections Act would be implemented in time, so they had to go ahead. This will all be taking place in Toronto next week.
Finally, I want to stress that I am anxious to see this move ahead, so that it will all be in place in time for the next election.
I have to say that one of the reasons I'm a little bit cynical about how this body moves on it with what seems to be happening or should be happening is my experience with the electoral reform. I was one of a great many political science and other experts in this area who came before this body. We were a very large majority of experts who testified in favour of electoral reform, and it seemed that our voices were going to be heard as part of the process, and then, as I don't need to tell you, we know how that came out.
I don't want to be too cynical but I do want to stress the importance of moving forward with this so that this bill will be in place in time to be implemented correctly for the next election.
Thank you very much.
We'll start with Mr. Simms.
Mr. Milner, it's nice to see you. I'm sorry. It should be Dr. Milner. Is that correct?
Voices: Oh, oh!
I want to thank you for being here today. Thank you for bringing us your insight and experience.
That's what I want to ask about first: your experience. I see here in your bio reference to universities in Finland, France, Australia, and New Zealand. I'm familiar with Australia and New Zealand only because they have the Westminster system like ours. For the other two examples, I've visited those countries, but I can't say that I'm an expert on either of the two.
What are the practices in these countries that interest you and that you think Canada should adopt or has adopted, or that in your international travels you see as a good practice that you can present to us here?
C-76 that I think we're doing what we can. We're not going to change our entire institutional system to be like theirs, but within our institution, I think we are applying it appropriately. They have other institutions. I can't speak for every country, but essentially they would certainly not be inhibited in terms of informing people and making various kinds of institutional access available, especially to young people.
I could talk about my last book, The Internet Generation, and some very interesting examples from other countries I've been to, including Norway, Sweden, Finland, and so on, in terms of how to inform young people about politics. In fact, if we do have a bit of extra time, I'd love to tell you about it because it's really quite interesting. It's not directly relevant to this but it's very interesting, and it's something that a version of which we could actually do at both the provincial and federal levels.
Specifically, of course—this brings me back to my last point—one of the things we could learn is to change our electoral system. I've argued and written about how I think a proportional system does in fact result over time in a more informed citizenry. It's a long academic argument based on evidence and so on, but I have made it in the past, and I think it can be made.
If one is interested in a citizenry that—again, none of these things are absolute and black and white—is more likely to inform themselves about relevant issues before an election, I would argue that we can learn from these countries. Most European countries, as you know, have proportional representation, as does New Zealand now, and Australia has it for the upper chamber. There is a relationship, but again, that's not the issue of importance at this committee.
Nevertheless, on a broader scale, I remember that when I was here and we were debating the Fair Elections Act, what came up quite a bit was the fact that it is a constitutional right to vote, which I'm sure it is in many other countries. As such, it seemed to me that other countries take it far more seriously than we did at that time, France being one of those countries. Do you think now that we are a step closer with this? What would you recommend in terms of how we go further?
C-76, adding things like political debates and so on is what I would recommend. I would think, though, that we shouldn't say the issue is closed especially on the political knowledge side. I think there are things we could do.
One of the problems.... I shouldn't call it a problem. The situation in Canada, which is not the case in the other countries we've mentioned, is that we have two different levels of government, and education is at the provincial level. In those other countries, linking political knowledge to the educational system through civic education is done through the same people who are concerned about national elections and so on.
Here, of course, education is provincial. Although Elections Canada does have some relationship to the schools, and I don't think provincial governments have a problem with that, nevertheless in the countries that I know there's a very close relationship between—
I don't have much time left, but perhaps you want to comment on that part. One of the things, in addition to that, is to allow Elections Canada to have more freedom to go beyond just telling people where and when to vote, which was the contentious issue. We also have the fact that we're allowing people between the ages of 16 and 18 to register to vote—or is it 14 now? Nevertheless, they can register to vote.
Do you see how Elections Canada can do more on the education aspect now that in Bill C-76 they have the freedom we just talked about?
I'd be happy to tell you what other countries do, but at this point I won't go there.
Now we'll go to Mr. Reid.
I'm starting my little timer here. Is the first round seven minutes? Okay.
You're aware, of course, that the political debates commission, which it sounds like you favour, is not actually part of this piece of legislation. This bill does not contain anything about a political leaders debates commission.
Mr. Nathan Cullen: And the CCF.
Mr. Scott Reid: —that's right—then the one at the cut-off line, in this case likely Ms. May, goes off to court and says that it's an unconstitutional violation.
I still think there's a risk of that occurring. If it's government-sponsored, with government funds, the rule generally is that the charter applies when the government was involved in setting something up, even if those who executed it are not the direct agents of the government. I think this is the advantage of having these things done informally; i.e., the Charter of Rights does not apply to Maclean's magazine or CTV or whoever.
Anyway, seeing as I've gone down that road, why don't you provide your thoughts on a debates commission, and in particular that problem of someone who effectively is an agent of government deciding who gets in and who doesn't get in?
Mr. Scott Reid: Yes.
Prof. Henry Milner: I haven't really thought about it very much, but my general principle is that it's not a good idea to have it debated in the last minute before an election campaign, because then the rules will be based on the particular situation at that time. It would be better to debate it when there's no election campaign. Then you try to set up general rules that apply beyond the particular situation and create some kind of commission, a neutral commission or commissioner, with the role of implementing those rules.
Just as a general principle, I think that's a better idea. I don't think we do a terrible job in Canada, but we're always left uncertain until the last moment in terms of how many debates, what the rules are, and who will be in the debate. I don't think that's a good way to do it. I think we can do better.
Ontario is about to have an election. We don't know who will wind up being the new government. We could imagine a very tidy election scenario, like, say the People's Republic of China or the people's democratic republic of North Korea, where we'll know exactly who is going to win beforehand. I'm just saying that untidiness is sort of inherent in democracy.
I want to submit to you, as a counter-proposition, the idea that norms grow culturally in a messy way, but they do emerge. As to what is a reasonable set of debates, what kinds of topics they ought be on, whether there should be specialized topic debates, what the ratio of English and French languages ought to be, length of interventions and so on.... I would submit it's better to have them emerge organically and be generally accepted in society. If it's felt that it's too restrictive, there will be pressure on someone to create a new debate beyond the ones that already exist. It actually did happen in the last election.
Does that not seem like a robust solution that we really haven't given a great chance to develop, given the fact that last time around we could see some new formatting springing up that had never previously happened?
It's not just the strategy of political parties and so on. It's the wider political culture. I would apply that the same way, in terms of debates. There are certain things that are understood to be taken for granted. That's my general principle. We can talk about the particular cases and so on.
Since that time, there's been some water under the bridge, both at the federal level and in the two provinces that are perennial experimenters in this matter, those being British Columbia and Prince Edward Island. They have taken somewhat different approaches to how to deal with it in the upcoming period of time. I would be interested in your comments on the two paths that the two provinces are taking.
I ask this particularly, because this issue could conceivably recur following the next election at the federal level. It's good to get some input in advance.
You may know that it hasn't yet been accepted by the British Columbia legislature, but it's been proposed by the attorney general. I think it's a good proposal, namely, that the first vote will be on principle and if there's a majority for the first vote...in other words, proportional representation versus first past the post. If proportional representation wins more than half, then there are three versions of it, and the voters will choose between the three.
I know less about what's happening in Prince Edward Island. I guess they're still waiting for the premier to set up the mechanism by which there will be a referendum, but I think something will happen there as well.
I appreciate your being back, Professor Milner, and your continued optimism sprinkled with a dose of skepticism.
I want to talk a bit about process because I think it's as important as the substance of the bill. Just on principle we had a tradition in Canada of one party not changing the rules of the game, if you will, unilaterally, or invoking closure until the unfair elections act came. Is my history correct?
C-33, which they introduced a year and a half ago. If that bill had been moved a year and a half ago would you still be in court and would we be spending taxpayer money arguing against what the government has said?
C-76 if we were to pass it tomorrow. Does that cause you any concern?
If I could just add, I think you're going to find the result in Ontario will, in fact, be an impetus for electoral reform. I think very strongly.
Now Ms. Sahota.
Thank you, Professor Milner. It's nice to see you again.
I was on the Special Committee on Electoral Reform, and we got to meet there.
It may be hard to believe from a reasonable man like yourself, but there are parties that are interested in not having this legislation move forward as quicky as possible; hence, the worry that we won't be able to get it done for your court procedure, but I really hope that we do.
Can I get more of your thoughts on that and why removing that restriction is a good thing?
At this point, a Canadian can...and not return at any point in the interval? Is that really the case?
Maybe that's going too far. Again, it's not something you'd worry about right away, but I think it's worth thinking about. I don't know of other countries, apart from the United States.... There probably are some. I think the French are like that. The basic idea is that you live your whole life out of the country, but this is still your identity. Do we think that? That's a cultural issue, right? Or wouldn't we say, no, your new identity is the country you live in, even though technically you still have Canadian citizenship? I would say there should be a point where you have to decide.
I don't worry about that, especially for Canadians.
It was very hard for me to understand why one would be opposed to that. It's like being opposed to motherhood, at some level.
I'll move to Mr. Nater.
Again, thank you, Dr. Milner, for joining us. I really appreciate your commentary.
I want to go back to your opening comments. You mentioned a book you wrote entitled The Internet Generation, referring to young people.
As you know, Mr. Gunn was here prior. One of the last questions he commented on—I don't think you were in the room for it—was about the use of tabulators or online voting. CIVIX has resisted the urge to move to online voting. They use the traditional paper ballot with an x. From your research, do you have a similar view on the traditional paper ballot? Do you have some thoughts on using tabulators or online voting, as we've seen in the past in a variety of voting instances, whether at the municipal level or at party leadership races?
I have written about voting at 16. I have written about compulsory voting. I haven't really done very much on electronic voting. I'm still a bit skeptical as we don't have any real data to show that it improves the turnout. I'm not saying it might not be there, but we don't have enough, and I think the act of physically voting itself has a positive effect. You're voting with your neighbours. I know we have a lot of other ways of avoiding that, in terms of early voting and so on, and we should do that; we should have other ways to vote for people who cannot for one reason or another go out and vote on voting day.
At least at the level of national elections—perhaps I would consider that for municipal elections where turnout is very low and so on—but for national elections, even provincial elections, I think the actual act of voting with your neighbours physically has a value. Maybe it's because I'm an old fogey and new generations would look at me and say, “What do you mean? I live on my screen. Those are my neighbours, the people I see on my screen every day. The people who live around me just happen to....”
I don't know, I'd hope that's not the case, but I can't say. For me, though, I think there's a positive element to that and I would be reluctant to eliminate it until I had a lot better evidence to justify it.
Can I have another quick question?
The Chair: Yes.
Mr. John Nater: You had talked about the limits on voting abroad, that this bill takes away that—
The other thing was the intention to return to Canada. Currently, there's that intention to want.... Is that something you would have a concern with as well?
Again, this is not an area I have done research on or am particularly knowledgeable about. I'm giving you a personal opinion, which is no better than anybody else's.
One of my concerns, and something that I'd really like to see improve, is young people voting and engaging in the democratic process. I'd like to ask you about the research you've done with respect to the finding that if students do not vote as soon as they reach voting age that this will impact their voting pattern as they get older. I think you've indicated that if they don't vote when they reach voting age, they won't vote when they get older, and they're more likely to follow that pattern.
There's a habit aspect to voting, just as there is to many things. Yes, you vote sometimes because of what's happening then. Suddenly there's an issue that really matters to you and so on, or a particular political leader you like or dislike, but there's also the habit aspect. You know an election is coming up, and you vote.
To develop a habit makes a difference. Mark's argument, which I share to some extent, is that the way to do that better is to start voting at 16 because young people are more likely to be around other people who are voting, namely their family, because they're still living at home. I'm not persuaded completely of that. That's why I put a lot of emphasis on civic education at the age of 14, 15, 16, which I would connect with voting at 16.
If you have a good system of civic education—because I think you should vote knowledgeably, not just because your mother is going to the polls, and you're joining her even though you don't know who the parties are.... It's the combination of the two. In Norway, for example, they've done some tests, and they found that it really doesn't seem to make very much difference whether you vote at 16 or whether your first vote is at 18, but that's because they have a very strong civic education program already. That's why I'm a bit more reluctant to say that voting at 16 will get a higher turnout. I'd say voting at 16 and civic education, a good civic education program like in Norway or in other countries will get long-term improvement. That would be my argument.
My time is up, is it not?
We'll suspend while we change witnesses.
I have some business to attend to and then we will have the final panel.
We will be joined by Lori Turnbull, associate professor, Dalhousie University, and Randall Emery, executive director of Canadian Citizens Rights Council.
As you know all PMB votes are on Wednesdays and tomorrow, there will be a bunch of votes right after QP, so I would ask the committee if it's okay—I can't imagine why it wouldn't be—if we move the witnesses from the first hour after question period to later in the evening, because there are enough blanks to fit them in later in the day.
Is that okay with everyone?
Did you put out the notice yet?
We've been talking a lot about social media and this information and the use of it during campaigns. I'd like the committee to compel.... They have government relations people who work here in Ottawa. It's not as if we're asking them to travel. They've been showing up to a lot of committees, because—ethics and information and others. I think it's inexcusable. We're dealing with this conversation, and the two social media giants are refusing to come.
The last committee hearing we have as of right now for witnesses is when? What's our last available date? Is it Monday? Is it Tuesday?
I think the compelling would be good. I don't know what date to put on it because I don't know what date this committee is done with witnesses because we haven't had that conversation.
I apologize to our witnesses, by the way.
We'd want to look at some past form and make sure we've followed that form.
Okay, thank you very much. We'll go to the witnesses.
Professor Turnbull, you could start, and then we'll go to Mr. Emery
Before I get into the bill, I'll make some general comments about political finance regulation in Canada. We've been regulating spending and contributions for candidates, parties, and third parties in some form or another since 1974. Every once in a while, the rules get reviewed or reconsidered in light of new realities with respect to democracy, elections, political culture, and things like that. At the heart of all these debates about political finance are some fundamental questions about democracy and political expression. It's always a balancing act between freedom of expression and the public interest, and maintaining a level playing field for political competitors. Neither of these is pursued by regulation to the complete detriment of the other: we need the balance, and that's where the charter comes in. The charter protects that.
It's been the norm historically, in connection with the charter, for political finance laws to end up in court, and there's been some very thoughtful jurisprudence on the role of the state in regulating money in politics. The terrain is shifting now, however, and I would say that money is no longer a reliable proxy for political expression. It used to be that debates and paid prime-time ads were the way to reach people, but now—and in connection with Mr. Cullen's comments—it's Twitter, Facebook, clickbait, Instagram, and micro-targeted email messages. This type of political expression poses a completely new regulatory challenge because, for the most part, it is low cost or free. Talking about spending limits and contribution limits is a little bit offside. Spending limits only get to part of the issue, and, I would suggest, an increasingly smaller part as we go on.
Nevertheless, here we are on Bill C-76. The theme is modernization. Democracy is changing for many reasons, and the law needs to catch up. The bill, as members are aware, covers a lot of ground. Some major areas of concentration, like establishing pre-writ spending limits for parties and third parties, aren't a huge surprise. We've seen this in Ontario. Given the constant campaign, campaigning all the time, imposing limits only once the writ is dropped is seen as arbitrary. The bill limits the writ period to 50 days. It increases transparency around the activities of third parties in a few ways: by requiring third parties to identify themselves in political advertising; by requiring them to keep separate bank accounts to allow their political activity to be seen a bit more clearly when you open up the books; and including things like polling in the expenditures that are limited, which is not the case now. It's an area where third parties are now able to spend in a way that's unlimited, but political parties are not. Also, there are measures to make voting more accessible, including the creation of a register of future electors.
I have a couple of comments on what the bill doesn't do. Third parties can still take unlimited donations from organizations, while political parties and candidates cannot. For over a decade now, contributions coming to candidates and parties from organizations, as opposed to individuals, have not been allowed. This creates an unbalanced playing field and perhaps creates an incentive for wealthier people or organizations to make unlimited donations to third parties.
The issue of foreign money is very tough to regulate, and largely because third parties are often doing many things. They're not just political actors, and they're not just contesting elections. They're also doing charitable work, advocacy work, educational work, and working with partners in other countries. So it's very difficult to impose particular rules during the campaign period or for election spending by third parties. You used to be able to take foreign money for some things, but now for this purpose, during this time, you can't. It's very difficult to police. On some level you don't want to go too far with it because then you're choking off funds used for other purposes, and we want organizations to be able to do those things, presumably. It comes down to how to regulate third party spending and activity that relates to elections.
Many observers have expressed concern over the possibility of foreign involvement in Canadian elections. We have to work on that. We have to be able to make Canadians feel that it's not going to be a problem, and that we are aware of what foreign influence could look like. Again, I think this relates significantly to issues of digital democracy, cybersecurity. Regulating money is not really going far enough and it's not really getting at what people's major concerns are.
I'll leave it there and allow my colleague to speak.
I'm the executive director of the Canadian Citizens Rights Council, which brings together organizational and individual members to invest in a vision of a renewed Canada leading the world in citizens' rights and freedoms.
Our comments today centre on universal voting rights. Bill C-76 does the right thing by restoring full federal voting rights to Canadian citizens abroad. Canadians support this universal right. We urge you to preserve these provisions in the bill and support a timely and fair implementation.
First of all, supporting the right to vote from abroad is the right thing to do. It's the right thing to do because doing nothing harms Canadians. Canadian history has been marked by a steady progression towards universal voting rights, beginning with the enfranchisement of women, then racialized minorities and people who don't own property, Inuit, first nations peoples, federal judges, people with mental disabilities, people with no fixed address, and lastly, prisoners, yet the current five-year rule at issue before the Supreme Court of Canada denies at least one million citizens the right to vote and sends a clear message of exclusion.
These are not hobby voters. Canadians abroad are subject to tax laws, criminal laws, foreign anti-corruption laws, and special economic measures, and they benefit from the right of entry to Canada from foreign soil, Canada pension benefits, citizenship laws, and immigration laws.
Moreover, it's the right thing to do because Canadians abroad benefit Canada. Canadians living and working abroad are directly and indirectly responsible for billions of dollars in bilateral trade. They are exceptionally well educated, linguistically adept, and culturally bilingual. They are our cultural and economic ambassadors. The more we as a country engage them, the more Canada will prosper.
Second, Canadians get this. Over time, Canadians maintain an overwhelming connectedness to Canada, but less so to their home province or municipality. Correspondingly, in 2011, the Environics Institute found that 69% of Canadians thought Canadians abroad should vote in federal elections. This bill strongly aligns with public opinion.
Finally, we ask you to support enfranchising provisions in this bill and to support a timely and fair implementation. When amendments are offered at clause-by-clause consideration, we ask members of this committee to preserve enfranchising language as is, without amendments that would limit the population of eligible voters. We also ask you to support a timely and fair implementation.
Recognizing Elections Canada's time constraints, we urge swift passage of this bill. We also urge members to avoid new identification or other requirements that have been demonstrated to reduce turnout elsewhere.
This is a historic opportunity to let all Canadians vote. It's the right thing to do, and Canadians support it. We applaud the enfranchising provisions of this bill and urge their preservation and timely implementation.
Thank you. I welcome any questions you might have.
We will go on to some questions, starting with Mr. Simms.
Dr. Turnbull, thank you for coming here today. I have just one broad, general question to begin with.
I notice your book that you co-authored with Mr. Aucoin and Mr. Jarvis, Democratizing the Constitution. Are we a step towards democratizing the Constitution in Bill C-76?
People worry about things such as too long an election campaign. You see the 50-day limit because we've gone through something such as 78 days and nobody liked that. That created a bunch of problems. We could talk forever about that. It wasn't all bad, but there were some unforeseen consequences there. People look at that and say, “Okay, we want to regulate that.”
There are things in the bill that are quite necessary and probably not too hard to achieve some consensus on. Personally, I wish it went farther in a few areas, but I try not to be too negative about that stuff. Take progress where it is. You don't want to be too rainy day about it.
Let me just drift away from that for a moment. We are now in the process of possibly making some amendments, despite the fact that we have accepted the principle and scope of the bill, but fine-tuning is always a wonderful thing. You raised concern about how we make Canadians feel secure, when perhaps just regulating the money is not enough. Am I getting that correct?
Also, I think there's an increasing fear of fake news—the fear that you're getting a whole lot of stuff coming at you and you're not sure if it's true, and there being so much information coming at you at one time. We're losing something on the verification side.
It's just tons of messages, and a lot of it is very micro-targeted. This has to do with the communications technology as well, because now we're able to be so sophisticated about knowing voters, knowing their profiles, and being able to deliver to them the kinds of messages they really want. On several levels that's good, responsive, and positive, but it's almost as if a bunch of people are getting different messages and there's not the same centralization of messaging that I think we could say we used to see in a campaign.
It's a difficult role for the government—and I mean the government in a big sense there, because you don't want state regulation of communication. You don't want the government to come in and say, “That's fake; you're not allowed to say that.” However, on some level we need something.
I don't know a ton about what people are doing in other countries, but in the U.K., the information commissioner has taken a bit of a role there.
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Dr. Lori Turnbull: Again, this is sort of in its infancy. We're watching to see how other countries are responding to the same challenges we're having, which is when messaging is so quick, how do you verify and how do we know that what people are getting is true and accurate? How do we force people to have balanced messages? I have no idea. On some level, we can't. We can encourage it, and I think that links to the bill's purpose in increasing the Chief Electoral Officer's education function. I think we can't downplay that. It's significantly important, as messaging becomes more complex, for non-partisan agencies like Elections Canada to be very present in conversation—
Mr. Emery, my colleague here to my right made a comment earlier about what was being said about those living abroad, that a citizen is a citizen.
Did I get that right, David?
There are also the practical implications. I know of people who have sought out their MPs in the ridings they used to live in to talk about this issue and who got the message back, saying, “I don't know if I'm your MP, because you can't vote here.” They didn't have anyone to talk to. They don't have anyone to go to for help if there's some issue with the program.
I think it is very important and very fundamental that everyone should have the right to vote.
Professor Turnbull, I'll start with you.
In the article you wrote for The Globe and Mail back in March, there were some interesting comments about third parties. You talked about, and you mentioned a little bit today as well, what you call “preferential treatment” under the Elections Act. They're able to access types of donations that the other participants in the elections, the political parties themselves, aren't able to access, for example, union and corporate donations. You mentioned about the lack of donation limits.
I wonder if you could give us a bit more detail on that. What I specifically want to know is whether you're suggesting the same donation limits for third parties as you are for political parties. Would you suggest that would only occur during the writ and pre-writ periods, or would you suggest that's something that should occur outside of those periods as well? Would you then be arguing that those third parties should only be receiving contributions from individuals?
That's a lot all at once, but—
Actually, that's really fantastic. You've just said everything, so I can just say “yes”.
For the purposes of elections and election spending, I would argue that if we want to make things level and we want to level out the playing field, we would look at the same process for third parties as political actors, as we do for everybody else. Therefore, individuals are able to make election contributions to all political actors at the same limit.
I had realized that the regulatory problem is how you compartmentalize the election activity of a third party and separate it out from the rest of their activity. For some organizations, it might be more clear-cut than others.
There are some where they maintain an educational and advocacy function on an ongoing basis. Does that automatically mean that once the pre-writ period kicks in, everything they do is election advertising? I think there would then be an imperative to try to protect what the organization does as part of its ordinary functions, but then try to pull it into a more regulated sphere once the writ is dropped.
Ms. Lori Turnbull: Yes, any that are registered.
Mr. Blake Richards: That would not just be throughout the writ period, or this newly created pre-writ period, but I'm talking about the other three years and eight months, or whatever it is.
Parties and other entities have to accept those limits annually, even in non-election years. It would be difficult to enforce that, and I wouldn't need to die on that mountain if we did it in the six months around an election. I think that would be a substantive—
I can see there being a different formula applied to third parties, because their behaviour is not necessarily campaigning all the time in the same way that a political entity does. However, I take your point: what stops the millionaire from dropping the money in the day before, especially when we have the fixed election dates, when you know it's coming and you can plan it?
That's also the issue with foreign donations. There's nothing wrong with a third party accepting foreign donations, as long as they're not used for election purposes. It's the same thing. If you have that drop and it's prior to the regulated period, that's just part of the funds that are in the organization's bank account. Those are your own funds, and you can use them.
To clarify then, those caps you're suggesting during the writ and pre-writ periods, because you're not sure how we would find a way to regulate outside of that, would they apply only to individuals or would you allow the $1,575 it is currently to come to a third party from other entities other than individuals?
Now we'll go on to Mr. Cullen.
There's an interest in my party, and I personally support the interest, in undoing some of the aspects of the Fair Elections Act, the vouching, some of the prescriptions on expat voting, and some of the other things by which, whether they were by intention or not, I think the effect was voter suppression for some Canadians who maybe weren't as supportive of the government in theory or in practice. Yet I think, Ms. Turnbull, Professor Turnbull, Dr. Turnbull, which do you prefer? Do you care?
There's the fixation on money, and it's not bad to have a fixation on money because they say money in politics is like water on the sidewalk, it finds its way in through all the cracks, and it's one aspect, but to not have the other aspect of political influence gained without a lot of money, would you say that's doing half the job, 90% of the job, 10% of the job, in terms of trying to have a clear connection between those seeking to affect elections and the voters understanding and having free and fair elections in who they choose or propose?
These are people funding certain sides of a debate, funding certain candidates illegally or through surreptitious means. Another side of the debate is the tools now, which were unimagined 20 years ago, the influence of social media. If we just take care of the money side of things and try to limit foreign influence, foreign money coming in, as much as we can, without doing the other side, which is how easy it is to spread mis-, dis-, and mal-information through social media, how much of the task of that goal are we actually accomplishing?
I'm having a hard time articulating questions today. I'll give you a scenario. If an organization has a $2-million budget, normally, an operational budget, and they get an extra $1-million donation from the United States, Russia, it doesn't matter, and they displace their core budget and spend all of their $2 million now on elections or to the prescribed limit, $1.5 million, it's essentially using through a loophole foreign money to advocate a position. I don't see under Bill C-76 how we'd catch that scenario. Do you follow?
Returning to Mr. Richard's question, if we did regulate contributions all the time, and you have your roughly maximum $1,700 a year and that goes into your election advertising account, and you don't have organizations donate, that would be a way of making sure, I think, that you don't have commingling.
The Canadian Chamber of Commerce, or Leadnow, or any of the participants who may hire door knockers or do political advertising, which are now all included, what would they do exactly? Prior to the next election, what would they do?
The Liberal Party, the NDP, the Conservatives couldn't simply commingle money and say none of that's foreign, that it's just for rent and hydro at party offices.
We're not going to be able to make that change prior to 2019. Even if this committee agreed and Parliament agreed to that, this bill has been introduced so late.
I'm very interested in what you just said just in terms of levelling the playing field and having transparency for Canadians. The advertisements they're seeing, the door knocker who they're hearing on the doorstep, have only been solicited by Canadian interests.
Mr. Emery, I heard your sense of urgency: get this done.
If you were a government and you said a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian, for example, and that they should be allowed to vote, and this was important to you, and you introduced the bill 18 months ago and then did nothing, what are you telling the expat community?
We are where we are. We hope that Bill C-76 moves.
Sorry, Chair. I was talking too long.
Has there been an issue on the speech side of things or would you perceive there to be a reasonable limit on freedom of speech because political parties are under those same requirements as well?
Third parties have always had a slightly different.... Within that balancing act between freedom of expression on one side and the public interest and a level playing field on the other, that's a balancing act that Parliament and the court, I would say, have had a kind of dialogue about to try to preserve. Within that, there is a microcosm where there's a separate, related balancing act for third parties because they're trying to do different things.
I don't know whether a court would look at an organization that plays an advocacy and educational role all the time, something like Leadnow, and say, “What would come to Leadnow that wouldn't be considered an election contribution?” I'm just picking that off the top of my head. You could make an argument that there is an educational advocacy function that has many benefits and they're not just trying to affect the outcome of an election. I could see third parties saying, hold on, we don't want to have that blanket contribution limit applied to us all the time because that's going to cut into the activities that we do that seem to be a little like election activities but aren't really.
I can see a few more trips to court to try to really narrow down that difference and figure out where that line is.
Mr. Emery, I noticed something regarding one of the founding members of your council—and I'm going to butcher his name—Nicolas Duchastel de Montrouge.
Yes, he ran for office, but he couldn't vote for himself.
I'll ask both of you that question:. Should there be a hierarchy between those two rights? Shouldn't they be similar in terms of one's access to that?
These are two basic fundamental rights of expression and of accountability, and they should be open to every citizen.
C-76, if passed, will undo what was done in the Fair Elections Act?
C-76 and how it is protecting or preserving that charter right to vote?
One is that to be able to make contributions is a fundamental part of political expression. This is why I'm particularly in favour of making sure that only individuals can make contributions. I think it's an extension of our activity as individuals and as people who participate in a democratic society. Sometimes political finance kind of gets a bad name, and we try to limit it as much as possible to the point sometimes where we're going against what we're trying to do to begin with. In that way, preserving a right to make contributions is incredibly important with regard to political expression.
The other is that I think the bill makes important advances towards accessibility, and that's fundamentally important. With respect to the issue of cybersecurity, many Canadians are still concerned about moving to electronic voting and online voting because of the possible breaches that could occur and result in election results that don't have integrity. I completely understand, and we have to make sure that things are secure. I would also echo Professor Milner's comments about voting being a community exercise and about voting with your neighbours. I understand, and I feel the same way. However, there are many Canadians for whom elections are not accessible in the way that we do them now. It is really no longer possible for us to ignore that, not that we ever really could, but we really have to fix this. We have to get much closer to a full meaning of accessibility, and I think the bill moves us in the right direction on that. That's not my area of expertise, so I'm not going to say it's perfect, but I think we're going in the right direction, yes.
In answer to the question about which prime minister lost in the east and then ran for a seat in the west, Sir John A. Macdonald lost in Kingston, which even in those days was not a reliable Conservative seat. He ran on Vancouver Island, which he never actually visited, but he won.
An hon. member: Is that right?
Mr. Scott Reid: Yes, that's true.
Sir Wilfrid Laurier lost in Quebec and ran in Saskatchewan. Again, I don't think he actually visited his riding. Mackenzie King also wound up being a Saskatchewan MP at one point.
Those are the ones I know of. There may have been others. Anyway, it has happened.
I want to ask Mr. Emery a question with regard to the issue of Canadians being abroad, out of the country, for more than five years and their voting rights. It is a charter right, under section 3 of the charter, to vote.
Do you regard that as an absolute right, as opposed to a right on which reasonable restrictions that are “justified in a free and democratic society” can be imposed? Of course, I'm using the language of section 1 of the charter, which is the section that allows for some limitations to be placed on other parts of the charter.
My own opinion is that it's an absolute right, and that's shared within the organization that I'm here representing.
If you say that, yes, it's an absolute right, then let me ask you this question about the supposedly highly principled position being taken by the government in this bill. They say that if you're a Canadian citizen, the right pertains to you as a Canadian citizen, not as a Canadian citizen who is a former resident of Canada. If you've been out of Canada for more than five years.... I have some friends who live in Australia, in Adelaide, who've been out of Canada since the late 1990s. This would apply to them. Their children are also citizens of Canada, although they haven't lived here. Their absolute right to vote in elections is being denied by this law. Does that not mean, therefore, that this is also, to the extent that it neglects the rights of these Canadian citizens, an unconstitutional failure on the part of the government?
Does that not mean we're still in a situation where—
We would like it to go further, I think, but given the system we have now, given the looming timeline for Elections Canada, this is a very positive step forward. I think that is a practical application, because we don't have MPs for citizens abroad right now. Maybe that will develop at some point in the future, I don't know, but—
Thank you. I was putting you in an unfair spot. It wasn't to poke holes in you; it was to poke holes in the argument that this is a highly principled as opposed to pragmatic measure, which has been the way the government has been marketing this side of things. I think it's a pragmatic move, a perfectly defensible pragmatic move, but it is not the point of high principle that it is being marketed as being. That was the point of questioning that way.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Now we'll go to Ms. Tassi.
Professor Turnbull, my first question will be for you. It's clarification on something you stated earlier in your testimony today.
Clearly with social media, we're in a whole new world with how people communicate and the ability to communicate. You mentioned different people receiving different messages. I want to be clear. Do you have a problem with different people receiving messages that are pertinent to them or is it just the accuracy of those messages that you're commenting on? For example, if we had someone who was a youth, so a party wanted to give parts of their platform that were related to youth, do you have any problem with that targeting or is it just with inaccuracies in what's being communicated?
I think historically in Canada, political parties, particularly successful ones, have played a nation-building role and have provided messages and ideologies, perspectives that you sort of put it out there and people unite around it and seek commonality. It's no surprise that political parties would, especially now that we have the technology, become more responsive to individual voters or prospective voters or prospective supporters. I think it could potentially come at a cost if political parties—and not just to put it all on political parties but third parties, too—are using that sophisticated messaging to tailor. It's a responsiveness that can be seen as positive, but we're not necessarily spending enough time building those big messages and big ideas that everybody can come to.
Previously you've gone on record as having concerns with respect to the Fair Elections Act. Some of those things you've talked about. You had concerns with respect to the lack of vouching and the taking away of the VIC. How important is this to you in this legislation?
Mr. Emery, with respect to the third party spending limitations, would you consider your organization a third party? Would it fall under that? If so, how would you be impacted by this legislation?
I would be concerned on the foreign influence piece that Canadian citizens are always free to be part of the process. That's what we would like to see in any legislation pertaining to foreign money. There are certainly legitimate concerns to be accounted for, but we would want to make sure that there would be something to say that a Canadian citizen is always free to be part of the process. I'm not aware of anything contrary to that, but that's what we would hope to see protected.
My focus now is on a question for Mr. Emery.
There are provisions in here that I am proud of with respect to enhancing access for people with disabilities. Included in that is the expansion of the definition of what disability means beyond physical disability. Can you speak to the importance of the provisions that you see in the bill and how you feel about their inclusion in Bill C-76?
Mr. Cullen, I understand you have wording now.
Some language that was offered I think is helpful to sort of do it in two stages. One is to invite again, essentially. We're sitting tonight, and if we don't hear a response, then we'll be more forceful tonight.
The motion would read, “That the clerk invite representatives from Facebook to appear before the committee on either June 6 or June 7, and if they fail to respond by 6:30 p.m. today, Kevin Chan from Facebook and Michelle Austin from Twitter be summoned to appear on” and then we can specify date and time tonight.
The challenge is.... I didn't want to open up this conversation as we're now into the meeting, and again, apologies to the witnesses, but the challenge is that if we had a subscribed calendar in front of us and we knew that there was this date, this date, and this date on which we were having witnesses, then the motion....
I take Mr. Reid's point, though. I don't want to be unreasonable or aggressive about it. I want to be assertive about it.
Mr. Scott Reid: That's fine.
Mr. Nathan Cullen: Just so committee members are aware as well, we have been in contact with both of the groups already, so they know we—
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Voices: Oh, oh!
Mr. Nathan Cullen: Thanks, David.
That was my only point on Scott's point. The challenge is that if we say 24 hours, then I don't know how long this committee is sitting and hearing witnesses. I honestly don't. We're trying to talk about it, but we had a motion the government prepared.... Everyone is kind of operating under the assumption that's what's going to happen at this committee, but technically and reasonably, this committee doesn't have that timeline at hand.
If we wait 24 hours, we invite, and they say that they'd be happy to come next week but we don't have hearings next week, then I'm in a bind as a committee member in wanting to hear from these witnesses. There are other committee members who want to hear from them too. That's why there is a certain urgency to it, but again, I don't know what our timeline is here, because none of us do.
I think what Mr. Reid has said is reasonable. We could have Facebook and Twitter in by Monday, have amendments in for Tuesday, and then start our clause-by-clause study by Wednesday.
The Chair: Mr. Bittle.
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Mr. Chris Bittle: —Twitter and Facebook.
They've all been invited. We have empty slots. We could do social media and the minister on Monday, and then proceed as Ruby suggested.
Ms. Ruby Sahota: No—
Mr. Nathan Cullen: No. I'm sorry. Amendments by Tuesday—
Now what you're proposing is not just the Twitter, Facebook, and minister thing. It's the whole kit and caboodle.
Mr. Blake Richards: Point of order.
Ms. Ruby Sahota: By Monday.
Mr. Blake Richards: Point of order.
We're talking about something and Mr. Cullen is talking about inviting and/or potentially compelling some witnesses. The amendment is to talk about the length of the study, to talk about when amendments would be.... To me, it doesn't seem like it's in the context of.... It doesn't seem like an amendment to that. It's a totally different subject matter.
Mr. Scott Reid: It's outside the scope.
Mr. Blake Richards: I wouldn't see that as an acceptable amendment to that motion. Therefore, we should probably just look at Mr. Cullen's situation and then the other thing. If the government chooses to make a motion of some other nature, then that's their right, I suppose.
However, I will also point out at this point in time—while I'm on a point of order, I'll make a second point of order—that we are past the time of the meeting. If we were dealing with something where we could deal with it quickly...but we're starting to talk now about when amendments would be due, witnesses, and all these other things. That's probably a lot longer conversation. Would that be something we'd be better off to schedule to have...I don't know when. However, the point is first of all, that I don't think the amendments are actually in order, and second, what are the thoughts on timing here?
We have to get to the conversation that Ruby also started, which is with respect to how we're handling the rest of this time. I'd suggest we have, as soon as possible—I don't know if there's time this afternoon to carve that out.... If there's some way that we could at least issue a notice to Facebook and Twitter saying we're headed down a path where we request again that you attend and there's that subpoena coming. I don't want to totally have the two enmeshed, as much as that may end up being what's happening here. We have to have those conversations.
It doesn't matter whether I agree with the chair, but yes, we started to expand the scope too much.
You'll give that scope within those hours or a time that is worked out with the clerk.
To be clear, Nathan, my objection was not with—
Anyway, that's what I would suggest. Does that give you wording that's satisfactory?
(Motion agreed to [See Minutes of Proceedings]
The Chair: Yes, Mr. Fillmore.
Just as a reminder, I think we've already taken care of the witnesses. We're going to make an exception to that now. I would like to ask that when we reconvene this evening, we forthwith address Ruby's remaining elements.
An hon. member: Yes.
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Mr. Nathan Cullen: No, no. That's not what I meant. The Privacy Commissioner is clearly important. The Canadian Forces are important. The very last panel is important as well, but if we have to borrow 15 minutes of time, I don't want to take that from the Privacy Commissioner.
A voice: You mean 6:30.
The Chair: Oh yes, 6:30.
The meeting is adjourned.