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View Kevin Waugh Profile
CPC (SK)
In conventional broadcasting, you'll hear an ad run by the radio station or TV station saying that if you have issues with the station, you can submit it to the CRTC in Ottawa.
How would that work on social media? I have the ad. I know when their licence is coming up because, well in advance, the station does a 30-second ad. There are no ads here. Will there be ads on social media?
Explain this process to me because on conventional TV, they do a pretty good job, when their licence is coming up, of directing you to the CRTC if you have issues.
Drew Olsen
View Drew Olsen Profile
Drew Olsen
2021-06-10 12:53
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you for the question, Mr. Waugh.
Those commercials you refer to are part of the licence renewal process. They are an obligation that the CRTC imposes on licencees to make public the notion that the licence is being renewed and that people can make comments on the conditions of licence.
The situation in Bill C-10 is that the proposal is to move away from a conditions of licence model and towards a conditions of service model. The clause that this committee is currently debating—clause 7 of the bill, which would include proposed section 9.1—does give the CRTC the powers to make orders with respect to conditions of service that would need to be put on. The CRTC would, under the sort of umbrella, or the chapeau if you like, of proposed section 9.1, have the ability to make requirements related to CRTC proceedings, such as advertisements of various CRTC proceedings, if it chose to.
That, of course, also depends on what this committee and this Parliament ultimately decide to do on whether conditions of service will have a seven-year maximum duration or whether those will be subject to different periods of review.
Bill C-10 does give the CRTC the power to require, at any time that significant conditions of service are being looked at by the commission, that messages be broadcast by licencees to that effect.
View Kevin Waugh Profile
CPC (SK)
Mr. Olsen, that is the concern I have with the seven-year service, as you know. Every conventional TV and radio station in this country starts advertising—
View Julie Dabrusin Profile
Lib. (ON)
I have a point of order, Mr. Chair.
I kind of let it go for a while because we were talking about legal opinions in the broader context, but now we're talking about conditions of licence. I believe that the amendment we're looking at is about independent legal opinions for basically all decisions from the CRTC. I'm paraphrasing it, but there you go.
If the questions and the conversation can focus on that amendment, that would be good.
View Scott Simms Profile
Lib. (NL)
Mr. Waugh, I'm assuming that your arch, as wide-swinging as it can be, at some point will come back to the centre. You still have the floor, sir.
Go ahead.
View Kevin Waugh Profile
CPC (SK)
Thank you, Mr. Simms.
Thank you to MP Dabrusin for the reminder. I appreciate that very much.
Thank you, Mr. Olsen. You've put more questions in my mind now than ever with your comments, but I will just leave it at that. I just hope that people in this country go to the Canada Gazette because I never did in 45 years of broadcasting. I hope that everybody in this country realizes that the CRTC does exist and the Canada Gazette will be its mouthpiece. I just thought I would say that.
I really like this amendment by Mr. Rayes, as you know. I think we have to.... All parliamentarians agree that the independent legal opinions are very important in this. That's all I'll say.
Thank you very much, Mr. Olsen and Mr. Ripley, for your time here this morning.
View Scott Simms Profile
Lib. (NL)
View Scott Aitchison Profile
CPC (ON)
Thanks, Mr. Chair.
I actually want to discuss the broadcasting participation fund again with Mr. Ripley. It does relate, Ms. Dabrusin, to this concept. I hate to think that maybe I'm offending some sensibilities about keeping to point.
I don't suggest for one second that you have such things memorized or have access to them right now, but I'm wondering if we, as parliamentarians, have access to a breakdown of what the budget is, for example, of that broadcasting participation fund.
Thomas Owen Ripley
View Thomas Owen Ripley Profile
Thomas Owen Ripley
2021-06-10 12:57
Mr. Aitchison, you are right that I don't have that figure at the tips of my fingers.
What I can say is the fund has had a multi-million dollar budget over the course of its time, in the course of its existence. To date, it has been funded sporadically by what are called “tangible benefit decisions”. When the CRTC approves certain transactions, one company buying another, they divert or require some of the proceeds from that transaction to go towards supporting public interest objectives. That is how the broadcasting participation fund has been funded to date.
The challenge is that there's really no sustainable funding source in place. Actually, its coffers are getting low. Again, one of the reasons the government included this power in proposed section 11.1 was to ensure the CRTC has a lever it can use, other than tangible benefits from transactions to support things like the broadcasting participation fund.
They have supported a number of different intervenors in broadcast proceedings over the years. They do publish an annual report that I think is available on their website. We can certainly get you the link to that if it's of interest.
View Scott Aitchison Profile
CPC (ON)
Thank you.
It really would be. I'm actually very interested. I suspect it's going to grow deeper based on what we're doing—big government, bigger programs to help people fight big government. Anyhow, if you could send a link to that information that would be really helpful.
I'm glad I entertained Ms. Dabrusin there with my final comments.
That's good for me. Thank you, Mr. Chair, for allowing that comment and questioning.
View Scott Simms Profile
Lib. (NL)
Thank you.
Mr. Shields.
View Martin Shields Profile
CPC (AB)
View Martin Shields Profile
2021-06-10 13:00
Mr. Chair, I have a point of clarification for those on the committee and those listening.
You're referring to a clock and you're referring to timing. Could you clarify what would occur when that clock runs to zero?
View Scott Simms Profile
Lib. (NL)
When it runs to zero, we proceed directly to clause-by-clause consideration, and there will be instructions with it as we go along, as you know. Based on what we received from the House, which the majority of the members voted on, we have our instructions.
We'll have five hours of debate, and then we go straight into clause by clause.
View Martin Shields Profile
CPC (AB)
View Martin Shields Profile
2021-06-10 13:00
Clause by clause in committee...?
View Martin Shields Profile
CPC (AB)
View Martin Shields Profile
2021-06-10 13:00
Okay. Thank you.
View Scott Simms Profile
Lib. (NL)
Was that it? Was that all?
Mr. Louis.
View Tim Louis Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you, Mr. Chair. I appreciate the time.
As far as CPC-9.5 is concerned, I think we've discussed it at length. I'll still maybe have another question at the end of my comments, but I believe that would just really slow down the process.
From the beginning, we've heard from stakeholders and we've heard from experts that in updating Canada's Broadcasting Act it's necessary to include digital platforms. We can't spend more time doing this. These digital platforms that act as broadcasters have to be subject to the same legislative and regulatory conditions that apply to traditional Canadian broadcasters.
Every day things get slowed down, our artists are losing income by not having a level playing field. I know this from personal experience. I've sat here and I've listened and I've heard members from the other side now start to attack some of the organizations for the lobbying, ACTRA or SOCAN or others. These are the same organizations that many of us belong to or have belonged to, and so do I. They make up the arts industry and the cultural industry in our country, and we have an obligation to support them. Making art takes years of dedication, and that requires support.
We get more of what we support and we get less of what we don't. We need to move forward in a quick way, and most of us on this committee have done that. My concerns are that some members are taking the side of these big tech companies opposed to our arts community, especially during a pandemic when they're struggling, every stage in the world is dark and people couldn't perform, and they're relying on that passive income for the writing they're doing, for the performances, the things they're putting on Spotify and YouTube, and all they're asking for is a level playing field.
When one of the members in an article in the Lethbridge Herald, I believe, referred to these artists who rely “on government grants in order to continue to exist” and who “are producing material that Canadians just don't want”, those are our neighbours. Those are our Canadian artists. We deserve to move as quickly as possible to level this playing field and give them a chance to make a living.
View Kevin Waugh Profile
CPC (SK)
I have a point of order, Mr. Chair.
View Alain Rayes Profile
CPC (QC)
A point of order, Mr. Chair.
View Scott Simms Profile
Lib. (NL)
One moment, please. I have two points of order. I have Mr. Waugh first and then Mr. Rayes
Go ahead, Mr. Waugh.
View Kevin Waugh Profile
CPC (SK)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Nowhere is he talking about the amendment that we're bringing forward. I got called on it about five minutes ago. I can see that the member is not talking about what we have in front of us.
View Scott Simms Profile
Lib. (NL)
I'm generous to an exponential degree; however, Mr. Louis, with the wide arc you're swinging, I'm assuming that you're coming back to the point of the amendment. You first started out by talking about CPC-9.5.
In the meantime, I also have Mr. Rayes with a point of order.
Is it on the same topic, Mr. Rayes?
View Alain Rayes Profile
CPC (QC)
I did want to raise the same point as Mr. Waugh. However, I also wanted to ask that we end the meeting, since we have another meeting this afternoon. We also have oral question period soon, and we'd like to try to eat a little. Yesterday, we all had to skip dinner.
View Scott Simms Profile
Lib. (NL)
Yes, I'm hungry for a muffin as well.
There are two things there. As far as your point of order is concerned, you're on a point of order, so I can't let you move a motion to adjourn.
That being said, we are slightly five minutes past. I do provide leeway towards the end for folks who would like to come back from voting, so there's a lag time there. We are under implied consent, as I've said many times, around one o'clock. Mr. Louis is in the middle of his thoughts. I like to let people finish their thoughts, and then we can make a decision from there.
Mr. Louis, you have the floor.
View Tim Louis Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I appreciate everyone's need to let free speech be a thing. I can tell you right now, as an artist myself, that artists on the front line of free speech believe that everyone has a right to be heard.
As far as some of these amendments are concerned, I think that CPC-9.5 would bring things to a standstill in terms of decisions that are up for review. However, in a broader stroke, this is not about free speech. This is about supporting artists and having on a level playing field.
I wonder, in my final questions, if Mr. Ripley would give his opinion on whether he thinks the CRTC and its independent legal counsel is sufficient in terms of where it's at right now.
View Scott Simms Profile
Lib. (NL)
Thomas Owen Ripley
View Thomas Owen Ripley Profile
Thomas Owen Ripley
2021-06-10 13:06
The government's position is that the CRTC is bound by the charter. It needs to respect the charter, and its independent legal counsel will help it do that. If ever there is a question about its not having respected the charter, there are meaningful avenues of recourse available where individuals or organizations can have oversight from the federal court system.
As I indicated to Mr. Rayes, if the objective is to make sure that there's a way that third parties can put legal opinions on record, have them made public and have them considered by the CRTC, the government's position is that this is already able to happen under the framework in Bill C-10, as Mr. Olsen outlined. There is a process whereby anybody can make a submission to any kind of CRTC proceeding. Therefore, if there are individuals or organizations wanting to put on record a legal opinion that speaks to the issue of charter and have that be part of the public record, part of the proceedings that the CRTC must consider, then there is already a way for them to do that under Bill C-10.
View Tim Louis Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you.
I'll ask a quick question, Mr. Ripley.
Whether it's in some of these amendments that we're talking about now or in proposed section 2.1, individual Canadians who use social media platforms are not subject to regulation by this update of the Broadcasting Act. Is that correct?
Thomas Owen Ripley
View Thomas Owen Ripley Profile
Thomas Owen Ripley
2021-06-10 13:08
Yes. Proposed section 2.1 provides that individuals who use social media are not to be considered broadcasters for the purposes of the act unless they are, in some way, affiliated with the social media service. Again, that is irrespective of how many followers they have, even if the count is into the millions, or how much revenue they make. They are not to be considered broadcasters under the Broadcasting Act and are not subject to CRTC jurisdiction thereof.
View Tim Louis Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you very much.
As a committee member here—
View Alain Rayes Profile
CPC (QC)
A point of order, Mr. Chair.
View Scott Simms Profile
Lib. (NL)
One moment, please.
You have a point of order, Mr. Rayes.
View Alain Rayes Profile
CPC (QC)
I don't know whether Mr. Louis is almost finished, but I see that the meeting has already been extended by more than eight minutes. I know you don't want to interrupt him and you want to let him finish, but there will be another meeting this afternoon.
View Scott Simms Profile
Lib. (NL)
View Alain Rayes Profile
CPC (QC)
We will get the five hours of debate.
View Scott Simms Profile
Lib. (NL)
View Alain Rayes Profile
CPC (QC)
No worries about that.
View Scott Simms Profile
Lib. (NL)
Okay.
Mr. Louis, back to you. You have the floor.
View Tim Louis Profile
Lib. (ON)
I appreciate that, Mr. Chair.
I've been waiting a while to get my comments in.
I will simply close by saying that, as an artist, I'm going to continue fighting for artists, and many of the people in this room are. I have no problem going back to my constituents and saying that we stood up for our arts community. I certainly hope that everyone in this committee has the opportunity to go back and talk to their arts stakeholders to see what they have to say.
Thank you for your time.
View Martin Shields Profile
CPC (AB)
View Martin Shields Profile
2021-06-10 13:09
I move a motion to adjourn.
(Motion agreed to)
View Scott Simms Profile
Lib. (NL)
The Zoom coordinates for this afternoon's meeting have been sent to your inboxes.
In the meantime, we'll see you at 3:30 eastern time this afternoon.
The meeting is adjourned.
View Ruby Sahota Profile
Lib. (ON)
I call this meeting to order.
Welcome to meeting number 29 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.
The first hour will be in public, with Minister LeBlanc appearing on Bill C-19. For the second hour, the committee will be moving in camera to continue its consideration of the draft report on the prorogation study.
This portion of the meeting will be webcast [Technical difficulty—Editor] Only the speaker will show on the screen, not the entirety of the committee.
Pursuant to the House order of January 25, 2021, members can attend in person or virtually. I believe all members are attending virtually at this point.
Just as a reminder, mute and unmute yourselves and check your interpretation language. Make sure that it's selected and you're ready to go.
I don't have any other real issues to bring up at this time. However, I will, if I can, take five or 10 minutes at the end of the second portion of the meeting to take care of some committee business. That is expected.
Before us today we have Minister Dominic LeBlanc, president of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada and Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs. With him are Allen Sutherland, assistant secretary to the cabinet, and Manon Paquet, director of special projects at the democratic institutions secretariat.
You can proceed with your opening statement, Minister. Thank you for being here today.
View Dominic LeBlanc Profile
Lib. (NB)
Madam Chair, thank you for inviting me. Good afternoon. It's the afternoon in Fredericton, New Brunswick, where I am today.
Good afternoon, colleagues. I'm pleased to appear before your committee, before PROC. I was a member of PROC for a number of years, so I am familiar with the good work your committee does. It's a privilege for me to be here to discuss Bill C-19, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act with regard to the COVID-19 response.
Bill C‑19is our government's response to one of the priorities that the Prime Minister entrusted to me, namely to work with all Parliamentarians to ensure the passage of any amendments necessary to strengthen Elections Canada's ability to conduct an election during the pandemic and to allow Canadians to vote safely. Obviously, the time during which we work with you and hear your views on this issue is important to our government.
As the chair indicated, I am joined by two senior officials of the Privy Council Office, Al Sutherland and Manon Paquet. They will be available to answer technical questions or to offer a perspective that perhaps I'm not able to contribute.
We are fortunate to have a robust legislative regime in the Canada Elections Act and a world-class electoral management body in Elections Canada, which celebrated its 100th anniversary just last year.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been among the most challenging issues in generations, leading to far too many deaths and severely affecting vulnerable people around the world. Governments have, in turn, been forced to take unprecedented steps to stem the virus's spread.
While Canadians have demonstrated incredible resolve, they need to know that in spite of the pandemic, an election can be administered in a way that is safe, secure and accessible to all. Indeed, this topic has seized the attention of all elected officials and election bodies, as evidenced by the Chief Electoral Officer's call for temporary changes to the act and by your timely study, which put forward several recommendations in support of a safe election in these challenging times. We followed them closely and reflected them in many ways in Bill C-19.
Bill C-19 proposes changes that protect the health and safety of Canadians while allowing them to exercise their democratic rights. A three-day polling period will spread electors out and support physical distancing and other public health measures at polling stations. The three-day polling period specifically recognizes Monday as a voting day. We believe this to be important. Maintaining the Monday voting day recognizes that in some circumstances people might not be able to vote because of a religious obligation over the weekend and that public transit, together with child care options, may be more limited over the weekend. Thus, we thought keeping Monday as a voting day was important. Simply put, we're providing electors with as many opportunities as possible to vote should there be an election during the pandemic.
Bill C-19 would also support a safe vote in long-term care facilities and in facilities for persons living with disabilities. Sadly, as one of the most at-risk populations, the residents of these facilities have been gravely impacted by the pandemic. I think all of us were touched by some of the very difficult stories of COVID-19 in the context of long-term care homes. Bill C-19 would provide enhanced flexibility to election workers through a 13-day period during which they can work with long-term care facility staff to determine the most opportune dates and times to deliver the vote in those facilities.
To be clear, this does not mean that voting in long-term care facilities would take place over 13 days; it merely means that facilities would be able to determine for themselves the appropriate window for their residents to safely cast their ballots. This will support a vote that is safe for the residents, the election workers and the staff in these homes.
Holding a general election at any time requires an organizational tour de force. Canada is a large and diverse country, with 338 electoral districts of varying sizes and composition. In times of pandemic, the task is all the more daunting.
Public health circumstances across the country continue to evolve, pointing to a clear need for increased legislative authority for Elections Canada to react to any specific circumstance that may arise across the country in a particular electoral district. Accordingly, Bill C-19 would provide the Chief Electoral Officer with enhanced adaptation powers to adapt provisions of the act in support of the health and safety of electors and those working or volunteering at the polls themselves.
We have seen that jurisdictions across the country and around the globe have had elections during the pandemic and have seen a steep increase in mail-in voting. Research conducted by Elections Canada indicates that potentially up to five million electors may choose to vote by mail if there were an election during a pandemic.
At the federal level, Elections Canada has delivered this system safely and securely for decades, and there are important safeguards designed to maintain the secrecy and the integrity of the vote. Nothing in Bill C-19 would change that. In fact, we're proposing targeted mail-in voting measures to strengthen a system that we expect will see a surge in usage. Among its proposals, Bill C-19 will allow electors to apply online for a mail-in ballot and will establish secure mail receipt boxes across all polling stations for voters to drop off their ballots. To maintain the integrity of the vote, Bill C-19 includes strict prohibitions on installing or tampering with secure mail reception boxes.
Lastly, I would like to stress that the mail-in ballots cast within electoral districts will continue to be counted locally. As honourable members know, there was a drafting discrepancy between the English and French versions of a provision in Bill C-19 that made its meaning unclear. As a result, we will bring forward an amendment correcting this unfortunate error during the committee's clause-by-clause study of this bill. As you are aware, the Speaker ruled that this error can be corrected by the committee in studying the legislation.
Madam Chair, in conclusion, I would light to highlight three points.
First, these measures would be temporary, only applying in the event of an election held during an ongoing pandemic. These measures would cease to be in effect six months, or at an earlier date determined by the Chief Electoral Officer, after a notice that the Chief Electoral Officer publishes in the Canada Gazette that indicates the measures are no longer necessary in the context of COVID-19. This notice would obviously only be issued following consultations with the chief public health officer.
Second, the long-term care measures and adaptation powers would come into force immediately upon royal assent. The remaining measures, including the three-day polling period, would come into force 90 days following royal assent, or earlier, should the Chief Electoral Officer be satisfied that all the necessary preparations are in place.
Finally, Madam Chair, I would like to reiterate that our government is committed to working with all of you on the committee and with all members of the House of Commons to ensure that this legislation can be amended if it can be improved, but to ensure its passage as quickly as possible.
Madam Chair, thank you. I hope I haven't run over the time. I'm really looking forward to seeing some old friends who serve on your committee and to answering questions.
Thank you very much.
View Ruby Sahota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you, Minister.
I think there's a real desire among many of us to see this committee get through the process as quickly as possible and send the bill back to the House, so we're going to work hard on that.
We will start with questions from Mr. Nater.
You have six minutes.
View John Nater Profile
CPC (ON)
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thank you, Minister, for joining us this morning, or this afternoon, depending on time zones. It's always nice to have our ministerial counterparts before committee.
I want to start by going back a bit into the past, to Bill C-76.
When this bill was introduced in the House of Commons in the previous Parliament, there was an unfortunate decision to amend subsection 91(1), despite objections from the Conservative Party and the motion that I myself brought forward, which would have corrected it. Unfortunately, it went ahead and was ruled unconstitutional.
My concern is that Justice Davies was quite scathing in her criticism of your own department at PCO. She wrote in her decision, “More importantly, the advice given to the Standing Committee by Mr. Morin”—a senior adviser at PCO—“that the inclusion of the word 'knowingly' in subsection 91(1) was unnecessary, redundant and confusing was, for several reasons, incorrect and potentially misleading.”
She goes on to write, in paragraph 58, “To the extent Mr. Morin testified about the import of removing 'knowingly' from subsection 91(1), his comments were inaccurate and cannot be taken as reflecting Parliament's true intention.”
Minister, this was a senior adviser to your own department, the Privy Council Office. I'd like to know what measures you have taken to ensure accountability exists within your department and that unconstitutional advice to this committee will not happen again.
View Dominic LeBlanc Profile
Lib. (NB)
We have obviously taken note of and read carefully the court's decision. We accept the court's decision. You will note that we did not seek to appeal the court's decision, because we accept those findings.
I don't disagree with your characterization that it may have been an unfortunate circumstance. I've been a minister for five years. We receive advice from different government departments, including the Department of Justice, obviously, on highly technical legal matters. We're accountable for those decisions; it's not the public servants who offer the advice or whom we encourage to appear before committees to speak freely about their work and answer technical questions from colleague parliamentarians. We expect that to be a healthy, normal and good part of the parliamentary process, but we certainly accept responsibility for that legislative change, as you said, in Bill C-76. We thought Bill C-76 had a lot of positive improvements in terms of the Canada Elections Act, but we're happy to work with other parties to add the word “knowingly” into that particular section, which the court struck down. We accept the court's decision and we would welcome advice from colleagues as to the best way to remedy that in a legislative process.
We don't think that dragging it before the courts is the best way, but I'm not insensitive to your comment, Mr. Nater. Obviously I don't disagree with the substance of your conclusion. I regret that this was the way that this particular clause was treated by the courts, but I fully accept the decision of the justice.
View John Nater Profile
CPC (ON)
Thank you, Minister.
I would note that it is being remedied in a section of Bill C-30, which I know some people are referring to as the John Nater vindication act, but I won't go there.
View Dominic LeBlanc Profile
Lib. (NB)
I'm just glad you didn't say “omnibus”, sir.
View John Nater Profile
CPC (ON)
Well, I'm using my words judiciously, Minister.
As you are well aware, the Prime Minister's hand-picked Governor General resigned on, I believe, January 22 of this year, leaving us without a Governor General and in the hands of a capable administrator, the Right Honourable Richard Wagner, Chief Justice of Canada.
As you are well aware, it would be unfortunate to bring the chief justice into political games, so we would like to see if there's assurance from you that the Prime Minister will not seek dissolution from the chief justice, as the administrator of Canada, unless, of course, there is a vote of non-confidence.
Can you provide this committee with that assurance that the Prime Minister won't seek dissolution from the administrator?
View Dominic LeBlanc Profile
Lib. (NB)
Mr. Nater, we do recognize, as you said, that the circumstance of the Chief Justice of Canada—Chief Justice Wagner—serving as the administrator is not an ideal circumstance in the long term. At the time Madame Payette resigned, I think that I, in my enthusiasm, got ahead of myself in hoping that the process that I was a part of—the advisory committee that the Prime Minister established to look at recommending a short list of outstanding Canadians to replace Madame Payette—would have concluded earlier.
The good news, from our perspective, is that we have finished our work. The Prime Minister will have our recommendations in the next few days, and I'm hoping, like you, that all Canadians can see who Her Majesty will summon to the office of Governor General in the next few weeks. We're at the end of a process.
I found it a fascinating process. Our group had, I think, 12 meetings. We had four volunteers. The Clerk of the Privy Council and I co-chaired the group, but we had four very busy volunteers who gave us their time to consider dozens and [Technical difficulty—Editor] It was interesting and it was very valuable, and I think we've arrived at an interesting list. The Prime Minister has not made a decision yet, but I think that should be coming in the not too distant future.
I do share your concern that having the Chief Justice.... I can't imagine that we would ever put the Chief Justice or even the Governor General.... I think you talked about political games, Mr. Nater. I can't imagine that any of us would be responsible for something so shocking as political games. However, I do recognize that it's an unusual moment to have the Chief Justice serving as the administrator, so hopefully his volunteer effort to help the country in that capacity will come to a conclusion soon.
View Ruby Sahota Profile
Lib. (ON)
That's all the time we have for that round.
If I can remind the committee, the minister is here on Bill C‑19. We don't have a lot of time to get the valuable information we need in order to make the recommendations needed. There was an opportunity to invite the minister on estimates, where there would have been a broader scope, and I know that Mr. Nater is genuinely interested in these matters, so I did allow that leeway, but I would hope that we can refrain from that and really home in on Bill C‑19 going forward.
Next we have Mr. Lauzon.
View Stéphane Lauzon Profile
Lib. (QC)
Thank you, Minister, for being here today for this important meeting on Bill C‑19.
I'm a bit stunned to hear Mr. Nater asking questions that are outside the context of Bill C‑19, while we're all, in good faith, working out solutions for the election, and while Mr. Lukiwski is concerned that you're here for the full hour of the meeting. This committee will be cut short, and your very important presence will be cut short, by the Conservatives who are playing a political game in the House right now that will interrupt this meeting. I find that deplorable.
Let us get straight to the point. You talked about the broad strokes, but you know that I am particularly concerned about seniors. We know that seniors are the people who have been most affected in terms of long-term care during this pandemic.
What would be the consequences for seniors if Bill C‑19 were not passed before the next election?
View Dominic LeBlanc Profile
Lib. (NB)
Madam Chair, I thank my friend and colleague Mr. Lauzon for his question.
I fully share his sentiment. As parliamentarians, we have the opportunity to propose temporary improvements to the Canada Elections Act at the request of the Chief Electoral Officer. It was his report to Parliament last fall that prompted the government to prepare a draft of the bill that is before you today.
I know that, as a Quebecker, he has certain concerns. In the CHSLDs, just like everywhere else in the country, we have seen some extremely difficult times in the context of the pandemic. My mother was in a nursing home in Ottawa and she died there a year and a half ago, before the pandemic. That home was one of the ones that suffered extremely painful consequences.
Like everyone else, I think, we're all concerned and we're trying to find a way for these people, who have built our country and contributed to its prosperity, to participate in the election. They should not be prevented or discouraged from voting and exercising their democratic right. They must be able to participate in the election safely.
My riding is a rural Acadian area of New Brunswick. On election day, there was a tradition. Mobile polling stations would go to a number of nursing homes—in your area they would be called CHSLDs or private homes. This allowed these folk to vote on election day. The polling station was there for an hour or two in a common room, where people went to vote. It was an enjoyable time for everyone.
In the context of COVID‑19, you don't want to move around to different long-term care homes because of the risk of infection and transmission. You can't put residents and staff in a situation that is not up to the desired health standards. The idea was to have 13 possible voting days. The chief electoral officer in each riding will contact the administrators of the CHSLDs to see how the vote can be conducted safely and with all the necessary precautions.
There's an idea I thought was great. Let's say there's an outbreak on one floor. You could have it so that only residents on that floor can vote at one polling station, and residents on other floors can vote at another. This gives a lot of flexibility. This will be done with the advice of health professionals. So we can organize the vote and not put people's lives at risk.
View Stéphane Lauzon Profile
Lib. (QC)
That shows just how important voting by mail is, Minister. As we have regularly heard, expanding access to voting by mail is essential in a global pandemic, as it would be in the case you just described.
Can you tell us why the measures to facilitate voting by mail in the situations you just described are necessary?
View Dominic LeBlanc Profile
Lib. (NB)
Thank you for your question.
Mr. Lauzon, I agree wholeheartedly that allowing greater access to voting—
View Ruby Sahota Profile
Lib. (ON)
That's all the time we have.
View Dominic LeBlanc Profile
Lib. (NB)
It was a fascinating answer.
What's going to happen? Mr. Nater wanted to hear my detailed explanation of mail-in voting. Perhaps I'll have the chance, Madam Chair, with another colleague who will want to hear that answer.
View Ruby Sahota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Absolutely. Unfortunately, we are really short on time because of the vote that may be coming as well.
Next we have Madame Normandin—
View Alain Therrien Profile
BQ (QC)
It's actually Mr. Therrien's turn.
View Ruby Sahota Profile
Lib. (ON)
No, it's Mr. Therrien. I'm sorry.
View Alain Therrien Profile
BQ (QC)
Good morning, Madam Chair. It's nice to see you.
Good morning, Minister.
Back in the fall, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs studied situations related to a possible pandemic election. We met 11 times and heard from 20 witnesses on the issue. Among them were experts, the Chief Electoral Officer, a Canada Post official, provincial chief electoral officers, representatives of various associations, academics, citizens' advocates and public health authorities.
My question is simple. Were you aware that we were studying the issue? It seems that you introduced your bill before we finished our report.
View Dominic LeBlanc Profile
Lib. (NB)
Thank you for your question, Mr. Therrien. It's a pleasure to see you again, even if it is virtually.
Quite the contrary, we were very much aware. Privy Council staff, people in my office and I, myself, followed the committee's proceedings. We spoke with our fellow members on the committee, so we were very much abreast of what was going on. We paid close attention to what the witnesses you mentioned had to say.
We decided to bring forward a draft bill just a few days before Christmas. I say “draft” because, as we all know, in a minority Parliament, the final product is the result of consensus among members. In order to start the conversation, we thought it was appropriate to introduce a draft bill that largely took into account the recommendations that followed and the input of the witnesses, which we took note of throughout the process.
We know that the members of the committee and other members will likely propose amendments and changes. As a government, we are more than willing to listen to suggestions aimed at making the bill better or perhaps addressing certain aspects that are not sufficiently dealt with in Bill C‑19.
View Alain Therrien Profile
BQ (QC)
You are saying you introduced a bill that was essentially in draft form. Without question, we will have amendments, as will even the government. I understand that, but what I have trouble understanding is why you did not wait for the committee to table its report to see what it said.
You alluded to time being a consideration. I can appreciate that the government has a minority and that we are in the midst of a pandemic. Nevertheless, you introduced the bill on December 10, if I recall correctly, and the House didn't discuss it again until March. Why did you not wait until the committee had tabled its report to ensure the bill took into account the committee's findings? That would have shown respect for the work of parliamentarians on the committee and the value you place on that work. Simply out of respect for what the committee was working on, you should have waited until we had tabled our report and you had familiarized yourself with the findings and, then, introduced the bill.
I'm pleased to see you again as well, Mr. LeBlanc. Truly, you are a very nice man, and that is the type of respect I would have expected from you. You are a warm and friendly person. Why, then, did you not show us that respect, so to speak?
View Dominic LeBlanc Profile
Lib. (NB)
Madam Chair, I want to thank Mr. Therrien for his question.
I hope it was not seen as a sign of disrespect. On the contrary, as a cabinet, we made a decision to bring forward a bill.
You're right that it was introduced a few days before the Christmas break. We were hoping it would spark discussion with members of the various parties. We were expecting that, come the new year, members would have discussed the legislation we had brought forward.
As I said, we followed the committee's work closely, including the comments of the witnesses who came before the committee. For instance, we did not agree with the Chief Electoral Officer's recommendation to do away with Monday as a polling day and to limit the polling period to the weekend. We thought it was important to keep Monday. That said, we are quite open to changes that may be proposed and we are obviously eager to see how the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs can improve the bill.
We are not purporting that this is the perfect bill, akin to some invisible web that cannot be changed or improved. We will obviously abide by the will of the committee and the members of the House of Commons. That is for sure.
View Alain Therrien Profile
BQ (QC)
I hear what you're saying, but it would not have taken much to render this conversation unnecessary, out of courtesy.
I admit that I am more familiar with the workings of another legislative assembly, so I don't have a ton of experience in these matters. When I told some of my colleagues about the situation, they said that this was how things worked, that sometimes, the government did not respect the role of committees. I'm not saying that's what you did, but that is the message it sends, the wrong message. I really wanted to tell you that. I understand what you're saying, but the fact remains, this could have been avoided.
I don't know how much time I have left, but I do want to discuss the weekend element.
View Ruby Sahota Profile
Lib. (ON)
You have about a minute.
View Alain Therrien Profile
BQ (QC)
In that case, I'll ask you a simple question, and we can come back to this later, if you don't mind.
Right now, the number of COVID‑19 cases is dropping significantly and the vaccine rollout is going well. If that continues and an election is called in the fall, are you still going to move forward with Bill C-19?
I am genuinely curious, because we are really moving in the right direction. Is it possible that you might withdraw Bill C-19?
View Dominic LeBlanc Profile
Lib. (NB)
Thank you for your question, Mr. Therrien.
Like you, I saw the evening news yesterday, and the number of cases in Quebec is way down; the situation around the country is really looking up.
Clearly, we all hope that the number of cases continues to drop, but that can change unexpectedly. Consider our friends in Manitoba, for instance. We hope that doesn't happen, of course.
We will let Elections Canada decide. We realize that the summer is fast approaching, but we hope that we can move this bill forward and that the Senate passes it before Parliament rises.
It will give the Chief Electoral Officer and Elections Canada the discretionary authority to implement the necessary measures, together with local and provincial public health authorities. We will trust Election Canada's judgment as far as implementing the measures is concerned.
We, of course, hope that the bill will pass.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
View Ruby Sahota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you, Minister.
We've run out of time, but I felt it was a very important answer to get on the record.
Also, bells have started ringing. They are 30-minute bells, I believe. I was wondering if I could get consent from the committee to continue through the bells so that we can hear from Minister LeBlanc today.
Does that sound good? It does.
All right. We'll keep going and hopefully be able to give you enough minutes to log on to the vote if you need to do so.
How many minutes do you think you guys need before the actual vote to switch over? Is it five minutes, 10 minutes? Okay.
You really don't have to be on camera. You can just vote from your phone. Five minutes, I think, is what most people are saying. Five minutes should be good.
Next we have Mr. Blaikie. You have six minutes, please.
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
NDP (MB)
Thank you very much.
Good morning, Mr. Minister, or I guess good afternoon, depending on the time difference.
Earlier in your introductory remarks and since then, in some of the answers to questions that committee members have put, we've heard of the importance of some of the modifications that Bill C‑19 would allow in the context of a pandemic election. I wondered if in light of that and in light of the importance of the content of the bill, your government is prepared to commit to not calling an election unilaterally prior to the provisions of Bill C‑19 being in place.
View Dominic LeBlanc Profile
Lib. (NB)
Mr. Blaikie, it's a privilege to see you in Winnipeg. You're two hours ahead of me. It is the afternoon here in Fredericton, but good morning to you, sir, in Winnipeg.
The Prime Minister has said clearly that we're not seeking an election and we're not looking for an election. We're focused, as all parliamentarians are—and as I know you, Mr. Blaikie, and your NDP caucus are—on what we can collectively do to protect Canadians during the course of the pandemic.
We think it's prudent—and I think you and I may have this in common, among [Technical difficulty—Editor]—not to be voting no confidence recklessly and often every time a confidence motion comes up. At least you have the virtue of being consistent in saying that you don't want a pandemic election and you want to focus on Canadians. That's what we've been saying. We have some colleagues who consistently and regularly vote no confidence. I've said that it's sort of like playing chicken, hoping the other person swerves.
We think it's responsible to have this legislation in place. However, as I said, we'll continue to focus on the economic recovery and the public health measures necessary for Canadians.
We have some colleagues in the House of Commons, although not in your party, Mr. Blaikie, and not in mine, who seem to want an election, who have publicly called for elections, early elections, and who regularly vote in a way that would trigger an immediate election. It's in that context that I think it's prudent to have this in place. That would be my—
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
NDP (MB)
I am very well aware of the voting record, but I'm not hearing a commitment on your government's part not to call an election unilaterally.
I want to ask about the bill itself. In response to Monsieur Therrien's questions, you noted that the government is quite open to amendments. I'm wondering if you might give a bit more commentary as to the scope of the bill. I think sometimes the scope of a bill can be narrowly interpreted for procedural purposes to only pertain to things that are explicitly mentioned in it. However, of course, these are very exceptional circumstances and it's an exceptional bill.
There are things that the committee looked at in its study on preparing for a pandemic election that aren't reflected in the government's initial proposal, although I take your point that it was tabled as an initial proposal. I think of things such as ensuring that people aren't completely reliant on a broadband connection or Internet access, or on a photocopier or scanner, to apply for a special ballot. They should be able to do that in person. The suggestion has been made that Canada Post outlets might be used for that purpose. Because there will be so many more Canadians using special ballots, we've heard about widening a bit the ways they can indicate who they want to vote for. Currently they have to know the spelling of the full name of the local candidate. We've also heard about the challenges in the signature requirements and about the campus vote program possibly being discontinued. These are all things that might be subject to amendment but that aren't necessarily represented in the current text of the bill.
Could you give a little context in terms of the government's understanding of what the scope of this bill is and ought to be, to encourage multi-party collaboration and the opportunity to exploit the expertise of the committee in crafting this bill?
View Dominic LeBlanc Profile
Lib. (NB)
Thank you, Mr. Blaikie, for the question.
Our view, I hope, is a common sense one. The idea here is to put in place the right mix of temporary measures to allow Canadians to safely vote in the context of a potential pandemic election, and obviously to provide safety for the 250,000 people who would work at the polls across the country in an election and those who volunteer.
We've taken note of public comments you've made around the campus voting program. I believe, and the government believes, that Elections Canada should reinstate a campus voting program on campuses. It will reduce pressure in other polling stations and obviously encourage younger people to vote.
I love the idea from a conversation that you and I had. In my rural riding in New Brunswick, there is a Canada Post office in every small community, some of which aren't even incorporated municipalities. I think the postmaster or the postmistress who runs that post office is in a perfect position to be able to help people—often senior citizens, as you said—without Internet access, without photocopiers or scanners at home, to properly have pieces of ID. The idea is that Elections Canada might train these people to assist people applying for special ballots, and the same thing theoretically could be true at Service Canada locations in different communities.
I am hoping that the committee in its wisdom will take a broad view. We certainly will not object to something being beyond the scope of the legislation if it's designed to further our collective best efforts to come up with right mix of measures.
I have taken note of comments you made publicly and in your speech in the House of Commons, and you have identified a number of areas where I think we should quickly work collaboratively to improve the legislation and to adopt amendments. We will continue to work with you and all colleagues on the committee to look at those very issues that you raised, particularly to see how we can make mail-in ballots accessible. I have great faith in Canadians. I don't believe there are widespread examples of electoral fraud or of people trying to cheat on mail-in ballots. I think the opposite is the case. I think they are very secure.
I would really lean on the side of accessibility, including, as you say, in filling out the name of the candidate on a ballot. I voted for myself in a hospital in Montreal in the last election. I knew how to spell my own name, but I'm not sure that some people who wanted to vote for me might have got it exactly right. I think we have to think of flexible common sense ways to ensure that we can do that properly.
Thanks. I just wanted to get that corny line in, Madam Chair.
Did you feel sorry for me because I was—
View Ruby Sahota Profile
Lib. (ON)
—the only voter for you? No, probably not.
View Dominic LeBlanc Profile
Lib. (NB)
My wife voted in the hospital room with me, so I knew I had two votes.
View Ruby Sahota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Actually, I have had that same experience, and I feel that could be made easier.
Mrs. Vecchio, you have five minutes.
View Karen Vecchio Profile
CPC (ON)
Thanks very much. I know our time is coming to an end soon.
Minister, I want to start off with some things.
Under the original “Adaptation to subsection 214(1), sections 229, 239 and 261, etc.”, it says,
The following paragraphs apply if the last day of the polling period is a holiday:
This has a lot to do with the mail-in ballots and things of that sort. I know there has been a lot of talk about that, and a lot of misunderstanding. I was wondering if the government has ever thought of proposing that there should be no elections on a statutory holiday. Has that ever been considered?
View Dominic LeBlanc Profile
Lib. (NB)
I have seen a number of elections, as I am sure many colleagues have. You're right that if it's the Thanksgiving Monday.... I think we voted on a Tuesday in an election when I was a candidate precisely because Thanksgiving Day was a holiday on a Monday. However, we didn't have the circumstances you described. Our legislation prescribes a three-day polling period finishing on a Monday, but I would think it would be far from ideal, as you say, to run over a statutory holiday in that three-day period. We don't have that many long weekends in a year.
However, I'd be happy to get a technical answer from Al Sutherland, if you want, who is listening now—
View Karen Vecchio Profile
CPC (ON)
View Dominic LeBlanc Profile
Lib. (NB)
Otherwise, not to cost you your time, we can get back to you in writing with a specific answer to that technical question, if it's helpful for the committee.
View Karen Vecchio Profile
CPC (ON)
It would be very helpful, and thank you very much, Minister LeBlanc.
I just think that is another way of.... We know that communications are going to be a really important part of this election. That is one thing we already know people are questioning, so why don't we make it simple? The simple answer is not to have a holiday Monday set up as the final day of the election period.
Thanks very much, and I appreciate your listening to that point.
I have another question for you.
Specifically when we're looking at the length of the writ, we know there will be the opportunity to have up to a 52-day writ. It could be from 35 days to 52 days. We have heard from different people that they want it longer because of the mail-in ballots and they want it shorter because [Technical difficulty--Editor] health care. All of these are really critical pieces to look at.
I want to understand who the person is who actually has that decision, the person who says this is the date we're going to vote. Is it the Prime Minister, the Governor General, the Chief Electoral Officer? Who would that be?
View Dominic LeBlanc Profile
Lib. (NB)
I'm going to ask Al Sutherland, assistant secretary to the cabinet, who is joining us, to confirm this. He can correct me.
It is the Prime Minister, I think, who has, within the legislation.... When he asks the Governor General for the writ, the Prime Minister I think has the discretion to suggest the length of the writ within the parameters of the legislation. I remember that in 2015 Mr. Harper called a 79-day election—
View Karen Vecchio Profile
CPC (ON)
Minister LeBlanc, I was part of that. I really appreciate it, but I would really love to hear from Mr. Sutherland—
View Dominic LeBlanc Profile
Lib. (NB)
Sure. Of course.
View Karen Vecchio Profile
CPC (ON)
—so I could have that technical answer. Thank you.
View Dominic LeBlanc Profile
Lib. (NB)
Al, can you clarify that to make sure I haven't screwed it up?
Allen Sutherland
View Allen Sutherland Profile
Allen Sutherland
2021-06-10 11:50
No, you didn't screw it up, sir, but it's on advice of the Prime Minister. It's the Governor General's decision, ultimately.
View Karen Vecchio Profile
CPC (ON)
Thank you very much.
The Governor General, of course.... People did bring forward the fact we don't have a Governor General at this time, so we have to be very cautious with that. Ultimately, the advice of the Prime Minister is what will decide this writ period. Without a Governor General, we will be hopeful that it doesn't devolve to an administrative person to make that decision. I think that would be not wise for anyone.
Looking at some of the things that have happened, we know that in Newfoundland there was an extremely and extraordinarily long election that has become extremely controversial as well. I believe the NDP may be putting forward some orders in the courts. I'm very concerned with how that played out.
I would like to know from you as the minister what outreach you have done to ensure we have the most stable.... For people to believe in our elections, what have you done personally to ensure we have that in our next federal election?
View Dominic LeBlanc Profile
Lib. (NB)
Again, Ms. Vecchio, thank you for the question.
I certainly share your concern in terms of what we can all do, both as elected parliamentarians and as citizens in general, to increase public confidence in the electoral process. The Premier of Newfound and Labrador has been a long-time friend of mine. During that unprecedented circumstance, as you noted, 11 hours before the voting was to begin, the chief electoral officer in that province, because of a sharp increase in COVID cases driven by variants, kept pushing out the election day, and it went to literally all mail-in ballots. The turnout was historically low, I think, in that election, which is not something that any of us would want to see.
That's why we believe this piece of legislation is part of the answer. It's by no means the only answer or perfect answer, but things like making mail-in ballots more accessible, things like allowing nursing homes to vote—
Ms Karen Vecchio: Mr. LeBlanc—
Hon. Dominic LeBlanc: —we think are part of the answer.
View Karen Vecchio Profile
CPC (ON)
Minister LeBlanc, we're at the end of our time, but would you be able to table that just so I can look at what you guys have done? That would be really useful. Table some of those conversations with the government of Newfoundland so we know what we're going to be attacking—
View Dominic LeBlanc Profile
Lib. (NB)
I don't want to pretend that I can table a conversation I had—
Ms. Karen Vecchio: That's okay—
Hon. Dominic LeBlanc: —on a text or on the telephone with the premier, but—
View Karen Vecchio Profile
CPC (ON)
View Dominic LeBlanc Profile
Lib. (NB)
—what we can do....
Much of it may just have been foolish exchanges, because he's been a long-time buddy of mine, but what I'll be happy to do is ask Al Sutherland and Manon to ensure that any of the documents that we prepared in the context of working on this legislation, background documents or stuff that we may have received from Elections Canada, or anything that's appropriate, will be sent to the committee .
View Ruby Sahota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you, Minister. We'll follow up with that.
Mr. Turnbull, you have five minutes.
For our other committee members, as we go further along—I know there's not a lot of time—if anybody wants to give some time to Ms. May later, she is joining us here today. We don't really have extra time, so it would have to be a member's time.
Mr. Turnbull, go ahead. You have five minutes.
View Ryan Turnbull Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Ryan Turnbull Profile
2021-06-10 11:53
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Minister, it's great to see you. Thanks for being here.
I know that this is an important piece of legislation, and it's great to have some of your time for you to answer our questions. One of the things that I feel is a little unfortunate and that I've heard mentioned in the House quite a few times by some of the honourable members from the opposition parties would be called, in my most charitable interpretation, hyperbole, but I think would be more correctly called misinformation. It's the implication that somehow these changes may be more permanent than I think is intended.
I think you mentioned in your opening remarks that there's a sunset clause built into the legislation. Could you give us a little more reassurance and maybe some specifics on how that works?
View Ruby Sahota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Mr. Turnbull, your headset is not plugged in or selected. Can you make sure, please?
View Ryan Turnbull Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Ryan Turnbull Profile
2021-06-10 11:54
My apologies. I don't know how that happened.
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