Fair Elections Act

Elizabeth May: Mr. Speaker, it certainly is a significant moment in the House of Commons when the Conservative majority has accepted and proposed its own amendments in the face of massive opposition from quarters that usually support it, like serial editorials inThe Globe and Mail and Conservative senators. Even the former auditor general, Sheila Fraser, weighed in on bill at first reading, saying the bill was “attack on…democracy”.

In the member’s view, with the amendments the Conservatives have now put forward, does he agree with me that while it is a less awful bill, it is still not a good bill?

Kevin Lamoureux: Mr. Speaker, absolutely. That was well put. It is important we recognize that there was an incredible amount of opposition to the legislation and the manner in which the government brought it forward and attempted to pass it through the system. The way in which the government has treated our elections law is incredible.

As has been pointed out, I would suggest that even with the changes that have made, the legislation still has fundamental flaws. The most significant one is that it has not brought forward the ability to allow Elections Canada or the Commissioner of Canada Elections to compel witnesses. That is a serious flaw. Without that change, how can we possibly support the legislation?

The reason the public wanted to see the election law changed in the first place was to deal with issues that came from the last federal election. Without the ability to compel witnesses, even if we pass the bill as it is today, the election law will be weaker than what it was prior to its introduction. Elections Canada and the commissioner have recognized that point.

Therefore, I would plead with the Prime Minister to have a free vote and then I ask all Conservative members to balance it and vote against the legislation.

Elizabeth May: Mr. Speaker, I rise in report stage to speak, initially, to my two amendments. I had hoped to have substantive amendments at report stage, but members will recall that the committee was allowed to violate its own rules by rejecting my right to speak to my amendments as they were all gavelled through, all being rejected.

I want to express thanks to the minister for being willing to listen to the extraordinary course of denunciation for Bill C-23 at first reading. Unfortunately, even with the number of government amendments that were accepted at committee, the bill falls far short of being what is required to go by the name of a “fair elections act”.

Briefly speaking to the amendments I put forward at committee, which were defeated, it is a shame that we missed the opportunity to open a discussion on getting rid of first past the post and moving to proportional representation. I think most Canadians would be shocked to find that the leaders’ debates are not controlled by anybody, and that the opportunity to create a fair system, as presented at committee by Democracy Watch, was not supported by any party other than the Green Party.

On the requirements for people to bring so many different kinds of ID, we still do not have the kind of system that is as reliable as the election system before the Conservatives’ first round of amendments back in 2006. I wish we had ensured non-partisan poll workers.

There were numerous amendments from the Liberals, the New Democrats and the Greens on many of these points, for fairer financing and to take steps to increase voter turnout. I also put forward an amendment in the committee to shift the day of advanced polling from a Sunday. I will try again with the amendments I have before you, Mr. Speaker.

All the amendments from any opposition party were defeated at committee, with one exception, which was one when the Conservative leader on the committee pointed out that the Conservatives had been prepared to do that themselves had they had the chance.

My two amendments would do one thing, which would be fantastic, and that would be to remove the name of the political party from the ballot next to the name of the candidate. This would do a lot to reduce the excessive control of political parties over the electoral process. We used to have elections with just the name of the candidate, right up until about 1970.

I want to devote the rest of my time this morning to why we had the demand for a fair elections act, and how this bill falls far short. The initial attempt, and this was mentioned by other members in this place, the initial cry for reform of our electoral process, was in response to efforts at electoral fraud.

The amendments I put forward at committee, among those of Liberals and the New Democrats as well, called for giving Elections Canada the investigative tools it needed, such as subpoena powers, the ability to look into efforts, or deliberate efforts or actually successful efforts, at voter fraud and electoral interference that changed the course of elections. These amendments were defeated.

People have been very quick to assume that the so-called robocalls affair is now settled and nothing untoward took place there. Because the bill remains inadequate to the task of investigating electoral fraud, we can continue to have events like the 2011 robocall scandal without the tools of Elections Canada to respond.

In the time I have remaining, I want to ensure that it is understood we have not once, not twice, but three times seen quite scandalous interference in our electoral process, that if we had heard of these stories from some third world country, with some kind of tinpot dictatorship that ran fake elections, we would just shake our heads and say, “I guess that is how it happens in other countries”.

The first example was the 2005-06 election, when we had the deliberate interference in the election by our state police, the RCMP. We never got to the bottom of why Commissioner Zaccardelli broke all RCMP protocol and issued a press release during that election. According to a finding of fact by the Commission for Public Complaints against the RCMP, Paul Kennedy, the interference of the RCMP both violated its normal procedures and changed the course of the 2006 election. We had no investigation because there were no subpoena powers to call Mr. Zaccardelli to explain himself.

Second, we had an event that took place in Saanich—Gulf Islands in the 2008 election. I was not personally involved, but it was very clear, and there were multiple complaints to Elections Canada and the RCMP, that a robocall effort targeting NDP voters changed the course of that election and allowed a Conservative to be re-elected when all evidence suggested that he would not have been.

The Liberal candidate was neck in neck with the Conservatives. There was no NDP candidate on the ballot as he had withdrawn. An election eve round of phone calls went out spoofed as though they were from the NDP. The spoofing term is one I have learned. It is the technical term for using the home fax number, as it turned out, of an NDP volunteer to make it appear the calls originated from the NDP, urging people to get out and vote for a candidate who was no longer capable of election because he had withdrawn from the race. That changed the course of the election. Elections Canada was asked to investigate, but basically threw its hands up and said that it could not find anything, that there was nothing to see, so we should move on.

If members detect in my presentation that I am critical of the failure of Elections Canada and the RCMP to get to the bottom of that, everyone can bet I am critical. They utterly failed to defend the integrity of the election process in Saanich—Gulf Islands in 2008, and they did it again in 2011 with the robocall scandal. Thank goodness, The Council of Canadians took the matter to court. Other than Federal Court judge Mr. Justice Mosley, we would not have somebody as a finder of fact going over all the evidence and giving us clear foundational information of what occurred. Right now, the Commissioner of Canada Elections, Mr. Yves Côté, in his report of last month, once again told us that there was nothing to see, so we should move on.

Let me review what Mr. Justice Mosley found, because it is important to put it on the record to understand why this bill is so inadequate and why it should have the powers of investigation to ensure that crimes like this are properly investigated. Mr. Justice Mosley found as fact that “…there was a deliberate attempt at voter suppression during the 2011 election”. That was at paragraph 177.

At paragraph 224, he wrote:

I am satisfied that it has been established that misleading calls about the locations of polling stations were made to electors in ridings across the country, including the subject ridings, and that the purpose of those calls was to suppress the votes of electors who had indicated their voting preference in response to earlier voter identification calls.

At paragraph 246, he stated, “I find that the threshold to establish that fraud occurred has been met…”.

At paragraph 253, he said:

…I don’t doubt that the confidence rightfully held by Canadians has been shaken by the disclosures of widespread fraudulent activities that have resulted from the Commissioner’s investigations and the complaints to Elections Canada.

As well, he stated at paragraph 256:

…[the…] calls appear to have been targeted towards voters who had previously expressed a preference for an opposition party (or anyone other than the government party)…

On the matter of a smoking gun and who is responsible, essentially in this case we have a smoking gun. We know that thousands of calls were made, including in my own riding and across the country. I wrote Elections Canada with my concerns about these widespread attempts at voter suppression immediately following the May 2011 election. Who was responsible? I have made no accusations as to who I believe is responsible, but Mr. Justice Mosley found as fact the following, at paragraph 245:

I am satisfied…that the most likely source of the information used to make the misleading calls was the CIMS database maintained and controlled by the Conservative Party of Canada, accessed for that purpose by a person or persons currently unknown to this Court….the evidence points to elaborate efforts to conceal the identity of those accessing the database and arranging for the calls to be made…

What kind of democracy is this? We have the evidence of a Federal Court judge, thousands of complaints from Canadians across the country, a Commissioner of Canada Elections who says that there is nothing to look at here and everyone should move on, and we have a bill before us that would do absolutely nothing to prevent the illegitimate use of robocalls in future elections.

I concede to the minister and support the part of the bill that sets up a robocalls registry within the CRTC, but it is not sufficient to deal with the illegitimate use of robocalls and to protect Canadians, Canadian democracy and the integrity of our electoral process. This bill falls far short. This is a dark day for democracy.

Kennedy Stewart: Mr. Speaker, would the member care to comment on the happenings in the committee that was reviewing the bill?

The member proposed that we have a study on proportional representation, but the Liberals voted against it in committee in a recorded vote. We, of course, supported the motion that we should include a study of proportional representation in the bill. Would she comment on the Liberal rejection of this notion?

Elizabeth May: Mr. Speaker, yes, I was disappointed. It was a very modest proposal that we open discussion toward proportional representation, which was not supported by the Liberals. I have to say that I was also very disappointed—although the hon. member for Toronto—Danforth did put forward an explanation that was somewhat persuasive as to why his party would not support my amendment—that no one supported my amendment to have some rules to ensure fairness in the leaders debate. I was not without my disappointments throughout the committee process.

I think we need to continue to work to get rid of the perverse first past the post voting system. I commend the NDP for its strong position on that, but I think we need to persuade more Liberal and Conservative members. Within both of those parties, I know there are many members who find the current system quite perverse and would like to see real reform.

Wayne Easter: Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the remarks of the leader of the Green Party. I think she hit the nail on the head with her last comment, “This is a dark day for democracy”, in terms of the possible passage of Bill C-23.

The member outlined a number of examples in her remarks, and I would add to that with two areas that the Conservative government has undermined. Canada at one time was seen as a model to strive for in terms of how we held elections, Elections Canada, and so on. The same thing with Statistics Canada; we used to be seen as one of the best in the world, but under the current government, we are seen as one of the worst.

I have two questions for the member. One, given how seriously Bill C-23 undermines our ability to police elections and investigate foul play, does it make it possible for a government to either buy or steal an election? Two, should we be calling for United Nations observers in Canada for the next election?

Elizabeth May: Mr. Speaker, I am going to assume the last part of the question from hon. member for Malpeque was somewhat ironic and so I will address the first part, which is: should we be concerned?

I believe based on everything I have studied, and I have really dug into what happened in Saanich—Gulf Islands in 2008, that it was a pilot project in seeing whether the use of robocalls could change the course of an election. Elections Canada and the RCMP failed to get to the bottom of it. Some of the complainants told me that the RCMP told them that it could not figure out who was responsible because the phone number originated from the United States.

Had that been a child pornographer or a human trafficking ring, I would like to think that we would have investigated who originated those phone calls. The idea that because they originated from the U.S. we could not find out, or that it was really small potatoes whether it was Gary Lunn or Briony Penn who won that election, is not the case. It is very large indeed in Canadian democracy when a fraudulent robocall marketing attempt can change the course of an election.

I believe that the failure to investigate Saanich—Gulf Islands in 2008 led directly to a more widespread use of robocalls in voter suppression in 2011. I shudder to think what the failure to properly investigate what happened in 2011 will mean for future Canadian elections.