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Meeting Summary – Annual General Meeting – October 11–12, 2012

6) Communication with Electors by Political Entities

Stéphane Perrault presented an overview of issues arising from improper telecommunications with electors by political entities. Mr. Perrault noted that a discussion paper on this issue will be circulated to ACPP members within three to four weeks and members will be asked to submit their feedback in writing by December; a telephone hotline will be set up to answer questions from parties. A copy of the presentation was provided to participants.

Discussion

Key points that arose in the discussion following the presentation include:

Expanding Rules on Unsolicited Communication

It was suggested that creating a parallel regime similar to that of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) is not advisable, noting the already complex regulatory regime and the diverse regulations and statutes from multiple government agencies to which parties must adhere (e.g. Elections Canada, the CRTC, the Criminal Code and provincial privacy laws). It was suggested that further training would be appropriate, and that Elections Canada work more closely with other regulatory agencies, such as the CRTC, to provide more integrated information to political entities.

In relation to the CRTC penalties for corporations, it was clarified that political parties are not necessarily corporations, unless they are incorporated.

Applying Privacy Principles to Political Parties and Increasing Reporting Requirements

In relation to the recommendation that parties' policies and practices be certified by an independent auditor, it was clarified that this would be distinct from current financial auditing practices examining the financial transactions of the party. Concern was raised about the ability of smaller parties to pay for such an audit, the financial cost to parties of the increasing regulatory burden, and the latter's impact as a barrier to participation.

It was suggested that a public education campaign to advise electors on what to do if they suspect they have received improper telecommunications would be effective in enabling Elections Canada to undertake immediate action and correct misinformation during an election. Mr. Perrault noted that public education will be part of a solution, and added that additional enforcement tools are also required to address these issues. Elections Canada was aware of the events in Guelph immediately after they happened, but did not have the authority to compel the reporting of required information for several months.

Increase the CEO's Audit Tools and Increase Commissioner's Investigation Tools

In response to several questions, the CEO and Mr. Perrault clarified that while Elections Canada has the power to require information and documentation from candidates, this is not the case for political parties unless a court order is obtained further to an investigation by the Commissioner (although Elections Canada may ask for voluntary submission of documents).

Some members expressed support for increased audit and investigation tools, but suggested that the penalties for contravening the CEA are not a significant enough deterrent. Elections Canada agrees and will be submitting a report to Parliament in 2014 on enforcement and compliance, including recommendations on penalties. The current penalties and sentencing regime are beyond Elections Canada's control.

Other areas of discussion and clarification

Mr. Perrault clarified that while it is illegal for political parties to use elector data for non-election purposes, once these data are merged with data from another source, it becomes difficult to identify where data originated. He further clarified that while parties are exempt from the national Do Not Call List, they must maintain and respect an internal Do Not Call List.

One member raised the issue of "push-polling", whereby an organization attempts to influence or alter the view of an elector under the guise of a poll.

Several parties had strong views regarding Elections Canada's suggestions for greater self-regulation by political parties, as it was felt that those entities who wished to operate outside the law would continue to do so. Mr. Perrault identified the recommendations for increased enforcement powers and penalties as a counterbalance to self-regulation.

Other topics included:

Follow-up item

Following receipt of Elections Canada's discussion paper on potential improvements, political parties will be asked to submit their comments in writing.