March 5, 2014
Mr. Joe Preston, MP
Chair of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs 1080 La Promenade
Dear Mr. Chair,
Thank you for the opportunity to appear before your Committee on February 13, 2014. I was pleased to introduce the Fair Elections Act, last month and have been encouraged by the reception it has received. I look forward to continuing to work with your Committee in the months ahead.
I would like to start by following-up on the question raised by Craig Scott, Member of Parliament for Toronto—Danforth, regarding Clause 10 of the Fair Elections Act. The proposed subsection provides that the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) may engage, on a temporary basis, the services of persons having specialized knowledge of any matter relating to the work of his office. These services would be to advise or assist him in the exercise of his powers, duties and functions. The proposed subsection also provides that the CEO may, with the approval of Treasury Board, fix and pay remuneration and expenses to these individuals. This is a standard contracting authority found in many federal statutes, including the statutes governing the Commissioner of Official Languages, the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner and the Information Commissioner. Similar provisions can also be found in the statutes of arms-length bodies including the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal.
The Government has received a great deal of feedback from Canadians on the Fair Elections Act. This feedback has motivated me to put forward some of the ideas I have heard on how to further improve the bill to the Committee. I have taken the time to outline some of these proposals.
- The Fair Elections Act proposes to give the Commissioner of Canada Elections sharper teeth, a longer reach and a freer hand. The Government has been clear that this includes giving the Commissioner the ability to initiate his own investigations and to investigate any matter he believes may constitute a possible violation of the law. To ensure the Commissioner has all the flexibility he could ever want to launch an investigation, the Committee could consider amending the language of Clause 108 of the Fair Elections Act to remove any threshold the Commissioner would have to meet in order to initiate an investigation.
- The Fair Elections Act empowers law enforcement with additional tools such as tough new penalties including jail time, more than a dozen new offences and an enhanced ability to investigate deliberate wrong-doing. To achieve this last point, the Fair Elections Act proposes to eliminate the limitation period for offences requiring intent. To avoid the inadvertent application of certain provisions of the Criminal Code that would otherwise impose a six-month limitation period to those offences requiring intent and prosecuted on summary conviction, I hope the Committee will agree to an amendment that ensures the elimination of any limitation period for offences that require intent.
- Clause 62 of the Fair Elections Act provides that those who receive a special ballot or a ballot at the office of the Returning Officer in the riding in which they ordinarily reside must prove their identity and residence in the same manner as is required at the polls or at an advance poll. There is a concern that the Fair Elections Act will create two processes: one for local electors and another for electors away from their electoral district. Identification requirements should be consistent for all Canadians. The bill could be amended by your Committee to do so.
- The Chief Electoral Officer’s 2010 report following the 40th General Election recommended that amendments be made to the Canada Elections Act to ensure third parties have a connection to Canada. The Government agrees and that is why the Fair Elections Act requires third parties to certify, in their registration application, that they have a connection to Canada. The CEO will only be able to register a third party that has signed such a certification. It is clear that third parties without a connection to Canada should not be able to incur expenses as they do not qualify as a third party under the Act. To ensure that illegitimate third parties cannot skirt the rules in Canada, the Committee could add a clear prohibition on this issue in the Fair Elections Act.
I hope the Committee will consider these items during its study of the Fair Elections Act. These suggestions could take the bill from an A- to an A+. The Government continues to listen to Canadians on ways to improve the Fair Elections Act and protect Canada’s electoral system.
Pierre Poilievre, P.C., M.P.