The House resumed from October 24 consideration of Bill , as reported (with amendments) from the committee, and of the motions in Group No. 1.
Madam Speaker, I will pick up where I left off before the Liberals imposed a legislative guillotine to cut off debate.
My greatest concern about Bill is the Liberal claim that it would combat and control third party spending. It would not properly address a problem that could have been easily solved if, and this is a big if, the current Liberal government had actually wanted to solve it.
At first glance, it appears that the legislation might contain foreign financial interference by setting some spending limits and requiring third parties to have a dedicated Canadian bank account. However, Bill would double the total maximum third party spending amount allowed during the writ period, and it would still allow unlimited contributions from individual donors and others, unlimited spending by third parties and unlimited foreign donations outside the pre-writ and writ periods.
Some of our Liberal colleagues claim that foreign financial interference has been adequately blocked, but the reality is that a huge loophole, exploited in recent elections with increasingly larger amounts of foreign funding of third parties, still exists. Foreign charities, such as the Rockefeller Brothers Fund in New York or the American Tides Foundation in San Francisco, can give millions of foreign dollars to Canadian charities such as the Tides Canada organization, Leadnow, the Dogwood Initiative or the Sisu Institute, and those millions can be disbursed as Canadian dollars to third-party groups to support parties and candidates of their choice and to oppose parties and candidates of their choice. Elections Canada can do nothing without new legislation.
Bill would do nothing to stop these, effectively laundered, American dollars from being used, as they were in 2015, to work to defeat a Conservative government, or next year, to attempt to re-elect the current Liberal government. In fact, the Canada Revenue Agency, before the 2015 federal election, had been working to audit 42 registered Canadian charities for political activity. There is research, accumulated by the skilled investigative journalist and researcher Vivian Krause, that indicates that 41 of the 42 audited charities were not fully compliant with the law and that the CRA would have recommended that at least five of these so-called charities be disqualified and shut down completely. However, in 2016, the CRA shut down those audits without reporting, coincidentally after the was issued a mandate letter that directed her to “Allow charities to do their work...free from political harassment".
Ms. Krause testified last week, before the ethics committee, that she spent six months in 2016 writing a report, which she submitted to Elections Canada. Elections Canada sent investigators to Vancouver to meet with Ms. Krause, and she testified that after extensive discussion, it became clear to her that Elections Canada cannot do anything if the Canada Revenue Agency allows charities to Canadianize foreign funds.
The Income Tax Act is very clear that charities are to operate for purposes that are charitable as defined by law. While charities have been able to get away with it by pointing to language that permits a limited amount of political activity, the original intent was that the political activity was intended to further a charitable purpose. If that political activity does not support a charitable purpose, the allowable political activity should be, as Ms. Krause pointed out very clearly before committee, absolutely zero.
In wrapping up, while there are, admittedly, some modest improvements made to Bill , it remains a deeply deficient attempt to restore fairness to the Canadian election process. It is a testament to the current Liberal government's deliberate decision, as with Bill before it, to leave loopholes the Liberals believe will enhance their efforts to save their political skin in 2019.
Madam Speaker, the Government of Canada has heard what Canadians have to say.
We are very proud that the majority of the all-party amendments to the bill are among the amendments the committee adopted.
When the bill was introduced, the Government of Canada introduced it as an initiative to modernize our electoral process and make it more transparent, accessible and secure for all Canadians. One of the proposed amendments was to require all electors to be Canadian citizens when exercising their right to vote.
Even though that has always been a requirement for eligibility to vote, Bill revealed an error in the wording of the new Canada Elections Act, which came into force in 2000.
It was possible to interpret the French version of the act as stating that a person who expected to obtain Canadian citizenship prior to voting day could vote in an advance poll before being granted citizenship. Of course, there is no way to know for sure that a person will become a Canadian citizen until that person has taken the oath of citizenship.
The amendments made by the committee to Bill correct this error and clarify that only Canadians can cast a ballot in a ballot box. This would help ensure the integrity of the entire electoral process.
Former chief electoral officer Marc Mayrand has applauded the Government of Canada's efforts to modernize our electoral system and make it more accessible. However, he also mentioned that additional amendments should be made to facilitate the identification of electors who live in seniors residences or in long-term care centres, because it could be difficult for seniors to prove where they live with an ID. I think this is a great amendment, a great suggestion, because in a riding like Edmonton Centre, with so many towers and so many seniors residences, I have seen that this particular voter ID difficulty for seniors is prevalent.
The committee also adopted amendments to Bill that would make the electoral system more accessible for our seniors. From now on, seniors centre employees would be allowed to cast ballots for senior citizens living in their place of work, provided they themselves can vote and live close to the seniors centre. I know that the seniors at St. Andrew's will be happy to hear this. They live about a block away from my house, and when it comes time to vote, they will be able to make sure that their voice is counted.
Bill , includes measures to ensure that political parties and third parties play by the same rules in exercising their right to participate in political electoral activities.
From now on, third parties that intervene in the electoral process in any way would have to clearly explain their advertising messages. Also, third parties that spend more than $10,000 or that receive more than $10,000 in contributions would be required to submit financial reports to Elections Canada every two weeks, starting on September 15 in a fixed-election year. Elections Canada would publish these financial reports on its website. These transparency measures would help Canadians better understand who is trying to influence their vote and why.
This bill will also protect our democratic institutions from foreign attempts to influence outcomes. Elections Canada representatives and the commissioner of Canada elections appeared before the committee and recommended further enhancing a number of protective measures. The government agreed to several of those recommendations.
Bill also contains additional tools that would make it easier for Elections Canada and the Canada elections commissioner to prevent or limit the effects of third party influence on Canadian voters. For example, the new third-party funding section of the act would prohibit the use of foreign funds at any time to obtain or broadcast partisan advertising, to fund partisan activities or to conduct polls. New anti-avoidance provisions would also forbid all attempts to sidestep these rules.
Bill created a new offence to prohibit the fraudulent use of a computer to influence election results. A new offence added during the committee's study will henceforth prohibit all attempts to influence an election and strengthen that prohibition.
We would also make it a criminal offence to publish material made by anyone attempting to impersonate the Chief Electoral Officer or a returning officer.
Finally, on the recommendation of the commissioner of Canada elections, our government would reinforce the ban that applies to all persons and entities that sell advertising space. It would now be forbidden to sell advertising space to foreigners that would allow them to broadcast election advertising.
The results of Canadian elections should only ever be determined by electoral votes made by Canadians. Bill already contained numerous amendments to the act to amend the Canada Elections Act that were important to Elections Canada's recommendations.
During the committee's study, the Government of Canada listened to independent experts whose only job is to protect our democratic institutions. I am proud of the comments we heard from those experts because they helped strengthen the bill.
Therefore, I invite all colleagues in the House today to voice their support of the third reading of the act to amend the Canada Elections Act and modernize our electoral process and make it more transparent, accessible and secure for all Canadians from coast to coast to coast.
When we take a look at the facts, 56 witnesses were heard in committee on Bill , there were 24 hours of committee time and there were 36 and a half hours of study time of CEO recommendations by committee. For bill , the hours of study for the Fair Elections Act was 49.5.
Bill would encourage Canadians to participate fully in the electoral process, and that is exactly what we intended.
Madam Speaker, it was interesting to listen to my colleague across. I was going to start my speech off by talking about foreign financing, but when we are talking about voter identification we recognize there are 39 pieces of identification that were approved under the Fair Elections Act. We have to talk about that, because we just got through a municipal election in Ontario a few days ago where we heard about voter cards being left in the lobbies of apartment buildings rather than being secured in people's mailboxes. Of course, that was a bit of a threat as well, because there were issues with the fact they had a PIN that could be used online. We recognize that most Canadians are not going to do things that are fraudulent. However, there are those who, at times when they are so passionate, may choose to do something that sometimes is illegal to basically better their cause or do something they think is really important.
It was great to hear my colleague from question what we are going to do about voter identification cards. Can voters could go in with voter ID cards they received in the mail and show their Costco card to prove they are Canadian? For many years I worked as a campaign manager and worked in an office talking to different people about what they needed. Also, I worked in a constituency office where I was working with Canadians who were applying for the Canada child benefit, Canadian citizenship and all these things. It is peculiar how our departments need some sort of identification to prove who people are and where they live to receive a variety of different benefits through the Ontario disability support program or Ontario Works. However, the biggest thing a Canadian citizen can do is vote, yet somehow we do not say that they need those documents. Therefore, after listening to my friend from Edmonton, I am really concerned that the Liberals think that proving Canadian citizenship is going to be that easy by saying people can come in with their driver's licence and voter card. This is a reminder. Permanent residents can drive too. I see them drive all the time. I think that is one thing we have to really look at.
However, I want to focus more on foreign financing. That is where I want to go with this, because we saw a number of third party campaigns in the 2015 election. I saw that not only with respect to the provincial election and the federal election, but also with the recent municipal election as well. On TV I cannot see that the campaign was authorized by the campaign manager for x, as a lot of the time it is authorized by a third party campaign.
For many people like myself, contributions to run a personal campaign come from individuals. There were I believe approximately 241 individuals who donated to the EDA during the window of the 2015 election. Those were all individuals. We did not have any third parties working around us. We were on the ground working. However, some of my colleagues who were in ridings such as London North Centre know that there were huge campaigns going on that were really focusing on anything but Harper. That is the concern I have, because this was not money going to the Liberal Party, the NDP or the Green Party, it was money that was being used for people to go out and campaign on. Therefore, I started looking at my returns for the 2015 election to see how much money I had fundraised compared to my colleagues. I am talking about a $40,000 to $50,000 difference in fundraising, yet they ran very strong campaigns as well. Where did they get their money from? Where did they get their advertising from? They did not necessarily have to go out there and do that. They did not actually have to pay for it from their campaigns, because we know how many third parties were out there doing that.
This is where it goes into the next step. Where is that money coming from, that is going to these campaigns, these third parties? I would like to continue that conversation by the member for . We talk about things like the Tides Foundation, located in San Francisco and New York. The Tides Foundation funnelled money through Canadian groups and charitable organizations, which then put that money into Canadian elections. It is really that simple. It is so easy to look at the fact that money from the United States was filtered into Canadian campaigns through a third party. We have to recognize what some of those restrictions and regulations are.
What is great is that, within the Senate, Senator Frum was talking about some of these contributions. There was a lot of discussion about contributions coming from third parties and how people can donate to a party. We have to look at this hypothetically, because this entire conversation is really hypothetical: what if, what if? That is what we really need to do here. When we are talking about the Government of Canada, it should be black and white when it comes to the rights of people to vote and give to a party.
What happens if somebody donates $10,000 to a foundation, a not-for-profit, six months prior, and then that money goes into a campaign? It does not matter. Bill would increase the amount they can spend.
It is not as if I am saying that Conservatives are the only group beaten up on. I recognize that all of us have third parties that support us, and that is fine. However, “101 reasons to vote against Harper” and “Voters Against Harper” are two organizations and I can tell members the money that was funnelled through those parties was not supporting Conservative candidates but instead there was now a new war chest for the NDP, Green, Liberal or Bloc candidate. We have to recognize that we are now, and not just as individuals, fighting another source. We are not fighting among political parties. We have actives out there doing this. Therefore, foreign funding is a critical piece.
The organization that TIDES is involved with, the Dogwood Initiative, is an interesting case. The Dogwood Initiative is a Canadian not-for-profit public interest group based in Victoria, B.C., and I will read a little about it.
The organization works to increase the power of British Columbians over government decision-making. They were instrumental in the fight against Enbridge's Northern Gateway pipeline, introducing a tanker moratorium on B.C.'s north coast and the province's campaign finance reform. The organization currently works to stop Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain tanker and pipeline expansion in B.C., ban U.S. thermal coal exports through B.C. ports and restore accountability and transparency to the province's democracy by calling for a Corruption Inquiry.
Researchers and pundits have come back and criticized it, because Dogwood has been funded from outside Canada, and so there is foreign investment coming in. The U.S.-based funders provided money through the TIDES Foundation to Dogwood.
Now, we have these groups working as a third party. Therefore, if I am allowed to spend $78,000 on my campaign, and my colleagues are allowed to spend $78,000 on their campaigns but they actually have a third party, we are now talking about spending $156,000 on their campaign if they invest properly in some of these things. It is not just about one group. We have to recognize that in the last federal election there were 115 organizations that were third party.
This is all hypothetical, but that is why we need to have this debate. If we get one group or one person who decides that they do not like what a party is doing, they could set up 100 different organizations and put $10,000 into each of them, and then that money could be filtered. Yes, there is a cap on how much money can be spent within a certain constituency, but at the same time, if that is done 100 times over, it is unfair, and this is where, when I look at this, that it is absolutely not the right thing to do. We have to be very cautious on foreign investment coming into Canada that is focused on the policies of Canadian politicians.
We hear about fake news all the time, and I do not want to talk about what is happening in the United States, but I do not think we should kid ourselves. There are people here in Canada who also have an agenda and are speaking to our government officials. This week, we have talked a lot about Vice-Admiral Norman and the lobbyists that were working for Irving and how the Davie shipyard lost something. There are all of these things, and so please, let us not kid ourselves, lobbyists and third party groups are very important in Canadian government. Now, when they are part of our elections as well, we have to have caution on that. Therefore, it is a really big concern.
I will go back to an editorial written by our former colleague, the Hon. Joe Oliver, who was a fantastic minister of finance and continued the great job that Jim Flaherty did. This is something I think most Canadians need to understand, and we have to bring this back to the dining table so that everybody can understand it.
Canadians can only donate $1,550 to political parties and candidates. Union and corporate donations have been banned completely, and yet in the Senate hearing, Commissioner Côté said that as long as foreign money is donated to a third party six months prior to the election writ being dropped, the amount that can be donated is endless.
These are things that we have to be aware of. I thank everybody for listening. Let us have this conversation and really talk about what is happening in Canadian elections.
Madam Speaker, I am glad to speak this morning in support of Bill .
The goal of Bill , the elections modernization act, is to modernize Canada's electoral system and to strengthen its integrity by making it more transparent, accessible and secure. It would do so, among other things, by establishing spending limits for third parties and political parties during a pre-writ period by increasing transparency regarding the participation of third parties in the electoral process and by expanding the powers of the commissioner of Canada elections.
The commissioner's new powers would include the imposition of administrative monetary penalties for contraventions to key parts of the act, including those governing political financing and third party activities.
In recent months, we have heard a great deal of news about the influence of foreigners, fake news and the impact of emerging technologies on elections around the world. The Government of Canada has already included in Bill , right upon its introduction in the spring, a number of measures aimed at preventing foreign influence or the malicious use of technology. However, new details about undue influence attempts in the electoral systems in western democracies are brought to the public's attention almost weekly.
Amendments to the Canada Elections Act only represent one tool at our country's disposal in its fight to protect our democracy. Members of Parliament, political actors, academics and Canada's civil society at large also have important roles to play, for example, in the area of civic literacy.
I would like to focus my remarks today on the improvements brought to the elections modernization act during its study in committee, which the Government of Canada sees as a great tool aimed at increasing the transparency of political advertising practices.
In 2017, Statistics Canada estimated that almost every Canadian under the age of 45 was using the Internet every day, while approximately 80% of Canadians aged 45 to 65 were using the Internet every day.
As of April 1, Statistics Canada estimated Canada's population at just above 37 million. This means that roughly between 22 to 23 million Canadians between the ages of 18 to 65 access the Internet and online platforms virtually daily.
Given the impact of new technologies on the lives of Canadians, the time has come to require more transparency from online platforms during election periods.
Online platforms, whether they are smart phones, applications or websites, which sell advertising space on a commercial basis during the pre-writ and election periods, will now be legally compelled to maintain an online registry of all partisan and election advertising messages that they publish.
This new requirement will apply to those online platforms having a medium to high reach to persons present in Canada, no matter where the platform is actually located. Each online platform will be required to maintain this registry on the platform itself and to make it fully accessible to the public. The registry will include at least a copy of each partisan and election advertising message that has been published during the pre-writ and the election period respectively, as well as information about the person or entity that authorized the publication of the message.
Traditional media, such as radio, television and newspapers, offer political ads to Canadians in plain view. They allow all political actors to be held accountable for the information they share and for the promises they make. In comparison, online platforms allow advertisers to target a very precise segment of the population. Without a registry of political ads, it is impossible for Canadians to know how their neighbours, their families and their co-workers might be targeted.
The new online platform registry of political ads in Bill will help Canadians better understand who is trying to influence them and how. For example, even if an election advertising message was targeted to only 50 Canadian electors, a copy of the published advertisement would need to be published in that registry. Along with that copy would be found the name of the financial agent who authorized its publication, whether it was the official agent of a candidate, the chief agent of a registered party or one of his or her delegates, or the financial agent of a third party.
The Canada Elections Act will require online platforms to maintain public access to the new registry for a minimum period of two years after the polling day. This will ensure more transparency on political advertising targeting techniques, as Canadians, including academic researchers and journalists, will be able to take a close look at all messages conveyed by political entities and third parties in their attempts to influence Canadians.
In addition, online tax forms would be required to safeguard the information found in the registry for a total of five years after the polling date. This retention requirement would ensure the commissioner of Canada elections would have sufficient time to initiate investigations and, when necessary, seek access to the contents of the registry.
Of course, political entities and third parties would be legally required to co-operate with online platforms by providing them the information they need in order to publish them on their registry. Political entities, third parties and online platforms that fail to comply with the new Canada Elections Act requirements could potentially face criminal charges.
The Government of Canada recognizes that some online platforms have already announced voluntary transparency measures of the kind I am talking about today. This is a helpful development, but on subject matter as important as Canada's democracy, voluntary measures are not always sufficient anymore.
The new Canada Elections Act requirements would ensure that all qualifying online platforms would be subject to the same disclosure rules and the same minimum information would be made available in each online platform's registry of political ads. These new requirements, along with the bans on use of foreign funding and on selling of advertising space to foreigners, as well as new financial returns required of third parties during the election period, will go a long way toward affording Canadians a more secure and transparent electoral system.
I strongly encourage all members of the House, across party lines, to support Bill .
Madam Speaker, it is always an honour to rise to speak in the House.
I would like to say hello to the people of Beauport—Limoilou who are watching us now on CPAC or watching a rebroadcast on Facebook or Twitter.
Without further delay, I would like to address the previous speaker's comments. I find it interesting that he said their objective was to prevent foreign influence from third parties.
The bill will pass, since the Liberals have a majority. However, one problem I have with the bill is that it will allow more than 1.5 million Canadians who have been living outside of Canada for more than five years to vote in general elections, even if they have been outside Canada for 10 or 15 years.
These people have a privilege that even Canadians who have never left the country do not even have. The Liberals will let them randomly choose which riding they want to vote in. This is a massive privilege.
If I were living in the United States for 10 years and saw that the vote was really close in a certain riding, thanks to the new amendments made to the bill, I could decide to vote for the Liberal Party in order to ensure that a Liberal member gets elected. That seems like a very dangerous measure to me. It will give a lot of power to people who have been living abroad for a very long time. That still does not make them foreigners, since they are Canadian citizens.
For those watching us, I want to note that we are talking about Bill to modernize the Canada Elections Act.
This is an extremely important issue because it is the Canada Elections Act that sets the guidelines for our elections in our democracy. These elections determine the party that will form the next government of Canada.
I am sure that the people of Beauport—Limoilou watching us right now can hardly believe the Liberal government when it says that it wants to improve democracy or Canada's electoral system or allow a lot of people to exercise their right to vote. The Liberals' record on different elements of democracy has been deplorable the past three years.
Two years ago when the House was debating the issue, I was a member of the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates. The Liberals introduced a parliamentary reform that included some rather surprising elements. They wanted to weaken the opposition, thereby weakening roughly 10 million Canadians who voted for the opposition parties, including the Conservative Party, the New Democratic Party, and the Green Party.
They wanted to cut speaking times in the House, which is completely ridiculous. I have said it many times before and I will say it again. An MP currently has the right to speak for 20 minutes. Most of the time, each MP speaks for 10 minutes. Through the reform, the Liberals wanted to cut speaking times from 20 minutes to 10 minutes at all times. The 20-minute speaking slot would no longer exist.
I have a book at home that I love called The Confederation Debates. It features speeches by Papineau, Doyon, George-Étienne Cartier, John A. MacDonald, Louis-Hippolyte La Fontaine, among many others that I could name. These great MPs would speak for four, five, six, seven or eight hours without stopping, long into the night.
With their parliamentary reforms, the Liberals wanted to reduce MPs' speaking time to 10 minutes. They wanted to take away our right to speak for 20 minutes. All this was intended to minimize the opposition's speaking time, to stifle debate on various issues.
What they did yesterday was even worse. It was a clear-cut example of their attitude towards parliamentary democracy. They imposed time allocation. In layman's terms, they placed a gag order on a debate on the modernization of the Canada Elections Act. No example could more blatantly demonstrate their ultimate intent, which is to ram the bill through as fast as possible. It is really a shame. They want to ram this down our throats.
There is also what they did in 2015 and 2016 with their practice of cash for access.
When big-time lobbyists want to meet with a minister or the to discuss an issue, they just have to register and pay $1,500, or $1,575 now, for the opportunity to influence them.
These are not get-togethers with ordinary constituents. These are get-togethers arranged for the express purpose of giving prominent lobbyists access to top government officials and enabling them to influence decisions.
Here is a great example. The attended a get-together with Port of Halifax officials and people closely connected to the Port of Halifax. No other Liberal Party MP was there. That is a blatant conflict of interest and cash for access.
If Canadians have a hard time trusting the Liberals when they say they introduced this bill because they want to enfranchise people or improve democracy and civic engagement, it is also because of all of the promises the Liberals have broken since their election in 2015.
Elections and electoral platforms form the foundations of Canadian democracy. Each party's political platform contains election promises. Personally, I prefer to call them commitments. The Liberals made some big promises. They said they would run small $10-billion deficits for the first two years and then reduce the deficits. Year after year, however, as they are in their third year of a four-year mandate, they have been running deficits that are much worse: $30 billion, $20 billion and, this year, $19 billion, although their plan projected a $6-billion deficit.
They broke that promise, but worse still, they broke their promise to return to a balanced budget. As my colleague from has put it so well often enough, this is the first time we are seeing structural deficits outside wartime or a major recession. What is worse, this is the first time a government has had no plan to return to a balanced budget. It defies reason. The Parliamentary Budget Officer, an institution created by the Right Hon. Stephen Harper, said again recently that it is unbelievable to see a government not taking affairs of the state more seriously.
Meanwhile, with respect to infrastructure, the Liberals said they were introducing the largest infrastructure program in Canadian history—everything is always historic with them—worth $187 billion. What is the total amount spent to date? They have spent, at most, $7 billion on a few projects here and there, although this was supposed to be a pan-Canadian, structured and large-scale program.
The Liberals also broke their promise to reform the electoral system. They wanted a preferential balloting system because, according to analyses, surveys and their strategists, it would have benefited them. I did not support that promise, but it is probably why so many Canadians voted for the Liberals.
There is then a string of broken promises, but electoral reform was a fundamental promise and the Liberals reneged on it. It would have made changes to the Election Act and to how Canadians choose their government. That clearly shows once again that Canadians cannot trust the Liberals when they say they will reform the Election Act in order to strengthen democracy in Canada.
Let us now get back to the matter at hand, Bill , which makes major fundamental changes that I find deplorable.
First, Bill C-76 would allow the Chief Electoral Officer to authorize the use of the voter information card as a piece of identification for voting. As one of my Conservative colleagues said recently, whether we like it or not, voter cards show up all over, even in recycling boxes. Sometimes voter cards are found sticking out of community mailboxes.
There are all kinds of ways that an individual can get hold of a voter card and go to the polling station with it. It is not that difficult. This Liberal bill enables that individual to vote, although there is no way of knowing if they are that person, unless they are asked to provide identification—and that is not even the biggest problem.
It does not happen often, thank goodness, but when I go to the CHUL in Quebec City—which is the hospital where I am registered—not only do I have to provide the doctor's requisition for blood work, but I also have to show a piece of ID and my hospital card.