moved the second reading of, and concurrence in, the amendment by the Senate to Bill .
That the amendment made by the Senate to Bill C-76, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and other Acts and to make certain consequential amendments, be now read a second time and concurred in.
She said: Mr. Speaker, I am extremely proud to stand in the House once again, and probably for the last time in this specific place, to talk about Bill , the elections modernization act. This is an important piece of legislation that would ensure that Canadians continue to take part in our democratic process.
To begin, I would like to take this opportunity to say thanks to all those who have been part of the legislative process thus far. First, I thank the members of the House for the enriching debate that led to some amendments in committee that are making this legislation even stronger. I would also like to thank senators, in particular the sponsor of the bill in the Senate. I particularly appreciate the flexibility they have demonstrated in considering the bill, despite challenging timelines. I would like to thank the members of the legal and constitutional affairs committee for their observations, which shall guide the government in future efforts to amend the Canada Elections Act.
I would also like to thank the Chief Electoral Officer and the Commissioner of Canada Elections for supporting parliamentarians through every step of the legislative process. The exemplary dedication shown by their respective teams is fundamental for holding free and fair elections. I want to thank them.
Bill has now been returned to us with one amendment. This amendment is required because of a drafting error in one of the amendments supported by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. We will recall that PROC proposed a new blanket prohibition on the use of foreign funding by third parties for their partisan advertising and activities at any time, including outside the pre-election and election period.
The most effective way to achieve this was to consolidate the relevant provisions into one new division in the Canada Elections Act. In doing so, the concept of election advertising was inadvertently dropped off. “Election advertising” is defined as partisan advertising and advertising on an issue associated with a party or a candidate. This amendment corrects this error and ensures that during the writ period, election advertising, not only partisan advertising, is also captured within the scope of the prohibition on the use of foreign funding.
The amendment proposed by the Senate is essentially a technical one, but it really is important for protecting Canadians from foreign interference in our electoral process. This amendment gives me a chance to remind the members of the House that making the electoral system more secure is one of the key objectives of Bill . The bill contains some important measures for protecting Canada's electoral system from foreign interference, an issue that concerns parliamentarians of all political stripes. It also contains measures aimed at ensuring that anyone who contravenes the Canada Elections Act cannot escape punishment, including more enforcement tools for the commissioner.
Bill goes further than that. In addition to making our electoral system more secure, it aims to make it more accessible and transparent. It modernizes our electoral law to bring it into the 21st century. Our government maintains that the more Canadians participate in elections, the stronger our democratic institutions will be. This is, quite simply, about the health of our democracy. This is why Bill C-76 contains a series of measures that will reduce many of the barriers Canadians may face when casting a ballot or participating in the broader democratic process.
This includes important changes to ensure that the need to prove identity does not create administrative barriers to Canadians exercising their right to vote, such as reinstating the use of vouching and allowing the use of voter information cards to confirm an elector's place of residence. Statistics Canada estimated that over 170,000 Canadians were unable to cast their ballot in 2015 because of the previous government's decision to make voting less accessible. Voting is a right and it is the responsibility of the government to make voting accessible to as many Canadians as possible. We take that responsibility seriously.
These measures will empower Canadians who previously could not vote to cast their ballot on election day. We are also taking important steps to ensure that our democratic process is accessible, not for some Canadians but all Canadians.
Bill contains measures to better support electors with disabilities by ensuring that adaptation measures are available, irrespective of the nature of their disability. For example, the option of at-home voting will be available for persons with all types of disabilities. This legislation will also encourage political parties and candidates to accommodate electors with disabilities by creating a financial incentive through reimbursement of expenses related to the accommodating measures.
Bill will also facilitate the vote for Canadians Armed Forces electors. It will expand the franchise to many Canadians living abroad, and it reinstates a broader public education mandate for the Chief Electoral Officer of Elections Canada.
With this legislation, we are ensuring that every Canadian who has the right to vote will be able to cast their ballot.
The legislative framework governing elections is supposed to put candidates and political parties on a level playing field. This is only possible when we have transparency rules in place. Bill also makes some noteworthy advances in that regard.
For example, it creates a pre-writ period and establishes spending limits for political parties and third parties during that period. In addition, third parties that are especially active will be required to file interim expenses returns with Elections Canada in the lead-up to election day.
Online platforms will also be required to maintain a registry of partisan and election advertising messages published on the platform during the pre-writ and writ periods.
These requirements will give Canadians access to more information about who is trying to influence their votes.
I would also mention that Bill takes key steps in modernizing voter services. For instance, it will give the Chief Electoral Officer more flexibility to manage the workflow in polling stations. Over time, these changes should reduce wait times on polling day. Recognizing that Canadian electors have busy lives, Bill also extends the hours of advance polling days by making them 12-hour days.
This legislation will also limit fixed election date elections to a maximum of 50 days and it will implement a pre-election period to ensure there is transparency around third party spending. There will also be spending limits for election advertising and partisan activity by third parties.
During the pre-writ period, a maximum of $1 million for advertising and activities can be spent and no more than $10,000 per electoral district. During the writ period, a maximum of $500,000 may be spent and no more than $4,000 per electoral district. These limits are set for 2019 and are adjusted for inflation.
I firmly believe that Bill is good for democracy and good for Canada. It is about strengthening the integrity and increasing the fairness of our elections and protecting them. This bill implements over 85% of the recommendations made by the former Chief Electoral Officer following the 2015 general election.
Canadians need to have a process they can trust and our election laws need to be as robust as possible. As the Minister of Democratic Institutions, I am committed to maintaining and strengthening the trust of Canadians in our democracy.
Bill will ensure that our democratic institutions are modem, transparent and accessible to all Canadians. As section 3 of the charter reads:
Every citizen of Canada has the right to vote in an election of the members of the House of Commons or of a legislative assembly and to be qualified for membership therein.
Canadians have the right to cast their ballot and our government is ensuring that they do not face barriers when it comes to exercising their right to vote.
I am incredibly proud of this legislation. There is no right more fundamental than citizens being able to cast their ballots and exercise their right to vote. This legislation is about Canadians, and Canadians can trust that it was drafted and introduced with them in mind.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill . I have talked about this bill a few times already, and I hope this will be the last. If I have to speak to this bill, this is what I will say.
If the bill were truly about democracy, it has failed. If the bill were truly about the rigging the election for the benefit of the Liberal government, then mission accomplished. With that, I will go on to explain how, in our view, as the official opposition, Bill would fail, in so many ways, to achieve the democratic purposes the government claims it would.
First are the spending limits during the pre-writ period. Historically, of course, these were very different from what was first proposed in Bill . The bill proposed specific limits in regard to not only third parties but also registered parties. In the original format of the bill, it would only take four third parties to outspend a registered party. Through the graciousness of my colleagues, as well as through negotiations, we were able to get this up to $2 million, which we on this side do not necessarily believe is fair. However, it is certainly an improvement over what it was previously, which was $1.5 million. Essentially, by setting these limits, the bill would be gagging Canadians by not giving them different parties with opportunities to present themselves to Canadians with the information required for them to make informed decisions. That is what the government has tried to do with the elections modernization act.
In addition to rigging the election for the Liberals, the bill would attempt to undo everything that was done within the Fair Elections Act, which some members refer to as the unfair elections act, which is so very funny. There are many other things, in addition to these spending limits, that attempt to achieve democracy but would not.
Second is the attempt to curtail foreign interference. As I have stated in previous speeches, the measures that would be put in place under the bill would essentially be a slap on the wrist. In fact, it is well known that we offered 200 amendments in an attempt to serve the Canadian public and democracy, but fewer than a handful were accepted. Some were in regard to the attempt to keep foreign interference out of Canadian elections. In fact, we are not seeing that this would happen as a result of Bill . Not only would it just give a slap on the wrist, it would not legislate the mechanics that would be necessary to ensure that foreign interference did not take place.
It is interesting that when the issue of foreign interference was on the other side of the House, there was not a lot said about it after the last election. However, the tide has turned. All of a sudden, we are seeing the effectiveness of these third party groups. These things now become very interesting.
The third reason that Bill would fail to protect the Canadian public is with regard to foreign influence. This is very alarming on our side of the House. We are very aware of the interventions that we saw, not only in the United States in their most recent election, but also with Brexit.
I will not go into the suggested protocol to be applied during the election, which we also believe should be extended perhaps to the pre-writ period, and extended indefinitely. We are not convinced that it is a protocol that will serve Canadians.
Putting the protocol aside for a moment, foreign influence was absolutely ignored in this bill, and it is very concerning for us on this side of the House.
The greatest concerns for us include the use of voter cards as proof of residency. We are very committed to ensuring the legitimacy of the electorate. That is a Conservative value that we will not forgo. We feel very confident that the use of voter cards does not ensure that.
In addition, in terms of preserving the legitimacy of the electorate, we are very concerned about the non-residency requirements that were withdrawn.
The vouch to return to Canada and the five-year leave requirements were withdrawn. As a result, we are very concerned about the government's safeguard for the legitimacy of the electorate, which is the most important thing of all.
Ensuring that we have safe and fair elections for Canadians is the obligation of the government. We take our role in pointing this out to the government, as the official opposition, very seriously.
This is coming back here. This bill went to the Senate and our Conservative colleagues in the Senate, who are truly Conservative, who do not wear the veil of independent senators, proposed four amendments to the bill on Monday. We are very proud of our Conservative senators. All four amendments were unfortunately defeated, unsurprisingly.
Here we are again, bringing back this piece of legislation that fails Canadians, fails democracy and fails the Canadian electorate. This really is not a big surprise, considering that the government is also putting forward the debate commission to not only rig the election in its favour, but to rig the leadership debate process in its favour as well.
We certainly cannot overlook the Liberal government's attempt to buy the media for close to $600 million.
We simply cannot overlook all of these things.
It is with much regret that we come to have the final debate on this bill. We think it is a travesty for democracy in Canada. Frankly, it is no different than what has been par for the course with the Liberal government. Between the pre-writ spending, the true lack of commitment to foreign influence, the use of voter cards and the taking away of the non-residency rules, it is really not surprising for us that this piece of legislation would be pushed through prior to the upcoming election in 2019, and that democracy would not be served.
As I said, if this bill was truly about democracy, it fails. If this was about the rigging the election for his Liberal government, then it is mission accomplished.
With that, I move:
That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “That” and substituting the following:
“the order for the consideration of the amendments made by the Senate to Bill C-76, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and other Acts and to make certain consequential amendments, be discharged and the Bill withdrawn”.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure this evening to rise in this place, which has been referred to much over the last couple of days. As we all know, in just a few short days, members of Parliament will be returning to their constituencies and homes for the holidays and this place will be shut down for some number of years. We were told it will be for 10 or 12 years, but in Ottawa speak, we are guessing more like 15 or 20, which is probably fair. My kids will be in their mid or late twenties the next time we are in this place.
I reflect on the fact that we are dealing with an elections bill. It is kind of appropriate that this place, for the last 100 years, is the place where representatives of Canadians from every corner of the country have engaged, two and a half sword lengths from each other, in debate on the issues of the day. The reason we are able to do that is based on our electoral system. The legitimacy we all have to stand in this place is only based on one thing, and that is the support of the people in our ridings in the various parts of the country.
It is fitting that we are debating an election bill, the last bill debated in this room, this hallowed ground. It is a bit ironic that the bill has been put under what we call time allocation, which means the government is imposing its will on the legislation, shutting off debate on our democracy and how democracy will be affected. This is also passing ironic because when the Conservatives did it when they were in power, the Liberals raged about such a mistreatment of our parliamentary democracy, that they would shut down the voice of Parliament in order to ram a bill through. A couple of years later, the Liberals are doing the same thing. Why the rush? It is because they took so long to bring the bill forward.
I say with all clarity of voice and vision that Liberals were elected, promising to undo what the Harper government had done to our election system, to make consequential changes. They introduced a bill about a year into their term in office to do it and then did nothing. They sat on the bill for hundreds of days. It sat there, with no debate, no discussion, nothing. It kind of felt like they had no sense of urgency to fix our democracy. The had said that one of his most urgent priorities was to fix the problems the previous prime minister had created. We agreed with him and we kept asking him where the bill was.
The Liberals did nothing with it. Then they introduced this bill a few hundred days after that. It was 748 days in total that we had been waiting on it before they brought it forward. That is 226 days past the deadline that Elections Canada had set. It told the Parliament of Canada that it ran the elections and that it needed any rule changes by a specific date. That was 226 days ago. A bunch of things in Bill , if passed in Parliament, as it is likely to do in a day or two, will not happen for our next election. Those fixes will not happen and not because of anything the opposition did. The government sat for so long on the legislation because it had other priorities.
There is something not known about this entire building, Centre Block and the House of Commons. When the original architects put this building together, they intentionally left it unfinished. If we go through the halls and look at the masonry and architecture, we will see blank spaces, spaces that have not yet been affected by art or any description. When asked why they did not finish the building entirely, they said that the building was meant to represent democracy in Canada, which was a conversation and that conversation was not finished.
For many Canadians, too many Canadians, that conversation has hardly yet begun, particularly for indigenous peoples who have been waiting more than 150 years for some sort of comprehension and understanding from the Crown and this place as to how to properly respect and engage in what we call nation-to-nation dialogue. It is unfinished business.
We often speak of standing on unceded territory, land that has not yet been ceded to Canada, to the Crown. For us to fully and completely become ourselves, it is not just going to be a renovation of a building. It is going to take meaningful, structural change, power sharing change, where the Government of Canada no longer acts like some sort of paternalistic entity in the lives of indigenous peoples, but as a conversation of mutuality and respect, which has for so long been lacking.
Let me get back to the bill, which is hundreds of pages long and so badly written. Three hundred and thirty-eight amendments were drafted by government and opposition members. That is an extraordinary number of fixes to a bill that the government took three years to write. The bill may be vast in its comprehension but it is kind of simple in its effort, which is to make voting fair and open to all Canadians.
A couple of opportunities were sorely missed. Our former colleague Kennedy Stewart had quite an ingenious bill. He is a smart guy. He is now the mayor of Vancouver. Smart people in that city elected him mayor. When he looked around the world at democracy, he wondered which countries do well in terms of having their Parliament reflect the population. One clear indicator would be the kind of gender balance in a parliament, and which parliaments are good at it and which are bad at it.
Canadians might live under the misapprehension that, because we have a self-described feminist , this Parliament itself must also have some sort of gender balance. Lo and behold, we do not. Seventy-six per cent of the people in this place look like me, male, mostly white, and 24% are women.
One might ask what it was like under Harper. It was almost exactly the same. I think there was a 1% change from one administration to the next. That might be shocking to Canadians, because the government seems to have changed so much, but in terms of the gender balance of this place, it did not change at all, really. Why not? Because the same rules exist.
Our friend looked around the world, at Ireland, Norway and the Scandinavian countries, and found the number one way to do it, and the Liberals know because we had all this evidence at committee, is to have a fair voting system.
A proportional voting system tends to elect more women and under-represented groups. Our feminist looked at that, made the promise to change the voting system, realized that it might not work out so well for the Liberals, and then quashed the promise, even though it would have brought more women and more equity-seeking groups into Parliament. A choice between country and party, and the Liberal Prime Minister chose party.
He killed that promise, much to the disappointment of many Canadians because it had been repeated 1,800 times. I actually believed him. I might be a little on the gullible side. I thought, when I saw a leader of a party who sought to be prime minister repeat a promise clear as day 1,800 times, that he was not going to back out of that one, because that would make him a liar.
Suddenly, lo and behold, he decided one day that he did not want to do it anymore because he did not like it. Committee heard testimony from average, ordinary Canadians. Eighty-eight per cent said they wanted a proportional voting system. Of the experts who testified in front of committee, 90% said Canada needed to move towards a fairer voting system. All the studies, the 14 national studies from the law commission to all the provinces that have studied this, concluded that Canada needed to move towards a proportional voting system where every vote counts.
I do not know about my colleagues, but one of the number one reasons I hear on the doorstep when someone says they do not want to vote is “My vote does not matter. I vote for a party in my riding that does not stand a chance, so what is the point? I voted in 10 elections and I have never voted for somebody who held office.”
In the last election, a little over half of all the votes cast in Canada elected nobody. The experience of more than half of the electors who went to the polls to cast their vote, which is an expression of hope for the future, was that their vote was not realized in any kind of meaningful way. The Liberals do not want a fair voting system because it did not work out for them.
We then look to this idea from our friend Kennedy Stewart, who says Ireland has a really novel thing going. When political parties in Ireland spend money in elections, they actually get a reimbursement from taxpayers. This is very generous to the political parties. How about we tie that reimbursement back to how well-balanced each of the parties' list of candidates is? As the said in 2015, it is 2015. The closer a party gets to fielding candidates for office who actually look like the country we seek to represent, the closer it gets to 100% of the reimbursement back from taxpayers. The further away they get from that parity, the less money they get, because money seems to be a motivation for political parties. Who knew?
In Ireland, what were the results when it made this one change? The number of candidates from diversity-seeking groups and from women increased by 90% across the political spectrum. The number of people who were elected into the Dáil, the legislature, increased by 40%. Again, remember, from the Harper government to the new Liberal government, we changed 1%. This one change brought in 40% better representation, more fair representation of what the country is.
My bet is this. If we had 75% women in Parliament, we would already have affordable child care in this country. If we had 75% women in Parliament, we would already have pay equity legislation in this country. We know it matters who stands for office and gains the seats in this place in terms of what kind of policies we push. For so many generations, women and other diversity-seeking groups have been standing on the outside pleading with the powers that be rather than being on the inside.
Daughters of the Vote was here. Does everyone remember the moment when 338 young women from each of the ridings were here? One woman stood and asked the a question, and she said that she would like to see proportional representation brought in as a voting system because we know it works. The Prime Minister said no, that when we ask a man to run he says yes and when we ask a woman to run she asks why her. It kind of felt like victim blaming a bit, like it is women's fault for not having enough courage and confidence to take on the challenge of electoral politics, like women do not have enough courage and confidence to tackle some of those difficult things that face families in communities right across this country. I felt it was a bit insulting. This young woman shot back, which I think was really great, that at the current pace, Parliament would be gender-balanced in 86 years, and that she did not want to wait that long. It was nice to see a young woman put the Prime Minister of Canada properly in his place.
Another important element we have to address, because it is happening around the world as we speak, is the element of our elections being fair, outside of foreign influence. My Conservative colleagues talked about this. The evidence we heard at committee was overwhelming about the vulnerability of our political system to foreign interference, particularly through hacking of the parties' databases.
What is in the parties' databases? An incredibly rich amount of information about individualized voters. Not just their age and where they live, but their voting preference, their income and their opinions on major issues. Parties seek to collect all this information about voters. All the parties do it. The Liberal Party bragged about it out of the last election as the key element of its win. It had the best data. It was able to mine data from the social media environment better than anybody else. When people clicked something on Facebook, “liked” that cat photo, the data might have been grabbed by the Liberal Party.
Who did the Liberals hire? What was the name of the company they put on contract? Cambridge Analytica. That is right. The Liberals gave Cambridge Analytica a $100,000 contract, which we still have not been able to figure out. What else is Cambridge Analytica involved in? Brexit, right. These were the guys who were able to use backdoor technology to mine data illegally from Facebook, Twitter and other social media norms, grab people's preferences, opinions and personal information without them knowing about it.
One of the changes asked for at committee by the Chief Electoral Officer, the Privacy Commissioner, the head of our secret service—the spies are saying this is a problem—was that political parties had to fall under privacy law. Now, let us be fully transparent here. Two years ago, my party, the New Democratic Party, was opposed to this. To fall under privacy law would mean we would have to be able to give Canadians the power to demand of us what information we had collected on them, give it back to them and forget them if they wanted us to. Political parties do not want to do that.
However, slowly and surely, with evidence building, we saw the light and we now agree with this. We had all three major political parties at committee. The Conservatives said that they would follow whatever law was in place. The Liberals said that no way until Sunday they wanted to do this. Why?
I will read a quote that should chill some of my Liberal colleagues, ”We judge that it is highly probable that cyber threat activity against democratic processes worldwide will increase in quantity and sophistication over the next year,” particularly affecting Canada. This was said by the head of our Communications and Security Establishment. That is the spy agency that the commissioned a study for, to see what the security threat on our democracy is right now. He studied it and he said the threat is real because all it takes is a foreign government, a foreign entity, to hack into the Liberal, Conservative or NDP databases and then be able to manipulate elections as was done in Brexit.
My friend from Winnipeg smiles at the memory. I wonder how people in England would feel knowing that important vote they had on whether to stay in Europe or leave it was hacked into, that personal data was stolen from various political parties, mined out of Facebook sites and then voters were sent particularly influential messages to have them vote a certain way. In that case it was the leave vote. Now the government is in complete turmoil and people do not trust the system.
What happened in the Trump election? There is documented case after case that social media sites, Facebook, Twitter, were used to garner information about voters' intentions, how they were feeling about issues. Then they were sent very highly targeted messages to motivate them toward one side, in the case of Mr. Trump, voting for him for president. Who was hiring these hacks? The Russians were. That is what the entire inquiry is about. It is about foreign interference in the U.S. election. Never mind the payouts to the porn stars and all the rest. That is the sideshow. The major issue for American democracy was that the U.S. election was hacked by virtually a sworn enemy in Russia.
We say that in Canada we are nice people and no one would ever want to influence us. Certainly the Chinese government would not have any interest whatsoever in influencing the outcome of our next election. The Chinese government has no opinions about any arrests or detentions that have been taking place, about the introduction of any telecom companies into the Canadian environment, about the purchase of major oil sands assets by Chinese companies. No, no, the Chinese government would never stoop to such practices; except that it does and we are naive and foolish to not have done something about it when we were clear-eyed.
The Chief Electoral Officer of Canada, the guy who runs our elections, said, “If there is one area where the bill failed, it is privacy.” The Privacy Commissioner said that the bill “adds nothing of substance”. The B.C. Civil Liberties Association said that protection of personal information “falls far short of internationally recognized privacy standards”. The Liberals said, “Let us just continue on with the wild west. We will be fine. We are Canada,” as if that somehow would be a protection for us.
My sincere worry is that as we look to the end of this Parliament, as the last bill to pass out of this Parliament, it is the most important one which guides how we elect our representatives, the people who speak on our behalf, the people who will make the laws that affect us not just today, but for generations to come. In passing this piece of legislation, the Liberals were given all of the evidence and the solutions to fix the bill to protect our democracy as best we could from foreign interference, from hacking, from people trying to influence the outcome of a free and fair election. The Liberals said, “We just need to study that more.” After hundreds of days of delay, they said, “We need to study it more,” when we were studying it at the time.
The Liberals' own members on the privacy and ethics committee just finished a study on this and concluded—this is radical, I know—that political parties should fall under privacy law, the very thing we were asking to be changed in the bill. Liberals on one committee said we need to do this to protect our democracy and Liberals on one committee over did not want to enact it into law. This is so frustrating. We cannot have this.
As we end this session, as we see the bill make its final way, let us not pretend that it does all the things the minister earlier claimed it does, because it does not. Canadians need to understand and be vigilant and wary. When we do this again, and we are going to have to fix this again, my fear is this. We will have our next election and in the midst of it, we will hear of allegations of hacking and foreign interference. At the end of the election, there will be actual evidence of a hacked election. Canadians will not just blame one of the political parties, they will lose even more faith than they already have lost in our political process. That undermines everything that we try to do in this place and everything that we have been trying to do for the last century in this place.
We can do better. Canadians deserve better. This bill could have been so much more.