I want to thank the committee for the opportunity to address the bill. The Green Party of Canada is especially grateful for the time allotted to prepare for this appearance.
A good portion of this bill is not so much modernization but rather restoration of the Canada Elections Act pre-Harper, which is mostly good, but the central promise of no longer voting in a first past the post system is unfortunately absent. I will not be obtuse. This is a clear promise, clearly and unapologetically broken.
In consultations across the country, the majority of Canadians favoured reform and a form of proportional representation. It is regrettable that a government without a popular mandate gets to continue perpetuating a system that silences the voices of Canadians who are not represented in a so-called representative democracy.
Some important modernization changes have been taken, though, but the Green Party of Canada wonders whether the government has given Elections Canada sufficient time to update their technologies, their administrative processes, and to put in place training programs. After all, a quarter of a million Canadians work the polls on a general election. We are 15 months away from the 43rd general election and nothing has been put into law.
Improvements that are of particular note are the use of voter information cards as a piece of valid ID. This should speed up the voting process and improve accessibility. Allowing young people, 16- and 17-year-olds, to register is a good first step toward having them vote. Studies show that engagement in the voting process at an early age translates to lifelong voting behaviour. The Green Party commends you here, and would like to draw your attention to Ms. May's private member's Bill C-401.
This being said, there are two items I want to underscore as being insufficient.
First, the privacy provisions are inadequate. Political parties possess enormous amounts of data and personal information on Canadians, and they are currently exempt from most of the provisions under the Privacy Act. Moreover, in a day and age where politically motivated hacking is no longer a possibility but a reality, it is imperative that the parties work together to ensure that their information is safe. The big political parties, if hacked, could compromise the electoral system as a whole. Our democracy is run on trust and the big parties are currently the weakest link.
The Green Party urges the parties to coordinate their efforts informally, and that Bill C-76 contain provisions that are in keeping with Canada's Privacy Act.
Second, more needs to be done in curbing the influence of money in politics. Returning the per-vote allowance would lessen the influence of donors on politicians, and be more cost-efficient than the current 75% tax credit system. We all know the distorted effect that money and donors have on American democracy. So, at all costs, we should be avoiding these excesses that we see south of the border.
The Green Party suggests that we redefine the pre-writ period as starting the day after an election and ending when the writ is dropped in the following general election. Spending limits during this redefined pre-writ period should remain the same as they are and be indexed to inflation. Redefining this reflects the realities of what some have called the permanent campaign. There are only two periods in political advertising in reality, writ and pre-writ.
We need to set limits to the election process to avoid excesses, but also to ensure that citizens, political parties, and lawmakers alike focus on the business of good, democratic governance, and not being constantly distracted by the demands and, sometimes, fanfare of politics.