Just a word of warning to everybody. You really, really don't want to hear me if I haven't had my morning coffee, and this is the start for me. It's not that you don't want to hear me; it's just that you will have no idea what I'm saying and neither will I. Thank you.
We are, I believe, speaking to Mr. Nater's amendment to Ms. Sahota's motion. I believe that's correct.
Before I get into addressing it directly, I think it would be appropriate for me to respond a little bit to Mr. Bittle's commentary. I do object a bit. I say I object, but I want to be clear: I'm not objecting to Mr. Bittle's sincerity at anything he says; I object to some of the ostensible facts that I think he presented.
He said that some of the witnesses were not very good witnesses. He was harsher than that, a good deal harsher than that. They didn't have anything worthwhile to say, I think was the phrase he used. I don't think we ought to be saying that about our witnesses. At least, I would encourage colleagues, when they actually think that, and I have had that thought myself one or two times in the course of my 17 years here, but I hope I have always expressed that particular thought privately as opposed to publicly.
I actually thought the witnesses on the whole have been pretty good.
I think, as well, that with regard to inviting Mr. Essensa, I don't believe anyone can say there's been any nefariousness in our repeated efforts to get Mr. Essensa here. I think this is either our third attempt or our fourth attempt at that. He's a busy guy.
He was in the middle of an election campaign the first time we called. That's a good reason for a chief electoral officer not to be available. In the aftermath, they have recounts and all the other things that keep a chief electoral officer busy. This is a chief electoral officer for a jurisdiction that has a 100-odd seats in it. He is a busy person.
Most recently, he was quite specific as to why he was not available. He had a very specific reason. He didn't tell us what the meeting was, but he had something on his agenda that he couldn't get out of. We can all relate to that. We've all had those things.
We're finally inviting him back again, and he has accepted. One of our staff, Adam Church, who always has something intelligent to say on every subject, pointed out to me that maybe the reason Mr. Essensa never comes when we invite him is that we always invite him on 48 hours' notice. I kind of agree with that comment.
If you say to me that you're putting on a golf tournament on Saturday, no matter how good the cause is, well, it's Saturday. But if you say we have a golf tournament coming up next June, I'm much more available. Now, I may regret it later when I get there and say I could have used the Saturday for a camping trip. I actually don't like those charity golf tournaments that much.
I don't want to move to a discussion of a subamendment unless I've thought it through carefully and made sure that it makes sense and deserves the attention of the committee.
Then it would continue on about operating outside the normal hours to accommodate clause-by-clause consideration, which can be incorporated regardless of when the start time is.
I would say that I think some people might have reservations about this without some kind of limitation as to what is meant by “outside of normal hours”. I suspect that you would find a greater willingness from members of all parties to accommodate “outside of normal hours” if it is on normal sitting days. It's one thing to sit late into the evening on a Tuesday or Wednesday, or even a Thursday. It's an entirely different matter to do so on a day of a week when people thought they were going to be in their constituencies. That would impose a considerable and unreasonable burden on members of the committee, so that's a relevant consideration.
“That the Chair may limit debate on each clause to a maximum of five minutes per party, per clause” means, effectively, 15 minutes. I suspect with regard to this one—and colleagues should listen to see if they agree with this—that a realistic guess is that if one party wants to extend the debate on some point, and it's only one party, we'll find actually that it isn't practised, and it won't be five minutes per party; it'll be five minutes and then no one else will take the time, so it's actually five minutes per clause.
I think you will find that there's actually a genuine concern over the wording of some clauses, which can happen with a technical bill like this one, especially if an amendment is being considered. We'll find that there will be some kind of indication, and I would want to suggest that in such a circumstance, if the chair senses that this is the case, then the chair exercise his discretion to allow on that particular clause a greater amount than five minutes per party.
The way you do it is to see the other parties are feeling about this, right? It's at the chair's discretion, so you could say, “Two of three want it; that's enough.” You could say, “No, I want to see, essentially, a consensus, unanimity.” That then becomes a kind of version of what we informally call “the Simms rule”, after our colleague who developed a way of getting around some of the highly formalistic restrictions that can exist here, as long as there was a will from all sides to do so. It didn't supersede the Standing Orders. It provided a bit of breathing room within the space of the Standing Orders that could be reimposed at any time by the simple expedient of any member of the committee saying, “We should be moving on here. We don't want to cede the floor that way.” That was very effective, and this could be effective, too. I actually think this is a pretty good clause.
Then there is the last part, moving to clause-by-clause for anything that's left by 1 p.m. on October 16. Presumably the point of doing it at that time is that we're just going through however many clauses we have left, and it takes a maximum of a minute each at that point, probably less actually, maybe 30 seconds each. We could go through relatively quickly so that we could, I think, be done by that evening.
This is the government's bottom line, isn't it? The government's bottom line ultimately is that it wants to have this thing moved by October 16. Presumably, if you're going through it at that speed, it's by October 16 at midnight. That's what the government is after.
The question is, given that, how important other things really are. The goal I would suggest is to have some kind of way that allows us to have witnesses such as Mr. Essensa and still come up with some kind of global list that the government move on.
That's the direction in which I think I'd like to go with a subamendment. I think Mr. Essensa's testimony is great, so let's start. I'll make a simple subamendment to this effect, that we simply.... Hang on and let me see if this works: that the committee do not commence clause-by-clause consideration of Bill before the committee has heard from the chief electoral officer of Ontario on Tuesday, October 2, 2018, at 11 a.m. I'm adding those words back in.
I wonder if I should deal with more than one topic at a time. Maybe I should just stop by putting those words in. Then I can come back once we've dealt with that and suggest a further one. If we adopt that, we can then come back and deal with a further subamendment that I'd like to consider, but I think if I get into too many things at once it will be a problem. What I'll do is put in that adjustment on the time at which he's coming, and then we'll go back to the main motion, or rather, to Mr. Nater's motion, and I'll have a further subamendment to suggest at that time.
I think it is germane in the sense that we will wait with anticipation for that.
In relation to this, I think it's appropriate that we hear from the CEO of Ontario, and begin the process.
I don't think anyone wants to see us taking up time and wasting our time. There are other matters this committee needs to and ought to deal with.
An order of reference that has come to this committee is a prima facie question of privilege in the House related to Bill . As we take up time with the study of this bill, that is a matter that is being pushed off. We do want to see that come before the committee. Within the House of Commons a question of privilege takes priority over all other matters of business. I believe the same ought to be true in committee, so I am eager to see that come before this committee within the foreseeable future.
Related to this committee study, we all received from the clerk a request to appear before this committee from the CNIB, the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. I think it's rather appropriate that we received this request when we did. As members know, this week and earlier last week, we were debating Bill in the House, known as the barrier-free Canada Act, the . It was adopted yesterday in the House of Commons shortly after question period by unanimous consent, I believe. I wasn't in the House, but there were no bells, so I assume that either five members didn't stand or it was by unanimous consent. It was nice to see that bill go to committee. I think it's a worthwhile discussion we need to have, although I'm sure there are some concerns.
I think it's appropriate and germane that the debate was occurring when we did receive this request. I would hope that this would be something we might be able to accommodate before going to clause-by-clause.
Ms. Clarke, a government relations specialist from the CNIB, does request to appear specifically on Bill . They mentioned they're celebrating 100 years in 2018. I think 2018 is a special year for 100th anniversaries. It's also the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. I'm not positive, but I believe there was a connection to the CNIB's founding and those veterans coming home from the First World War with visual impairment because of the war. I do think it's appropriate that we hear from them.
One of the lines in the request.... As someone whose mother-in-law uses a wheelchair—she lost her right leg to amputation about 15 years ago following an automobile accident—I think applying a disability lens to legislation is important, particularly when we're talking about elections.
I was pleased with the efforts that Elections Canada made in the 2015 election to make voting locations accessible, or as accessible as possible, at least for those with mobility issues. There are other disabilities that are not necessarily always as—
No, but it's something we could consider as an amendment to the legislation to see where that heads. It's germane to what the CEO was talking about with regard to the poll book suggestion, which also isn't in legislation but does relate to the ability of Elections Canada to work into this process. Certainly they use the example of the Whitby—Oshawa by-election to run that. That was the first opportunity they had, and I believe it was relatively successful. I remember watching those results come in quite quickly, and then it was implemented in the election.
We noticed at the time, and certainly in the election, the speed with which that occurred, with relative success, but it would be interesting to hear from Mr. Essensa about what challenges they had, especially when using a private contractor to undertake that work. I believe Dominion Voting Systems was the entity. It has undertaken to do that. Dominion is certainly a well-known company across Ontario, running their elections at the municipal level. In my constituency, I have nine municipalities, and two county governments have undertaken work with Dominion for online and telephone voting, and have done so with general success in terms of municipal elections. Hearing from Mr. Esssensa on Tuesday about how that has been undertaken would, I think, be worthwhile.
Canadians are changing how they do business, how they do their banking and how they do their shopping. More and more often these are being done in a variety of ways, whether it's online or by telephone interaction and they are not necessarily going in person to do many of the tasks they did in the past. That's not the direction Elections Ontario has taken. They've taken an electronic tabulator, but it's certainly a step towards additional automation.
I look forward to hearing Mr. Esssensa comment on the labour side of things. Ensuring that there's an appropriate number of poll clerks and deputy returning officers at each polling station to effectively run an election is a challenge. I know in my constituency, in Perth—Wellington, we have an exceptionally low unemployment rate. Ensuring that we have enough people to fill the jobs that are available on a full-time basis is a challenge in itself, but filling those jobs in a short period of time is its own challenge. Despite the fact that the jobs are relatively well remunerated, it is difficult to find people to commit to what is a long day. Twelve hours of voting is one thing, but then there's the additional time to open and close the poll and tabulate the votes at the end. Finding an appropriate amount of labour to make that happen is a challenge. There's no question about that. Hearing from Mr. Essensa on how that has worked and what issues they've had in terms of implementing that would be germane and appropriate when that happens.
Another thing was foreseen. Again, this is not a matter that applies necessarily to a riding like mine, which is relatively rural, although we do have mid-sized urban areas. Stratford would be the largest city in my riding, at 32,000 people. All the others are smaller towns under 10,000. One of the challenges was the opportunity to attend multiple-residence buildings, such as condo buildings and apartment buildings, in smaller communities. I've never had a challenge entering those multi-unit buildings, but there are often challenges with that.
The provincial legislation saw the authority of the CEO to issue fines to the owners of these buildings if canvassers are denied access to them. It would be an interesting commentary to hear from the CEO as to whether that's something we should be foreseeing in the amendments to Bill , to have some form of enhanced ability. Certainly the current legislation provides that candidates and their agents are permitted to attend multi-unit buildings, but being able to enter those or having some kind of fine or sanction for those buildings would be worthwhile.
We should have that conversation with Mr. Essensa to hear what his thinking is and whether that has been successful and whether or not he's had to use that power and authority that's been given to him. Therefore, I look forward to hearing that commentary on October 2, from 11 o'clock until noon when Mr. Essensa joins us.
Another important observation that comes out of the provincial legislation on which I look forward to hearing from Mr. Essensa is the way in which the legislation itself affected the boundaries, especially when it came to representation in the north.
Mr. Chair, I don't need to tell you, from your perspective, that Yukon is significantly larger than a riding such as mine of 3,500 square kilometres, which I feel is large, certainly not in relation to yours but in relation to a Toronto riding or a Montreal riding, which is a number of subway stops or blocks, where certainly a different type of representation is needed.
In the provincial legislation, they foresaw how to make recommendations on their boundaries and suggested that an additional two electoral districts be added in the Ontario north. Certainly this isn't something that's foreseen within our legislation. Certainly when it comes to boundary commissions, I would suggest that we have taken great pains at the federal level to ensure that, in terms of the electoral district, the boundaries commissions are undertaken in a way that tries as much as possible to do so without political influence, which I think is appropriate. It provides the Speaker of the House of Commons with the authority to appoint certain members of those boundaries commissions to undertake that, but it could be something that we ask the CEO about in terms of the appropriateness of legislation enhancing the representation in rural and particularly northern communities.
As well, in this specific example, the Kenora—Rainy River and Timmins—James Bay ridings both had large indigenous populations, so the commentary at the time was that this would provide the additional opportunity for enhanced representation for indigenous communities. That is something again on which we could hear from the CEO in terms of whether that enhanced representation has been effective and whether he has some suggestions for our elections act at the federal level, ways in which we can ensure that indigenous community members are able to and have full participation in our electoral system. In this case, these ridings were of significant northern capacity. They were still very large areas but with a much smaller population than others would as well.
That brings me to one of the most important points that I really think we need to hear from the chief electoral officer of Ontario on, and that has to do with the way in which third parties operate within a federal system. We've gone through the election provincially with these changes in place, with these new limits, with the need to register. In fact, at the provincial level as well, third parties are now also required to register. We won't be hearing from municipal representatives, but it would be nonetheless worthwhile to consider that as we go about the commentary and the discussion on where we go.
The interesting component here is that third party influence on elections has, especially in the last two and a half years, become a major discussion point not only in Ontario, not only in Canada, but internationally. No one wants to see foreign influence, or undue foreign influence, at any level in any country. We do not need to have any commentary or even a hint of a hint that a foreign influence could be having a role in our election process. The ongoing discussion in the United States about the foreign influence from Russia on the 2016 presidential election is not a discussion we want to be having here. We need to ensure that our rules, our laws in Canada, are as strong and as strict as possible for us to ensure there is not that influence.
Looking at the Ontario example, and looking at what I hope to hear from Mr. Essensa, it's specifically the way in which this third party rules, this third party process, was put in place during the election period and the time prior to the election period, as well. Currently in the federal legislation, there are different considerations, whether it's during the writ period, during the pre-writ period or not during the writ period, of the way in which third parties can operate.
What I find interesting from the provincial component and where Mr. Essensa will be able to provide pertinent commentary is that prior to the introduction of this piece of legislation, there was no limit on what could be spent on advertising before an election period. That's a concern. That's a concern when you have deep pockets that can influence an election by running ads and by paying for paid advertisers and paid workers during an election campaign and in the time prior to the writ period, as well.
When this change was implemented, the limit on third parties was a maximum of $100,000 during an election period, and no more than $4,000 within a specific electoral district. Even $4,000 in any given electoral district, I think, is high. Four thousand dollars' worth of advertising in any given riding could have a substantial impact, especially if we're not entirely clear where that funding is coming from and whether there is some foreign influence.
One of the things on which we heard testimony was the need for anti-collusion measures to ensure there's not a close association between multiple third parties. That's where my concern lies as well. If you have multiple third parties each running four thousand dollars' worth of ads in any given electoral district, you're looking at a major concern, especially when political parties are capped very stringently in terms of how much money they can spend in any given electoral district. Looking at the upcoming election, that's just shy of $100,000 in a given riding per registered candidate. That's a concern.
We should hear from Mr. Essensa in terms of how those limits were implemented and how they were enforced. I think that's one of the concerns we've heard from witnesses and from Canadians, as well: that it's well and good to have limits, to have limits on third parties, to have limits on foreign influence, but if it's not clear how these rules are enforced, if it's not clear that they can be enforced in some situations, then we have major concerns. To hear from Mr. Essensa, hear his commentary on exactly how that will be undertaken, I think, will be exceptionally interesting.
In the legislation prior to its introduction in 2016 and its implementation for 2018, there were no rules about whether third parties could collaborate on political advertising campaigns, and a very few of them working with political actors, to get around campaign finance regulations. That's a concern. Something I would be very intrigued to hear about from Mr. Essensa is whether he's aware of examples provincially, prior to the introduction of the bill, where political parties were working with third party organizations to coordinate a message, to coordinate a strategy in terms of working toward a common outcome, but in a way in which the campaign finance regulation was being subverted and people were getting around the rules.
On the anti-collusion measures that are envisioned in the provincial legislation, I think it would be worthwhile to hear his commentary, and then hear suggestions about the way in which, at the federal level, when we are reviewing the amendments, we can work to ensure that we have strong anti-collusion measures, as well. No one wants to see a system in which political actors, parties or party candidates are working very closely with third parties to get around the spending limits and spending caps. I'll be intrigued to hear from Mr. Essensa in terms of where things can happen and where things can go from there, as well.
Most of us around this table at one time or another have been candidates for a nomination. We've had to run for the nominations for our specific parties and then win those nominations. Sometimes members are required to win multiple nominations as different elections come on. We've seen that in different political parties.
One of the things that I find intriguing with the provincial example is that prior to the changes, there were no limits on how much a person could give to a nomination contestant. Substantial amounts of money could go into a nomination contest and could effectively be used as advertising for a general election, but under the auspices of a nomination race. It allowed those running for nomination in political parties to substantially influence an election campaign prior to the actual election campaign simply by having a delayed nomination contest, especially in situations where there was a tight riding where that added spending limit could be done with no limits on either the contributions or the spending. Games could be played, but that was something that was cracked down on within the legislation that was foreseen.
Now individuals can only give up to $1,200 to association and nomination contestants of a party annually, aligning it with the amounts that can be given to a political party or to a nominated candidate. As for the amount of money the contestant can spend, that's been capped at 20% of the candidate's spending limit in an electoral district in the previous election. In a riding where there's about a $100,000 spending limit, which is generally about where spending limits are—a little less in some ridings and a little more in others, depending on the size and the population—you're looking at a $20,000 limit for a nomination contestant. Again, it's not an insignificant amount of money, but it's still substantial enough that you're looking at a way in which the money can be spent. However, it nonetheless affects how that is undertaken.
More generally, in terms of financing, again, something that Mr. Essensa can comment on, especially as it relates to our legislation, is the amount of money and how it is distributed to political parties. In one sense, the provincial government was behind us federally in terms of how parties are financed. Until very recently, corporations and unions could make political contributions. Certainly in Canada that practice has been banned for many years. Initially the limits were reduced under former prime minister Jean Chrétien, but certainly they were banned altogether as one of the first acts by former prime minister Stephen Harper when he took office in 2006. This certainly changed the ways that parties fundraise and the ways that parties finance their election campaigns. I think that's a worthwhile conversation that needs to be had.
I find it interesting that prior to that change provincially, an individual could donate as much as $33,250 in any given election year by making the changes throughout the different levels—to the party, to the electoral district, to the nominated candidate—in a particular by-election. There are these situations in which, in each case, they can be making these donations. Hearing from Mr. Essensa in terms of how that has come to play and how that has happened would be worthwhile.
More generally as well, in terms of his contribution to our studies at hand, is the way in which funds are raised. We've certainly seen provincially what has been referred to as cash for access fundraisers. Provincial ministers were, at the time, given quotas of how much funding had to be raised in a certain time. These funds were raised by directly advocating and asking for contributions from those who may lobby or hope to do business with a provincial ministry.
The changes that were undertaken by the provincial government were what some would consider very strict, some would say draconian. Rather than addressing the problem of decision-makers being influenced by financial contributions, there was a movement to, effectively, ban all political actors from attending fundraisers, with few, if any, exceptions. This applied to pretty much anyone other than staff, which I found interesting. A chief of staff to a senior cabinet minister could attend, but a nominated candidate in a riding that is unlikely to go to a certain political party is banned from attending a fundraiser.
There's been interesting commentary on that. Interesting commentaries were that cardboard cutouts have been used in place of an actual member or minister attending a fundraiser.
When that was passed, there was no such leeway given, and there was a lot of opposition in Parliament to the so-called Fair Elections Act.
However, we've seen a very similar motion brought forward, with a start and end date, which seems to be problematic to the Conservatives for some odd reason. We're doing exactly what you would expect us to do, because this is how you used to function.
At this point, we haven't even been as.... We've given so much. We've given so much time. We've had every witness. I think you guys had a list of 200-some witnesses you wanted to bring forward, and we said go ahead. We said yes to every single witness. There were 50 witnesses who were available. Some had a lot of relevant testimony to share; some were maybe not so relevant.
It almost seems like we're going down this road where you want to hear from any person who has ever run in an election in their lifetime, because they may or may not, as Mr. Nater said, make one relevant point. That's just not how a committee can effectively function.
We can't function this way. We've been going in circles. This is the third time I think that we've been going in circles with this piece of legislation, and I am getting very dizzy. These are just delay tactics.
There may be other negotiations going on, as Mr. Nater keeps pointing out, but it will be interesting to see. All of the things that Mr. Nater keeps saying are of top interest to him may not even be what ends up coming out of the negotiation.
It leads me to further believe that these are all delay tactics and there's not a genuine desire to even hear from the chief electoral officer of Ontario, or a real genuine desire for any of the debate we're having right now. It's just a method of being able to get something else that may be of interest to the Conservatives.
That's fine. I mean, we are willing to play ball, but it seems like with that handshake agreement we made, there's no follow-through happening on the other side. It's about time that we get serious. We've been put here by our constituents to do work, not to filibuster and talk about irrelevancies.
I think we give a lot of leeway on this committee. What you may find relevant is not necessarily what I find relevant, but we've been giving that leeway so that you can hopefully get to that place where we can move forward in doing the good work that we've been elected to do.
There are a lot of amendments that you guys have brought forward. From what I've heard, I'm looking forward to seeing all of them. Some of them are quite good. I commend you for that. I commend everyone in all parties for bringing forward those amendments, but I think those amendments deserve some attention and time. We can only do that if you give us a start date, and so far we're having a problem even getting that, let alone an end date.
What is the holdup? Why do you find it so difficult to start the study, to start the examination of the legislation? Why is that so difficult? I can't understand that.
I know there are many tools that you also have in your tool box, and the delay that's being done up front could also be done later on down the road. That's not a choice that I guess you guys have made. It is just beyond me why we can't actually start.
You guys have a lot of good amendments. A lot of them are yours. Let's start talking about them. Maybe there are some changes that can be made, but you're not even allowing the good work that you've done to see the light of day and to have it discussed.
I know that Mr Christopherson is eager—the NDP is eager—for more people to have the ability to vote in this next election. A lot of people were disenfranchised by the so-called Fair Elections Act, and we want to allow those people to vote in this election. What's very concerning is that we've heard from the Chief Electoral Officer that the longer this takes, the harder that gets.
Maybe that's the Conservatives' motive. Maybe you don't want to see everyone able to vote. Maybe you don't want people in remote communities, which is astonishing because I know that a lot of your MPs come from rural and remote areas where access to polls is difficult.
There are a lot of good things in this bill that will enable many people to participate in the democratic process. A lot of the rhetoric I've been hearing now and even in June has been about the protection of our democracy: “This is why we're filibustering and this is why we're holding things up because we are the protectors of our democracy. We are not going to allow this legislation to be pushed through because that's how democracy will be protected.” Meanwhile, this very piece of legislation is what will allow us to protect our democracy. It's very ironic. It seems as if the Conservatives are speaking out of both sides of their mouths when we talk about protecting democracy.
We thought the Chief Electoral Officer endorsed this piece of legislation. Previously, in the so-called Fair Elections Act, Bill , the Chief Electoral Officer said that he certainly cannot endorse a bill that disenfranchises electors, cannot.
She does not seem to be all that mysterious. She came in, and after her victory speech, when being elected as vice-chair, she spoke quite clearly about her work as a bureaucrat, as a non-partisan for so many years, being able to get work done, and being able to do so in some not-so-friendly climates, in many places in the world where democracy is still struggling. It seems to me that democracy still struggles here a little bit, too, as we can see right now, but we're trying our best. When we have unjustifiable delays like this, and I would say that in this case they are definitely becoming unjustifiable, then I think they will be wearing it. They will be.
That fresh new attitude that I thought the new members were going to bring, they may not be living up to those expectations. Now some are newer than others, so I still have some hope that we're going to see a change, a willingness to co-operate when it comes to this piece of legislation. As I've said before, we've had 56 witnesses just on this piece of legislation. About 200 were put on witness lists, mostly from the Conservatives. Having called so many witnesses before this committee, it's interesting that when we had those witnesses here, they really did not show a desire to ask the hard-hitting questions. This leads me to think that perhaps there wasn't a serious intention behind calling all those witnesses to committee.
I would say, having seen that type of behaviour, that it's not a genuine use of this committee's time. We're wasting valuable resources. All the people who have to be here and the wonderful food that's provided to us, meeting after meeting, that all adds up.
Yes, Mr. Christopherson, I don't think we need to give the new members too much more time to prove themselves, to show that they're coming with a new attitude and a new spirit.
Mr. David Christopherson: Walk the walk.
Ms. Ruby Sahota: Yes. We want to see some action, and now is the time. I'm really hoping we can move forward with a start date for clause-by-clause today. We need to have something today. We should have been moving forward with this piece of legislation on Tuesday. Enough is enough. The minister will be appearing.
Quite honestly, I'm starting to think we shouldn't have any of that if we're not willing to move on with this piece of legislation. We have no stones left to turn over. I'm sure you'll find some, but I would request that you make sure we're not making a mockery out of the whole process and that it is coming from a place of genuine interest and concern. I've seen from the previous witnesses—and I think this is what Chris was alluding to—that at times it seemed like we were making a little bit of a mockery of this place.
As a new member of Parliament, you quickly start learning what this place is all about, and I do feel that we waste a lot of time up here. We do. There is a lot of learning that happens here. I think it's the most wonderful position, and I'm very fortunate to have it. I learned from the people who have been here longer than me, from various other resources that were provided and from the witnesses who come forward. I'd never have gained so much knowledge without this opportunity, but enough is enough. There's gaining knowledge and there's doing the work required of you as a parliamentarian, but there's also the disguise of doing good work while actually playing partisan games. I think right now we are in that territory, we're pretending not to stall, but all we're really doing is stalling for the sake of stalling.
Mr. David Christopherson: Hear, hear!
Do you know what? My intervention basically allowed me to express myself. I don't want to slow it down any more than I need to in terms of the time I take. My position has been very clear, publicly and privately, to ministers, government members and opposition members. The entire world knows—anybody who cares—where the NDP, and me in particular as a member of this committee, are on this business.
I made it very clear from the outset of the Parliament. Just to get a little off my chest, I'm a little concerned. The government has to wear a little bit of the fact that we're so late in the day and something this important is still in front of us. I'll signal ahead of time because I don't play games—I'm not smart enough.
The minister is coming in and what I want to hear from the minister is that iron-clad guarantee from the government. I don't want to hear any nonsense about, well, it's up to the House leader. No, this is a government representative. I want to hear crystal clearly that this government is absolutely 100% committed to making sure that no matter what, with their majority government, this bill gets passed and we have an election that's a lot closer to the history and the proud traditions of Canada than the ugliness of .
I've made it clear that I will support the government in getting that ugliness out. I will support them on any new progressive things and improvements they want to make. We will advocate for things that we care about, but at the end of the day the priority is to get a lot of the ugliness out of there. I will make a personal campaign commitment, since I'm going to be freed up, to do everything I can to make sure this country knows, if you fail to get this passed. This is big. We all, when we were on the opposition benches, got up and hollered from the rooftops that this is wrong. We had major reforms to our electoral process and the government of the day didn't even consult the Chief Electoral Officer.
I find it a bit rich when the current crop of official opposition members are slowing things down—why?—because they insist on hearing from a provincial chief electoral officer. That is rich. I understand the importance of that. I get that. I made it clear to the government members and people like Scott Reid who I have the utmost respect for, one of the people I respect the most in this entire Parliament, that my goal was not to drag them through the last election and the last Parliament.
However, there is a limit. When Mr. Reid or anybody else on the official opposition side get up on their hind legs and try to use the rhetoric of democracy and caring about voting as an excuse to slow down this process, which is meant to clean up that mess and that ugliness, I've reached my limit.
Very soon, it will be time for the official opposition to give themselves a serious shake and decide where they want to be on democracy. Do they really want to carry over the tradition and the reputation of the last Parliament? That's where they're heading. Or do they want to be able to put that behind them and maybe even say they were wrong and now see it differently? That's fine. We all understand politics, and those of us who want to get that through will let you get away with that.
What I am not going to do is sit here and quietly let the government continue to mishandle the timing and the process of this and so many democratic files. I have to say, you've been an absolute abysmal disappointment on this whole file. It's very disappointing with the promise that came in, and so many of you were so keen to do the right thing, and I know you were legitimate. We talked about these things in the beginning, and here we are a year out from the next election and one of the government's weakest files is on democratic reform.
The government has its share of responsibility for the mess we're in, trying to get this through in the dying months of this Parliament. Having said that, if the official opposition continues to do nothing but try to slow this down, to preserve the vote suppressing and anti-democratic clauses that were in , then they are far more guilty than the government.
At some point very soon, we all need to live up to our rhetoric. There's a lot of it around this table in terms of the holy grail of democracy, a lot of rhetoric and a lot of talk, but not a lot of action. Canadians expect this to be cleaned up for the next election. Things need to move more quickly here, so I am going to be calling on the government. If you have to use the heavyweight power of going to the House, then do it, but I say this as officially as I can and on a personal basis as a parliamentarian: Please do not, under any circumstance, allow this Parliament to expire without fixing our election system. It's broken.
We do a disservice to our international reputation. Many of you know that I do some democracy-building work internationally, and I am so proud to be able to be a Canadian, where we have one of the finest, most mature, fair democracies in the world. Bill hurt that. It damaged it and stained that. This is an opportunity to fix it, but it can't be missed.
I don't intend to have a lot of interventions along the way. There are progressive things that I want, but I am not going to hold up this process to fight for those. At the end of the day, I support the bill that the government has put forward. I do believe their heart is in the right place. I just wish they'd get their brain engaged and move the bill more properly through. It's shameful that something this important is still sitting here undone.
I just want to tie into Ruby's comments, and I truly will close with this. Most of the time, we do try to work together, and I enjoy this committee and the members who are on it. After you've been around long enough, yelling at the government and getting a headline loses its thrill. What's far more thrilling is to take all of us who are fighting in different corners and find a way in which we can come together. After a while, you find that this is really valuable and it gives you such fulfillment.
Carrot and stick, let's work together. We're all saying we want to make democracy better, so let's all try to work together. We're not doing that at this moment to get this through. That's the carrot. The stick is that, if this doesn't happen, there's going to be holy hell to pay and both the government and the official opposition are going to be held to account, not that we're all that pure but we don't have enough power to have an influence on this. I don't pretend we do, but I do have a big voice, a big mouth, and another year to go, and I'd much rather be using that to compliment the government and compliment the official opposition, especially new members such as Mr. Nater who I respect, who I think will be an excellent parliamentarian. I hope he's around for a long time. I want to be able to continue to say those things and say, “You know what? We were in the ditch, but we got out.”
I want to give you that credit. Conversely, if that credit is not deserved, I'm not that far from Sarnia. I can go visit that riding and I'll tell them what you did. I'll tell them the difference between your rhetoric and how you voted. I would much rather continue to say, “Mr. Nater is an example of how I feel good about the Canadian Parliament”, even though you're not of my party, as I step aside off the public stage.
I want to say that. I truly do, sir, but give me a reason. Don't continue playing this game. The time has come to stop and it's time to start acting like grown-ups.
Thank you, Chair.