We need to see 90% or 95% of Canadians voting and feeling good about the democratic experience

On Friday, May 25th, 2018 in Debate, Parliament

Elizabeth May

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to rise to speak to Bill C-76.

I am pleased to rise in debate today, but I regret that it is in the context of time allocation already being applied to the bill. I appreciate that the Liberal side of the House has provided time for my colleague, the hon. member for Montcalm, and for me to speak to the bill, but I regret deeply the use of time allocation. Because I was not able to get in on the debate on time allocation that occurred before the vote, let me suggest some ideas to the hon. minister, the government House leader, and others as to how we might avoid so many time allocations.

It is my belief that the ability, in votes, of all three of the larger parties, particularly the official opposition and the governing party, to put forward as many speakers as possible on any bill is a black box for our House leaders. Getting agreement is something I will leave to them. I can only assume that when we have a lot of time allocations, the coordination is not going well. I do not blame any one party more than the others. I will just say that it is not a good thing for this place when we have time allocation, particularly on a bill that is important.

I would like to suggest that the Speaker has the power, and could be encouraged by those within this place who want the place to work better, to insist on a rule that has fallen into disuse. That rule is that members cannot read speeches. If no one could read a speech, people in the back rooms could not hand a speech to someone and say, “Go give this speech. You are up next.”

They would have to call enough people forward who had read the bill and understood the bill and were prepared to debate it without notes. I am not saying that there are not many of us who are prepared to do that, but the ability of a House leader, on any side, to decide to play games with this place would be significantly minimized if we went back to that rule, which already exists.

I would urge those who think it is a good idea to perhaps speak to their own House leaders. In that case, I would just have a conversation with myself, but the rest of those assembled here should talk to their whips, talk to the House leaders, and talk to the Speaker if they think it would be a good idea to say that we do not want all the members to just read. I am not saying that members do not get up and read speeches they have written themselves. I know that happens, but a lot of times, people read something they have never seen before in their lives. We can tell by the rapt attention with which they deliver something they do not actually know much about or believe in.

Here ends the rant on how to get this place to work better. If people could only get up and speak based on what they know about a bill, we would get more interesting debates and more civilized debates, and we might have an easier time getting agreement on how many speakers there would be on legislation.

It is really tragic that we are seeing time allocation as often as we are seeing it. I do not think it is healthy for democracy, and I know it is going to be an election issue, with everyone saying, “They did it more. They did it too. They are hypocrites.” We should not live in glass houses if we are going to collect stones.

This bill is good legislation. It is very good legislation. It undoes a lot of what happened in the unfair elections act before the last election, but that does not mean that it is perfect legislation, which is why we should not be hearing from the minister that it has already been discussed at PROC. It should be discussed in this place at second reading, where all members who are engaged in the issue and know about it can participate, because not everyone is on PROC. It is a committee.

We know that Bill C-33, which was excellent legislation, languished for a year and a half. It was tabled when I was still serving on the Special Committee on Electoral Reform, which was one of the more tragic experiences of my life. We were still sitting around the table putting forward good ideas, but then saying, “Oh, the minister has new legislation that just came out that has some of our ideas in it.” That was Bill C-33. It came out in December of 2016, and everything from Bill C-33 is now rolled into Bill C-76.

For those who are not familiar with the bill, perhaps who are watching from home, let me say that Bill C-33 did a lot of very good things. I know that the Conservatives will disagree. They like Bill C-23, which they called the Fair Elections Act. What it did was make it harder for Canadians to vote. There is no doubt in my mind about that. I had people come to me who were not allowed to vote.

Bill C-23 was focused on the false notion that Canada suffered from voter fraud. However, it is very clear, on the evidence, that the problem in Canada is not people who try to vote more than once; it is people who vote less than once. We do not have any voter fraud that the elections commissioner has ever really been able to find is a problem. Our problem is low voter turnout.

The Conservatives were quite self-congratulatory when we went from an average national voter turnout of 60% in 2011 to a voter turnout of 68% in 2015. They said that proved that the unfair elections act did not decrease voter turnout. In fact, I think it masked what would have been a much bigger voter turnout. Young people mobilized in 2015. There were a lot of efforts to educate people about vote mobs, advanced poll voting, and getting people who did not usually vote out to vote.

I am enormously proud to represent Saanich—Gulf Islands. In 2011, when the voter turnout nationally was 60%, voter turnout in Saanich—Gulf Islands was just a titch below 75%. In 2015, when I was re-elected, voter turnout was just a bit below 80%. Now, that is nothing compared to my friend who is leader of the Green Party in Prince Edward Island, Peter Bevan-Baker. When he was elected, voter turnout in his riding was 93%.

Let us not be satisfied with 68%. We need to see 90% or 95% of Canadians voting and feeling good about the democratic experience. I think getting back the voter registration card is important. Bringing back vouching is important, and so is bringing back the powers of the Chief Electoral Officer to inform people and educate people. Warn people when voter fraud is happening.

Everything in Bill C-33 that would undo Bill C-23 is to the good and should be passed quickly. As well, I really like the idea that the Elections Canada folks would go into schools and register people who are 16 to 18 years old so that when they get the right to vote, they know what they are doing. They know where to go. They have already registered to vote. That is all in what was former Bill C-33. It is all good stuff. I wish we had already passed it.

Now we are looking at new and additional changes. I wish we had seen more. Clearly, if we are going to protect the privacy of Canadians, it is long past time that political parties were exempted from the Privacy Act. I have never heard a single good reason why we are in a special category, political parties, and Canadians’ data is safe with us. Clearly, it is not safe with us. We get hacked. We hire companies and do not have any idea that they will be doing stuff like Cambridge Analytica or some of the ones that mine data and use it for other things. We are not in a position to say that it is good enough to have a voluntary code of privacy practice for every political party that we are required by law to show Elections Canada and have posted publicly.

By the way, I do not think “trust us” works terribly well for political parties. One of the best pieces of legislation from the 41st Parliament, the Reform Act, to bring about reform in this place and reduce the power of political party leaders over their MPs, which came out under the name of the member for Wellington—Halton Hills, required a change in the Parliament of Canada Act. It was executed. Section 49 is new and requires parties, immediately after the election, to have a discussion in caucus and a vote to decide what the powers of the leader will be. For instance, will the power of the leader include throwing someone out of caucus?

I am reliably informed that even though that is the law of the day, two out of three recognized parties in this place skipped that step and did not think it was important to follow the Parliament of Canada Act, section 49. I am deeply dismayed that this took place. All MPs in this place should ask their party leadership if they did that. Did they file the letter with the Speaker? They should ask to see the letter filed with the Speaker to comply with section 49 of the Parliament of Canada Act.

On to the other things in Bill C-76. I hope the government will be open to amendments. As I said, this is good legislation. It does take on things like pre-writ spending. However, why are we allowing any pre-writ spending on televised election ads that bombard Canadians with negative messages and attack ads. It is good to regulate spending before an election. Let us just say that between election day and the next time a writ drops, no one is allowed to spend any money on political ads. There is not an election going on, so no spending. I will be bringing forward things like that as amendments.

Why are we increasing the spending ability of third parties? I would love to see us go in the direction of many countries around the world, including the U.K., which prohibit spending for electronic political ads of any kind at any time. It is very useful legislation.

There are many things I would like to suggest need more work in this legislation. Getting it to committee is important, but not so important that we should have time allocation in this place.

Kevin Lamoureux – Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I really do appreciate many of the comments made by the leader of the Green Party.

She was here during the debate on Bill C-23, Harper’s Fair Elections Act. We found that there were a great many individuals, academics, Elections Canada itself, and parties within the chamber, excluding the Conservatives, who really opposed the legislation. Today, we have a wide spectrum of support, not only outside this chamber but also inside it, where we have more than one party supporting the legislation.

Would my colleague and friend across the way not recognize that there are some who ultimately do not want to have the elections laws reformed? If this legislation passes, it will strengthen Canada’s democracy. I agree there is always room for improvement. However, this will provide additional strength to Canada’s democracy. Would the member not agree that at times we do have to look at ways to get legislation through, because there are parties that will put up whatever obstacles they can to prevent its passage?

Elizabeth May

Mr. Speaker, the problem that the government has in making the case for limiting debate via time allocation now is the massive amount of time that went by when Bill C-33 did not come to second reading. There was lots of time to get Bill C-33 through, no matter how many speakers one party or another were to put up.

Bill C-76, bringing in Bill C-33 and additional measures, requires more study.

I completely agree and am not going to take a single point away from the fact that most of what is in this legislation was already recommended by Elections Canada. I have not doubt that most of what is in it will improve the health of our democracy. However, it is fundamental legislation. It takes a while to get back to the Elections Act. We should have full time to debate it at second reading.

I will admit in a nonpartisan way that the use of time allocation in the 41st Parliament was much more egregious, because the legislation it applied to made it harder for people to vote. However, for the Liberals to try to reverse that legislation with time allocation because they say they are not as bad as the other guys because their legislation is better does not do away with the fundamental issue of respect for Parliament, respect for this place, and allowing Parliament to have full debate at second reading, full discussion in committees, and adequate time to go through debate at clause by clause, and adequate time at report stage and third reading.

The delay on the government side in bringing the legislation forward does not make a good excuse.

Michael Cooper Member for St. Albert—Edmonton

Mr. Speaker, the member touched on third parties. During the last election, we saw large amounts of foreign money going to registered third parties, who in turn used it or mixed it with their general funds for all manner of political activities.

One of the reasons they were able to do that was the loopholes in the Canada Elections Act. The biggest loophole is that six months and a day before the issuance of a writ, there is no regulation of foreign funding going, for example, to third parties.

This bill does not fix that loophole. It in fact just moves the date for which there is absolutely no regulation of third parties’ financing closer to the election date. Could the hon. member comment on that?

Elizabeth May

Mr. Speaker, I certainly find it offensive that any foreign money goes into any third party. Clearly, there should be no foreign money allowed for any political party.

That is one of the strengths of our democracy, I have to say, in the strong legislation brought in under the former prime minister, the Right Hon. Jean Chrétien, to get big corporate and union money out of federal politics. I think we need to watch out for any opportunity where those principles are perverted. Frankly, we should bring back the per vote support, so that voters can choose, when they vote, a small way of creating public funding for parties to reduce the pressure for fundraising, which can lead to a lot of ethical issues, as we have frequently debated in this place.

I am certainly grateful to my friend for raising it. Frankly, I would prefer that election spending be reduced to the minimum and that public service broadcasts replace paid political ads as much as possible, both to turn down the temperature and turn up the volume on information and issues, and so that people can really understand a candidate and not just a political party brand. Then, when a candidate is standing before a voter, it would be like a job interview for that person who wants to go work for that constituency.

We need to go back to times when party leaders did not tell MPs what to do, and when candidates could stand on their own merit and ask voters to please trust them with their vote.

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