Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs
 

THE STANDING SENATE COMMITTEE ON LEGAL AND CONSTITUTIONAL AFFAIRS

EVIDENCE


OTTAWA, Thursday, May 31, 2018

The Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs met this day at 10:30 a.m., in camera, to study the subject matter of those elements contained in Divisions 15 and 20 of Part 6 of Bill C-74, An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on February 27, 2018 and other measures (consideration of a draft report); and, in public, for the consideration of Bill C-50, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (political financing).

Senator Serge Joyal (Chair) in the chair.

[English]

The Chair: Honourable senators, you will remember from yesterday that we will devote the first part of our meeting to an in camera discussion about the report on Bill C-74.

May I have a motion to move in camera? It is so moved.

(The committee continued in camera.)

[Translation]

(The committee resumed in public.)

The Chair: Let us begin our consideration of Bill C-50, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (political financing).

[English]

It is a real pleasure to welcome today Mr. Stéphane Perrault, Acting Chief Electoral Officer.

We’re honoured to have you before us in this capacity. I noted that you’re not alone this morning. You are accompanied by Anne Lawson, General Counsel and Senior Director.

[Translation]

You are also accompanied by François Leblanc, Director, Political Financing and Audit — the crux of the matter.

We are pleased to welcome the team from the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer. You are familiar with the process, Mr. Perrault, so please go ahead.

Stéphane Perrault, Acting Chief Electoral Officer, Office of the Chief Electoral Officer: Thank you, Mr. Chair. I am pleased to be here today to speak about Bill C-50. Given that the committee has not had the benefit of hearing from the Minister of Democratic Institutions on this bill, I will first take a few moments to summarize the key components of the bill. I will then describe how Bill C-50 fits into Canada’s evolving political financing regime and reflects the changing expectations of Canadians.

The central element of Bill C-50 is the establishment of notice and reporting requirements for certain regulated fundraising events. To fall within the scope of the bill, a fundraiser will need to have the following three elements.

First, the fundraising activity must be organized for the benefit of a party represented in the House of Commons, or one of its affiliated political entities. That means that this bill does not apply to all parties, and that is a good thing. Second, the activity must be attended by a leader, a leadership contestant, or a cabinet minister. I know there has been discussion about the scope of the activity. That is one of the conditions. Third, it must be attended by at least one person who has contributed over $200, or who has paid an amount of more than $200 that includes a contribution to attend.

If the fundraising event meets these conditions, two types of disclosure are required. First, notice of the event must be prominently posted on a party’s website for five days before it takes place, and notice must also be provided to the Chief Electoral Officer. I would add that we intend to publish the notice so that it is widely disseminated. Second, a report must be provided by the party to the Chief Electoral Officer within 30 days of the fundraiser. This report must include details of the fundraiser, including the names and partial addresses of attendees, and the names of any organizers of the event.

During a general election, notice of fundraisers would not be required, and a single report for all fundraising events held during the election would be due to the CEO within 60 days after polling day.

[English]

The requirements of Bill C-50 enhance the transparency of the federal political financing regime in two ways.

The first is to create a link between individual contributions and specific political events. This is new in the Canada Elections Act. Currently, if a contribution is made to a particular entity, there is nothing to indicate the context in which it occurred. Bill C-50 would inform Canadians about the circumstances surrounding contributions made at events conducted by parties represented in the house, where certain key decision makers are present. Increasing the transparency of these activities will strengthen public confidence in the system overall by shedding light on situations that could be perceived as offering privileged access to decision makers.

A second way in which the bill would enhance transparency is through timely reporting. The requirement to provide a report within 30 days of an event taking place is stricter than most other reporting deadlines in the law.

This is part of a general trend in the act in recent years to move to more timely reporting. For example, parties must now make quarterly reports on contributions rather than simply annual reports. Leadership contestants must report on their sources of funds upon registration and subsequently on an interim basis before the convention in which the leader is chosen.

This trend toward more timely reporting requirements in legislation is likely to continue. Bill C-76, which is currently before the House of Commons, contains new third party reporting obligations that will require two interim reports from third parties in the weeks before the election, including one that is due five days after a third party is required to register.

As Elections Canada adopts technology that allows political entities to more easily report on an ongoing basis — and I’ll come back to that in a minute — this will facilitate timely access to political financing information. Bill C-50 is a step toward achieving this goal.

A separate and unrelated aspect of Bill C-50 is new definitions of leadership and nomination contest expenses. These new definitions correct a long-standing problem in the Elections Canada Act and ensure that all expenses incurred in relation to a contest, and not simply during a contest period, are properly regulated.

I would like to turn now to the implementation of the bill, assuming that it receives Royal Assent in the coming weeks or months. We are currently some 15 months away from the issuance of the writs for the next general election. This is a period when fundraising events are likely to increase. It will therefore be a period of intense scrutiny for any reports required under this bill, should it be enacted.

Elections Canada will be updating its political financing IT systems to facilitate reporting by political entities and to facilitate audit activities. This is a long-term project that will not be fully completed until after the next general election. In short, we have five systems that we rely upon, and we are in the process of updating these systems.

In the short term, if this bill receives Royal Assent, political entities will be required to provide electronic copies of documents which will then be posted on the Elections Canada website. Essentially, it will be a PDF solution for the short term. This approach will permit the agency to implement this bill ahead of the next election, but unfortunately electronic copies of reports will not be as easily searchable as the documents that will in the future be included in the Elections Canada system. When you have a PDF, you can search within a document, but you cannot search horizontally across the documents of an entity or search historically over time.

Overall, I welcome the improvements proposed in Bill C-50 regarding the transparency of fundraising activities and would be happy to answer any questions that senators may have.

The Chair: I draw to the attention of honourable senators that we will have an opportunity to hear from the minister responsible next Wednesday in relation to this bill. We are certainly happy to open the discussion with the Acting Chief Electoral Officer.

[Translation]

Senator Boisvenu: Welcome to you Mr. Perrault, and to your colleagues, and congratulations on your appointment at Elections Canada.

Correct me if I am wrong, but I believe the old act stipulated that a minimum amount of $200 had to be included in the public registry, which has not changed in the new act.

Mr. Perrault: The Canada Elections Act currently sets a threshold of $200 for disclosure of the name and address of the contributor. The amount is the same, but with a change for fundraising activities. Fundraising activities are regulated so that an admission price of $200, including the minimum contribution, triggers the requirements under the act.

Senator Boisvenu: Is it true that this bill is in response to events organized by Prime Minister Trudeau?

Mr. Perrault: I think it is up to the committee members to determine what gave rise to the bill.

Senator Boisvenu: Or the minister.

Mr. Perrault: Or the minister, exactly.

Senator Boisvenu: So we will wait for the minister to appear to ask her.

Senator Dupuis: If I am not mistaken, Mr. Perrault, you suggested an amendment that would create offences for filing misleading, incomplete or false reports, an amendment that was not accepted.

Mr. Perrault: That is right.

Senator Dupuis: Can you tell us what led you to suggest that amendment?

Mr. Perrault: If you look at other parts of the Canada Elections Act, for all reports, there are typically two types of offences: one for failing to file a report or for filing late, and the other for a false or misleading report. If a report provides very little of the required information, at a certain point, it is no longer a report. As to a report that materially misrepresents the facts, we could use the provision stipulating an offence for failing to file a report. If there are minor items that are false, at a certain point it becomes difficult to say that a report was not filed. I would rather have seen the creation of a separate offence.

That said, there is a requirement to reimburse contributions received 30 days after the entity becomes aware of an irregularity related to a report. There is an alternative mechanism in that case: either take action for failing to file a report or require reimbursement of the contributions. Yet we would not have exactly the same mechanisms found in the act as regards other reports.

Senator Dupuis: Do you wish to comment on subclause 384.1(4), which pertains to an exclusion for contributor appreciation events?

Mr. Perrault: That exclusion is not easy to understand. On one hand, the bill says that fundraising activities are regulated and that there is an exception for conventions. I understand that exception. The bill also provides, however, that if an activity is held during a convention, it will be regulated. Further, if there is a contributor appreciation event, it is not regulated.

First, the distinction between a contribution appreciation event and a fundraising event is not very clear to my mind. In both cases, these events include people who have given a certain amount. As a result, I raised the issue in the House of Commons and I understood — and perhaps this is because I am not as familiar with the realities of conventions — that there were concerns about the uncertain attendance of participants at appreciation activities, which have a different structure. I raised this to see if the other parties in the House of Commons shared my concern, but I got no response. So I suppose we might see in practice whether this exclusion has to be revisited. I am somewhat puzzled it by it though.

Senator Dupuis: Thank you for your honesty in admitting that subclause (4) is not very clear. Am I to understand therefore that one way to be exempted from the act is to always hold a contributor appreciation activity?

Mr. Perrault: My understanding is that an appreciation activity is for people who have contributed to the party in the past and not for those who made a contribution half an hour ago. It might not be that easy to make the distinction in practice and legally.

Senator Dupuis: Thank you.

Senator Gold: Hello and thank you for being here.

[English]

I just want to follow up on some of the themes that emerged in the other place, as we call it, and that I actually underscored in my second reading debate in the chamber.

Mr. Perrault, as you properly pointed out, this is a modest bill. We are all looking forward to a more robust reform of the electoral act, but it is nonetheless about the perceptions of privileged access and is important in its own right.

I wonder if you could comment on and give us your current thoughts on a couple of things. One thing that emerged in the other place was whether or not we might consider following the Ontario example, which is the most robust and which simply prohibits any elected official from attending any fundraising event. That’s at one extreme, and perhaps you could talk about it.

Senator Eaton: It’s not for elected officials. It’s for leaders and cabinet ministers.

Senator Gold: You may be right. If I am wrong, I am sure we’ll find out in a second. I will just a couple of questions and then I will stop.

I know concern was expressed, and I share it, that the $1,000 fine for a breach might be relatively modest compared to the money received in some cases. Do you have some comments on whether it might be increased and, if so, to what level?

Finally, I know there has been much discussion about whether or not the rules should extend beyond just ministers to include others, notably parliamentary secretaries.

Mr. Perrault: Essentially these are three perhaps core policy questions on this bill.

On the first one, the Ontario regime — and I hate to be seen as critical of the regime — it must be said that the regime is very restrictive. In Ontario, it’s not just leaders and ministers. It’s in fact any candidate, including an independent candidate and a prospective candidate that has not quite been registered as a candidate. Anybody who really wants to be an elected office cannot take part in a fundraising activity that involves a ticket price of any amount. I find this very restrictive. It’s a different approach.

There is less on transparency. There’s not a whole lot of reporting. It’s on prohibitions, whereas this bill is taking a different angle, which is to shed light on this approach. Perhaps there will be some shying away from certain conduct, but it will not be prohibited. I have a preference for this approach, I must say.

On the fine amount, I think it’s mostly symbolic. If you look at the amounts of fines, there are very few prosecutions under the Canada Elections Act, and for good reason. Prosecution is not the right tool for this kind of legislation except in egregious circumstances. There are cases where it warrants prosecution, but in most cases regulatory compliance matters. If there is an omission, a negligence of a reporting requirement or a lateness, and the proper way to deal with that is to administer monetary penalties.

One of the great elements in Bill C-76, which I hope this committee will get to review, is to provide more effective enforcement mechanisms through administrative sanctions rather than prosecution, which often occurs three, four or seven years after the event and the fundraising activity is long gone.

If we can have what we call AMPs, administrative monetary penalties, and low fines, I think they could be fairly effective.

Senator Gold: So you are satisfied with the $1,000 limit in the bill.

Mr. Perrault: I have no objection if it is increased but I am satisfied, taking into account that we will hopefully be introducing administrative sanctions which will be more effect than criminal sanctions. For reporting obligations, typically this is more appropriate.

In terms of who should be included, this is a line drawing exercise as to whether parliamentary secretaries, chiefs of staff or partners of the ministers should be part of the list. At some point the line has to be drawn.

I take no position on that. I recognize there is no obvious place to draw that line. It could well include others but, as Chief Electoral Officer, I don’t take a position on that.

Senator Batters: Thank you for being here today. In your last point you mentioned briefly chiefs of staff. Unless chiefs of staff were candidates themselves for the leadership of a party, they would not be raising money for themselves.

Mr. Perrault: Not for themselves, no. It’s a suggestion that I read, I can’t remember where, that they should be included because they are seen to be, sometimes, very powerful. Given that this is a bill about perceptions of influence or access to decision makers, perhaps it should be expanded, but I am not advocating that.

Senator Batters: On that particular point, then, under this particular act I noticed that leadership contestants, who may have achieved a small number of votes despite working hard and raised only a small amount of money potentially for a small opposition party, would be treated like a prime minister who quite directly secures millions of dollars and millions of votes and then leads the government with all the power that entails.

Why was that choice made?

Mr. Perrault: I think the minister can answer that. I can speculate, though. The perception is that a leadership contestant may be perceived, by someone who wants to have access to influential people, as a future decider or as someone they may want to have privileged access to, or there may be a perception that is the case.

I can only speculate that’s the logic behind that.

Senator Batters: I was fairly involved in the last Conservative leadership contest. There were 13 or 14 candidates who all worked hard but some of them achieved only a small, limited number of votes and weren’t even members of Parliament at the time and still aren’t.

Maybe you have information about how much money candidates who received the lowest fundraising dollars attained. Could you provide us with that? That would be helpful.

Mr. Perrault: I don’t have this on top of mind.

Senator Batters: Or from the New Democratic Party that also had a recent leadership race.

Mr. Perrault: It’s on the website, but I would be happy to write to the committee and provide that information.

Senator Batters: That would be great. Thank you.

Are any of the provisions of Bill C-50 included in the newly introduced Bill C-76? This government has developed a habit of introducing one bill, moving it sometimes slowly along, then introducing another much larger bill that contains some of the same provisions and moving that one forward.

Mr. Perrault: Are you referencing the definitions of leadership nomination contests?

Senator Batters: I don’t know. I am asking you if any of the provisions of Bill C-50 are included in the new Bill C-76.

Mr. Perrault: The definitions in Bill C-50 of leadership nomination campaign expenses are taken again with an improvement in Bill C-76.

The version that you have here is not the preferable version, in my opinion. It is still a major improvement over what we have. It resolves the practical problems, but in my view it should be drafted somewhat differently, and that is addressed in Bill C-76.

Senator Batters: We could pass this bill and receive another bill dealing with it potentially fairly soon.

Mr. Perrault: Correct.

Senator Batters: For the sake of clarity, I wanted to raise that during your introductory statement today you referred to reporting requirements for third parties. The written statement you provided made it clear that those provisions about reporting requirements for third parties are located in the newly introduced Bill C-76.

I may have missed it when you said it, but I want to be clear that particular requirement is not in the bill we are studying today but is in the one that is still in the House of Commons. Is that correct?

Mr. Perrault: Absolutely.

Senator Eaton: I read in your presentation that it must be attended by a leader, a leadership contestant or a cabinet minister. Are you not going against the flow of what the B.C. government, under Christy Clark, had to bring in because she got into trouble with her cash-for-access fundraisers? Maybe B.C. hasn’t done that yet, but it certainly was a scandal for a while.

In Ontario, as Senator Gold brought up, cash for access certainly did not help Kathleen Wynne.

Perhaps you could illuminate me because I don’t see transparency. Just saying that the prime minister attended such-and-such a fundraiser or Minister Jordy Wilson-Raybould attended a fundraiser for a law firm, how does that negate cash for access? How does that combat that?

Mr. Perrault: It does not negate the fact of access. It provides information for everyone to see what is happening and who is attending those discussions, so that questions may be posed by people who have questions regarding these discussions or these encounters. This is made in the open and subject to the scrutiny of the public or the media.

Senator Eaton: I am sure you’re far too sophisticated not to realize that there is a whole nuance.

I am a senior partner in a law firm. If I have Ms. Wilson-Raybould, of whom I think a great deal, meet some of my clients and my guests, we establish a relationship. I do it again the following year, and then I want a favour. Ms. Wilson-Raybould knows who I am, doesn’t she? It is easier. The contact is easier.

All I am saying is I don’t think anything is crass if she walks into a law firm downtown and they say, “We have a few things we want to discuss,” but there are nuances in political fundraising.

I was on the Conservative fund for 10 years. It’s my background. I know how these things work and it’s not one-of situation. It’s the building of a relationship with the prime minister of support over many years. By saying that you can’t have a fundraiser or that it must be attended by a leader, a leadership contestant or a cabinet minister is huge.

Why has Ontario gone the other way? You say perhaps it went too far the other way. Why is B.C. looking to go that way if it hasn’t already? It’s because they have run into problems. Perhaps my colleagues should read the speech given in the House of Commons. The cash for access has been very clearly documented in Vancouver, with several big incidences, and in Toronto.

When I was on the Conservative fund, I phoned the late Barry Sherman to ask him if he would have a fundraiser. He said, “Sure. You get the prime minister down and I will have a fundraiser any time.” I said, “I am sorry, Prime Minister Harper doesn’t go to fundraisers.” “Oh,” he said, “count me out.”

By insisting that a cabinet minister or a leader might be present, I think you’re opening up a can of worms.

Mr. Perrault: To clarify, this is a policy that I have not put forward. This is the government’s policy. My view is that it improves transparency and I can administer it properly. It’s a step forward in that sense.

You raised important issues on influence tied to contributions. It’s important to keep in mind, as I am sure you know, that there are other rules around contributions that help to preserve against undue influence, in particular the maximum amount of contribution. That is not touched by this bill.

This is one aspect of a broader regime on contributions. I said this is the government’s policy. I personally believe that banning everyone who wants to be elected from participating in fundraising is —

Senator Eaton: I am not saying that, but I am thinking of a cabinet minister or a prime minister

Mr. Perrault: I think it’s for members of the committee to make up their minds on that issue. It’s not me.

Senator McInnis: I realize it’s the trend to report within 30 days and that’s what you stated, but why 30 days?

Thirty days is a very short period of time for reporting. I think I read in the act that it’s 60 days after an election or from the time that the vote took place, so why 30 days?

This will affect volunteers right across the country in a lot of rural areas. They will have to get this in within 30 days. You say the requirement to provide a report within 30 days of an event taking place is stricter than most other reporting deadlines in law. It’s true that it is. So, why?

Mr. Perrault: There are two things. One is a caveat. We’ll have to see how many fundraisers are affected but, as we discussed earlier, it’s only those that are attended by certain decision makers, right? It may not affect all of the local fundraisers.

Senator McInnis: Excuse me. If you have a fundraiser, you have to lure the people in. Believe me, you’ll want a leader, you’ll want a cabinet minister, or you’ll want someone who will attract them.

Mr. Perrault: Or a candidate, of course, which would not be caught.

Senator McInnis: Or a candidate, of course.

Mr. Perrault: Your main point, though, as I understand it, is the timeliness aspect. We now have the ability to report. As I said in my remarks, we will have tools that will make it a lot easier for campaigns to record. As they swipe credit cards, they will have the data entered into their systems and report it through our systems in a timely way.

I think we will see more and more timely reporting requirements simply because it makes sense to know. There is no reason for the delay. It makes sense to know as soon as possible because there is a proximity between the event and if there is a concern or if there is an issue. It’s more of a live issue. It’s not a stale problem from a year ago, for example, if you’re looking at annual reports.

Unless there’s a good reason to delay a reporting requirement, I don’t see why it should be delayed. As we move forward with applications on tablets and phones for collecting money, it will be a lot easier and less of a burden on participants to do that reporting.

Senator McInnis: You’re dealing with volunteers. Anyway, I see that as a problem.

How did you come up with the $200? For any fundraising event in rural areas, it’s $200 or $300. Why $200?

Mr. Perrault: Again, it’s not my bill. I can speculate.

The Chair: It will become your bill.

Mr. Perrault: It will become but I have not drafted it.

I think there is a coherence between that number and the reporting of $200 and an over-$200 contribution which has been in the act, if I am not mistaken, since it was redone in 2000. That’s a baseline that is in the act right now for reporting the name and address of donors. This simply uses the same number.

Senator McInnis: This will be in force six months from proclamation.

Mr. Perrault: Yes.

Senator McInnis: How will you communicate this to the EDAs out there?

Mr. Perrault: We have to do guidelines and interpretation notes. We do them in consultation with parties. We also do training for the EDAs on a regular basis.

We traditionally did what we called “road shows.” We went live. Now we also do WebEx seminars, so there are a number of tools that we have to reach out to EDAs.

Senator McInnis: Good luck. Thank you.

[Translation]

Senator Pratte: Very briefly, I would like to revisit the contributor appreciation activities during party conventions because I find it confusing. Perhaps in answering questions, you will have a clearer understanding than I do, although you said that you were a bit confused yourself. If no one paid $200 or more during those activities, there would be no need for an exclusion. If no one gives $200 or more, in principle, it is not a regulated activity. Is that correct?

Mr. Perrault: That is right.

Senator Pratte: That is one criterion. I do not know why they bother saying that those activities are excluded.

Mr. Perrault: I have to admit that I do not understand either. I even find it hard to make a distinction between two situations that I will now explain. In the case of a regulated activity for which someone spends over $200 for a ticket, the law applies. If a person has made a contribution in the past, that is prerequisite for their attendance and it is not necessary to do so by buying a ticket to the event. I have trouble making a distinction between this second situation and an appreciation activity, which is for people have made a contribution in the past. I have trouble seeing the difference between these two situations, in terms of both application and policy.

Senator Pratte: The act should more clearly define what constitutes an appreciation activity, because the current wording could lead to confusion as to its meaning.

Mr. Perrault: We have set out the broad interpretation principles of the act, in consultation with the political parties, and that is a very good thing. Ultimately, it is up to me to make the decision, in a transparent way, based on what the political parties said. This allows for uncertain wording to be clarified in some cases. This is done through consultation and the parties know where they stand. We will have to provide clarification through these interpretation provisions to make sure the distinction between the two types of events is clear.

Senator Pratte: At regulated activities, a common practice is to book tables. People reserve tables and divide up the seats. How will we deal with those activities? What will be “allowed”? What is considered a contribution? Take for example someone who reserves a table at $50 per seat and gives the tickets to their friends. Would the rules apply to someone who reserves the table for $1,000?

Mr. Perrault: The criterion is not the total cost of the tickets. The $200 or more is the price of admission for one person. If someone buys several $50 tickets, that is not a regulated activity. From a political perspective, we would say that is not special access because anyone can afford that. In politics, we could decide where to draw the line. The question is whether it is an event for which there is an admission price. It is not a question of total tickets.

If someone buys several tickets but does not attend an activity, the total would have to be within the individual contributions or the limit. That person would be listed in the quarterly and annual report as a contributor. Under the bill, the report would show the names of those in attendance, whether they paid for their ticket or not.

Senator Pratte: Would the actual activity be regulated if the ticket price were $50?

Mr. Perrault: If the ticket is $50, it is not a regulated activity because the cost of access to the decision maker is not considered significant. It is not an activity or special access for people who can afford to pay more than $200.

Senator Pratte: There is something about this that I find a bit strange.

The Chair: You would have to join a political party and you would see how it works.

Senator Pratte: I know that is how it works, but I find the rationale a bit strange.

Senator Boisvenu: You can ask the minister.

Senator Pratte: I think I will.

The Chair: For the second round, we will begin with Senator Boisvenu, followed by Senator Gold.

Senator Boisvenu: I will ask the minister my question instead.

The Chair: Senator Gold?

Senator Gold: I have a question or comment further to Senator Eaton’s question.

[English]

It’s back to the question of this distinction between fundraising in a convention and recognition activities. I have attended a number of fundraising functions, a number of different parties federally and provincially. For some parties they do it differently. With the Liberal Party and its Laurier Club, at least in my home town of Montreal, you would be invited to an event. It was understood that you’re invited if you pony up whatever the maximum amount is, and you get to meet a minister or a candidate or whoever the draw was. That’s what the Laurier Club is.

The Conservative Party, at least in my province, did it differently. I remember being invited to an event where also the maximum was being asked for, and I happily did it. The prime minister was not there. I should be clear that there was no promise, if you came to the event, that you would get all these goodies down the road. For whatever reason, though, I was invited to subsequent events where the Prime Minister was there, and I got all kinds of photos with him, which I have.

That’s all to say that fundraising, big, small and in between, is done differently by different parties and in different cities. It’s devilishly hard, I imagine, is my commentary. I’ll get to a question, I guess.

The Chair: We are learning about your life. Go on.

Senator Gold: I haven’t mentioned my contribution to the Bloc Québécois. If people are interested, they can dig them up too.

This is not your bill and it’s not your policy, but from your point of view what would be the best, most transparent and efficient system for you to administer vis-à-vis the creative ways, and I say that respectfully, in which political parties try to engage with their citizens and their supporters and raise the money they need, at least under our current system, to pursue their electoral objectives?

Mr. Perrault: It’s a tricky question because what I found difficult about the debates around this bill is that people define the problem differently. Therefore, they come with different solutions.

People have asked me if it is a loophole if somebody gets to attend by paying no money or $10, but there is a table in the back room where people are invited to make large contributions. If you’re putting the problem this way, then your concern is large donors, and that is addressed by limits on donations and not ticketed access to deciders.

On the other hand, if the problem is that certain people get privileged access, because only can they access this tent or this room where the minister, prime minister or leader attends, by paying a certain amount of money that is more than ordinary Canadians would pay, then this bill catches that.

That’s why I said earlier that you have to look at the regime as a whole. It may be that it’s the limit you want to reconsider. That deals with other types of influence that come with money, not this bill. Depending on how you conceive of the problem, it’s not the same solution. It’s not a loophole to this bill that there be a room in the back for contributions to be made, because that’s not what it’s getting at. That table is dealt with by the contribution limit.

Senator Gold: If it is understood that you can come to the front part of the tent for $10 and, if you choose, you can continue on to the back part, and not only can you make a bigger donation, but guess who is hanging out by the bar in the back? Isn’t that a way —

[Translation]

— of circumventing the purpose of the bill?

[English]

Mr. Perrault: Anybody can make it to the back. It’s not a prior condition to pay. I understand if you are only really welcome if you are expected to make a large donation, though officially others are not excluded, that would be playing on the limits of that bill. If it’s structured that way, that may be an offence for avoiding the restrictions there.

If the population at large is welcome to attend and, of course, whoever is there on the political side is happy to receive contributions, my view is that it is fine and subject to the contribution limits.

The Chair: Before I have the opportunity and privilege to thank you, Madam Lawson, Mr. Perrault and Mr. Leblanc, I would like to raise an issue about the principle of transparency.

As I understand the bill, and you have explained it very well, outside of the electoral period any such activity would have to be reported and disclosed. Then everybody could have access to the numbers and people who are there.

Why is it, in the election period, that the same ministers, the same prime ministers and the same contestants would not be compelled to disclose those amounts of money and the people who are there? It is in the election period where by politicians are most vulnerable because they seek the vote or they seek the support.

I would think the other way around should apply during an election period, unless my personal experience is twisted in relation to how I should be interpreting what is going on.

Mr. Perrault: I think it’s a very good point. The exception for the election period is an attempt to respond to the concern raised by Senator McInnis about the burden on regulated entities. I believe that over time, as we improve our tools and people get used to this reporting, we may come back and make recommendations to actually remove this exception for elections.

I do agree that during the election period it is the critical period. If we are talking about timely reporting, it’s before they make their decision to vote or not to vote. I think it’s not unwise to start with this bill and learn from it. We can assist entities to get better at reporting, but down the road this is an exception that we may want to revisit for the very reasons that you raise.

The Chair: It is my own personal experience, as you know. When you attend as a minister or as a leader of a party, you are in a different position as an individual than when you are in an election. When you are in an election, you really beg for support. When you are a minister, they come to beg something from you. The chemistry is totally different.

When the politicians, be they female or male, are vulnerable, I feel that is where the reporting should be, in my opinion, mostly available because that’s where the transparency principle is at the basic of our ethics during an election period.

I would suggest that you look into that. Perhaps, when you do a study of the legislation, you could review that in your annual report and explain why you might conclude it is also something that should be covered by the act.

Mr. Perrault: Absolutely.

Senator Batters: I want to briefly pick up on that point. I think you raised an excellent point, Mr. Chair. As someone who went through several years of helping her member of Parliament husband with his fundraising efforts and electoral efforts, yes, you are definitely more vulnerable then because during an election that is when you need money the most. That is the primary time when you need to spend the money.

Frankly, I would think that this would potentially be a more appropriate area for amendment. If we simply wait and let it happen later, then the very government introducing this law and seeking to have it passed would be exempt during that election period one year. That would be my proposal on that.

The Chair: I want to make a comment that parliamentary secretaries are not covered. I was Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board. As such, I had the opportunity to assist at Treasury Board meetings and could intervene on some issues. I did exercise some influence. There is no doubt about that.

I am surprised that parliamentary secretaries are not covered. As a matter of fact, at the end of the table yesterday we had the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice, and we were advised that he would be mastering the bill we were studying. There was no doubt about it. He is able and has access to the minister directly.

I don’t want to make law based on my own experience, but I think you should also consider the position of parliamentary secretary when you want to be transparent in relation to that. I mentioned the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice. I don’t want to name any of them, but they certainly have public responsibility. I have images in my mind about some of them who are influential people because of their personal/professional background and so on.

If we want to be transparent, those who have direct access to the decision making should be covered by the bill.

Mr. Perrault: I would not object to that inclusion, of course.

The Chair: Thank you very much, Mr. Perreault. It is a pleasure to welcome you in your new capacity. Thank you, Ms. Lawson and Mr. Leblanc. We expect to see you sometime in the future on other legislation.

(The committee adjourned.)