Monday, February 24, 2014

Cons designed 'Unfair' Elections Act to get themselves reelected; whatever became of Penashue investigation

I gave the following 10-minute speech in the House of Commons on the  Conservative Fair Elections Act on Monday, Feb. 24th.
Mr. Speaker, I stand in support of the motion put forward by the hon. member for Hamilton Centre that there should be nation-wide public hearings into the fair elections act, a bill better known more and more across this country as the unfair elections act.
The member for Hamilton Centre proposes that this House direct the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to hear from witnesses while undertaking its study of the Canada Elections Act.

What witnesses?

Elections Canada, political parties, the Minister of State (Democratic Reform) who introduced the “fair” elections act, representatives of first nations, anti-poverty groups, groups representing people with disabilities, groups that speak for youth, advocates, students and Canadians in general everywhere.
Further, the motion calls on the committee to travel to all regions of Canada throughout March and April, and that the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs only proceed with the clause-by-clause consideration of the fair elections act after the public hearings have been completed.
To sum up, the motion calls on the Conservative government to hold public hearings on changes to the Elections Act, a cornerstone of democracy.

And for all Canadians to have a say on how the cornerstone of democracy should be reshaped, how the cornerstone of democracy should be adjusted to ensure elections are above reproach, and how the cornerstone should be chiselled so that it is solid, so that it is strong and able to bear the democracy that is one of the envies of the world.

If we change Elections Canada Act, then the electorate should have a say in that change, which is simple, straightforward and reasonable, especially with the scandals we have had in recent years.
There were problems with the federal election of 2011 in my neck of the country, Newfoundland and Labrador.

More specifically, there were problems with the election of Peter Penashue, the Conservative MP for the riding of Labrador.
Penashue won by 79 votes and went on to represent the province in the federal cabinet as Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, only it was learned soon after his election that Penashue broke the law.

He got elected by that slim margin of 79 votes by cheating.

Penashue resigned in disgrace.

He ran again in a byelection triggered by his resignation, and he lost, but then that loss was expected, considering the seriousness of the allegations against him.

Allegations that Penashue, a Conservative MP, accepted 28 illegal donations; allegations that he accepted corporate donations, which was also illegal; allegations that Penashue got an interest-free loan which, once again, is illegal, from an Inuit company run by his brother-in-law; and allegations that he overspent the campaign spending limit.
Penashue basically bought his election, and he was able to run in the byelection with outstanding allegations against him, which boggled the mind of Newfoundlanders and Labradoreans.

What would have happened if Penashue had won and the allegations proven true?

What became of those allegations?

Elections Canada was supposedly carrying out an investigation and so was the RCMP, but we have not heard a word, not a peep.

The silence across Newfoundland and Labrador and across this country has been deafening.
Was Penashue, whom the Prime Minister described as the best member of Parliament Labrador ever had, every charged?

Was anyone charged?

No one that I know of. Was anyone fined?

No one that I know of.

Is there a problem with the Elections Canada Act?

Yes, there is a problem with the Elections Canada Act--
The Deputy Speaker: Is there a point of order?
 Mr. Paul Calandra: Mr. Speaker, the hon. member has done nothing in the last five minutes to discuss the content of his motion. In fact, I doubt that he actually has anything in his speech with respect to the motion before us.
I wonder, Mr. Speaker, if you might ensure and insist that the member get on to the actual substance of the motion if he is prepared to do that.

Mme Alexandrine Latendresse (Louis-Saint-Laurent, NPD): Monsieur le Président, depuis le début du débat, il y a eu énormément de discussions au sujet du projet de loi en tant que tel, alors que l'on parle de la motion. À mon avis, il y avait ici une certaine marge de manoeuvre. Je tiens à rappeler que ce que mon collègue de St. John's-Sud—Mount Pearl mentionne est directement lié à plusieurs demandes du directeur général des élections quant aux changements à la loi électorale. Il y a donc un lien ici aussi.

Le vice-président: Je suis d'accord.
It is a point of relevance, but it is a valid point that he is making within the context of the debate. He may continue.
Mr. Ryan Cleary: Mr. Speaker, this unfair elections act will actually strip Elections Canada of its investigative powers, strip them, not strengthen the powers of Elections Canada.

We saw how weak the Conservatives are with the Penashue scandal.
The Commissioner of Elections Canada will now be under the Director of Public Prosecutions and therefore no longer part of Elections Canada.

I would compare that and my party would compare that to removing the RCMP's ability to investigate breaches of the Criminal Code.

So how is that going to fix anything? It is not.
Get a load of this.

Under this unfair elections act, the Chief Electoral Officer must now seek Treasury Board approval to hire technical experts.

That theoretically means that the Chief Electoral Officer could have to seek government approval to investigate possible election cheating by government MPs.
Two key missing elements of the unfair elections act that Elections Canada actually asked for and did not get include: more power to the Chief Electoral Officer to request financial documents to ensure political entities are complying with their obligations.

That is not in the bill.

The unfair elections act is also silent on powers for Elections Canada to compel witnesses.

A major problem that Elections Canada faced in its robocalls investigations was that Conservative staffers refused to give testimony.

That is not going to change either.

I wonder why that is.
This unfair elections act will make voting more challenging for some Canadians.

It would mean we could no longer vouch for someone when they do not have identification and aboriginal people, university students, the homeless, seniors in residences are less likely to have ID or mail on hand.

There were 120,000 people who used vouching to exercise their vote in the 2011 election, but they will not be allowed to use it in the next election.

Clearly, the Conservatives are targeting certain demographics to suppress the vote.
The Conservatives are also changing the political financing rules in their favour.

The unfair elections act increases the limit for individual contributions to $1,500 from $1,200.

That favours the Conservatives who tend to receive bigger contributions.

The unfair elections act also allows candidates to contribute up to $5,000 to their own campaigns and leadership candidates to contribute up to $25,000 for their own campaigns which, once again, gives an advantage to wealthy candidates which the Conservative Party attracts. Conservatives look after their own.
The unfair elections act will remove the Chief Electoral Officer's power, power to engage in public education.

The Chief Electoral Officer will be limited to telling voters where, when and how to vote, but not why they should vote.

Who better to talk about democracy than a key expert on democracy, the Chief Electoral Officer?
Under this unfair elections act, Elections Canada will be banned from teaching our children about our democracy, encouraging people to vote and warning them about electoral fraud.

Tens of thousands of students, seniors, aboriginal people and low-income Canadians will be blocked from their right to exercise their vote.

Between the robocalls scandal, the ongoing Senate debacle, illegal contributions and campaign overspending, faith in elections in this country, the legitimacy of campaign results has been shaken.

What do we get?

We get this unfair elections act.
Conservatives are focused on shutting down debate.

Conservatives are focused on ramming through a bill designed to stop people from voting and ensure that they win the next election.

Only that will not happen.

Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, Canadians know the difference.

We will make sure they know the difference.

Hon. Pierre Poilievre (Minister of State (Democratic Reform), CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I hope he knows the difference, because the reality is that his own party announced its opposition to the fair elections act before even reading it.

I am not sure how New Democrats could know the differences between the status quo and the act without reading it.

Let me focus on the issue of section 18, which the member referenced.

The fair elections act would amend it to require the agency to inform people of the basics to vote, including where and when, the ID to bring and the special tools available to help people with disabilities cast their ballot.

Beyond that, it would require the agency to inform people of how they can register to vote and correct any misinformation that might incidentally be on the existing voters list.

These are all things that Canadians need as basic tools to vote.

Unfortunately, Elections Canada's own data shows that they do not have it.

Around 60% of non-voters said that they did not vote for reasons of everyday life issues.

They said that they found it inconvenient or difficult, or that they were busy.

The fair elections act would ensure that this same 60% of people are aware that they can vote early through an advanced ballot, by mail, or at their local Elections Canada office.

How could the member across possibly be opposed to that information?

Mr. Ryan Cleary: Mr. Speaker, the hon. member across the way said at the beginning of his question that the New Democrats came out against the unfair elections act before it was released, but that is not true.

We did not come out against this act before it was released.

To sum up, the Conservatives never let truth stand in the way.


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