It's a pleasure to be back just a little over a month from the last time I was here. It's good to see all of you. I'm looking forward to this conversation as well.
Thank you for inviting me to speak to the committee again. I'm pleased to have this opportunity to appear before you today, and I'm happy to contribute to your proceedings to the best of my ability.
Yesterday, we celebrated International Women's Day. I was very proud to have been invited to speak on March 7 at the Daughters of the Vote gala. The Equal Voice organization held the event to highlight the significance of the day. The Daughters of the Vote initiative brought young women aged 18 to 23 to Parliament. They came from each of our 338 federal electoral districts to represent their community and share their vision for Canada. Yesterday, these young women had the opportunity to meet with their MP and sit at their MP's place in the House of Commons.
It was inspiring to see the House full of young women and to look into what the future holds. All of us who have the privilege to serve also have the duty to support and encourage young Canadians to engage in our democracy. In particular, this committee has the unique opportunity to reflect on how to ensure that all Canadians are best prepared and able to participate in civic life. Your study of the CEO report and its recommendations positions you as stewards and champions of the franchise. The Daughters of the Vote who are in Ottawa today, and all Canadians, are counting on your reflections.
This is why I would like to take this opportunity to thank you, specifically, for your work so far on the Chief Electoral Officer's recommendations report. I read with interest your interim report, which was tabled on Monday. I am going to spend more time reviewing it and reflecting on your recommendations as the government considers its response.
I am very happy to see that you have reached a consensus on the key recommendations that are the core of the Chief Electoral Officer's proposed voting services modernization efforts. In addition, you have collectively supported a range of other recommendations, including recommendations to improve the delivery of voting services to non-resident Canadians and enhanced information-sharing authorities to improve the quality of the national register of electors, the latter being something that may come before you for consideration as part of Bill . These are important recommendations that will improve our electoral process.
There was also consensus on many of the Chief Electoral Officer's recommendations related to ensuring an accessible electoral system for electors and candidates with disabilities. Enhancing inclusion as a defining value of our democracy stands high among my priorities for the coming months and years.
I look forward to your upcoming work on the recommendations set out in the Chief Electoral Officer's report.
I'll highlight a few, I hope to hear your thoughts on the issue of the length of the election period and on the polling day, recommendations A21 and A22. These recommendations have implications for the political financing regime and the participation of Canadians in the voting process.
Recommendation A25 would address the question of partisan nominees for poll staff and promises improvements in Elections Canada's recruitment processes. In light of your support for recommendation A1, your view on this recommendation would be informative.
Recommendations A33 and A34 would provide additional tools for the Commissioner of Canada Elections. My mandate letter includes a commitment to enhance Canadians' trust in the integrity of our system, and I would value your thoughts on these recommendations.
Recommendation A39 concerns adjustments to the broadcasting arbitration regime. The way that political parties communicate with Canadians and the nature of media have changed considerably over time. These provisions have hardly been modified in recent years.
Recommendation B9 has a significant impact on gender non-conforming electors. In relation to Bill , I think it warrants consideration, since equality could be ensured in all aspects of the federal government.
Recommendation B15 would affect the process in place to help electors with a disability.
Recommendations B12, B24, B18, B26, B27, and B43 are all related in different ways to the integrity of the process and Canadians' trust in that process. As trust is paramount to the success of any election and the peaceful transfer of power, I would welcome the committee's thoughtful input on these as well.
Finally, recommendation B44 raises the important issue of how we adapt to a fixed-date context for elections in a Westminster system. I would ask the committee, if you think it of merit, to reflect on how this and other recommendations are impacted, and what the challenges and opportunities are in relation to fixed-date elections in the Canadian experience.
All of these recommendations raise a variety of questions that would benefit from the expertise of this committee. They seek ways to keep our electoral laws up to date with the expectations of electors and political actors. Your considerate review of these matters is valuable.
As I noted during my last appearance, my mandate letter includes a commitment to enhance the transparency of fundraising activities. In meeting this commitment, I intend to introduce legislation that makes fundraising events public, and to require additional disclosure of who attends, and when.
We have heard Canadians' concerns in this regard, and we intend to act. I hope to introduce legislation this spring, and if referred to your committee by the House, I would very much appreciate your consideration of the bill and any recommendations you may have.
Of course, there's also Bill . Your work so far on the recommendations report will well position you in considering this bill and its measures to reduce barriers to voting while enhancing the integrity of the electoral process. Bill C-33, I believe, complements the work that you are undertaking with the CEO recommendations.
The road to the 2019 election is getting ever shorter. I am committed, as I know all members of this committee are, to improving our electoral system before the next election to the benefit of all Canadians. To accomplish this goal, Canadians need us to work together. I hope to continue to receive your valuable input to inform the direction of improving our electoral process to make it accessible, efficient, and equitable for voters.
Elections Canada needs sufficient time to implement any changes made to the Canada Elections Act before the next election and would like to be election-ready well in advance of an expected writ. The more time Elections Canada has to prepare, the better.
We must also take into consideration that other legislative changes may be necessary to implement your recommendations.
The development and preparation of this bill, and the important discussions and debates in the House of Commons and Senate, shouldn't be rushed.
To give Elections Canada the time it needs, as well as to give parliamentarians the time they need, my hope would be to introduce legislation before the end of this year that would build on your hard work with respect to the Chief Electoral Officer's recommendations. It is our responsibility to take the time to get this right. It is also our responsibility to get it done. It's what Canadians expect. If the House could have your next report before the House rises for the summer, preferably by May 19, I think we would be well positioned to advance some significant reforms that would improve the electoral process for Canadians.
I am sharing my thinking with the committee because I sincerely want to work together with you. I respect this committee's independence and know the committee will set its own agenda. I hope my remarks today help provide insight to you about my thinking and perspective on the matters before this committee.
Thank you again for inviting me here today. I look forward to working with you on these important issues.
Thank you, Minister, for being here today.
I'm glad you started by talking about the Daughters of the Vote. I thought it was a particularly striking sight to sit there in the gallery yesterday and see the young lady who was taking up my seat and the other women from across this country in all 338 seats in Parliament yesterday. I had the opportunity to really get to know my Daughter of the Vote in the months working up to yesterday, and we had the opportunity to sit and have lunch yesterday as well. Her name is Meghan Bottomley. She's a fourth year political science student from McGill. She's a very intelligent and politically driven young lady.
As you know, despite Parliament's having done very well this past election by electing some more women, we're still very far from gender parity. Also, as you know, I sat on the electoral reform committee, and this discussion came up quite a bit there. I wasn't, however, always convinced that that alone was going to get us closer to having gender parity without other particular mechanisms in place and other things that need to be done to modernize Parliament.
What are you, as the , doing to make sure that we increase the chances of women who would like to run for politics? We know they succeed and do very well once they are here, but it's the decision to run that troubles so many and that is difficult to make. What suggestions do you have in mind?
Thank you very much, Ruby, for your question. I, too, was particularly motivated and heartened to see the 338 young women who took up their seats yesterday in the House of Commons. I think it's an incredible window into the possibility that the future could hold.
I had the opportunity to address them on a couple of occasions on Tuesday 7th, one on a panel on women in politics and the other as their keynote speaker during their banquet gala on Tuesday evening.
One of the things that struck me was a question one of the young women asked about how I had the confidence as a young woman to run for office. It reminded me that so many times, when you ask young men to run, they often say, “Okay, sign me up, when do I start?” When you ask young women to run, they say, “Why me? I think I need to get some more education, or I need to do a bit more to be prepared to do it.”
I think part of it is making sure we have those positive role models that young women or women in general see, and that they are able to see themselves reflected in the House of Commons and in potential opportunities. They also need to know that they have many champions out there to ensure that when they do get here, they are successful, and that sometimes the barriers we think are there in front of us are more imagined than they are real.
There are very real barriers when it comes to finances and when it comes to systems that are in place that discriminate against women, but there are often times where those limits can be society-imposed on us, where we say that as a young woman you don't have the experience, or you don't have the ability to do it, and it's going to be detrimental to your campaign. To demonstrate real examples of the fact that when women run, they succeed—I think—is really important.
I would be really curious to hear from the committee, as you're going through your reflections, on what you think some tangible measures are that could be done, and how we as parliamentarians, we as a government, we as Canadians, can do what we can to foster greater participation, not just of women but also of diversity in Canadian politics.
Minister, thanks for being here today.
You probably won't be surprised that my questions will be about foreign influence in Canadian elections with regard to third-party spending. That was the topic in some of my queries the last time you were here, which I think was on February 7. I'm hoping that you'll have had a chance in the interim to get a bit more up to speed on the file and that today we can have a conversation that is a bit more substantive than what we were able to have at that meeting.
As I'm sure you're aware, given that we've had a conversation about it previously, the former Chief Electoral Officer said in November that there was really no way to restrict or prevent foreigners or foreign organizations from trying to influence Canadian elections, and that currently there are no restrictions on third-party spending for things such as polling, phone banks, websites, or anything that's not considered under advertising.
The last time you were here, you indicated in response to one of my questions that you were committed to ensuring that there would be no foreign influence in our elections, but I've read through the transcripts of your appearance at the Senate on February 14. There, you responded to Senator Frum by saying:
From the experience we have, we have found that this is not something that is currently present and so significant that it would impact the electoral system or the confidence that Canadians have during a writ period or during an election.
You also responded to Senator Batters by saying, “there's very little evidence to suggest that foreign money is influencing Canadian elections by third parties”.
Now, I would say that there's certainly no question that in the last election we did see quite an unprecedented amount of spending by third parties. Third parties are able to spend essentially unlimited amounts outside of advertising, and they are of course able to take foreign money, which can be put into those things as well. I don't think that lines up that well with the statements you made in response to questioning at the Senate.
Given those responses, and despite the previous commitment that was made to ensuring that there would be no foreign influence in our elections, it really seems to me that this issue is being brushed aside by the government. That really is quite stark in its contrast with what the former Chief Electoral Officer testified to.
I have several questions. I'll ask you to try to be as brief as you can in response, but I certainly want to make sure that you have the chance to answer them. I want to know if, in this interim period since we first heard from you, this is something that your department, your staff, or you have looked into, and is it something that you've been briefed on?
Thank you very much, Chair.
Minister, thank you again for your attendance. I also want to thank you for the recent meet-and-greet we had in your office. It's appreciated.
I'll take a brief moment to comment on the process you're offering. I want to say publicly that I am as impressed with the change in approach with regard to the government, your ministry, and the work of this committee, as I was outraged at the way that Bill was so unceremoniously dumped on us in the House. There was a commitment made that this was going to change, and we're still in the process of getting through that, but I do want to say publicly that I've been very impressed with the attempt by the government members and you to get us back on a positive track, where we are working hand in hand, as you promised in the campaign and as is best for Parliament when we—on this committee in particular—can work that way. I want to say that I'm very impressed.
You continue, however, to load up the agenda of the committee. I want to remind you that it's going to take an even greater effort at coordinating and talking, because you're not the only source of our work. We get it from all over. Some things trump—and I refuse to stop using the word—other things, and that can slow us down on our own well-intentioned agenda. That's still going to be a struggle. There's a lot of work in front of this committee.
Again, I want to emphasize that I was incredibly outraged at what your government did with Bill , and I am as impressed now with the government's recognizing they were wrong and their attempt to make it right. I hope that continues. I look forward to working on this file that is critically important for all of us.
With that, Chair, I would like to give the balance of my time to my colleague Mr. Cullen, who is also our democratic reform critic, sir.
Okay. Some of your colleagues within the government ranks did. It was one of the recommendations.
What Chelsea was asking the Prime Minister about was his broken promise on electoral reform, particularly bringing in a fairer voting system.
We know from Equal Voice and from a lot of studies that proportional systems tend to elect more women. The Prime Minister has declared many times that he is a feminist and is interested in electing more women, but he rejected the proposal that the committee of all parties put forward to him, as you did, for a proportional system.
Here is another way of getting at it. As my colleague said, we have to find other ways. One of the ways is through the nomination process, encouraging parties to nominate women and discouraging them from nominating men and other overrepresented groups in our Parliament.
You've seen the bill. You've had a chance to vote on such a bill. You've seen the committee report recommending this. The Conservatives joined with the Green and the Bloc in recommending this. I know some liberals had some interest it as well.
Are you open to accepting such a proposal?
Thank you, Minister, for being here.
I want to go to Bill , if I may, and focus on the substance of it. I appreciate the other parts if it, including the tabling, as Mr. Christopherson brought up. I appreciate Mr. Christopherson's comments about that, and yours as well, but I do want to talk about what this is.
To me, there are two parts to it. There are things in there that we talked about when we campaigned and in terms of what we would do as part of the mandate letter. The other part, if I can try to describe it subtly, is to “untangle the tangly bits” that were left over from the unfair elections act from the last time. I've often described it as being a solution to a problem that never existed.
One of those is the voter information card. I am a huge fan for several reasons. The median age in my riding is high. We have a lot of seniors. It's also a rural area, so a lot of people lack the identification required for addresses and so on and so forth. I'm sure a lot of the opposition would say, well, you have to have a certain amount of identification to vote. A certain amount of identification is required. That I understand. But by doing that, and by creating so many barriers, and lifting these barriers, to a point where we violated a charter right, which is your right to vote....
The voter information card was essential. Perhaps I could describe it this way. Many seniors would take this card and put it on their fridge or somewhere in the kitchen to remind them about voting. They'd rely on that so much to be able to walk into the booth and say, “I want to cast my vote”.
I appreciate that, and I'm wondering if you could comment on that.
It's not a hard deadline, of course. The committee is going to set the timeline for the work they're going to do. It's just that I do value the input of committee. I think you provide valuable contributions on these items and these issues. Therefore, to have that in its fullness feeding into the legislative process moving forward would be very helpful to me, and I think it would be helpful to Canadians to hear from the committee and to hear their reflections within that time period.
In October 2019 there is going to be an election. Elections Canada needs time to implement any potential recommendations or amendments to the Canada Elections Act in time to deliver them for the 2019 election. Though we don't have a set time frame, we know that it's likely a number of months, if not more. The more time available, the better it is for Elections Canada and the dedicated officials there to ensure they get that done right.
Moving back, that means legislation would have to be passed sometime within the next year or year and a half in order for this to be accomplished. For that to happen, legislation would have to be presented in the fall, perhaps, or by the end of the year at the very latest, in order for that to go through the whole legislative process and to have the time for the committee to study it and for it to be debated in Parliament. In order to do so, legislation would need to be drafted and would need to go to cabinet ahead of that.
All of that puts us within that two-and-a-half-year time frame. I know that this is important legislation. There are important elements of this—for all members of this committee—that we want to get done in time for the next election to ensure that all Canadians have a fair, accessible, and equitable chance to vote.
I have another opportunity so we can carry on. I went off on a mini-rant at the end of the last round and you didn't have a chance to respond, so I wanted to be fair, obviously, and give you that opportunity.
To refresh where we were at, in the interim I again looked at the transcript from when you appeared before the Senate. I think this summarizes quite well what I was referring to, and I can then let you respond. It was in response to a question from Senator Frum.
As I think I mentioned earlier, you had said that with regard to foreign money in the Canadian political process, it's very important to know that in Canada we do have very strict financing laws. It was the same point you used earlier when I was asking you questions as well about who can donate to a political party, a third party, or a candidate during a writ period. During a writ period is obviously the key there.
Then in response to that, Minister, Senator Frum put the concern I have here quite succinctly when she said to you:
Minister, would you agree that it is possible for foreign entities to make donations to third-party organizations outside of the writ period; that that money ends up getting used during the writ period; that this is the loophole I'm referring to; and that this is a very serious threat to our political sovereignty?
You then thanked her for her questions and said that from your experience you found it wasn't currently present or that was significant, that it would impact the election. But then you did go on to say, “However, I take your point and I appreciate it. It's something that I will definitely consider.”
Later on in that same meeting, in response to Senator Batters about the same topic, you also indicated the following:
I will continue to work with my staff and colleagues in this place and in the other place to ensure that we put reasonable spending limits for third parties between elections.
So it seemed, on the one hand, as if you were brushing it off, saying that this isn't something that there is any concern about, but then, on the other hand, you were saying that you'll consider it and you think we need to look at putting some reasonable spending limits in place for third parties between elections. I'm trying to get a sense as to which one it is. Do you have concerns, and do you think this needs to be addressed, or not? And if yes or no, why or why not?
Thank you, Chair.
Minister, forgive me if I'm a bit confused. Let's circle back.
At committee, whenever a minister pleads the Canadian equivalent of the fifth amendment, we all sort of perk up a little bit and wonder what's going on.
There were two mandates. The first mandate, the previous one, said that your government was committed to electoral reform and to bringing in a new voting system before the next election. The second mandate says, “Not so much. We're going to break that commitment. We're doing something else.”
You were brought into cabinet on the 10th of January. Correct?
Cabinet got together later in January, on the 24th and 25th, and you made public your new mandate letter on the 1st of February.
Do I have everything right so far?