Meeting Summary – Annual General Meeting – October 6–7, 2014
Day 2 – Written Opinions, Guidelines and Interpretation Notes Process
Stéphane Perrault led the discussion on written opinions, guidelines and interpretation notes (OGIs) and the proposed process to be followed for issuing them. This process will affect how parties interact with EC on some issues. Currently, various tools exist for political entities, such as handbooks, online training material, documentation and software, as well as phone support services (green line for political entities, lawyer-to-lawyer hotline). Under section 16.1, Bill C-23 adds three new regulatory instruments: written opinions, guidelines and interpretation notes issued by the CEO.
A description of the proposed OGI process is found in Appendix C.
There was general support for the creation of an OGI Steering Committee that would be tasked with creating a forward agenda prioritizing guidelines and interpretation notes. It was also expressed that each registered party should have a representative on the Steering Committee.
There were questions posed about whether one party could request a written opinion regarding the activities of another party, how issues raised by the Steering Committee would be prioritized, and whether the process could be used to allow a party to conduct activities before the completion of a requested OGI. Members raised concerns about the time frame as well as the need for transparency in the event that a request for an OGI is rejected.
Members were pleased with the quality of the materials presented as well as the briefings. Although members recognized that handbooks take time to develop, they indicated that the sooner parties get new versions, the better. New rules come into force in December 2014, but new handbooks will not start to be available until the first part of 2015. It was noted, however, that the legal requirement to consult parties prior to issuing updated versions will result in a longer updating process for handbooks.
The discussion concluded by noting that EC will consider all suggestions from members over the coming month (due date: November 7, 2014) in relation to the OGI process map and the terms of reference of the proposed OGI Steering Committee. By the next meeting in December 2014, closure will be brought to process discussion in order to be ready to implement the OGI process and launch the first wave of EC–initiated OGIs.
The first meeting of the OGI Steering Committee is to take place in December, in conjunction with the next general meeting of the ACPP. Steering Committee members will then get more detailed information on the launch of the OGI process and will be invited to make suggestions on forward agenda items to be treated after May 2015.
ACPP governance was presented by Belaineh Deguefé. As some members were new, he provided a description and historical context for the Committee. Revised terms of reference were sent to Committee members before the meeting.
The ACPP is 16 years old. While there have been some difficulties getting consistency of membership, recent formalization/recognition in legislation clearly demonstrates that the Committee is fulfilling a useful purpose. The CEO identified the Committee as an important vehicle to engage and consult on specific initiatives. This process of consulting parties through the ACPP has worked well in terms of information management and, in particular, participation in technical consultations has been very strong. The discussion on the terms of reference focused on three main questions:
- How will members' responsibility as representatives to the ACPP change?
- What is new or different that one should expect from EC?
- How will we ensure that the Committee is effective?
Members were directed to review a table with the updated terms of reference for the Committee. The table identifies changes that emerged from the recognition of the Committee in Bill C-23. Nominations are now prescribed, giving more formality to the process of engaging members. Party leaders are asked to appoint two official representatives and one of these should be part of the OGI Steering Committee. EC will also now reimburse participation costs for two members per party. Comments on the new terms of reference were requested by November 7, with the intention to finalize these changes at the meeting in December 2014.
There was a discussion about the approach to reporting on ACPP meetings, noting that Chatham House Rule has always applied and that this will continue. This means that there is no attribution of comments and questions in the reports. The goal is to promote open advice to the CEO, and as such, the summaries are focused on a high-level overview of proceedings. During formal consultations with parties on OGI processes, comments will be attributed.
The terms of reference for the OGI Steering Committee were developed to support the implementation of the OGI process and required consultations. The process for establishing admissibility and priority of requests is spelled out in the document, along with opportunities for process improvements over time.
It is proposed that an OGI secretariat at EC be used as the single point of contact, with its own e-mail address, to coordinate communication on OGI processes and consultations. During meetings, Steering Committee comments will not be attributed – only formal input in consultations will be.
Members raised concerns about the transparency of using Chatham House Rule. It was noted that members' participation is funded by taxpayers, who may expect to have full access to the proceedings of these meetings. It was noted that the issue of Chatham House Rule deserved greater study, looking at the difference between in camera rather than Chatham House Rule. Many agreed that informing others on what EC is doing at these meetings is an important part of the mandate.
It was suggested that the summary of meetings and their posting on the website is not an issue. There is a real advantage of a closed meeting with respect to providing as frank advice as possible to the CEO. Aside from the creation of the OGI Steering Committee, it is still an advisory body to the CEO and he will benefit from a frank exchange.
Members voiced the perspective that it is important for the Steering Committee to have representatives from each party, rather than rotating seats on the Steering Committee. If a party does not engage for a long time, they may be asked to step down. With the goodwill of the ACPP, the Steering Committee should be run as inclusively as possible. Small parties may not be interested in all issues and may not have the capacity to do it all.
The CEO reflected what he heard as support for a 17-member Steering Committee, but cautioned that bringing together such a large group on a conference call may be difficult. The Steering Committee would share results with all members of the ACPP. The Steering Committee would not discuss the content. EC is committed to maintaining the benefit of the process by ensuring that it is not overly cumbersome. While there is no perfect solution, EC will begin with full membership and get a consensus on the changes to be made to membership as items come before the Steering Committee for consideration.
Registered Party Return in Respect of General Election Expenses
Stéphane Perrault gave a presentation on political finance and shared new forms for reporting on electoral expenses for comment by ACPP members. He stated that there have been issues with current party general election expenses reporting; in the past, the forms provided only general categories of expenses, with little transparency. This was not in line with the importance of reimbursements and the significance of monitoring party expenses to electoral integrity. The system for party expenses contrasts with candidate expenses, where every invoice is reported separately.
Members were given an overview of the proposed advertising expenses template, which provides greater clarity around categories of expenses and reports separately on production and distribution costs. This approach provides better oversight to control compliance. The example of office expenses was given: the new form will ask for expenses for each location, with a breakdown of type of expenses to ensure that all such costs are admissible.
Another significant change is for a party leader's tour expenses, with expenses recorded for each stop on a tour and the costs associated with that. This level of detail allows EC to track party expenses to the leader versus the party to avoid offloading of expenses. Where there is a category for “Other election expenses,” EC will now ask for a description. It was mentioned that the system at EC will not be ready for electronic submission if there is a spring election.
Members raised concerns about the reporting of costs related to the leader's tour, noting that it can be hard to identify what is part of a national tour versus a local tour. Events in big centres requiring the rental of buses by local campaigns should be considered part of the national campaign. It was suggested that there may need to be some kind of hybrid expense; otherwise, any event that involves the party leader becomes a national expense.
There were other questions about accounting for the cost of voter contact calling services, push polling expenses when used as a campaign device, how to account for expenses incurred through contracts with an integrated agency that manages logistics, and other questions. It was suggested that as there are only 10 categories, there may be a range of small expenses that might require a full description. As in financial auditing, it was suggested that there be a threshold limit on the size of expense on which EC needs a full description.
One member commented that the new approach is too detailed, and that parties are already subject to independent external audits that have access to all invoices. In general, many members voiced strong support for the additional transparency in the reporting process, noting that in the last election, there were concerns about campaign overspending. Members pointed out that EC needs to focus on tracking expenditures beyond tracking contributions.
ACPP Forward Agenda and Round Table
Belaineh Deguefé provided an overview of EC's upcoming plans for engaging and consulting with political parties. A forward calendar for engagement with the ACPP was provided.
Round table discussion
Members requested that in the upcoming ACPP calendar, a meeting with the Privacy Commissioner be considered. The question of undue scrutiny of supporter lists was raised, along with the need to look at the privacy implications of sharing these lists and the abuse of this practice.
Members discussed how EC must establish a balance between how to address elections issues through legislative and administrative mechanisms. Members inquired about what EC considers within the scope of what is seen to be “administrative” and suggested that political parties could contribute to a debate on what should be a legislative versus an administrative change.
Several members expressed their thanks and appreciation for the collegial tone of the ACPP meeting and debates and remarked on how productive the meeting was.
Members noted that low voter turnout continues to be a crisis and needs to be addressed. Some expressed support for ensuring that voters have access to the views of candidates of all parties, as noted that many electors do not know about small parties and their platforms. All-candidate debates are limited to three or four parties. Mr. Mayrand responded that while this has been raised on a number of occasions, candidates' debates are not part of EC's mandate.
The point was raised that now that APCC is a formal legislated body, a report and synthesis of ideas that the public can see would be a good idea. It would be good for students to see and would give them a better sense of how important politics is. It was suggested that for forward planning, EC should find more ways to talk to students, primarily through social media.
Members used the opportunity to raise concerns throughout this session regarding robocalls.
It was also mentioned that as an extension of EC's role to inform Canadians about how to become a candidate, EC could have a mandate or initiative to encourage organizations to form political parties. Forming a political party is a natural step in the political engagement for charitable or issue-focused organizations. It enhances the ability to engage in political debate – the public gets to hear what is being said. One member felt there is a role for EC in informing organizations about how to become a political party.
Closing Remarks by Marc Mayrand
The CEO thanked ACPP members for their participation and specified that suggestions made by members during the annual general meeting will be useful to EC.
Mr. Mayrand mentioned that there was a telling message in Bill C-23: that EC should stick to the basics, and that the matter of enforcement now belongs exclusively to the Commissioner of Canada Elections and the Director of Public Prosecutions, and EC cannot comment. The issue of contributions and transparency has many facets. At some point we may need to review the rules that are in place to determine whether the right balance has been struck.
Members have raised other issues that are fundamental to our system, such as voter turnout. The changes to the Canada Elections Act made it clear that it is up to political parties and civil society to engage Canadians. We can learn from initiatives like Student Vote, but when it comes to any expansion of EC activities, we are limited by our statutory mandate. That being said, there is nothing to stop any other groups from launching similar initiatives.
One important point of note from this meeting is the role of scrutineers at the polls. EC has a process and will do its best to enhance it based on ACPP feedback. After the 2015 election, there will be a period to look at the issues and to put forward recommendations.
The CEO indicated that he did not know how it would work with the Commissioner, given that we can have only one-way communication between the two organizations.
Members asked for thoughts on the date of the next election. The CEO noted that EC is expecting it to be in October 2015, but will be ready for early spring. The timelines for readiness are very tight and the CEO hoped that members were given a good sense of where we are.
Lastly, he specified that the impetus for the new ACPP terms of reference was from the legislation, and does not mean the ACPP was problematic in any way. Indeed, the confirmation of the role of the Committee should be taken as a vote of confidence.The next meeting of the ACPP is scheduled to take place in December 2014.