Honourable members of the committee and Mr. Chair, it is a privilege to be able to speak with you today. I want to thank you for the opportunity for the Liberal Party of Canada to be heard on these important issues.
My name is Michael Fenrick, and as I was introduced before, I serve as the legal and constitutional adviser to the national board of directors. That's a volunteer position. I'm also a riding chair for the riding in my home community of Parkdale—High Park, so I also have the experience of working for the party and volunteering for the party at a local level.
Both from serving on our party's board and from working closely with grassroots volunteers, I know the party takes the protection of personal information extremely seriously. I also know how the responsible use of data can significantly increase participation and engagement in our political process.
Today, I hope to speak to you about both of those priorities, and I look forward to answering your questions.
First, I want to outline our most fundamental commitment on these matters. The Liberal Party of Canada works very hard both during and between elections to engage as many Canadians as possible in our democratic process. Protecting their personal information is a priority for the party in all of its interactions and operations.
Why does all of this matter? Because secure and accurate data is very important to how modern political parties operate and engage with Canadians. Like all Canadian political parties, the Liberal Party uses data to engage with voters. Understanding the interests and the priorities of Canadians helps us to speak to the issues that matter most to them and in turn mobilizes democratic participation in our country.
The importance of this objective truly can't be overstated. Political parties are not commercial businesses. We are not-for-profit voluntary associations defined in the Canada Elections Act as organizations whose fundamental purpose is to participate in public affairs by endorsing candidates for election. Our interests are very different from those of private sector entities to which federal privacy legislation applies. We promote candidates to Canadians. We're informed in part by information about eligible voters and in accordance with accepted privacy practices and safeguards, and we safeguard the information that Canadians entrust us with.
Using data to help engage voters isn't a bad thing; it's quite the opposite. It helps to ensure that political parties are in tune with what matters to the electorate and that more of us are involved in elections. For as long as there have been free and democratic elections, successful candidates have worked to build detailed lists of their supporters, to understand their priorities and return to them with an ask to help out at the polls.
Knowing what interests have motivated voters and who supports our party helps us deliver relevant information and policy positions to Canadians. For example, we know that more and more people, and especially young people, are seeking out news and information online. For parties to be relevant, we need to have a strong online presence and interact with Canadians through the mediums and on the platforms they are using. That's why in recent years innovative engagement on social media, online advertising and email communications has become increasingly important to our operations.
Where do we get the information we have about voters? Like the other registered political parties, we receive an electronic copy of the list of electors from Elections Canada each year. Under the Canada Elections Act, registered parties are authorized to use the lists to communicate with electors, including for the purposes of soliciting contributions and recruiting party members, in our case registered Liberals.
For all parties, using personal information contained in the list of electors in an unauthorized manner is a criminal offence under the act. It is punishable by a fine and up to two years of imprisonment. We take our obligations in this regard very seriously.
In addition, we work hard to identify, engage and mobilize potential supporters with phone calls, outreach events, door knocking, digital advertising, emails, petitions and more. Often we keep track of information about the issues that matter most to our supporters and to Canadians, and the information they express about whether they intend to vote for us. This information is recorded if it is volunteered by the individual voter and is used to inform the party's outreach efforts and political strategies at election time.
On occasion, limited types of data are purchased by the party to help us reach out and connect with more supporters and Canadians. For example, in the past we have purchased widely available phone book-type information or Canada Post address validation lists.
While we use social media to boost voter turnout, identify supporters through issues-based petitions and ask for fundraising support, the Liberal Party of Canada does not have access to specific Facebook accounts beyond those of our own social media channels.
Our party's primary voter-contact database is a system called Liberalist. Certain individuals, including MPs, riding association executives, candidates and campaign managers may request access to Liberalist. They can view the voter information for electors in their ridings.
Account holders are assigned certain levels of access based on our internal rules and policy, and must provide their name, email address, phone numbers, riding name and address. All account holders on Liberalist must agree to be bound by a Liberalist user agreement, which sets out the terms and conditions for using the system. A copy of that, I understand, is with the clerk.
Users must only use the data for the purpose of communication on behalf of the party with voters, donors and registered Liberals. They agree that they will not keep a copy of any of the data and will not share it with anyone else.