Interventions in the House of Commons
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View Diane Lebouthillier Profile
Lib. (QC)
moved that Bill C-76, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act and other acts and to make certain consequential amendments, be read the third time and passed.
View Bernadette Jordan Profile
Lib. (NS)
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-76, the elections modernization act. This legislation represents a generational overhaul of the Canada Elections Act and will allow it to better address the realities facing our democratic system in the 21st century. As many in this House will know, this legislation is making our electoral processes more transparent and more accessible to all Canadians.
Let us be clear. Voting is a right. As parliamentarians, it is our responsibility to make voting accessible to all Canadians. Members of this House will know from previous debates on this bill that Bill C-76 makes a number of important changes to federal elections in Canada.
This bill will make voting more accessible for members of the Canadian Armed Forces, those who lack certain types of ID, and Canadians with disabilities. It will make participation in our democracy easier for those who have children or are responsible for sick or disabled family members. It gives the Chief Electoral Officer the flexibility to make elections more efficient. It extends the right to vote to over a million Canadians abroad, and it repeals the element of the Harper Conservatives' so-called Fair Elections Act that made it harder for Canadians to vote, which is why of course so many people refer to Bill C-23 as the unfair elections act.
I am currently the only female member of Parliament elected from Nova Scotia. In fact, I am only the ninth ever elected to represent my beautiful province since Confederation. We clearly have work to do, which is why I want to focus for a moment on the provisions of Bill C-76 that make it easier for women to participate in our democracy.
Historically, women have been disproportionately responsible for caring for young, sick or disabled family members. Bill C-76 will do two things to help people in this situation. First, the legislation will increase the reimbursement rate for candidate expenses related to caring for a family member to 90%, and second, it will exempt those expenses from the campaign spending limit. No longer will candidates be punished for taking care of their young or vulnerable family members.
I would like to remind this House that this legislation is also repealing measures enacted by the previous Harper Conservatives, which made it harder for Canadians to vote.
Certainly, some of the more egregious aspects of this so-called Fair Elections Act included the elimination of vouching and the voter information cards, also known as the VIC, as a form of proof of address. As a result of those changes, many Canadians across the country saw increased barriers to voting. In fact, a 2016 Stats Canada survey found that approximately 170,000 Canadians did not participate in the last election because they lacked the required ID to vote. This is completely unacceptable.
The Conservatives will tell us that it is not hard for Canadians to obtain an ID to vote. They will make false comparisons between voting and boarding an airplane or buying a six-pack of beer. Let me assure members, many senior citizens who are living with relatives, who may not have a valid driver's licence or do not have bills addressed in their name would be greatly helped by the use of the voter information card in order to provide a proof of address. Other examples include Canadians who have their mail sent to a PO box, or students who are often in precarious living situations while studying.
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
View Bernadette Jordan Profile
Lib. (NS)
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 C-76 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 Minister of Democratic Institutions 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 C-76, 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 C-23 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 C-76 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 C-76 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 C-76.
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 Coast of Bays—Central—Notre Dame, 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 S-239, 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 S-239, 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 Calgary Midnapore, 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 Thornhill 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 C-76 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 C-76, 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 C-76, 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 C-76, 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.
View Pat Kelly Profile
View Pat Kelly Profile
2018-10-30 10:30 [p.22991]
Madam Speaker, in her speech, the parliamentary secretary had a lot to say about the Conservative opposition. I am disappointed that she would cast aspersions on the motives of the Conservatives in their opposition to this bill. No Conservative believes that a Canadian entitled to vote should not be able to vote in an election. Conservatives always believe that Canadians should vote, should be encouraged to vote and that all eligible Canadians should be able to vote in an election. It is absolutely untrue to suggest that any Conservative favours any kind of policy that would prevent eligible Canadians from voting. That needs to be clear.
A lot of the parliamentary secretary's speech was about the Conservatives. When Conservatives propose numerous amendments to legislation or insist on fully debating amendments, we are doing our job. We are not the audience. We are not elected to sit and watch a government propose and pass legislation that we oppose.
View Bernadette Jordan Profile
Lib. (NS)
Madam Speaker, I find the comments of my colleague across the way interesting.
First, a Statistics Canada survey in 2016 showed that 170,000 people were not able to vote because of measures brought in by the former government. That shows that the Conservatives did not want Canadians to vote.
Second, with regard to amendments being brought forward, as I mentioned in my speech, we worked closely with the opposition. We accepted amendments from all parties. We made sure we were able to come to agreement on things. However, it was discouraging when amendments were brought forward that the Conservatives' Senate bill supported and they did not support.
This is strong legislation and we need to make sure it gets through the House.
View Nathan Cullen Profile
View Nathan Cullen Profile
2018-10-30 10:33 [p.22992]
Madam Speaker, I am surprised the friendship between the Conservatives and Liberals broke down. It was actually a deal between the Conservatives and the Liberals to raise spending limits that allowed the bill to get through. It is sad the relationship has fallen on rockier times now. The bar was quite low for the government. All it truly had to do was repair the damage done to our elections process by the Harper government, and it actually introduced the bill two years ago to do it.
What did the government do with that bill? Nothing. It just sat on it for two years. It then rolled it into a larger piece of legislation, could not figure when to call it so it was late, and then broke a promise, which the member for Winnipeg North will remember well. In the last Parliament, the Liberals spent a whole opposition day saying that election acts should never be forced through Parliament under time allocation. What is Bill C-76? It is an election bill. What is happening to it? It is under time allocation. Strange how the Liberals say one thing in opposition and another in government.
My friend quoted the Chief Electoral Officer a number of times, and how important that testimony was. He said that the one place this bill fails dramatically is on privacy. Why do the Liberals believe the Chief Electoral Officer sometimes, but when it came to protecting our democracy from cyber-attacks and foreign influence on the web they rejected every amendment the New Democrats moved to improve this bill and ensure our democracy is kept safe?
View Bernadette Jordan Profile
Lib. (NS)
Madam Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his passion on this file. With regard to privacy, the minister has said that more needs to be done. We believe there are a lot of concerns around privacy about how our system is structured. There are studies that are going to be done through committees, and we look forward to seeing what those privacy suggestions are.
View Stephanie Kusie Profile
View Stephanie Kusie Profile
2018-10-30 10:35 [p.22992]
Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for her comments on our negotiation process. It was nice of her to mention that.
I have to share that during the last appearance of the minister at PROC, we asked if her government would ensure major announcements, particularly spending announcements, could not be made during the pre-writ period. We asked the following questions:
Will your government ensure that government resources are not used to pay for campaign-style events—for example, town halls featuring the Prime Minister or other ministers, public consultations featuring elected politicians as opposed to [bureaucrats or other] public servants, or other publicly televised or streamed events during the pre-writ period?
Will your government ensure that government departments cannot release public opinion research, reports, or other documents that may influence public opinion, except those of course required by law during the pre-writ period?
Will your government ensure that no major announcements about policy intentions or budget projections can be made during the pre-writ period?
Given those requests so kindly made to the minister, I have the following question for the parliamentary secretary.
Does she have any good news to share about the questions we asked during the minister's last appearance?
View Bernadette Jordan Profile
Lib. (NS)
Madam Speaker, I can confirm to the member and this House that the government has updated its communications policy so the suspension of advertising activities now takes effect on June 30 in a fixed-date election year. This is in line with the proposed pre-writ spending period in Bill C-76. I also want to thank the hon. member for Calgary Midnapore for her work on this bill, and in particular for advocating for this change to the government policy.
View Nathan Cullen Profile
View Nathan Cullen Profile
2018-10-30 10:37 [p.22992]
Madam Speaker, I asked a specific question and referenced the Chief Electoral Officer. I can also reference the Privacy Commissioner, the BC Civil Liberties Association, and our European and American colleagues. The justice department in the United States even warned us that we need to dramatically improve our security regime.
There is a natural tension that sometimes happens around making the rules about elections between what the parties want and what Canadians need. The Liberals, the Conservatives and previously the NDP wanted to keep our privacy over how we collect data. The problem is there are no privacy rules that apply to the political parties at all right now. All the experts, including the Chief Electoral Officer, have said that cannot be done anymore. Foreign influences are looking to attack our democracy by hacking into the party databases, and unless there are rules governing and protecting that data, our democracy is made vulnerable.
The Liberals know this. We have already studied this. The ethics committee studied this, and came out with a recommendation Liberals, Conservatives and New Democrats agreed with. For the life of me, I honestly do not understand. With all these warnings and being a year away from an election, where the threat is there and there is a clear and present danger to allowing Canadians to exercise their franchise in a free and fair way, the Liberals looked at all those warnings, had all that research already done and said that they would like to study it more. This is code for Liberals saying no. When Liberals do not want to do something, they say that we should study it some more. We did study this. We have the evidence.
Can the parliamentary secretary offer us one reason why it was a bad idea to include some protections for data and Canadians' privacy and some protections for our democracy?
View Bernadette Jordan Profile
Lib. (NS)
Madam Speaker, it is interesting when the hon. member said that to study something means no. This bill came with 87% of the recommendations made by the Chief Electoral Officer. We have taken into account 87% of the recommendations, so to say that we did not study it is disingenuous. However, the fact of the matter is that we have talked about privacy. This is the first step in—
View Scott Reid Profile
View Scott Reid Profile
2018-10-30 10:39 [p.22993]
Madam Speaker, I am sure this happened unintentionally, but I believe that the member just used an unparliamentary term when she said that the hon. member had been disingenuous. I am sure she meant mistaken, or something like that, but disingenuous implies a deliberate attempt to distort things. The hon. member would never do that and I am sure she would never make that accusation. I am sure she will want to withdraw that word, and replace it with something else.
View Bernadette Jordan Profile
Lib. (NS)
Madam Speaker, yes, I withdraw the word. I should have used the word, “mistaken”. My apologies to the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley.
With regard to privacy, we know that this is something, and Bill C-76 is the first step. It is going to make sure we start a process that needs to be developed further, and we will make sure that we look more closely at privacy as we go forward.
View Pat Kelly Profile
View Pat Kelly Profile
2018-10-30 10:40 [p.22993]
Madam Speaker, I rise today to speak in opposition to Bill C-76, a bill that would take Canada backwards if its goal is to protect and enhance Canada's electoral processes. I spoke to this bill at second reading, and at that time I focused on the absence in this bill of meaningful measures to protect Canadians from a growing trend of foreign interference in Canada's elections, and I am going to return to that theme today. However, I first want to take a step back, and address the broad failure of the current government's track record on the democratic institutions file at large.
Perhaps, before I get too far along, I ask for consent from the House to share my time with the member for Calgary Midnapore.
View Pat Kelly Profile
View Pat Kelly Profile
2018-10-30 10:41 [p.22993]
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 Skeena—Bulkley Valley 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 C-76.
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 Prime Minister 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 Prime Minister 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.
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