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Meeting Summary – Annual General Meeting – June 27–28, 2011

Political Financing

Results of Horizontal Audits of Contributions

Mr. François Bernier gave a presentation to ACPP members regarding the results of horizontal audits of contributions to political parties and candidates. A copy of the presentation was given to ACPP members, their questions and comments are summarized below.

Discussion with ACPP Members

ACPP members suggested that the amount of over contributions was found to be quite small in the horizontal audit, and asked if there is endemic corruption that indicates a need to proceed with further audits of this kind? François Bernier replied that the figures for over contribution were stated as an average, that some over contributions are quite minor, while others are more significant. He stated that $1,100 is the limit per person, so even an over contribution of $100 is significant. The intent at this point is not enforcement; it is simply to monitor the situation. The level of over contribution determines if the next step is enforcement.

ACPP members asked if contribution records are retained for two years, and were concerned that some people would not be able to provide their own records. François Bernier replied that Elections Canada retains the records much longer than two years and that the information was available from Elections Canada's website.

A question was asked if over contribution could occur accidentally, and it was suggested that some mechanism to track contributions should be integrated into the EFR software. François Bernier replied that the software does monitor contribution limits, but due to differences in the way candidate names are input, they can sometimes be seen as different. For this reason, the software cannot always automatically detect over contributions.

A question was asked of how Elections Canada determines whether a contribution was used or unused. François Bernier replied that for ongoing political entities, parties and electoral district associations, this was done by looking at the cash balance in the financial statements at December 31, and that if there was a sufficient balance to repay the over-contributions, the contribution would be considered unused. For candidates, nomination contestants and leadership contestants, Elections Canada receives all supporting documentation including bank statements which allows us to determine whether or not the contribution was used. There was a suggestion from ACPP members that Elections Canada should administer contributions for all parties, candidates and EDA's, and François Bernier replied that this would necessitate a change to the Canada Elections Act.

Proposed Approach to Ticketed Fundraisers

Mr. François Bernier and Mr. Jeff Merrett presented an information sheet outlining Elections Canada's approach to ticketed fundraisers. A copy of the information sheet was given to ACPP members, their questions and comments are summarized below.

Discussion with ACPP Members

ACPP members asked which expenses they had to deduct in the case of a dinner that features a speaker. François Bernier replied that if the speaker normally charges for appearing at events, then the normal cost of the speaker had to be included. If the speaker normally does not charge, then only the cost of the dinner needed to be reflected. Any commercially available benefit received is to be deducted from the ticket price to arrive at the contribution amount.

It was then asked if a professional speaker could donate his or her time. François Bernier replied that if the speaker normally charged for their appearances, then the normal commercial value of their appearance must be reflected. It was also asked if the candidate is a singer who normally charges $25 to see them perform, does that charge have to be reflected, and François Bernier indicated that yes, it would.

ACPP members asked if the same principle applied to party conventions, and François Bernier replied that party conventions are not considered to be ticketed fundraisers, and so this policy does not apply.

Revised Regulatory Approach with Respect to Filing of Late Financial Returns

Mr. François Bernier delivered a presentation regarding Elections Canada's revised regulatory approach with respect to the late filing of financial returns. A copy of the presentation was given to ACPP members, their questions and comments are summarized below.

Discussion with ACPP Members

ACPP members inquired what the process was if filings are incomplete or contain errors? François Bernier replied that, to be considered as filed on time, a financial return had to be complete, and that errors are dealt with by amending the return, but do not affect the fact that it was filed on time.

Members also asked where Elections Canada gets the authority to vary how these issues are dealt with, and if many political entities are in violation? Stephane Perrault replied that late filing had been treated as a prior condition, which leads to difficulties. Prior to 1996, it was treated as an excuse. There is no perfect reading of the Canada Elections Act, but Elections Canada currently feels that this revised regulatory approach is a better interpretation.

Members asked when deregistration would occur. François Bernier replied that deregistration will happen much as it does now. First, a letter will be sent out, and, within 30 days, an explanation will most likely be accepted.

ACPP members stated that the law must be obeyable, and that the Canada Elections Act is written poorly. This makes it impossible for leadership candidates to obey the law at this point, and that tweaking the act around the edges is not enough. Members recommended that Elections Canada suggest a clearer wording to Parliament. François Bernier indicated that Elections Canada has made this clear to Parliament and that the CEO has made many recommendations in his report last year regarding changes to Political Financing in the Canada Elections Act.

Members asked what would cause candidates not to be refunded their nomination deposit. François Bernier replied that candidates would forfeit their nomination deposit if unused official tax receipts are not returned to the returning officer within one month of polling day.

Administrative Compliance Policy

Mr. François Bernier then presented the new draft Administrative Compliance Policy to ACPP members. A copy of the policy was given to ACPP members, their questions and comments are summarized below.

Discussion with ACPP Members

ACPP members asked about planned communications of the new Policy to MPs and when it would be available. François Bernier replied that Elections Canada will publish the new Policy, once it is finalized, on Elections Canada's website where it will be available to all. The new Policy will be finalized this fiscal year, likely in the Fall/Winter. Once posted, the new Policy will be shared with the Political Parties.

Members asked if transfers could be received by candidates an election is called. François Bernier replied that, while this is not currently a serious matter, it is recommended that all parties follow the provisions of the Canada Elections Act which require that a candidate's nomination be confirmed by the returning officer prior to transfers being accepted.

Members asked if intent is a function of the Policy. François Bernier replied that Elections Canada is not assessing intent, and that if the infraction is wilful, then the Commissioner of Elections will judge if punitive action is required. He also stated that the intent of the Policy is to make Elections Canada's responses more consistent.

ACPP members asked when they would have an opportunity to provide input on the final Policy, and François Bernier replied that the Policy will be posted on the Internet for all to access, and that ACPP members can give their input as of now if they wish.

Update on the Initiative on Rationalization of Information Products and Tools

Mr. François Bernier and Mr. Jeff Merrett spoke briefly about Elections Canada's initiative to rationalize products and information for candidates and political entities. An information sheet and a detailed background paper were circulated to ACPP members. Jeff Merrett indicated that Elections Canada would be conducting consultations and focus groups in order to obtain stakeholder feedback on the project. He also indicated that three online tutorials had been posted on the Elections Canada website and that two additional tutorials were planned. There were no questions or comments from ACPP members.

Update on progress of Electoral District Association Filings

Mr. François Bernier spoke briefly about the progress of Electoral District Association (EDA) filings and noted that compliance with the filing deadline improved significantly for the 2010 annual return filings He also indicated that, if candidate returns for the 41st GE are of good quality and received by the September 2, 2011 deadline, they would likely be processed within 6 months. Mr. Bernier also indicated that using the EFR system leads to better returns in a shorter period of time. He stressed that third party documentation supporting goods or services sold to candidates by the party or an electoral district association, such as invoices, was required. He also indicated that EDA and candidate training sessions were recently completed in major centres across the country, and that the sessions are now more interactive. Session evaluations indicate that they were well-received, and that over 90% of attendees preferred the new format.

He also indicated that Elections Canada will look to engage Political Parties and the ACPP in the rationalization exercise, and that the focus groups of 2008 would likely be repeated. Following the presentation, ACPP members asked questions and raised issues, summarized below.

Discussion with ACPP Members

A question was asked if there could be a way for parties to find out when EDAs have not filed their updates on time. An ACPP member asked if some clarity as to the forward legislative agenda could be provided. The CEO replied that the current legislative issues are the elimination of the quarterly allowance, Senate reform and fair political representation. The CEO indicated that the recommendations report from the 40th General Election is still with the Committee for Procedure and House Affairs, and that he will speak to the chair in the hopes of engaging Committee members.

ACPP members asked if electoral reform will be included as part of the Budget Bill, and the CEO replied that he expects that electoral reform will be in a separate bill introduced in the Fall.

ACPP members asked who should be consulted on questions of electoral reform. The CEO replied that these questions should be referred to the Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. He also indicated that Elections Canada will monitor the situation to see if the Government sets up a new standing committee to deal with the issue of electoral reform, and that Elections Canada will notify the ACPP should this happen. The CEO also indicated that the Minister responsible for democratic reform is Tim Uppal.