Mr. Speaker, in 1968, Lincoln Alexander became Canada's first black member of Parliament. He would go on to serve as a cabinet minister, as chancellor of the University of Guelph, and as Lieutenant Governor of Ontario. He was named to the Order of Ontario and named Companion of the Order of Canada.
His legacy of fighting against racism and for diversity and equality is one that my constituents, and all Canadians, cherish.
February is Black History Month. What better time is there to recognize his contributions to Canada? Can the Minister of Canadian Heritage tell the House about our government's plans to further honour Lincoln Alexander?
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for Yukon for sharing his time with me today. He has done an excellent job, not only today but year-round. I want to thank him for his commitment last summer. He ran around his whole territory on behalf of diabetes disease, which I have. I want to thank him for bringing attention to that disease and for the work he does in that area.
Economic action plan 2014 is a Conservative budget. Is anybody here surprised that it is a Conservative budget? It is conservative as we move toward a balanced approach to our finances in this country. We do not use magic. We do not think books balance themselves. We have a plan. Economic action plan 2014 builds upon the plan that we have had for the years we have been in office.
Before I get into the points in this budget that I think relate very well to Burlington, my home riding, we have heard, through the questions being asked today, about not foreseeing the downturn in the economy. We had the member for Malpeque, as the previous speaker mentioned, on this and that. The Liberal Party took $60 billion out of the EI fund and reallocated it for its own use. We have the Liberals saying we are running big deficits, and then in the same breath they are talking about adding more.
Where do they think the money comes from? We would have to raise taxes, which we know is what the NDP wants to do, and now it definitely sounds like the Liberals want to do it too. They cannot complain that we have deficits. We are getting those deficits down. We are working very hard to make that happen, and we are almost there. We have another year, and hopefully we will have accomplished that goal.
We did stimulus spending in an appropriate way so that we created jobs in this country. A million jobs have been created since the end of the recession. We have been working hard in those areas.
I am fully aware that the opposition has a role to criticize. It should be criticizing what is in the budget, if it finds things it can do better. However, to criticize us for our actions to get this country back to work, to keep us as the number one economy of all of our partners, is just not accurate. I think it does not do this House or the parties any good.
I will get back to what is in this budget that we have in front of us, in economic action plan 2014.
There are a few things that I would like to highlight. The reason I would like to highlight them is that often there is the impression that a backbencher member of Parliament might not have a tremendous amount of influence. Our finance minister has an open mind and an open door to suggestions about what should be in the budget. There are things in this budget that I have advocated for, either this year or in previous years. Sometimes things do not happen overnight. I know that is hard for people to believe. Sometimes we have to keep advocating for what we believe in.
I want to point out a couple of things in this budget that I have been working on as a member of Parliament on behalf of my constituents that have made it into this budget.
The first one is very personal. I have a daughter who has just graduated from university. I know a number of her colleagues and friends. They are all looking for work. Fortunately for my daughter, she was a co-op student. The co-op has made a big difference in her ability to find employment because she has some experience.
In this budget, the finance minister, in his wisdom and under our Prime Minister, said that this kind of learning, this kind of experience, is what we need for our young people to get ahead, to get a start, and we have put aside $40 million for 3,000 full-time internships in high-demand jobs. It is exactly what we need to get young people into the workforce and moving forward in their careers.
People may say this sounds silly. I have an open door policy in my office. Year after year, there are two groups of university students, two organizations, that come to see me every year with demands. I do not agree with every one of their demands. Trust me. And I am clear with those young folks that I do not agree with them.
However, one of the items I have agreed with, and I have actually put in a submission to the Minister of Finance, is to not include vehicles in the calculations of student loans. If a student's car were worth $3,000 or $5,000, it would go against the value he or she could borrow because it was an asset that we would account for. In this budget, we would eliminate that. There are 19,000 students in this country who drive to school. In my riding of Burlington, we do not have a university main campus. We have a satellite campus for McMaster University in my riding, for MBA students, but we do not have a main campus; so people often drive to McMaster or to Guelph or to college in Oakville or to Toronto. They live at home to save money, and they drive to school every day. This is a request that has come year after year from these organizations. They thought, and I agreed with them, that this is something we should look at. I submitted it to the Minister of Finance last year and this year, and it made the budget. I am very proud that we saw the light that we need to be helping our young people in my area to pay for their education.
There is another area we get criticized on, research and innovation, which is not accurate, but the opposition members like to criticize. In this budget, there would be $1.5 billion in funding for post-secondary education research. In addition to that, we would give $46 million to granting councils that grant to individual organizations that do research. Just so people know, they are the Canadian Institutes for Health Research, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. All three councils would get funding from this $46 million to carry out research. We have been criticized as being very narrow on what we want to see done in terms of research. We would give a chunk of this $46 million to the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. I am very proud of the work we are doing in that area.
Here is another item that is close to my heart. Ford Canada has its manufacturing plant office in my neighbouring riding of Oakville, and lots of individuals work for Ford, but a lot more individuals work in companies that are suppliers to Ford in my riding. In support of innovation and an understanding that we need to move forward in this industry if we are going to stay ahead of the curve in terms of innovation, we would put forward $500 million in the innovative automotive sector over two years. That is additional money that automotive companies in this country could use to innovate and do research on the new products they are going to bring to the marketplace.
That is not the only area. We are also looking at what has been working. This is not in my riding, but transformation has been needed in the forestry industry, and we would re-fund to a tune of $90 million the forest institute transformation fund, which allows forestry companies to look at where they are now and what the future will be in terms of the products and services that need to be provided, and it would give them some funding to help them get there.
Another area is seniors. Seniors make up almost half of my riding. I think a little over 50% of the residents are age 55 and over now. Someone age 55 is not a senior, but that is the statistic I have, and I am getting there. We have a program that helps seniors, and we have been able to deliver a large number of small projects in my riding through this program. One example is that we gave $5,000 to a small organization that helps Polish seniors in my riding to buy computer equipment, so they can have access to the Internet and gain an understanding of it. They were so excited that this money was delivered to them. Our seniors centre has a new kitchen, to be able to provide a breakfast program to shut-in seniors who are not able to get out. Without our providing that money through this seniors program, they would not be out every other Sunday morning. We would re-fund that as a $5 million per year program, which is excellent for my riding.
I will finish with this. I had a private member's bill eight years ago dealing with a DNA database for missing persons, a missing persons index. It did not make it because it needed royal assent and needed money spent on it, which is not allowed in a private member's bill. Today, in this budget, the DNA-base missing persons databank will come to fruition. I thank the minister and the Prime Minister for their foresight on that.
Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his question and the kind words that I think he said about me.
The real answer is that this piece of legislation moves the covering of robocalls, of using telephone devices in an election campaign, to the people who do that best. As a business person and a politician, I look to the experts in the field. In this case, we have gone to the experts in the field who have said that the CRTC is the right place to be monitoring people who are using telephone communications.
We have it right. We have the experts on the job. They have already found them. They were able to by monitoring the use of telephone communications in both election and non-election times. I believe a member of this House, from Guelph, was even found guilty by them for what he did during the last campaign.
Mr. Speaker, it is interesting to hear the Liberals talk about this bill in light of the member before me mentioning that ensuring a fair election is something that the Liberals are afraid of, that because we brought forward a bill that would ensure a fair election, would see leadership candidates being responsible for the debts they incur, and would bring in limits with respect to leadership contests, that is somehow a disadvantage to the Liberal Party.
Imagine that, a bill that would make elections fairer, make it easier for Canadians to vote, and would give them more access to polling stations is somehow something that the Liberal Party is terrified of. The fact that they are in third place in the House of Commons, I guess, must be the fault of Elections Canada and not the fault of their terrible policies and decisions they made when they were in government.
More specific to the bill, there has been a lot of discussion on a number of its aspects. Some of the debate has been good and some not so good. I note that some 16 New Democrats and 16 Liberals have already spoken to this bill. Many have mentioned vouching and voter identification. I will get to that in a second, but I first want to talk about the process of elections and why it was important for us to bring forward change.
We know that members opposite, from both parties, including the government, all knew that some changes had to be made to the Canada Elections Act. That goes without saying. We have, of course, been consulting for a long time. The Minister of State (Democratic Reform) and the Minister of State (Multiculturalism) have been working very hard on this, and we have brought forward a very comprehensive bill.
One thing we had to do was look at the people who have been charged with undertaking elections. I listened to the Chief Electoral Officer yesterday on TV and he said something I believe to be true. He said that Canada is a very large, very diverse country, and that voting in a country of this size has a lot of challenges. I would say one of the most important functions we have for preserving our democracy is making sure that elections are done fairly and that Canadians can have confidence in the fact that the people who have voted are the right people and that those votes reflect the population.
After the 41st general election, Elections Canada sought some advice from the people who actually work for it, in a series of post-mortem sessions with returning officers. This is a result of Elections Canada talking to all returning officers in all of the 308 ridings across this country. On page 10 of the report, it states:
ROs identified that there is a need to give out more information to electors; for example, there are not enough outreach activities and communications about where the RO office is located and on the voting process.
They suggest taking out ads explaining that advance polls would be busier. They suggest that ads should be taken out to tell people how to vote, what identification is required, the special balloting process. They are saying that the process of holding an election is something that these returning officers—and, again, I refer everybody to page 10 of the report—thought was something Elections Canada could have done a better job of in helping to organize an election across such a vast land.
I will also go to page 17 of that same report, which talks a bit about the problem that some of the returning officers had at advance polls. It states that:
A high voter turnout was a reality for most ROs, significant enough that there were many complaints about wait times. To improve the flow when it is busy, ROs suggest putting a single signature line on the list of electors….
It appears that having electors write too much information was causing a dilemma.
Those two items, I think, speak to the fact that the people who were placed on the ground to make sure our elections are done fairly were experiencing problems of congestion, of people not knowing where to vote, when to vote, and what identification was needed in order to vote. The returning officers suggested that should be the role that Elections Canada should focus on, going forward, if it wants to make the process of elections better.
I note that in the bill brought forward by the Minister of State for Democratic Reform, we took that advice from the returning officers and put it right into the legislation, re-focusing the mandate of Elections Canada so that it can focus on what its own employees said is a priority: getting people to vote and making sure elections run smoothly.
When we talk about why the vote is not where we would like it to be and why there has been a decline in voter participation, clearly, one reason has to be that Canadians do not always find it easy to vote. That has to be one of the problems. We are seeing that when we add advance polls, more Canadians use them. The bill would add another day of voting, making it easier for Canadians to vote, so having a fourth day of advance polling, we think, will help to get more Canadians out to the polls.
Ultimately, I find it passing ridiculous that the opposition parties are suggesting the reason Canadians are not voting is that Elections Canada is not placing an ad in the paper, explaining to them or trying to energize them to vote, because that is our job. It is the job of parties and candidates to get people to vote, to energize them to vote.
I cannot imagine anybody would miss the fact that there is an election going on. There are signs everywhere, and the media, every night, follows around all three campaigns on TV. There is advertising, phone calls are made, and literature is delivered at doors. People are knocking on doors.
Elections Canada does some work with respect to telling people how to vote and where to vote. The voter cards explain to people where their poll is. I cannot imagine people not understanding that an election is taking place, but I think what they get upset about is that when they go to vote, it is a difficult process. They have to wait in line. The bill would put more resources in hand to make sure it is done fairly.
With respect to vouching, I would refer all members of the House to page 25 of the bill. Of course there are 39 pieces of identification that are acceptable with respect to proving an address, but the bill also goes further to say, on page 25, in both French and English:
(3.1) If the address contained in the piece or pieces of identification provided under subsection (2) does not prove the elector’s residence but is consistent with information related to the elector that appears on the list of electors, the elector’s residence is deemed to have been proven.
That gives everybody the opportunity to make sure they cast a ballot.
However, is there a burden of proof? Absolutely. I cannot imagine that Canadians would accept that we should just completely drop the demands for identification and say that anybody can vote. That would be inappropriate. At the same time, we are expecting that Canadians have identification, but in instances there is still, according to the bill on page 25, in French and English, an opportunity for Canadians to cast a ballot.
It goes even further. We heard a lot about robocalls, and not just during elections. The riding of the member for Guelph was singled out and charged with respect to robocalls, and I think all Canadians have accepted that all parties have to do a better job of making sure that we do this fairly.
That is why the CRTC would be maintaining a registry. They would maintain scripts and recordings so that Canadians and the Elections Commissioner would have access to information if an investigation is required.
In summary, we would be letting Elections Canada do what it needs to do to be the actual guardians of elections in this country: to focus on voting, to focus on the process, and at the same time, we would be giving the Elections Commissioner the power he needs to make sure that voting is done fairly and that nobody breaks the rules. When people do break the rules, the new act would give the Commissioner the tools he needs to enforce the Elections Act in a way that we have not seen in a long time.
I do hope all members will take a moment to read the bill and reflect on that before they cast their ballot.
Mr. Speaker, we cannot forget the context in which we are debating Bill C-23, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and other Acts and to make consequential amendments to certain Acts, here in the House.
This bill comes after a long wait. It took the government two long years to introduce this bill, as though it cost the government a great deal to do so. This long wait was then followed by a suspicious haste to rush the bill through, to speed up the parliamentary process, as though the government had something to hide. It wants to rush through a 252-page bill that has to do with electoral democracy.
The current context also includes the fact that the Prime Minister has chosen a Minister of State for Democratic Reform, the minister sponsoring this bill, who just happens to be the member who has attacked Elections Canada, an honourable and essential institution, more than anyone else in the history of Canada. This is a member who has spent the past few years defending the indefensible every time the Conservative Party has been involved in shady schemes. This is a minister who, in just the last few days, has accused Elections Canada of bias, without any evidence whatsoever. This is a minister who falsely said that he had consulted the Chief Electoral Officer on this bill, forcing the Chief Electoral Officer to set the record straight.
This bill comes at a time when the ethics of this government and the Conservatives Party are being called into question by many troubling facts.
We remember the in-and-out scandal, when the Conservative Party, having finally admitted to election overspending and to submitting inflated election returns, had no choice but to pay the maximum fine under the Elections Act.
We remember the Peter Penashue scandal, when the former Conservative minister had to resign his seat due to wide-scale election overspending.
We know that Conservative MPs from Saint Boniface and Selkirk—Interlake both entered into a compliance agreement with Elections Canada.
We know that the MP for Peterborough was kicked out of the Conservative caucus and is facing charges under the Elections Act.
We remember the worst of these scandals, the fraudulent election robocalls scandal, where Federal Court Judge Richard Mosley noted that electoral fraud did occur during the 41st general election. Justice Mosley stated:
I am satisfied, however, 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].
Let us look at that scandal for a moment. According to the Federal Court, the Conservative Party database was the most likely source of the fraudulent calls that were made to mislead voters and keep them from voting in the 2011 election.
What should an honest political party do under such circumstances? It should alert the police so that it can be determined who, in the party or otherwise, used the database for fraudulent purposes.
If the party does not do that, if the Conservatives do not do that, is it because someone in the party already knows the truth and does not want it to come to light?
The Conservative Party has stood in the way of the search for the truth in this sordid affair. Under the pretext that the judge had not determined with 100% certainty that the Conservative Party database had indeed been misused, the party declared itself innocent and refused to launch any kind of investigation. The party does not really seem to want to find out what happened.
What is worse, the Conservatives' election workers completely refused to speak with investigators about the mystery fraudulent telephone calls in Guelph. Too bad if the guilty parties, the fraudsters, are still at large. Too bad, or all the better, if the Conservative war room's real goal is to protect those who are guilty. The party clearly wanted to protect them or it would have acted differently.
That is why we are legitimately suspicious about the government and the Conservative Party, which is finally coming forward with a bill that set outs the rules that this government would like to see govern the next federal election in the fall of 2015.
If the government wants to dispel the suspicion surrounding its electoral honesty, why does the minister's bill ignore the main recommendation made by the Chief Electoral Officer, which received strong support from the Commissioner of Canada Elections, namely to facilitate investigations and the ability to uncover election fraud?
This is what that recommendation says:
In order to make the enforcement of the Canada Elections Act more effective, it is recommended that the Commissioner of Canada Elections be given the power to apply to a judge for an order to compel any person to provide information that is relevant to an investigation. ...the inability to compel testimony is one of the most significant obstacles to effective enforcement of the Act. The Chief Electoral Officer strongly recommends that this power be given to the Commissioner to facilitate and accelerate the manner in which allegations are investigated. [...]
The Commissioner of Canada Elections strongly supports this recommendation.
The minister rejected this recommendation and is refusing to give the commissioner the power to apply to a judge for an order to compel any persons to provide information that is relevant to an investigation. Why? Is the minister satisfied with the current situation? Is he trying to protect reluctant witnesses? Is he pleased or reassured that proper investigations are being impeded today, as was described in the 2012-13 annual report of the Commissioner of Canada Elections? The following is a quote from the report:
...investigators often face reluctant witnesses. Frequently, key individuals will simply refuse to be interviewed or they will initially accept, only to later decline. In some cases, they will participate in interviews but will provide only partial information and incomplete answers, often citing a faulty recollection of events or the inability to retrieve key documents. In other cases, a potential witness will profess a complete willingness to cooperate, but the process will take time – resulting in information being provided slowly and in an incomplete fashion. Under the legislative regime as it currently exists, potential witnesses (e.g. candidates, official agents, representatives of political parties) do not have any obligation to cooperate with or assist investigators.
In a CBC interview on February 8, this past weekend, the Chief Electoral Officer said that the investigation into fraudulent calls was impeded by the fact that it was difficult to obtain witnesses' co-operation:
Many people [in that investigation] refused to talk to the commissioner even if they were not suspects. I'm afraid to say this is happening more and more in files investigated by the commissioner.
He is constantly confronted with this obstacle.
Can the minister confirm that his bill protects witnesses who refuse to co-operate with the justice system? Why is there this protection? Is this related to the robocall scandal?
Indeed, the bill would eliminate the limitation period for offences that require intent. That means that the commissioner can go back in time to catch deliberate lawbreakers. However, the Conservatives refuse to give the Commissioner of Canada Elections the authority to go to a judge to compel testimony from witnesses to election crimes. Is it because it would blow open the robocalls investigations?
The minister argues that witnesses are already required to testify in court once formal allegations have been made, but everybody can see the problem with this argument. If the Commissioner of Canada Elections cannot get witnesses to co-operate during the investigation phase, the crucial step during which evidence is sought, how can the commissioner obtain the evidence required to make such formal allegations? The minister points out that the commissioner can already seek a warrant to obtain documents from a judge, but what the commissioner needs, as much or more than documents, is witness co-operation.
The minister says that his bill introduces a new penalty for those who obstruct an investigation or provide inaccurate information to investigators. However, obstructing is not the same thing as refusing to speak or co-operate. The minister very craftily straddles that line.
Furthermore, the minister states that the elections commissioner currently has all of the same investigatory powers as police officers. However, what the Chief Electoral Officer or the Commissioner of Canada Elections are asking for is a power that the police do not have but the Commissioner of Competition already has, and that is the power to apply to a judge for an order to compel any person to provide information that is relevant to an investigation. The question the minister must answer is, why does his bill not provide the Commissioner of Canada Elections with the power already held by the Commissioner of Competition under section 11 of the Competition Act? Will the minister answer this simple question?
Mr. Speaker, I want to return the attention of the House to some of the valuable aspects of this proposed piece of legislation, which would go a long way toward improving the quality of elections in this country.
Listening to some of the histrionics in what has been said earlier, one would think that Canada is a third world country in which elections are wildly abused. My hon. colleague for Guelph suggested that in 200 separate ridings there were investigations relating to people being misdirected to the wrong polling stations. If this were the tip of some giant iceberg, he would be right; we would be unfit to be considered a part of the family of developed and democratic nations. However, on its face, that is a ridiculous assertion.
One of the ridings the member was referring to was my riding, in which an allegation was made by at least one person phoning the Chief Electoral Officer, which is what actually accounts for the 200 different ridings. I do not know if the member is suggesting that my riding, where I defeated the Liberal candidate by more than a three-to-one margin and the NDP candidate by more than a two-to-one margin, was one in which our party was attempting to misdirect voters because we were afraid we would otherwise lose the seat. If that is what he wants to assert, then he should come out and assert that, as opposed to using this sort of ridiculous innuendo and suggestion, when a clear counterfactual is the case.
Let me deal with three real benefits to the new legislation.
The first is a mandate to Elections Canada as to how it would direct its advertising revenue during and prior to writ periods. This is to be found in proposed section 18 of the legislation. I will read this legislation and then comment on it. Proposed section 18 would now read:
(1) The Chief Electoral Officer may provide the public, both inside and outside Canada, with information on the following topics only:
(a) how to become a candidate;
(b) how an elector may have their name added to a list of electors and may have corrections made to information respecting the electors on the list;
(c) how an elector may vote under section 127 and the times, dates and locations of voting;
(d) how an elector may establish their identity and residence in order to vote, including the pieces of identification they may use to that end; and
(e) the measures for assisting electors with a disability to access a polling station or advance polling station to mark a ballot.
Proposed subsection (2) of that section says:
The Chief Electoral Officer shall ensure that any information provided [above] is accessible to electors with disabilities.
The Chief Electoral Officer has spent a great deal of money on advertising, but very little on these practical issues. This is despite the fact that many Canadians turn up at the polls, in some cases, as in a rural area, having driven a great distance, and discovering they do not have the necessary identification and are therefore unable to vote. Or, they find themselves in a situation in which they cannot vote at an advance polling station because they were not on the voter's list. This is a real problem.
I asked the Chief Electoral Officer in a meeting of the procedure and House affairs committee how big a problem there is with the voter's list. He hummed and hawed and did not want to answer the question. The answer is that there is a 20% rate of errors; one Canadian in five is not on the list or is on the list in the wrong way. That is a problem.
This legislation is designed to help people correct these problems for themselves. They can get on the list. They can find out how to vote. They can find out the methods available to them with whatever disability they may have, be it a mobility impairment, a visual disability, etcetera.
The CEO has to put in an effort to find out how to get those pieces of information to those communities, which is a challenge. I might add that this challenge has attracted no interest from the CEO until now, but now he will have to do that. That is a good thing.
Secondly, I want to talk a bit about voter identification and the issue of fraud. We have put in a lot of effort in this Parliament, and the previous one, into designing legislation in order to reduce electoral fraud. One of the key reasons this electoral fraud can exist is because Elections Canada has had to loosen the criteria for allowing people to vote and to identify themselves, given that Elections Canada has done such an unsatisfactory job in determining who is actually permitted to vote.
Mr. Speaker, I have just been passed a note. I am supposed to remind you that I am splitting my time with the member for Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale and not, despite his helpful suggestion, the member for Malpeque. He no doubt will have fascinating things to say when his time comes.
The situation with voter identification is a mess in Canada. We recently had a case adjudicated between the current member of Parliament for Etobicoke Centre and the former member. They were disputing whether people had voted validly in the election. In the end, the Supreme Court of Canada decided in favour of the present Conservative member and against the former Liberal member in that case. What was striking was that the issues revolved entirely around problems associated with voter identification, with the fact that people were not on the list properly. It all could have been resolved with better rules. Bill C-23 attempts to provide some of those rules.
One of the things that the bill would do is to specify that the voter identification card sent to a voter by the Chief Electoral Officer may not be used as a piece of identification for the purpose of voting. That is stated in proposed subsection 143(2.1):
The Chief Electoral Officer may authorize types of identification for the purposes of [voting]. For greater certainty, any document—other than a notice of confirmation of registration...may be authorized.
Why is this important? Let me give an example. My name is Scott Jeffrey Reid. In the 2004 election, I received three voter ID cards at my address. One was addressed to Scott Reid, one to Jeffrey Reid, and one to Scott Jeffrey Reid. Of course, all three voters are me. I can legally vote at the returning office at almost any point during the writ period. I can vote at the advance poll. I can vote on election day, in my case at a school near my house. I could have gone to all three of those places and voted, and there would be no record. They would take the voter ID card, but there would be no record that I had voted in multiple places.
I raised this matter with the former chief electoral officer, Jean-Pierre Kingsley, when he appeared before the procedure and House affairs committee. I said that this was not a very effective kind of identification. He responded that given the fact that I could go to these multiple places and engage in fraudulent voting anyway, what did it matter? I think that is not a very satisfactory response. Attempting to bring the issue of identification under control is very important. The elimination of vouching is a very important aspect of that.
I want to bring attention to, arguably, one of the most important aspects of the bill, which is the rule that from now on when the Chief Electoral Officer makes a ruling as to how the law is to be interpreted—and in some areas the law is ambiguous and will be found to be ambiguous in the future—he must apply the same rules to everyone. When we listen to the other side talking about the in-and-out scandal, they mean that a practice that was legal at the time was found afterwards by the Chief Electoral Officer, retrospectively, to be illegal in the preceding election. However, it was not found to be illegal in the election preceding that one, in which the other parties, not the Conservatives, had engaged in the practice. If we engage in that kind of retrospective ruling, we create a very unfair, unlevel playing field. That can no longer happen. No longer can retrospective rulings be imposed, and no longer can a ruling be imposed that does not apply universally.
A compliance agreement under the law is where a party violates the law. The New Democrats did this when they allowed sponsored advertising at their national convention, thereby allowing union contributions. It must be made public. They cannot keep it secret. When it is kept secret there cannot be precedents developed. There is no guarantee that the law will be enforced equally. That is a huge step forward. It is astonishing that Elections Canada did not undertake this on its own without encouragement from outside. However, having failed to do so, it will not be required to do so, and that is a very good thing.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to hear the member for Guelph on the situation in 2006, when the Conservative Party was involved in the in-and-out scheme. Do members remember the in-and-out? The Conservative Party sent money to our ridings. It wrote cheques, and the cheques were returned to the Conservative Party, the national party, where it used $1.5 million more of its funds that it could use during the election. It took Elections Canada to court, because it felt that Elections Canada was not fair to it. It fought with Elections Canada.
The Conservative Party has been fighting with Elections Canada since 2006 because of everything Elections Canada has done to try to have fair and honest elections. The Conservative Party is always putting sticks in its wheels.
This is really a bill to crucify Elections Canada. That is what the Conservative government is doing. It is putting a lock on the discussion we are having today, because it does not want the public to hear.
The electoral district of Guelph (Ontario) has a population of 114,943 with 91,463 registered voters and 210 polling divisions.
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