You were asking for this to be officially.... I'm just confused as to why your suggestion was to make this....
As Ruby just...or, sorry, as Ms. Dhalla just read it—
An hon. member: That's the wrong Ruby.
Mr. Nathan Cullen: Oh, my gosh. Did I do that? I did that, didn't I?
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
An hon. member: You owe five dollars for that.
Mr. Nathan Cullen: Is it five bucks? Wait. Does that go on inflation, similar to the amendment?
My apologies. Her memory is burned into me.
An hon. member: For so many, for so many.
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Be careful what you wish for. I'm a professional.
I just want to understand how we're proceeding, because you asked for the written one to be the official one. Typically, on committee, what's spoken goes into Hansard, and that's what we work off of. Were you doing that because interpretation services were not functioning? Now that they are, and if they are, then we should just proceed.
The Chair: They're not yet.
They're still not. Trust me, I don't want to delay anything. We need to have functioning interpretation services for the committee to work.
I was just looking to appreciate efforts, because saying this has been a long and winding road would be a compliment to this process. It's been a couple of years of going back and forth. I wanted to get my citation correct, because it's important.
I think it was Otto von Bismarck, the iron prince, who said that laws are like sausages; it's better not to see them being made. To retain respect for sausages and laws, one must not watch them in the making. There is apparently some debate on the Internet as to whether he was the one, in fact, who said it, but the citation works for this particular process that we're in.
Here we are. The New Democrats have expressed for more than a year and a half the urgency to want to reform our election laws, and in particular get rid of the so-called unfair elections act changes that were made unilaterally in the previous Parliament, which I think sought to disenfranchise certain Canadians, particularly low-income, indigenous and young Canadians, making it harder for them to vote. Interest and enthusiasm from me and has been strong from the start, and I hope that the government acknowledges that we've been trying in good faith to see these amendments and other things that we think the election laws needed to be updated on acted on.
The delays have caused us to come to this point. The delay is initially, I would argue, on the government's side. A bill was introduced and then nothing was done with it for a year and a half. Then this new, larger bill—it's a little over 340 pages—is in front of us. It does more than the original bill. We now have the bill in front of us with 300-plus amendments to it, and there's the suggestion I've heard from Ruby as to the process that we use.
If I understand it right, Ruby, it's to have the minister come in on a Monday when we're back from the riding week, to begin clause-by-clause, and to wrap all that up five days later.
Ms. Ruby Sahota: Yes.
Mr. Nathan Cullen: There's some allocation of time that's not designated in your motion, that the chair has the discretion to set committee times.
Within the motion are two things that are troubling for me. One is that there is a time allocation on amendments, that there's a time restriction on a party's ability to speak to amendments.
We've talked about it in the past, and this is a question I have for committee members. I would like for that to not be enforced strictly, because there are some amendments that I will suggest will either pass or be defeated without much commentary, and there are other amendments of much greater substance and import that may require a little more than five minutes to explain the rationale. I think that discretion should go to the chair.
Okay. Thank you for that.
“May” has been interpreted in Parliament in several ways. Sometimes governments loathe “may”, and what they actually meant was “shall” and “must”.
There is a second concern that we have. The negotiations that I assume have happened between the government and the Conservative official opposition were primarily around what's included at the very end of Ruby's motion, that there is now a pre-election spending limit of $1.4 million.
I have an inquiry to the government as to what that means for 2019. This is pro-rated to inflation, is it not? “Adjusted to inflation” is the more correct term. It comes out to somewhere near $2 million in a pre-writ period. I'm still seeking to know what that will be in 2023 through inflationary numbers. This is not an insignificant amount of money.
I can't help but reflect—and Ruby will understand why this is interesting or ironic—that at the end of our last efforts at democratic reform, the ERRE committee made negotiations between me, the Greens, the Bloc, and the Conservatives to arrive at a report that we could agree to. The then expressed such disappointment with me that we would ever negotiate with Conservatives over anything to do with our elections. I thought that was the point, actually. I thought the point of that exercise was to try to come to some multipartisan agreement.
I have to register this. While I appreciate that there has been whatever back channel negotiations among the parties, if the process required unanimous consent, it would have been a really good idea to contact us more than five minutes before the meeting to understand what was being negotiated. It's hard for us to feel particularly respected or included if a piece of paper is dropped on our desk five minutes before the meeting.
All that being said, as my grandma used to say, a lack of planning on my part didn't make for a crisis on hers. However, here we are, having blown through the Chief Electoral Officer's deadlines on making some reforms. He's told us that he can't do a bunch of things in Bill because so much time has been lost that it's not going to happen for the next election. There are some really good things actually, if we were to pass them as a committee. That is unfortunate, and that was unnecessary, in my mind.
It seems that the Liberals are okay with increasing the spending limits. Chair, I question that as a principle in terms of the fairness of the election. Parties that have more will do more and be able to influence more.
There is a cap, which is appreciated, but it's a significant cap. To most Canadians, $2 million is a lot of money. To most third party civil society groups, $2 million is an unimaginable amount of money to spend in an election period. They'll never attain that kind of influence.
However, we prefer and favour parties all the time in our legislation, as you know, Chair, over the voices of others. Parties are protected.
The last thing I'll say, and I'll wrap up, is that I hope this is seen—if we support this—as good faith towards some of the amendments we have, around some of the other important things we've heard evidence on from our Chief Electoral Officer, the Privacy Commissioner, and others, about making our elections truly fair. We've tried to only put forward amendments that were based on evidence, and particularly around things like privacy and the intervention of social media.
I don't know if folks are following Cambridge Analytica and what the ethics committee is looking at right now. There was a report on the CBC this morning, on The Current, with a member of that committee. It is incredibly disturbing, and we are incredibly unprepared.
Our British colleagues were unprepared for having a free and fair vote on their Brexit decision, where a Canadian company was receiving what I think were illegal funds to then influence British voters.
We have fewer protections than the British do as the law sits right now. Some of our amendments are attempting to fix those holes, plug those holes, so that our elections, our referenda, are fought fairly, and not with outside money from foreign governments and foreign interference.
All that said, there's a bit of nose holding on this, to see this thing through. But in the larger effort of fixing the damage that was done in the previous Parliament to our ability to vote freely in this country, we're prepared to vote for this. That's with the understanding of some good faith intention as we move forward with further clause-by-clause consideration and the amendments we've brought forward.
I have a couple more things.
First of all, I'd like to thank the committee for getting this far. How we vote in Canada is very important. In any country in the world, it's very important. The committee has done over a year of very good, positive, professional deliberations, by and large. Even when there are different opinions, people have been very professional and have put good ideas on the table. I think every party is going to add something positive to make this a good package.
Some hon. members: Hear, hear!
The Chair: On the record I'd like to thank Elections Canada, who have been a big part of this with good suggestions to help guide us.
We should have a brief discussion on the times people would like to meet next week. Obviously, we're going to meet every day.
Sorry, the week after next we're going to meet every day up until Friday, and probably in the morning and after QP.
Is there any direction, especially from the opposition?
There are a lot of amendments, as everyone knows. For the good of Canada and the good of intellectuals, try to think of which ones are insignificant so that we can, as Mr. Cullen said, have a good debate on those that are significant. Pick your battles and I'll be judicious with the time. I'll allow more time on those things that are really important, but I won't allow them to run on forever so that everything can be discussed a bit.
About the timing for next week, particularly from the opposition, do you have any suggestions for how long you would like to meet, and the rough time slots, so that people can prepare for the schedule?
The times that are being suggested by our team are Monday from 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. or 9 p.m.
I'm not sure why we would be contrary to Monday morning....
An hon. member: It's for hearing from the minister.
Mrs. Stephanie Kusie: Oh, excuse me. Yes, of course, it has to come after the minister. That's true. It's laid out in the motion we just passed.
Then, potentially, Tuesday and Thursday from 9 to 11:45, and then 3:30 to 7—