Madam Speaker, let me remind members of this House that in a democracy, voting is a fundamental right. Unlike the Conservatives, we believe our democracy is stronger when more Canadians, not fewer, vote.
I now want to touch on the amendments that official opposition members put forward at report stage. Simply put, their amendments would have removed accessibility measures, removed the Chief Electoral Officer's mandate to communicate with Canadians about voting, removed the ability for one voter to vouch for another, and taken away the right from over one million Canadians to vote. It is clear that the official opposition is opposed to more Canadians voting. Sadly, this does not surprise me.
The Conservatives will stand in this place and claim to be champions of Canadian democracy, but I wonder how they genuinely can say that when they have delayed and filibustered throughout the study of this legislation. Let us be honest. The Conservative members attempted to block this legislation purely for partisan purposes. Rather than strengthening our democracy in Canada, the Conservative members of the procedure and House affairs committee wanted unlimited spending ability for political parties in the pre-writ period.
We are levelling the political playing field with Bill to ensure that our elections are more fair, transparent and secure as a result of this amended legislation. However, the Conservatives insisted on delaying the important work of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs and preventing good legislation, which will help more Canadians vote, from proceeding through this House.
Earlier this fall, the committee invited the to appear at the start of the clause-by-clause consideration, but rather than agreeing to set a time and date to begin clause-by-clause, the Conservatives filibustered throughout the minister's appearance during which she waited for, but never received, a single question. To be completely frank, I still cannot see what their reasoning was for these delays, apart from wasting the minister's time, delaying the important work of the committee and preventing good legislation which will help more Canadians vote from proceeding through this House. I just cannot imagine how Canadians could support these games and tactics.
Many Canadians choose to study or work abroad at various points in their lives. With the advancement in technology, Canadians are more mobile than ever before. As it has been said many times before in this House, a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian, and regardless if an individual was born in this country or took the oath of citizenship recently, by virtue of being a citizen of this country, that individual is entitled and has the right to have his or her voice heard in our elections. It is puzzling that Conservative members in this House would attempt to prevent over one million Canadians from voting in our elections simply because they are living abroad. In spite of attempts from members opposite, Bill , if passed, will ensure that Canadian citizenship entitles people to vote in federal elections regardless of where they currently reside. It is as simple as that.
During the consideration of this legislation at the procedure and House affairs committee, the Conservatives put forward amendments that would require parental consent for young people to participate in Elections Canada's register for future electors; lower the administrative monetary penalties for those who break election laws; restrict the capabilities and independence of the commissioner of Canada elections in performing his or her duties; and restrict the use of the voter information card to provide one's address. Those are just to name a few.
I will return to an amendment submitted by a Conservative member on the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. It had to do with the requirement of parental consent for young people to participate in Elections Canada's register of future electors. Members of this House who are parents will know that parental consent is required for many memberships and to access various online platforms, and certainly for good reason, but to conflate a young person's interest in the democracy of our country and our electoral system with something nefarious is just another attempt by the Conservatives to create barriers to voting in the hopes to suppress the vote.
Members on this side of the House are not surprised by this. The Harper Conservatives attempted to build a case of fear and distrust in our elections through Bill with the removal of the use of the voter information card to prove address as they felt it was being used by voters to vote multiple times, which as we know, is simply not true. We now see the same fear and divisive tactics by members of the former Conservative government now being used by the opposition with its proposed amendments.
It should also come as no surprise that the Conservatives did attempt to amend Bill to restrict the independence of the commissioner of Canada elections. After all, it was the Harper Conservatives who restricted the commissioner's power to investigate in the first place.
Members of the House will remember that through Bill we are reinstating the commissioner's independence and empowering him or her with the ability to better investigate possible violations of elections law. We are giving the commissioner the power to seek a warrant to compel testimony and the power to lay charges. We are doing this following the recommendation after the 2015 election where the Chief Electoral Officer stated, “The inability to compel testimony has been one of the most significant obstacles to effective enforcement of the act.” Following the Chief Electoral Officer's compelling argument, I find it deeply concerning that all members of the House would not support this measure in Bill .
What is stranger yet is that Conservative members on the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs did not support the amendments submitted by the hon. member for , which would add additional punishment for third parties using foreign funding for regulated activities. Under this amendment, third parties who are found guilty of offences related to the use of foreign funds could be subjected to a punishment equal to five times the amount of foreign funds that were used.
The reason I find it surprising that they did not support this amendment is that it can also be found in Bill , which was introduced by one of their Conservative caucus colleagues, Senator Frum. Given that the proposed amendment is the same punishment as set out in Bill , I have to wonder if the amendment was purely not supported because it came from a member on this side of the House, or if it was not supported because it actually would strengthen the legislation. Either reason is completely unacceptable.
This fall the new Conservative critic for democratic institutions, the member for , brought a new collaborative tone to our work and I want to thank her for that. Collaboration from all three parties at the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs has made this a stronger bill. Members will not always agree on everything in this chamber; in fact, it is disagreement and debate which can produce better policies for all Canadians.
That is why I want to highlight some of the amendments brought forward by opposition members that the committee was able to come together and agree on. These include more protection for information contained in the register of future voters; creating a better definition for third party activities in Canada; and expanding vouching so that any voter on the list in the same polling station can vouch for another voter.
This builds on other important amendments brought forward by the Liberal members on the committee. I would like to highlight just a few of the amendments presented by my colleagues on this side of the House that further strengthen this legislation. These include a complete ban on foreign money spent at any time, not just during the writ or pre-writ periods, for third parties; a new obligation on social media platforms to create a registry of all digital advertising published and paid for by third parties, political parties and nominated and prospective candidates during the pre-writ and writ period; and, as previously mentioned, allowing employees of long-term care facilities to vouch for residents.
During debate on the bill at report stage, we heard concerns from the member for with regard to foreign funds in our elections. He said:
Bill C-76 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....
In wrapping up, while there are, admittedly, some modest improvements made to Bill C-76, it remains a deeply deficient attempt to restore fairness to the Canadian election process.
Simply put, this bill, as amended at committee, would prohibit the use of foreign funding in all third party partisan activities and advertising regardless of whether they take place during the pre-election or election period. As a result, I am proud that this bill would ban all foreign money all of the time to further protect our elections from foreign influence. I must also note for the member's reference that this amendment was supported by all members of the committee, including the member's own caucus colleagues.
On the subject of pre-writ spending by virtue of the creation of these timelines during an election year, Bill has created a maximum writ period of 50 days. I have heard from constituents in my riding of South Shore—St. Margarets that while levelling the political playing field is important to keep our electoral system fair, they also think that the fixed election date rules cannot be abused again. The previous government rigged the system to its own advantage and many Canadians were frustrated to be in such a gravely extended campaign period.
Before I wrap up, I want to go into detail on one other aspect of Bill , which is Canadian Armed Forces voting. The women and men of the armed forces make tremendous sacrifices on behalf of our country and to protect our free and fair Canadian elections, yet they vote at a lower rate than the general population. This is likely in part because the Canadian Armed Forces' voting system is terribly outdated. Canadian Armed Forces members are required to vote on a base ahead of election day. Often they are required to vote in a different manner than their families. This system made sense when it was established, but it is no longer practical.
That is why we worked closely with the armed forces and the Department of National Defence to modernize forces voting. Under Bill , Canadian Armed Forces members would be able to choose to use the civilian voting program. Those who wear the uniform face some of the most dire consequences of government policy. We have an obligation to ensure that their voices are heard during elections.
I will close by reiterating that this is important legislation. Bill , as amended at committee, would make voting easier and more accessible to Canadians. It would make it easier for Canadians to run for office. It would make it easier for our women and men in uniform to vote. Bill C-76, as amended, would ensure that Canadians enjoy a democratic system that is more accessible, more transparent and more modern than ever before.
I encourage all members to support this important legislation, which would modernize our elections for future generations to come.
Madam Speaker, I thank my colleagues. I appreciate that very much.
Following the last election, the government, when its ministry was sworn in, claimed that it would be the most open and accountable government in history. Ministers were issued letters that instructed them to ensure that they conduct themselves in a manner that would withstand the greatest public scrutiny. The government gave a Speech from the Throne that contained a very clear and specific commitment on electoral reform.
The wheels came off all of these assertions almost immediately. Within the first few weeks of the government, it came to light that its ministers were fundraising from their own lobbyists and their own stakeholder groups, in secret, with the cash-for-access fundraising regime. We also saw how the promise of being the most open and transparent government in history quickly gave way to repeated assertions in this House, especially from its House leader, that it was acting in accordance with the law.
It went from the highest possible scrutiny to, “well, it is a loophole and it is not illegal, so what we are doing is okay”.
This is important because it goes to the heart of the principal problem, and there are many problems with this bill but I am going to focus on the one that I am most concerned about, and that is money. The governing party has demonstrated that it struggles to raise money from regular Canadians motivated by ideas and motivated by things that are simply important to them for the good of the country.
For its own reasons, the governing party relies on fundraising from lobbyists and stakeholders, people who have something directly in the game in their relations with the government. This has spilled over into the realm of third parties, and reliance on third parties to also act as proxies for the government and to help it win elections.
The first bit of business under this minister's predecessor was its promise on electoral reform. This was part of the Speech from the Throne. It was a campaign promise, although not one that the Liberals really led with in my part of Canada, in my riding. I do not recall my Liberal opponent bringing it up at all in the forums I attended with her. I do not recall hearing about it at the door. However, I know it was brought up, and the Liberals did campaign on it in other parts of the country.
The Liberals were deliberately cultivating support from the people who might be traditionally expected to vote for the NDP. These people voted for the Liberals and they helped elect them, and they expected that promise to be kept. We know what happened. Under the previous minister, the Liberals were surprised to find that opposition parties were not going to quietly roll over, let them rig the game to their advantage in the next election, nor was the Canadian public, for that matter, interested in doing so.
The government established a special committee, asked for its recommendations, and when it realized the committee was not going to tell it what it wanted to hear, it established a bizarre parallel rigged game of consultation. Finally, when the committee did make a recommendation that the Liberals could not accept, they buried that election promise and instructed the new minister to table a less ambitious bill.
In fact, there was already a bill at that time, which my colleague, the member for pointed out, that was tabled under the previous minister. It sat there for two years without anything happening on it, until this spring when we got into Bill .
With this history on democratic institutions and electoral reform, I cannot imagine why any of my constituents would expect me to give credit to the government and to support the legislation before us. As far as the specifics of this bill and the current conduct of the government goes, there are still very serious problems with this bill.
There were some minor amendments that were proposed at committee that may have made some subtle improvement, but right now foreign, third party entities can still fund their Canadian proxies and participate in our democracy with foreign money.
The parliamentary secretary said it was an amendment that was dealt with at committee, but it is not so. There is no provision for audits outside the writ and pre-writ periods. A foreign third party entity can give money to its Canadian proxy, which can advertise or conduct itself in opposition to a particular party or a particular issue. There is nothing to prevent the Canadian entity from using that money perhaps for administration or legal purposes, freeing up its other resources to participate in public discourse in politics.
I have real concerns about this, and it is not something we are making up. The Tides Foundation brags about how it influenced the last Canadian election. On its website, it takes credit for helping to defeat the last government. It sent millions of dollars into Canada. It sent money to LeadNow, which in its Harper report, talked about how it paid organizers to go out and campaign in the last election and how in 26 out of the 29 seats it targeted, Conservative candidates were defeated. It is not a secret. They openly boast about these activities and about the ability to influence a Canadian election.
Until we get this right out of politics and take a clear stand, with audit provisions that span the period between elections, we are going to be at risk of this type of activity. I used the examples of Tides and LeadNow and some of the groups they funded, because that is real and it happened in the last election. However, who knows, in the next election, which other organizations or governments might use the loopholes in this law? The government has very little credibility on this entire file, and I will not support the bill for that reason.
One other thing I want to point out in the minute or two I have left is that we saw this week that there was an expectation that four by-elections would likely be called this past Sunday, and in fact, only one was called. If the bill passes, the will not be able to call a by-election within the nine months that precede the fixed date that exists for next October.
Three seats are still vacated from the resignations of Peter Van Loan, September 3; Tom Mulcair, August 2; and Kennedy Stewart, September 16. If the does not call these by-elections soon, they will not be able to be called if this bill becomes law. That would be a real shame. Citizens of three ridings would go over a year without a member of Parliament. That nine-month prohibition against calling a by-election before a general election is scheduled, when added to the six months of flexibility the current Prime Minister has, will actually allow the non-representation of constituents for potentially 15 months. I hope that is not what is happening right now. I would hope that with the leader of a federal party nominated in Burnaby, the Prime Minister is not deliberately preventing this by-election from happening, but we will have to see how this eventually plays out.
Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to be here today to again address this bill, Bill . My colleagues and I have tried endlessly to intervene on the bill to improve it in an effort to provide true democracy for Canadians and to have integrity not only in our electoral process but, as my kind colleague, the member for , just indicated, in the legitimacy of the electorate. I think that is something integral to Canadians having confidence in the electoral process. It is for these reasons that our attempts at committee were endless, really limitless, in trying to bring close to 200 amendments to make this bill watertight in terms of democracy for Canadians, instead of what it has, unfortunately, become, which is a public relations exercise by the government to demonstrate that it is doing something to attempt democracy, when in fact, the holes are so large, one could drive a Mack truck through them.
My colleagues and I on the committee can certainly look at ourselves in the mirror and look at Canadians and say that we did everything we could possibly do to attempt to have a process that was truly democracy for Canadians and completely made in Canada.
I might add that something we have also attempted to avoid is the potential for foreign interference and influence. I again bring to the attention of the House that this is a public relations exercise, really, by the government. It is attempting to say that it modernized the Canada Elections Act and that it has a process that will absolutely ensure that there is no interference or influence.
I have only been in this position six weeks now, so there has certainly been a lot for me to catch up on. However, I have the great benefit of amazing colleagues and wonderful staff. I have certainly tried to move the process along for the benefit of Canadians. We certainly can look in the mirror and say that we did everything we possibly could to have the best electoral process possible for democracy here in Canada.
Before I talk more about this, I would like to use a specific case example, which I have in front of me today, which is based on a study and investigation done on behalf of the former member for Calgary Centre. I would like to use that as a case example to show that this bill would do nothing to fix the problems that were presented in this case.
However, I simply cannot proceed to that until I get to the two elephants in the room, or I guess it would be the donkeys in the room. That is a joke. The first one would be the by-elections. I simply cannot be here today without recognizing the fact that only one of the four by-elections has been called. This is incredibly unfortunate, because not only does it leave more than 300,000 Canadians without representation, as has been brought to the attention of the House by my colleague, but once again, it is unfortunately the current government's attempt to manipulate and politicize the political processes for its own gain.
I must admit that I was quite shocked last night in the House when I saw my NDP colleagues hooting and hollering over the joy of this bill being passed. They now have the potential of not having a leader sitting in the House for the next election. In fact, that is very possible and probable. I do not know how they can be completely overjoyed with something that potentially leaves them without their leader having a seat in the House of Commons. How can they possibly support a bill that would leave them on this front?
Beyond that affront to them, and who am I to speak up for them or have to defend their interests, I would merely like to point this out for their benefit since they did not seem to understand that in their joyous cries of support in the final vote last night. It sort of behooves me to mention that.
Then this morning, we had the surprise of the debate commissioner. I have to hand to our Liberal colleagues: They are very crafty in choosing the former governor general, sort of a kryptonite, someone selected by them to serve in this position, someone who was appointed Governor General by the former prime minister. However, it does not negate the process. Someone who is given the song sheet to anything, and it does not matter who it is, must sing the lyrics that are there. The rules we have seen for the debates have been laid out by the current government very specifically: two debates, one in English, one in French; participants meeting three of these criteria, one of which is so subjective. This is nothing new for the government, but it is again an affront to democracy.
My colleagues on the committee can verify whether we ever saw a shortlist or a name. I do not believe we did. Once again, it is an affront to democracy. The Liberal government is trying to rig the rules for its benefit. We will never accept that on this side of the House. We will fight for Canadians. Canadians have the right to say how they want to hear from the potential leaders of my nation. What could be more important than for Canadians to have the right to say what the format should be when they hear from their leaders. However, they are being denied that with the creation of this position and these rules. They are being denied their voice.
I would like to turn quickly now to Bill and this case study, which I am about to present, on how it does not address the problems at all.
This was a complaint brought forward by the Canada Decides group. The first point is with respect to regulation of third parties. It is unfortunate, because foreign interference is talked about significantly in this first part of the complaint. I can verify that the rules brought forward in the bill would do nothing to absolutely ensure that foreign interference and influence would not occur. We asked for this time and again in committee. In our amendments, we asked for the creation of the segregated bank accounts to ensure that third parties would not have the opportunity to receive a million dollars for administration costs and then, lo and behold, move it into election spending. We pushed so hard in an effort to limit the activities to ensure political activity was recognized and held to account. Unfortunately, because of the push-back from the government, this was not the case. Therefore, with respect to this case, I cannot confirm these things were rectified.
I mentioned, as well, the requirements before the pre-writ and the fact that they could receive as much money as they wanted and could do whatever they wanted before those times. I can verify that it does nothing to attempt to fix that. As well, there are no donation limits on contributions received externally, again, prior to the pre-writ period.
I would like to say this with an amendment. I move, seconded by the member for :
That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “That” and substituting the following: “Bill C-76, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and other Acts and to make certain consequential amendments, be not now read a third time, but be referred back to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs for the purpose of reconsidering clause 378 with a view to amending it so as to prevent a government from cherry-picking which by-elections to call when there are multiple pending vacancies in the House of Commons.”
Madam Speaker, I welcome this debate because the Liberals have finally got on with it and introduced a bill to fix the work done by the previous government, and here I use the term “work” loosely, because that work made it more difficult for a whole series of Canadians to vote.
As the parliamentary secretary was saying earlier, this bill, in their terms, is a “generational overhaul”. Even in the name of the bill itself, that it is a modernization act, conveys that. It gives Canadians the clear sense that we do not do this very often. We do not renew the election rules by which we all participate in our democracy, the ways in which the parties and third parties participate and the ways that voters experience the election, very often.
There was a longstanding principle in Canada, that we would never change those rules in this place unilaterally, that doing so was bad practice and bad faith for one party alone, the government, to force through changes to our rules unilaterally. Canadians would then be left with the very distinct impression that maybe the ruling party of the time was putting in rules that would help that party in the next election.
That is a fair assumption to make. People do not even have to be quite so cynical as some folks in the 's Office are to make that assumption.
The practice in this place, for generations, was that when we changed election rules, we did it together collaboratively. The previous government, unfortunately, broke with that tradition over a fight about vouching. It felt there were problems with the vouching system. The New Democrats fundamentally disagreed and the evidence supported them, because there was no massive fraud taking place in our elections and those changes were more about disenfranchisement than ensuring proper enfranchisement of our voting rights.
How we got here with the current government is an important part of this conversation. The Liberals said that the bar was quite low, that their aim was to fix Stephen Harper's unfair elections act. It was not going to be hard to do; it just had to undo a bunch of the damage that the Conservatives had done in Bill in the last Parliament.
The government introduced the bill. It took a year, but okay, it was a new government. Then for two years, it did not move the bill. The bill just sat there on the Order Paper. I can remember getting up in this place to ask the democratic institutions minister, “Hey, where is your bill? What else are you working on?”
At the time, we had been going through the whole electoral reform process, some of my colleagues will remember well. The committee was called ERRE. It was a special committee. We had participation from all parties, including a representative of the Bloc and the Greens. We toured around the country. We visited every nook and cranny. I see that the Chair is smiling in fond recollection of all of those days we spent on the road together. It was an incredible privilege, not just because we got to hear from experts in Canada about our democracy and how it could perform better, about voting and how to count votes in different ways, but also heard about how much of Europe and most of the world, in fact, had changed over time.
Also, and more importantly, we got to hear from average, ordinary Canadians. We had an online survey. Some 33,000, I think, people participated. We went around and held town halls, and heard from witnesses from each of the provinces, but we also just had an open mic where people could come up for a few minutes and tell us what they thought was needed.
As a parliamentarian, this is the very lifeblood, the very motivation of why we should be here, to have that open access to Canadians. They poured their hearts out to us, talking about voting reforms they wanted to see. They overwhelmingly supported proportional voting systems. That was the evidence that we heard, both from the experts and from the public who came before us.
Then, unfortunately, at the 11th hour, in a most awkward and quite cynical move, the Liberals kind of pulled the plug and, for months, they would not talk about what they wanted to do, what kind of voting systems they were interested in. The had hinted at one out of Australia that he liked, a ranked ballot. However, very early on in the committee process, we heard from experts who said that ranked ballots would not work well in Canada, that it would be a first-past-the-post system but on steroids. It worked very well for a traditionally centrist party, a party that borrowed a bit from all sides at all times. Good gosh, who could that possibly help out? Right, it was the Liberals. That idea was shot down out of the gate.
Then the disinterest of the Liberals in moving anything forward became obvious, to the final point where the then-democratic reform minister got up in this place and slammed the committee itself for failing to do its job. She then became the former , because that did not go over well.
Moving forward, we then saw the government taking so much time that it actually blew past the Elections Canada deadline, which was last spring. Indeed, Elections Canada came before our committee and said that if we were going to make any changes to the way elections are run, it needed legislation passed by the House and the Senate last spring. The Liberals said, “right”, saw the deadline and introduced the bill the day after the deadline had passed.
The committee began to work, the Conservatives started a little filibuster, and that took all spring and into the fall, and then the government blinked and they worked out a deal together. It is so nice to see parliamentarians getting together and working things out. The Conservatives and Liberals worked out that there would be more pre-election spending money, thus putting more money into politics. The Liberals were okay with that. Now they are upset again at the Conservatives and so things are returning back to normal, I guess.
We were just outside the House of Commons talking about the debates commission, which this very same committee had studied as well for quite a while and made clear recommendations, which I have here. The second and most important one is on the leaders' debate, which is an important part of our democratic process. A lot of Canadians watch these debates in French and English and make up their minds as to whom they want to support. However, it got a little tricky in the last election, with leaders not showing up and kind of screwing up the process a bit. Therefore, a debates commission was promised three years ago. However, for months and months, the new Liberal minister of democratic reform told us not to worry, that they were not really consulting with us because they were just going to use the report by the procedure and House affairs committee, PROC. We said, okay, if they followed what PROC studied and recommended, then we should be fine.
The second recommendation states that the leaders debate commissioner must be selected unanimously by all parties in the House. That seems like a good idea. We do not want the person who sets the rules over that important debate to favour one party or another, or to be chosen only by one party and not anyone else, because Canadians would then ask if it were not a partisan appointment, which is not right. It should not be a partisan appointment, especially by just one party, because then we would just watch the democratic reform minister step out in front of the cameras and say that the government has appointed a commissioner, that the government has decided alone and set the terms for who can participate in the debate and that the commissioner it has appointed will set the topics and all of the rules to follow. The Liberals say unilaterally, “Trust us”.
On democratic issues, the government seems to have some kind of fundamental twitch that comes up again and again, in that when it comes to the decision between collaboration and working with others versus unilaterally having all the power in its hands, the governing Liberals choose the latter again and again. I do not know why. It is actually quite stupid strategically, because when they make recommendations that are only supported by themselves, they are open to proper accusations of bias, of trying to rig the rules. For heaven's sake, I just do not know why. It is not just for the sake of the spirit of collaboration that we try to work together to try to strengthen our democracy, but if that is not motivation enough, then doing so just for the sake of political strategy is sufficient reason. However, the Liberals do not understand that when they work with other parties and have them support their recommendation, there is just much less controversy out the other end and that Canadians will trust the results more. Yet, time and time again, the Liberals choose to go it alone and then it blows up in their face again and again, and then they want to blame someone.
Here we are with Bill , which is pretty flawed. I mean, 338 recommendations and amendments, a whole bunch of them, came from the governing party itself. They wrote the bill and then had to correct the bill, and then just last night, we voted on more corrections to the corrections of the bill. It is not great that it took them three years to get here, and there were so many fundamental problems in it, and a bunch of things remain uncorrected. I will give one example, and I think it is a good one.
Canadians would worry about someone trying to cheat or steal votes in an election and spending money illegally. Well, how would Elections Canada be able to investigate that? It needs to compel testimony, which the bill includes. However, what the bill does not include, which Elections Canada wanted, is the power to require receipts, cheque stubs, from all of the political parties, as it does for us as candidates. As candidates, if we claim to spend money, we have to demonstrate how the money was spent. Political parties do not.
Well, that is strange. How can Elections Canada do an investigation and find out if something went wrong or if someone may be cheating if it cannot get the evidence? It would be like passing criminal laws in this place where we would strengthen the laws to protect Canadians, but deny the police the ability to gather evidence. We cannot bring a person to trial if we do not have evidence.
However, the Liberals actually had a provision in the bill to require receipts and invoices, but took it out. We tried to put it back in and the Liberals said no. The Chief Electoral Officer said that he needed that ability to catch the bad guys. If someone working in some party office started to cheat and spend money in a bad way, Elections Canada is not going to know, because it will not have the evidence. In order to have an investigation, we need evidence.
Let us talk about getting more women into Parliament. We all remember Daughters of the Vote. It is an excellent program. The government just decided to fund it a little more. Under that program, young women, particularly from each of the ridings across the country, come and occupy these seats, 338 of them. They sit in these seats. Last year they got to question the . They were good. They were tough and fair, but mostly tough.
When we look at our parliamentary situation and whether Parliament reflects what the country looks like, if we were to stand out on the front steps, the first thing one would notice is that there are not a lot of women. They represent 26% of members in this Parliament. In the last Parliament, they were 25%. It went up by one percentage point. At the current pace, we will have gender equity in Parliament in 83 years. The Daughters of the Vote said, “That is not a sufficient timeline, Mr. Feminist Prime Minister. When are you going to get on with this?”
One of the ways we can all get on with this is to encourage more women and more people of diverse backgrounds to run. That is a good way of doing things. However, like many things in life, we have to follow the money. Therefore, one of the changes we proposed was included in the bill by our former colleague Kennedy Stewart. The Liberals said they liked that bill, but then voted against it. How typical. What it proposed was that when we reimburse parties for spending, which the public very generously does, we should reimburse to 100% those parties that try to present candidates that reflect the country, those parties that have candidates close to parity. The parties that just want to present 100% pale, male and stale candidates would get less money back from the public. It is a form of encouragement to not just mouth the words but go out and try to recruit diversity so that we can have diverse views here. How radical is that? The Liberals voted against that. Instead, they said they were going to allow women to claim child care expenses for 30 days as part of their election spending. They could fundraise on that and get child care for 30 days, as if that were the barrier holding women back from running for office, those 30 days in the 35 days of the actual writ period.
Come on. For an allegedly feminist prime minister—and I say “allegedly” because I do not have a lot of evidence to show that he is—one would think that if he had a proposal in hand that would result in more women over time getting into office, that would be good, unless he is happy with 26%. That seems to be the case, because he recently decided to protect all of his incumbents from nomination races. He just said, “They're all protected”, which is essentially saying that he would like to have the status quo. I know this because I think there is a Liberal riding association that does not want to have its current incumbent MP represent them again, and the Liberal Party recently told it to step in line or walk out the door. That is love of the grassroots if I ever saw it.
Privacy was a huge part of the conversation that we had with Canadians. New Democrats believe in people's right to have their personal data private. As we move deeper into the social media world, the Internet based economy, privacy and the protection of privacy become incredibly important in commerce but also in politics. Here is what the rules in Canada say right now with regard to how the parties manage huge databases of information about the Canadian voter. They say nothing. Canadian law says nothing. Therefore, if this is a modernization bill, a once in a generation attempt to make our elections free and fair and to protect our sacred democracy here in Canada, one would think that because it is 2018, we would have something in here about that data and protecting Canadians' rights.
Here is the threat that we have seen exposed. It is not an imagined threat. Has anyone heard of Cambridge Analytica? People from Cambridge Analytica approached a number of MPs in the last Parliament, me included, and said that we should hire them because they could help us harvest data from our social media sites, from Twitter and Facebook. They said they would find out their associated email addresses, something one cannot normally do. If someone likes us on Facebook, then they like us on Facebook. That is no big deal, However, we cannot find out their email address. They said they would get us those people's friends as well, that they would be able to micro-target folks who might be associated with them and of interest to us.
For political parties, that is red meat. That is interesting. That opens up whole new worlds. What we can do now with social media is to hyper-target people. The old days of putting out political ads with a sort of scattered approach in appealing to voters are gone. Micro-targeting is where it is at.
The Liberals up until last year prided themselves on being able to micro-target. They said that is how they won the last election. In fact, they hired Cambridge Analytica. They gave a $100,000 government contract to do what? Has anyone seen the contract? No, because the Liberals will not put it out. They hired the guys who were caught up in a thing called Brexit.
Folks will remember Brexit. Britain certainly remembers Brexit because it is going through it right now. Voters in England were hyper-targeted. Databases had been harvested. Facebook likes and share groups had been manipulated and were only being sent a whole bunch of myths and disinformation about what Brexit meant. The British Parliament has been trying to unravel this thing ever since Brexit happened as to how that referendum vote happened.
I want people, particularly from Quebec, to imagine if in the last Quebec referendum we found out after the fact that the referendum had been tampered with by outside groups and agencies, that a foreign government had gone into the data profiles of Quebeckers and targeted them one by one and spread misinformation about the effects of their referendum vote, and we found out after the fact. What would the reaction of Quebeckers be in what was ultimately an incredibly close vote as to whether Quebec would seek to leave Canada? Would anyone cast aspersions on the results of the vote whether they won or lost, that whoever had lost would say that the vote was not done fairly? That is what is being said in England.
The U.S. justice department has said that the last U.S. election was tampered with and the current U.S. mid-terms are being tampered with right now through Russian and Chinese online hackers. The threat is real and the threat is now. When we look at this modernization bill and say what protections are we—
Mr. Gérard Deltell: It was 23 years ago.
Mr. Nathan Cullen: That is very interesting. The vote was on October 30, 23 years ago. That is fascinating. I wish I had known that before I started talking because that would have made the point even stronger. It was 23 years ago today.
Elections are happening right now in the U.S. The Democrat and Republican databases had been hacked in the last election. We saw the emails that were being spread about, in that case by Russian agents. The U.S. has warned Canada. In fact, our own secret service agency, the CSE, has warned Canada. The asked our spy agency to look at our democratic process and make recommendations. It reported last summer and said that on privacy, we do not have sufficient protections to protect our democracy. The report the minister commissioned from a Canadian agency said that things are not sufficiently strong.
The Liberal response was to reject every single recommendation that New Democrats put forward to make things better. The recommendations were based on the evidence we heard from the Chief Electoral Officer, from the Privacy Commissioner, from the BC Civil Liberties Association. In fact, there was not a single witness who came forward and said, “Please do not do anything.”
Here is what the Liberals offered up in Bill . Every party must now have a statement on its website about privacy. It does not say what the statement is or whether the statement is enforceable or there are any consequences for breaking a promise to Canadians. Whoa, Canadians are quaking in their boots. What strong, tough Liberals they are. We are to put a statement on our website that is not enforceable, that is virtually meaningless. That is what Liberals think is protection of our democratic institutions. My goodness. Come on, they should be serious for once on this.
There was not a single witness at committee who said the status quo is acceptable. In fact, the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada said that if there is one area where the bill failed, it is privacy. The Privacy Commissioner said that this bill contains nothing of substance in regard to privacy. These are the experts. These are the watchdogs. These are the people who we trust. We should trust them.
Last night when we voted on these amendments to make things better, to encourage more women to participate, to allow for better protections of our privacy, to allow more enfranchisement, the Liberals rejected them again just as they did at committee. For the life of me I really do not know why. We are meant to work together in this place. We are meant to not have real fundamental disagreements about the rights of Canadians to cast a free and fair vote in our elections. I sure wish the Liberals would back up some of their rhetoric with action.
Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for .
I recall when the whole issue of amending the Elections Act first arose under the previous government. Ever since that time, the notion of amending the Elections Act seems to have revolved around the issue of voter fraud. All we heard about in the previous Parliament was how new rules needed to be brought into play in order to prevent voter fraud.
Then during debate on this bill, Bill , what has mostly come from the official opposition is again a focus on voter fraud. I wonder if this kind of discourse does not breed an unfortunate misperception on the part of the public as to how our electoral system works. That has been the tack the official opposition has taken. Essentially, their discourse is focused on the issue of the voter identification card.
Ironically, voter fraud is not a problem. It is really a bogeyman.
The only recent incident of voter fraud that I am aware of is the robocall incident in which case a Conservative volunteer, Michael Sona, went to jail for his role in that. I remember campaigning on the last weekend in 2011 when my campaign manager called me in a bit of a panic saying that we were getting calls in our office from people who had gotten calls saying that the location of their voting station had changed. I do not know how many calls were made in my riding but some were obviously made and they were made across the country as well.
I would like to focus on an article in The Globe and Mail on the issue of voter fraud. It is an article by Denise Balkissoon, in reference to the U.S. experience, which is relevant because our systems are comparable in many ways. She stated that:
Meanwhile, the threat of voter fraud has always been manufactured. One study that focused on impersonation found 31 provable instances between 2000 and 2014, during which time more than one billion American votes were cast. This August, a Department of Justice investigation into the 2016 election process in North Carolina found that, out of almost 4.8 million ballots, 500 had been cast by ineligible voters. Most were people with criminal records, who didn’t know their records prevented them from voting....
Therefore, those people in North Carolina were not attempting voter fraud. They just thought that they had the right to vote, which I guess they did not in that circumstance.
Meanwhile, the focus on voter ID is really motivated by a desire to dissuade voting, to suppress voter participation. I read a quote before, which I will read again, from Professor Carol Anderson, who wrote a book, One Person, No Vote, a play on the well-known phrase. She states that, “The most common tool [of voter suppression] ... are laws around identification: Crackdowns on what can be used as proof of address are often indicators of suppression.”
By not allowing the voter identification card to be used as ID, the so-called Fair Elections Act made it just a little bit harder to vote, tilting the balance away from voting for some because we know that in some cases people get frustrated if they feel that somehow there is an impediment to going to vote or a minor inconvenience. Some people will decide not to vote in that election. We know that is some of the thinking that occurs sometimes. The Fair Elections Act's prohibition on the Chief Electoral Officer's ability to run programs to encourage voter participation is another example of this attempt in the previous amendment of the Elections Act to discourage voting. Bill , I am glad to say, moves in the opposition direction, in the direction of increasing democratic participation, of expanding rather than reducing the franchise. I will give some examples.
Bill encourages voting in the following ways.
First of all, it allows the use of the voter identification card once again. It does not mean that individuals can just go to the polling station and show the card and get to vote. They have to prove who they are with identification. It usually requires a second piece of identification.
A second example of how we are proposing to expand the franchise to vote is by allowing employees of long-term care facilities to vouch for multiple residents, which makes sense. In a long-term care facility there are usually one or two people attending to a number of residents. They know who these people are. They know their families. They know quite a bit about them. It makes perfect sense to allow that person to vouch for multiple residents. It is a common-sense change.
The bill proposes to allow the Chief Electoral Officer to sponsor voter awareness campaigns. To think that somehow the Chief Electoral Officer is advocating for one party over another is one of the conspiracy theories that have been born around the issue of amending the Canada Elections Act.
The bill proposes to create a national register of future voters to get youth engaged in the electoral process early, long before they reach voting age. That makes a lot of sense. I just met an hour ago with students from St. Thomas High School in my riding. They must have been about 15 or 16 years of age. I told them about that aspect of the bill and they seemed quite excited, as did their teachers, around the possibility of registering ahead of time before they reach voting age.
Another example of how we propose to expand the franchise is by expanding the right to vote of one million Canadian expats abroad. It would no longer be required to reside outside Canada for less than five consecutive years nor would it be required that a person intends to return to Canada to resume residence in the future in order to vote.
Last but not least, the bill proposes to make voting quicker and easier by allowing voters to vote at any table in the voting station rather than wait at a specific table.
Expanding the current use of mobile polls during advance polls to better serve remote, isolated or low-density communities is just another example of how we want to make voting easier. We want people to vote. We want to expand their democratic franchise.
We would be making it easier for people with disabilities to vote, which of course is the right thing to do. For example, assistance at the polls is currently only permitted for persons with physical disabilities. Bill would make assistance available irrespective of disability, in other words, whether it is a physical or an intellectual disability. An elector would be able to be assisted by a person of his or her choosing. Currently that is not possible.
Many people with disabilities have a particular caretaker whom they know and trust. They would be allowed to have that person help them with voting as opposed to arriving at a voting station and being told the voting station will assign a person to help them out, which can be intimidating to some individuals.
Currently, a transfer certificate is only available for people with a physical disability when the polling station is not accessible. Bill would make it available irrespective of the nature of the disability and irrespective of whether the polling station is accessible. Further, the Commissioner of Elections Canada would have the flexibility to determine the application process for the certificate in a way that is less challenging for an elector seeking accommodation because of a disability.
The current process for persons with disabilities to vote at home would be extended irrespective of the nature or extent of the disability.
Finally, Bill proposes to establish a maximum reimbursement of $5,000 per candidate and $250,000 for political parties that take steps specifically to accommodate electors with disabilities and reduce barriers to their participation in the democratic process.
I am personally proud as a Canadian of the progressive values in Bill , when it comes to implementing the rights of people with disabilities to participate in the electoral process.
Bill would strengthen the electoral system against fraud, including in the context of the new digital technologies that we are now seeing can disrupt election results based on the influence of false information and manipulation. In other words, the bill would empower the Commissioner of Elections Canada to seek judicial authorization to compel testimony in order to ensure timely and thorough investigations and it would authorize the commissioner to lay charges.
We are strengthening the bill to protect against voter fraud and we are expanding the franchise. I am very pleased and proud of that as a member of Parliament and as a Canadian.
Madam Speaker, a good way to start is with something I put in the form of a question earlier today. The Government of Canada has wide support for many of the initiatives in this legislation, whether from New Democratic members, the leader of the Green Party or Elections Canada. We have listened to what Canadians have had to say on the importance of our electoral system in every region of our country. I believe that the minister has done an outstanding job in bringing things together and presenting to the House what is a modernization of Canada's elections laws. We want to see additional strength.
Today, around the world, Elections Canada is recognized for the strong leadership role it plays. In many countries throughout the world, we are often looked to as a country to go to for a better understanding of how we can have independent elections and how well we have done overall as a nation through the independent office of Elections Canada.
The minister brought in the legislation. A healthy debate took place. It went to committee. Unlike under the previous administration, when there were no opposition members listened to and when even Elections Canada was not listened to, we had many amendments. Amendments came from the Conservatives and the New Democrats. We had a great deal of input from the leader of the Green Party. Members on the government side listened to what the stakeholders, in particular Elections Canada, were saying, which led to many government amendments at the committee stage. We now have an even better piece of legislation as a direct result of having gone through that process.
The New Democrats will say that they had a lot more amendments that were rejected. Not all of their amendments were good. Not all of them were rejected. Some of them actually needed further study, and so forth.
The Conservatives, on the other hand, wanted to bring it back to the way it was, and we did not support that, and we believe that Canadians do not support that. The best example I can give was just referenced, and that is the voter card. Canadians across this country are sent in the mail or delivered a voter information card, which has their name and address on it. It tells them where they are going to be voting. A lot of Canadians, including me and my household, retain the card. Many people believe that they can take that card and use it as a form of ID. Why not? Elections Canada does not have any problem with that. Members of the Green Party and members of the New Democratic Party do not have any problem with that. It is only Stephen Harper and the Conservatives.
Even under the new leadership of the Conservative Party, there is no difference. What is the difference between Stephen Harper's party and the new leader's party? I do not know, especially when it comes to some of the legislation. The Conservatives have a problem with Canadians using something that is supplied by an agency, Elections Canada, which is recognized around the world as an independent body. The Conservatives, for whatever reason, do not believe that should be allowed for Canadians, because they do not trust it. Shame on the Conservatives for not recognizing what is a very obvious thing and an important part of democracy.
This legislation would do a great deal in terms of making changes to modernize the process. We are making the electoral process more accessible for Canadians with disabilities, caregivers and members of the Canadian Armed Forces. We are restoring voting rights to the more than one million Canadians living abroad.
What I find interesting is that we have the Conservatives, who are very transparent, and we have the New Democrats, who are trying to hide their real political objective. Let me explain that. The Conservatives have demonstrated today, as they did in committee for many hours and days, that not only do they want to vote against this bill, they will do whatever they can to prevent this bill from ever seeing the light of day. It does not take a genius to filibuster a bill. Give me 12 or 14 members, and I could hold up a bill for weeks. It does not take a genius to do that. The Conservatives have made the decision that under no circumstances do they want to see this bill passed.
The New Democrats say that they support the legislation, but under no circumstances should the government use any of the tools to ensure that it is passed. If it were up the Conservatives, this bill would never, ever pass. We would be debating it until after the next federal election. I will give the Conservatives credit. At least they are being transparent. The New Democrats are trying to come across as great democrats, when they have no intention of trying to ensure that this legislation passes. They should be embarrassed, because they consistently try to give an impression that is just not true.
It is not the first time the New Democrats have done that. In their statements, they imply that I have advocated that time allocation should not be used on motions. What the New Democrats are not saying is that on many occasions, when I was in the third party, I stood up and said that at times time allocation needs to be used as a tool. Otherwise, if there were an irresponsible opposition, the government would be prevented from getting the business done that is important to Canadians.
The New Democrats and the Conservatives are asking why we waited so long. We did not wait long. This has been in the process for a long time. We finally got it out of the committee stage. There are other pieces of legislation. The government has had a fairly significant agenda, starting from day one.
On day one, the legislative agenda was the tax break for Canada's middle class, something that both parties in opposition voted against. Today we are talking about giving additional strength to our democratic institution, Elections Canada. In fact, that is what this is doing. I believe that over 80% of the recommendations from Elections Canada are in fact being acted on.
As opposed to recognizing the legislation for what it is, legislation that is very much reflective of what Canadians want to see in terms of electoral changes, legislation that gathers the vast majority of the recommendations from that independent agency, the official opposition wants to go back to the days of Stephen Harper and prevent this legislation from passing at all costs.
We have the New Democrats playing a game, as if they want to see the legislation passed, but they are prepared to join the Conservatives in supporting a filibuster that would ultimately take it all the way past the next federal election.
I believe that Canadians deserve better. If members want to support and see a healthier democracy, they should not only support the legislation, they should support the idea of getting it passed in a timely fashion.
Elections Canada was very clear on being able to act on the legislation, as we went through the many hours and days of the procedure and House affairs committee dealing with this legislation.
There was a solid commitment by the government to ensure that we modernized the Elections Act. Whether the Conservatives want it or not, we are going to do it, and we hope to continue to receive the support of the Green Party and my New Democratic friends.
Mr. Speaker, for the sake of novelty, I thought I would do my entire speech without yelling or screaming, even once. Let us see if that helps to set the tone for the rest of the debate. I thought it was going pretty well until the last intervention and then we sort of went off the rails.
I want to start by dealing with a couple of things that have nothing to do with Bill .
The first is to draw attention to the poppy on my lapel. There has been a developing tradition here the last couple of years where members will be wearing poppies that are different from the traditional ones put out by the legion. Sometimes they are an aboriginal poppy. Sometimes they have some other significance. The one I am wearing is done by the women's auxiliary at the Perth legion and the funds go directly to the local legion.
I also want to take a moment to deal with a matter that is near and dear to my heart, as I was unable to do so in any other spot. It is the issue of freedom of religion and the right to worship safely and peacefully. I am speaking of course of the tragedy that occurred last Saturday at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I chaired an all-party parliamentary committee dealing with anti-Semitism and, subsequently, along with the Liberal MP, co-edited a book about anti-Semitism. This is the very worst example of anti-Semitism we have seen in recent years on our continent. Like all members, I speak in solidarity with that.
I want to mention one other thing before I move on from this topic. I learned of this tragedy because I was informed of it by an email sent out by an Islamic group called LaunchGood, which raises money to assist people who face tragedies of this sort. Typically, these are tragedies within the Muslim community. A year ago, I and a number of other people, including some MPs, contributed to the LaunchGood effort to raise money for one of the survivors of the Quebec mosque shooting. This time, it is raising money on behalf of the victims of the synagogue shooting. That is indication of the kind of generosity and spirit we see among the great religions of the world and those who truly believe in their faith.
None of that is germane to Bill , which I will turn to now. I will be splitting my time with the member for , who like me is a survivor of the class of 2000. His riding name is more appropriate with time, as all of us who have been here since 2000 are developing deeper and deeper “crowfoots” at the corner of our eyes. It has been a great pleasure to serve beside him and the other veterans.
In dealing with Bill , I will delve into a number of the issues relating to the way the government has pushed all too little on the bill until the last minute and now is in a panic to get it done in time to go into effect for the next election. This has been an unnecessary delay. I will return to that theme if there is time.
However, I want to start by talking about an issue that arose today, which is the proposed amendment to the motion before the House. That is the amendment introduced by my colleague and my New Democratic colleague calling for us to return it to committee so we can deal with the issue of by-elections.
There is a by-election under way now in the riding to my south, where my esteemed late colleague Gord Brown served. He sat in the seat near me. He passed away earlier this year. The took the maximum allowed period of time before calling a by-election for that riding. This means that the people in Leeds—Grenville—Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes have gone without representation far longer than is appropriate. Shame on the Prime Minister.
The has failed to call several by-elections for several vacancies, including the one in Burnaby South, where the New Democratic candidate is the current leader of the New Democrats, Jagmeet Singh. There can be only one purpose in delaying that by-election. It cannot be because the Prime Minister was caught off guard by this or because there is some kind of impediment keeping him from doing this. The former member for Burnaby South, Mr. Kennedy Stewart, our former colleague, resigned on September 14. However, he made public the letter to the Speaker in which he announced his intention to resign on August 2. He made it clear back in May that he intended to resign. That is now four months in the past. The by-election should have been called immediately.
There can only be one purpose for delaying this by-election. Take account of all the insincere posturing about being a friend of democracy we hear from the right now. The reason for delaying this by-election is to ensure Jagmeet Singh does not get to take a seat in the House until the last second.
Why would the do this? Because this is an extraordinarily effective tactic for neutering the leaders of opposing parties. We saw an example of just how this works the year I was elected. It was also the year my colleague from was elected. We were elected November 27, 2000. The election was called, a snap election, in mid-October of 2000. Our former leader, Stockwell Day, was newly elected in a by-election on September 11, 2000. He came to the House, began speaking here, was beginning to bite and have some effect so the prime minister called an election to essentially neuter him before he could become effective.
The can no longer easily affect the date of the election, but he has the ability to delay and delay the calling of a by-election in order to ensure Jagmeet Singh will meet with a similar fate, that he will be unable to come here, advocate effectively for the causes he believes in and start nibbling into Liberal support from the left, just as our leader has been very effective in doing so from the right. That is an affront to democracy.
I do not care how many sincere looks the gives the camera while he explains whatever his ostensible motivation is. The fact is that he is stripping away a vital aspect of parliamentary democracy. There is a real need to deal with this sort of thing, to prevent this sort of misuse, especially when it comes to the election of party leaders to the House of Commons.
We have always had a practice of showing a kind of courtesy. I thought Jean Chrétien was egregious in his abuse and violation in turning away from that practice when he called a snap election in 2000. However, he really does not hold a candle to a prime minister who seems to simply want to hold off the by-election forever. It is wrong, it is always wrong and it is wrong when the does it.
Let me talk a bit the urgency of getting this bill through and the need to use time allocation. The Liberals introduced legislation dealing with elections changes, Bill , in November 2016. Then they never brought it forward. Over a year later, they came out with the replacement for Bill C-33, containing most of what Bill C-33 contained plus some new additions. That is the current legislation, Bill .
The year-long delay is not the fault of the opposition; it is the fault of the government. The government likes to say that the opposition was constantly filibustering in committee and it could not get anything done. The procedure and House affairs committee, on which I sit, met in the spring to deal with the bill and then it met again mid-September when the House resumed.
An entire summer went by during which this committee did not meet. It could have met. There is nothing stopping a committee from meeting over the summer. Indeed, a couple of years ago, another committee I was on, the committee on electoral reform, met all through the summer. This past summer, a number of committees met. Some of them met several times. This committee could have done that. That is not the fault of the opposition parties; it is the fault of the government.
Going back yet further, the government could have started dealing with this legislation much earlier. Instead, it chose to deal with its electoral reform that would change our electoral system, and there were hearings on it. It delayed that for the better part or a year in order to consume enough time that only one electoral system could possibly be put forward and implemented in time for the 2019 election, which is preferential voting because it does not require redistribution.
At this point, there has been a delay of about two and a half years out of the three years that have gone by so far. All of it is because of the government's own delays. The government has tried to say that it ought to impose closure, limiting debate on a 300-page bill, because we dragged our heels. My response to that is that the government's mismanagement ought not to constitute my crisis nor ought to constitute a crisis for the people of Canada.
Mr. Speaker, it is a real honour to rise today in the House to speak to Bill .
Today has been one of those days on Parliament Hill. We just had a committee looking at parents who have lost newborn children or during pregnancy. As we sat listening to the stories of those individuals, it brought, I think, most of the committee to tears.
However, this afternoon we are looking at a bill to amend the Elections Act. It shows the broad range of things that happen in Parliament. This morning we saw people who were genuinely affected and now we are seeing a bill brought in place that really, for all intents and purposes, will just give an advantage to the Liberal Party.
I should say, though, that I sincerely regret the fact that many of my colleagues are denied a similar opportunity to speak, given the Liberal government's decision to move time allocation on this bill. Having an opportunity with an appropriate amount of allotted time for MPs to express the views of their constituents is a fundamental principle of democracy upon which the House of Commons is founded. This opportunity is being denied.
It is for this reason that we on this side of the House adamantly oppose the Liberals' blatant, disrespectful manoeuvre. Shutting down this debate is disrespectful to MPs and, more importantly, disrespectful to those Canadians who want to be heard on this issue.
I am confident that Canadians will justifiably punish the Liberal government for silencing them on this very important issue of electoral reform. At the very crux of our democracy are elections and how we facilitate those elections is key, and yet Canadians have had their voices silenced on this.
I am equally confident that Canadians will take great exception to the bill before us today, which leaves our elections wide open to foreign interference. It does so to the benefit to the Liberal Party. It is widely suspected that in the 2015 federal election, Liberal candidates defeated their opponents in several key ridings due to foreign interference.
The speed the Liberals are trying to ram this legislation through Parliament a year before the 2019 election clearly shows their eagerness to once again win with just a little extra help. I firmly believe that every vote cast by a Canadian citizen matters. I will therefore continue to work with my Conservative colleagues to keep foreign entities from undermining our democratic institutions, especially through the very fundamental exercise of elections.
As my honourable colleague from pointed out last Friday, Bill would double the total maximum third party spending amount allowed during the writ period and would allow unlimited contributions by individual donors and others, unlimited spending by third parties and unlimited foreign donations outside the pre-writ and the writ periods. Effectively, this loophole would allow foreign charities to give millions of foreign dollars to Canadian charities, and those millions, as my colleagues stated, can be disbursed as Canadian dollars to third party groups to support and oppose parties and candidates.
Canadians deserve to know where the money for elections is coming from and it is up to the Liberal government to ensure that third party entities are being fully transparent and there is no undue and outside interference. Bill fails miserably in this regard.
It is also up to the government to ensure that non-resident electors are not treated the same as full-time residents, residents who are impacted in their daily lives by the regulations, decisions and economic realities and red tape of government. The individuals who are living here deal with all of these regulations. Allowing non-resident electors the vote, regardless of how long they have lived outside of Canada or whether they intend to ever return, is simply wrong.
Most non-residents were unable to vote in Canadian elections until 1993, when expats living outside Canada for fewer than five years and who intended to return were granted the right to vote by mail-in ballot. I wholeheartedly agree with the less-than-five-year rule, but obviously the Liberal government does not. Again, I believe that they do not agree because, for all intents and purposes, they are looking for ways to gain an advantage.
As a result, the legislation before us today goes further than simply restoring voting rights to short-term expats, because the Liberals feel it is to their advantage. Under Bill , anyone who has ever lived in Canada would be able to vote. Following the introduction of Bill , Bill C-76's predecessor, as noted in a November 2016 South China Morning Post article, “They would theoretically include most of the 300,000 Canadians who live in Hong Kong, most of whom are returnee emigrants and their children. Huge numbers of Hong Kongers emigrated to Canada ahead of the 1997 handover, but many have now returned as dual citizens.”
The article gives the example that when Hong Kong was returned to mainland China, many people came to Canada and other countries. Now, many of them have returned. The same article goes on to express the divergent views of two Hong Kong residents. One, a civil servant close to retirement who spent 11 years in Canada before leaving in 1995, said:
Having the right to vote is an honour, this will motivate me to pay more attention to their political news because I still have family members living in Canada and I will spend more time over there after I retire.
In that article, he said he would vote in Canada at the time of an election if he were allowed to.
The same article made a comparison with a 39-year-old high school teacher in Hong Kong, who was born in Canada, but who said he would not vote, because he said:
I only lived there for 10 years when I was young. I do not know that much about Canadian politics and have not been following closely of their news, so I believe it would be irresponsible for me to vote.
I would agree with that. It would be irresponsible, as it is irresponsible for the current Liberal government, to lift the less-than-five-year voting restriction and thereby open up the system to abuse. It is irresponsible for individuals who have no idea of the issues, no idea of the candidates and no idea of what is really happening, to put an X when their country and their passion is where they are residing, as was the case with this 39-year-old, for some 29 years.
Another measure in Bill that would leave the Canadian democratic process open to abuse is the use of the voter identification card as acceptable voter ID. In the last election in 2015, nearly one million erroneous voter identification cards were given out, creating huge potential for voter fraud. I cannot support a bill that has the potential to undermine our highly respected electoral system as a result of voter ID cards being taken as a valid form of identification when we know that out of the 16 million or 17 million people who were eligible to vote in the last election, more than a million of them were given erroneous cards.
What the government is trying to enshrine in this bill works against fair elections. It works against the very principles of democracy. When anyone is willing to take away the rights of someone else to advance his or her own, I would warn Canadians, because if Liberals are willing to take that from someone else, what will they be willing to take from Canadians in the future?
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for .
I am proud to rise today in support of Bill , an act to amend the Canada Elections Act.
We are fortunate to live in one of the strongest democracies in the world. We are a nation that is respected for the strength of our human rights, equality and freedom. However, what makes our democracy so robust is the fact that we are willing to continuously look at ways to make it stronger, which is what this bill does.
After a careful review of the Canada Elections Act, the Chief Electoral Officer made over 130 recommendations on ways to improve how our democracy functions. Both the House and the Senate committees have studied these measures in detail. Along with input from experts from across all of Canada, our government has introduced this legislation to modernize the Canada Elections Act. This legislation will bring Canada's electoral system into the 21st century. Bill will make it easier for Canadians to vote, make elections easier to administer, and protect Canadians from individuals and organizations who would seek to influence their vote.
A key element of this bill reverses the changes made by the previous Harper Conservative government that weakened our elections and made it harder for Canadians to vote. Our open democracy and the right to vote underpin the strength of our country. When attempts are made to weaken our electoral system, it also weakens our nation. What we need is a more engaged electorate, high participation in elections and a fair election process so that the decisions we make in this House are truly reflective of the entire country, and so that voters will have confidence in our electoral institution.
The Conservatives repeatedly made attempts to put their ambition for power ahead of protecting and strengthening the rights of Canadians. This bill will bring an end to that.
As I said earlier, this bill follows over 130 recommendations that the Chief Electoral Officer made after the last federal election, as well as the extensive studies that were done at the committee level. I would like to briefly share what some of those changes are.
First, we are making several important changes that will strengthen our democracy and the faith that Canadians place in these institutions by banning all foreign donations and prohibiting foreign groups to advertise in our elections. We will also extend the pre-writ period so that these outside groups are less able to impact voters closer to elections. There will also be new measures to prevent the publishing of false statements to affect election results and stop political bots from interfering as we have seen happen in other countries.
Second, we are taking action to make more young Canadians participate in our elections. This bill will create a national list of pre-electors so that Elections Canada can pre-register youth aged 14 to 17 to vote.
Elections Canada will administer the list and sign up young people to receive information about voting until they reach voting age. In fact, this week, my son, who is 14 years old, was asking me questions regarding the electoral process. He and his classmates were debating two different issues. His entire class is very well engaged with what is happening on the federal scene and also on the provincial scene. This will help individuals like Arjan to participate more and to be prepared, when they turn 18, to vote.
This is a common sense change that all members should support. Our youth are our future. We need to do everything in our power to support and encourage them to vote, and this will do that. There has been much work and study done that clearly indicates if we educate the youth about voting at an early age, they are more likely to vote when they reach voting age. From that point onwards, they will be more inclined to continue to vote.
Third, we are going to eliminate the barriers that the Conservatives put up to prevent Canadians abroad from voting. The previous Harper Conservative government removed the rights from over one million Canadians. We believe that every citizen has a part and role to play in this country, and we need to make sure their voices are heard.
Fourth, on the issue of increasing participation and making it easier for Canadians to vote, through this bill, we will allow Canadians to use their voter information card as a legitimate form of identification at the polls so that individuals are not turned away from voting because of troublesome rules that seek to suppress voters.
Last, this bill will provide a complete modernization of our elections laws, including increasing the time advance polls are open and allowing for special ballot kits to be made available electronically. Advance polling locations will be required to stay open for a period of 12 hours during the four advance voting days.
Making special ballot kits available electronically will allow electors to receive their ballots electronically with instructions as to how to return the printed ballot in a way that will guarantee the integrity and secrecy of the vote.
This bill will also allow electors to vote at any of the tables in a polling station rather than wait at the specific table assigned to their polling division. This will require Elections Canada to introduce a minimum level of technology in polling stations to manage the list of electors.
It will enhance the electors' experience by making voting more convenient and significantly reducing the wait time on election day, as well as during advance polling days.
We believe these changes are important. We are a government that encourages Canadians to participate in the electoral process and seek to build consensus because, as the , the member for Papineau often says, there is more that unites us than divides us.
I hope all members of this House will join me in supporting these common sense reforms that will strengthen our democracy, make our elections more fair and accessible, and in doing so, make our country much stronger.
Mr. Speaker, I do not know how I am going to follow that. It was quite blistering, intelligent and if I do say so myself, something I must surpass. I will try. I do not know if I will have any success, nevertheless we know the Lower Mainland of British Columbia is well represented.
I want to thank my colleagues for bringing forward their thoughts on this. We are into third reading on Bill . We are just about to hand it over the Senate. I hope it gets the acceptance.
For me, this is a journey that has taken place for quite some time. It started for me with Bill in the last Parliament. At the time, it was called the Fair Elections Act. There was much to-do about the title, of course, and a lot of people made fun of the title. A lot of us felt that it was not fair in many respects. Some changes were made that were certainly acceptable, but for the most part, it was a bill that was troubled in the law. In my humble opinion, here we are now winding back some of the mistakes made in Bill C-23.
There are four main themes in Bill . We are talking about amendments to third party spending, which is very important because third party spending has come up quite a bit in politics throughout the world. The United States grapples with this issue every year, not just every four years. Throughout Europe it is the same sort of situation, where one has to track the third party spending looking at how they plan to affect elections. This bill would substantially address that issue, far more substantially than what has been done in the past.
One of the things being encapsulated in this legislation is the fact that the activities around politics and the things we can spend on are being described. Right now, there are all sorts of ways of communicating with the people. With the onset of polling years ago, now we have push polls, pull polls and all that sort of thing, as well as the fact that we also have social media to contend with. In the past, advertising was held to newspapers, radio and television. Through social media, now there are all types of advertising, and ways to track advertising spending have become much more difficult as well. Therefore, encapsulating all of that in this legislation would go a long way.
For example, in the past we always talked about the advertising issue. Right now, there are three elements in this legislation we must address: election advertising, as I have mentioned; political activities, election activities such as rallies and those sorts of things that must be addressed; plus surveys, finding out the information and bringing it back to the candidate and the campaign, and the expenditures surrounding those.
The second part of Bill is reducing barriers to participation and increasing accessibility. To me, the accessibility measures in this legislation are essential. I will get to those in a moment. However, part of this bill would be reducing the barriers to participate, in particular the voter information card, which is something that has come up quite a bit. I will also address that a little later. In terms of modernizing voting services, I mentioned the advent of technology. We are using technology a lot more in all facets of life, not just when it comes to election campaigns. Another element is amendments related to privacy and protecting personal information.
When it comes to third parties, what we would be doing here is broadening the scope of third party activities. A third party would have to register with a CEO, which we feel is necessary. If they spend more than $500, then they would have go forward, be registered and would have to be tracked in light of that. We are also talking about spending on advertising, as I mentioned, partisan activities and election surveys.
Now, we would be defining two periods to measure this. There would be a pre-election period and the election period, when the writ is dropped until election day. It is very important to capture what would be happening in the pre-election period in this legislation, because we want to track how it affects the election itself. Third party spending is a big part of that. Foreign prohibition also came up. I have been here 14 years, and this issue comes up substantially when talking about foreign participation in our elections. Now, it is not prolific to the point where it is a major problem, but it could be. The language in this legislation would curtail a lot of that activity.
To be precise, it would be people who do not reside in Canada. It would include corporations that do not carry on business in Canada or are not formed in Canada and groups where the responsible person does not reside in Canada. It defines the entity by which third party spending is done.
I want to move on to another subject that is also encapsulated in the bill that is a step ahead. It is called the register of future electors. There are many jurisdictions around the world, and even within Canada, that look at voters younger than the voting age of 18. They go through the process of registering them so that when they turn 18 it becomes a simpler measure. However, what it really does is incorporate younger people to get involved in the election itself. It is not like when one takes part in an election in school. What they are doing is enumerating themselves to be registered so that when the election arrives they will be far more ready and far more aware of the situation of how one registers to become involved. Let us face it, it is a right to vote. We have a right within our charter, and therefore, to exercise their right these people get to the point where they work up to the age of 18.
There are jurisdictions in Canada that do this right now. They are: Nova Scotia, P.E.I., Ontario and Yukon. Around the world, U.K., New Zealand, Australia and Argentina all partake in registering of younger voters before the age they are eligible to vote.
That is only fair. Within the major political parties in the House one can vote for a leader at 14 years of age. Therefore, if the parties recognize they are incorporating people at this age to vote, then certainly it is incumbent upon Elections Canada, which they agree with and seem to be as excited about this as much as I am. They too are now involved in the process. That is also something in the bill that was overdue. Now we are embarking upon that.
On accessible voting, amendments to make it easier for those needing assistance to vote need to be improved. We are looking at assistance by friends or relatives to make the process of marking a ballot easier. Vouching in seniors residences would also become easier. The right to vote and the access to vote is an inalienable for Canadians and must be enshrined in legislation. The access to vote must be improved through the Canada Elections Act.
The other part of the disability involves when it comes to spending and how we do this. Money spent on those with disabilities can be included for election expenses but is not part of the cap. Therefore, we can be reimbursed for expenses for those with disabilities, but it does not go toward the overall spending cap. This is the type of legislation that could go a long way. It may seem like a small measure to many of us, but it is not if one is campaigning for someone with a disability.
Clause 5 restores the broad-based authority of the CEO to educate and inform the public. This was an egregious error in Bill, the former Fair Elections Act, when they took that power away from Elections Canada. The problem with it was that Elections Canada was not able to inform the public about voting, the process and the democracy of it. It was basically pigeonholed to one particular part, which was only to youth. There is nothing wrong with that, that will continue, but now Elections Canada would have the ability to go beyond this and bring to the public information about democracy and voting. It would help promote to Canadian citizens above the age of 18 who have not taken part in democracy, and therefore is essential.
The other part is on the voter information card. How many times would I go around and see people with the voter information card on their refrigerator or on the door, waiting for election day? They would take it down to the voting booth as part of their ID and be turned away because it is not ID. To me, that was just wrong. Therefore, I am glad to see we are restoring the voter information card as valid ID. In the past, with Bill , the problem with that legislation in many respects was it was a solution to a problem that did not exist. The problems around the voter information card were so minuscule that they felt it was unnecessary to use. To me, that was an egregious error so I am glad to see that back in all its facets.
Finally, I would like to say I am glad to see that the commissioner of Canada elections has returned to Elections Canada and has been taken out of the public prosecution office.
Mr. Speaker, today I am splitting my time with the member for .
Fair and free elections are the bedrock of our democracy, something which all Canadians can and should be proud of. We all know that every Canadian citizen is entitled to vote and ensuring the fairness of the system is a civic duty that all parliamentarians and Canadians have an interest in. That is why Bill is so troubling, because instead of strengthening the integrity of our electoral process, it actually weakens it.
What is especially concerning is the proposal to allow voter information cards to act as acceptable voter identification. In the 2015 election, there were serious issues with voter information cards with some one million voter information cards having inaccurate information. That included cases of voter information cards having the wrong name or directing voters to the wrong polling station. There were even cases of voter information cards being mailed to people who were ineligible to vote, which is a very serious matter.
The 2015 election was also not a one-off problem. According to Marc Mayrand, the then chief electoral officer of Canada, these problems were normal and they were in accordance to past history.
More recently, the Toronto Sun reported that a female asylum seeker who has been in Canada only 18 months was urged by Elections Canada to register to vote. The Elections Canada letter told the woman to register by October 23, saying that registering in advance will ensure she is on the voters list. The problem is the woman should not be on the voters list because she is ineligible to vote. Her husband, who is also not a citizen, said that this is not an isolated incident. He told the Toronto Sun that some friends of his here on work permits have also been urged to register to vote even though they too are ineligible.
Elections Canada continues to have serious issues in ensuring that its information is accurate. It makes absolutely no sense to rely on voter information cards as acceptable identification especially considering there are multiple alternative sources of identification that are readily available and that are not prone to such errors.
Under the current system used by Elections Canada, there are more than 30 acceptable forms of identification. One can use as the sole source of identification a driver's licence, a provincial or territorial ID card, or any other government issued photo ID with an address. In combination, a person could use a health card, a passport, birth certificate, certificate of Canadian citizenship, a bank statement, government statement of benefits, income tax assessment, residential lease or sublease, a utility bill, a label on a prescription container, or a letter of confirmation of residency from a school, shelter, seniors residence or first nation. Those are just a few of the possible options.
This legislation also fails to deal with foreign interference in Canadian elections. All Canadians can agree that foreign influence in any democratic election is a serious concern and we must absolutely forbid it. It is really disappointing that the government would leave such a large omission with respect to its legislation.
Ironically, Canadians probably have heard more about allegations of interference in the 2016 U.S. election than the very real foreign influence that happened in the last Canadian federal election. During the 2015 federal election, left-wing lobby groups, one by the name of Leadnow, with the support of the U.S.-based Tides Foundation, targeted 29 federal ridings and spent scads of money to influence the outcome of our election. The Tides Foundation also provided support for more than 14 other registered third parties.
The problem is that under the current rules this is somehow acceptable due to a loophole in the law. But again, according to former chief electoral officer Marc Mayrand, “Once the foreign funds are mingled with the organization in Canada, it's the Canadian organization's funds. That's how the act is structured right now, and they can use those funds between or during elections.”
What this ultimately means is under the current rules, third parties have no limitations on the use of foreign funds during elections. I assure the House that everyday Canadians in my constituency do not think this is acceptable in any way.
I am left wondering why my hon. colleagues across the way are leaving this loophole in place at all. I have a funny feeling this loophole would be a much higher priority for them if the money had not directly benefited them in the last election.
If a registered third party would like to intervene in a Canadian election, it should do so only with money raised by Canadians. This is especially important because of the marked increase in registering third parties and their role in Canadian elections.
Comparing the 2011 and the 2015 elections, registered third parties more than doubled from 55 to 115 organizations and third party advertising spending increased sixfold from $1.25 million to $6 million. Instead of tackling this issue, Bill would actually make the problem worse in several ways.
Under the legislation, third party spending limits during the writ period will be doubled for each registered third party. That also means there is more foreign money that could be used in Canadian elections.
This legislation is also silent on unlimited contributions from individual donors. Donations to political parties now, as we are all aware, are limited to $1,575 a year. Corporate and union donations, as we know, are banned entirely, as they should be. However, there are no limits whatsoever to donations to registered third parties outside the pre-writ and writ periods and that seems totally wrong. During those periods they can receive unlimited amounts of funding from individuals, corporations and unions, whether foreign or Canadian.
If the purpose of the limits to political donations is to ensure all Canadians can have an equal say in elections, should those contribution limits not be equally applicable to registered third parties? One would think so. By not limiting donations to registered third parties, some donors, even foreign donors, will be able to have significantly larger voices than other Canadians, and that is simply not acceptable.
To put it simply, Canadian elections should be about Canadians, by Canadians and for Canadians. Bill would not further that goal and should not be supported.
Canadians deserve and demand fair elections.
Mr. Speaker, free and fair elections are a fundamental part of our Canadian democracy. Unfortunately, the entire democratic institutions file has been a failure since the Liberals took office.
One of the greatest promises they made in the last election was that the 2015 election would be the last election under first past the post. There was no asterisk. There was no disclaimer. There was no fine print that said it would be the last election under first past the post unless, of course, they did not get the type of electoral system they wanted that would benefit them, “them” being the Liberal Party.
There was no such asterisk. There was no such small print. Nonetheless, the Liberals walked it back, and they blamed everyone else for their failure. They blamed the opposition. They blamed the committee itself. They blamed the multi-party committee, which came to a general consensus. They blamed that committee, which included Liberal members, for its failure. They blamed the general public for not having a clear consensus on what an alternative electoral system ought to be. However, the failure rests with the Liberal Party. It is, and it continues to be, the Liberal Party's failure.
While the Liberals were failing at the electoral reform committee, they also introduced Bill , which they claimed would implement many of the recommendations from the Chief Electoral Officer following the 2015 election. Here are the facts. Bill C-33 was tabled at first reading on November 24, 2016, nearly two years ago. Today that bill remains at first reading, unmoved and unloved. We have to question the motivation of the current Liberal government in introducing that bill, then allowing it to sit at first reading and never once bringing it forward for debate in this august chamber.
In testimony at committee, when the eminent political science scholar, Dr. Paul Thomas, questioned the very motive of the Liberal Party, he said:
The government's management of this file has been very poor, in my opinion. If [Bill C-33] sits on the Order Paper for 18 months, it says something about the commitment of the government to get this moving ahead
However, that is exactly what has happened. The Liberals introduced legislation for window dressing and allowed it to sit idly by.
There are other failures in the democratic institutions file. Take cash for access, for example, and the ethical lapses of the current Liberal Party when it comes to fundraising. The Liberal government had barely been sworn in when it was already using its ministers to fundraise, using lobbyists who were registered to lobby their own ministers to fundraise from them. Rather than admitting that they were wrong to be fundraising from access to federal ministers, the Liberals tried to legitimize this practice by introducing Bill . Of course, being Liberals, they left a great big loophole, what we call the Laurier Club loophole, allowing their well-funded Liberal donors to continue to have unfettered access to Liberal decision-makers, as long as it happened at Laurier Club events. They might as well have named that clause the Laurier Club loophole, because that is exactly what it is. Rather than dealing with the issue, rather than dealing with the unethical nature of selling access to senior ministers of the Crown, the Liberals simply used legislation to try to legitimize their bad practices.
The Liberals' failures do not end there. The Liberals even failed in the appointment process for the Chief Electoral Officer, the person in charge of ensuring that our elections run smoothly and appropriately, free from all interference.
The former chief electoral officer, to his great credit and foresight, announced that he would retire early from his position. He announced this in the spring of 2016 to allow whoever succeeded him as CEO to have enough time to get familiar with the job and to prepare for the 2019 election. However, at the end of December 2016, when he formally resigned and retired as chief electoral officer, there was no replacement in the offing. In fact, there was no replacement until this spring, nearly two years after Mr. Mayrand announced his retirement.
Even when they finally replaced the Chief Electoral Officer, they could not do it without failing. The media reported that a new Chief Electoral Officer had been chosen on April 4, 2018. They noted that someone had been selected, that the consultation had been done with the and the leader of the third party.
Lo and behold, weeks later, we found out that the original name circulated in both the media and to the opposition was in fact not the new Chief Electoral Officer. Rather, the very competent interim Chief Electoral Officer was appointed as the permanent replacement. I have to wonder how the Liberals could have waited nearly two years to appoint the person who was already doing the job. It is yet another example of the Liberal government's failing on the democratic institutions file.
That brings us to this bill itself, Bill . Both the former and current Chief Electoral Officers were very clear about the need to have this legislation tabled and implemented early so that they could be prepared for the next election. In fact, when the acting, now permanent, Chief Electoral Officer, Stéphane Perrault, appeared before committee, on April 24, 2018, he stated:
When I appeared last February, I indicated that the window of opportunity to implement major changes in time for the next election was rapidly closing. That was not a new message. Both Monsieur Mayrand and I had previously indicated that legislative changes should be enacted by April 2018. This means that we are now at a point where the implementation of new legislation will likely involve some compromises.
What did the Liberals do? They sat on their hands for nearly three years and then finally tabled Bill on April 30, 2018, the same day the Chief Electoral Officer said he needed legislation fully enacted, with royal assent. The Liberals only introduced it on April 30 and then expected the opposition and the third party to simply roll over and allow this legislation to pass expeditiously.
We cannot ignore the fact that this very debate we are having in this chamber is under the guillotine of time allocation. Frankly, I am shocked, because it was the Liberal Party and the who introduced and supported a motion that would have amended Standing Order 78 so that:
No motion, pursuant to any paragraph of this Standing Order, may be used to allocate a specified number of days or hours for the consideration and disposal of any bill that seeks to amend the Canada Elections Act or the Parliament of Canada Act.
Here we are with a bill that has 401 clauses and 352 pages. It is a bill the Liberal Party itself accepted as being flawed by introducing 65 amendments during the committee analysis, because it recognized that despite waiting nearly three years, it was rushing at the last minute to try to get some legislation on the books, and it tried to correct its own legislation this past summer.
We see that work has yet to be done in the Senate, in the other place. I am intrigued to see what amendments it will be relying on to fix some of the concerns expressed about this piece of legislation.
This legislation is flawed, and we will be voting against it.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for .
I am pleased to speak to Bill , the elections modernization act.
I would be remiss if I did not highlight the importance of the legislation to my riding of Oakville. One of the most significant issues that was raised at the doors in 2015 was how voters felt disenfranchised by the unfair changes to the Elections Act made by the Conservatives. Voters were unhappy with the additional complications and requirements for voting. My office still hears from expats who cannot exercise their civic duty from abroad.
The proposed legislation delivers on the promises our government made to strengthen our democracy. I am proud to stand in support of legislation that would make voting more convenient and more accessible for all Canadians. Our democracy is stronger when we see the participation of as many Canadians as possible.
The bill includes proposed legislative changes that will reduce barriers to participation for specific groups of Canadians. That includes members of the Canadian Armed Forces and more than one million Canadians living abroad. We are changing the rules for Canadians living abroad by removing the requirements set by the Harper government that non-resident electors must have been residing outside of Canada for fewer than five consecutive years and that non-resident electors intended to return to Canada to resume residence in the future.
It is astounding to me that some Canadian citizens remain unable to vote in our current system despite being fully eligible. It is high time these changes are made to the Canada Elections Act to bring our electoral system into the 21st century.
In my remarks today I would like to focus particularly on the measures contained in the bill, which I believe will help in reducing barriers for Canadians with disabilities and those individuals caring for a young, sick or disabled family member who would like to run for public office. Our legislative process is stronger when we have a diversity of perspectives and backgrounds present in the House of Commons. These measures would help encourage the participation of new voices.
Running for federal office, as I think everyone in the House will agree, is an incredibly challenging effort. On top of the intense demands of a campaign, some of our colleagues from all sides of the House ran for office while raising young children or caring for sick or disabled family members. The additional pressures of this kind of responsibility may make running for office out of the question for many qualified, smart and passionate Canadians. This is a great loss to the House and to our country. By helping Canadians with the cost of care for young, sick or disabled family members, we can help ensure that every Canadian has more opportunity to put him or herself forward to represent his or her community at the federal level.
I look forward to seeing how these changes will bring new and under-represented perspectives to the House of Commons. We as parliamentarians are responsible for creating laws for all Canadians. It only makes sense that the House of Commons is comprised of people who represent the diversity of experiences Canadians face.
I would remind the House that in 2010, Canada ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. One of the obligations of the convention is to ensure that people with disabilities can effectively and fully participate in political and public life on an equal basis with others. That includes the right to vote and the right to be elected.
In his report on the 2015 general election, the Chief Electoral Officer noted that electors with disabilities were a growing percentage of the voting population and faced particular hurdles when seeking to cast their vote. Working with an advisory group for disability issues, Elections Canada has developed and researched various tools and procedures to help electors with disabilities cast their vote in secret and as independently as possible. The Chief Electoral Officer has also reported on ways to increase the broader participation of Canadians with disabilities in democratic life, such as attending debates and running for office.
The report of the Chief Electoral Office on the 42nd election was studied very carefully by the committee on procedure and House affairs. Many of its recommendations, agreed to unanimously by the standing committee, are reflected in the bill before us.
Currently, the act provides that assistance to voters by an elections officer is only available to persons with physical disabilities. The act states, for instance, that “The deputy returning officer shall, on request, provide a template to an elector who has a visual impairment to assist him or her in marking his or her ballot.” This bill would make assistance available to electors no matter the nature of their disability, whether it be visual, intellectual or cognitive.
The current act uses the term “level access” to define accessibility at polling stations, for example, providing ramps for wheelchairs. This concept addresses the needs of the mobility impaired. Under the bill before us, “level access” would be replaced by the concept of accessibility, which would include a broader range of difficulties, including vision impairment.
The act would continue to allow the use of venues which would not be accessible, if the returning officer were unable to secure suitable premises. In these cases, electors with disabilities could take advantage of a number of measures. For example, transfer certificates could be made available for electors with a disability. These would enable electors to change the polling station where they would be able vote. Under the current law, transfer certificates are available for people with a physical disability when the polling is not accessible. The amendment in this bill would make the certificates available no matter the nature of the disability and irrespective of whether the polling station would be accessible.
Further, the Chief Electoral Officer would have the flexibility to determine how the process would be applied. People with disabilities would also have an option to vote at home. This bill would expand that option to include any elector with a disability no matter its nature or extent.
The Chief Electoral Officer sometimes undertakes pilot projects to explore better options for providing service to Canadians, such as greater accessibility to the polls. With this bill, we would return to the process in place prior to the Harper government's Fair Elections Act, when pilot projects required the approval of appropriate committees of both the House and the other place rather than the full chambers of both.
The bill would expand the assistance which could be provided by a person of the elector's choosing. Under the current law, the elector with a disability may choose a friend or family member to help him or her at the polling station. The same support is not available if the elector wants to vote at the office of the returning officer. Under this bill, when voting at the returning officer's office, an elector with a disability could rely upon the assistance of the person of his or her choosing.
Finally, the bill would implement the Chief Electoral Officer's recommendation that would give Elections Canada a more explicit mandate to explore assisted voting technology for the use of electors with disabilities.
I have been detailing the measures designed to remove barriers to voters on election day, but this bill goes further by introducing measures that would help people with disabilities participate more broadly in the democratic life.
Political parties can play an important part in helping persons with disabilities play an active part by making their campaigns accessible. Sign language interpretation could be provided at campaign events, for example. Campaign material could be provided in Braille. A ramp could be installed to access campaign headquarters. However, these come with costs. To encourage political parties and candidates to make these accommodations, the bill would reimburse the cost to make campaign materials and events accessible, up to $250,000 for political parties and $5,000 for candidates.
There are other measures in the bill that would encourage more candidates with disabilities or candidates who must care for people with disabilities to run for office. Currently, the additional personal expenses associated with these disabilities must be treated as campaign expenses. Under the bill before us, candidates would have the option to pay with their own funds, including child care expenses and other relevant home care or health care related expenses. The reimbursement rate for these expenses would be increased to 90% and be exempted from campaign spending limits.
I want to commend the for her work, in partnership with the , to see these important provisions included in the bill.