Statements and Speeches
Remarks of the Chief Electoral Officer before the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs on Bill C-47 An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 28, 2023
May 3, 2023
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Thank you, Mr. Chair, for the invitation to appear before the Committee as it studies the proposed amendments to the Canada Elections Act contained in Bill C-47.
It is unusual for changes to the Canada Elections Act to be included in budget legislation, and for good reason. Such bills are often voluminous, touching on a wide variety of unrelated topics, and are a matter of confidence. As such, they do not lend themselves easily to the level of scrutiny and cross-partisan compromise that one would hope to see for changes to the Canada Elections Act.
In this case, the amendments before you do not alter the rights and obligations contained in the Canada Elections Act, nor do they have an impact on Elections Canada's ability to administer the Act. In that sense, the presence of these amendments in the context of this Bill is not so problematic. This is not to say, however, that they have no impact on the privacy rights of Canadians. For that reason, I welcome the Committee's interest in the proposed amendments.
CEO's Recommendations – Privacy of Electors' Information
I believe that having better rules in place to ensure safeguards around the use of personal information by political parties would assist in preserving the trust of electors in the electoral process.
Political parties have, by law, access to basic voter data through the voters' lists; this allows them to reach out to voters. They also have, by law, access to the record of votes cast, commonly referred to as "bingo sheets," which, at the end of each day of advance polls and at regular intervals on polling day, tells them who has voted. This allows them to "get out the vote."
Beyond this, in order to understand and effectively reach their intended audience, political campaigns increasingly rely on data and data analytics. Although surveys are still commonly used, in the digital era, more targeted information about electors' identities and preferences can be collected in many ways, whether directly or indirectly.
While these requirements increase transparency about the handling of personal information by political parties, there are no minimum standards in the Act that parties must follow. Nor is there any oversight mechanism to monitor whether parties abide by the contents of their policies, or any sanctions in case of non-compliance.
In my 2022 recommendations report following the 43rd and 44th general elections, I recommended that the privacy principles enumerated in Schedule 1 of the Personal Information and Protection of Electronic Documents Act should apply to registered and eligible parties, with oversight by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada.
In the absence of full application of these principles, I recommended certain minimal requirements, namely:
- that Canadians have the right to opt out of receiving communications—or certain types of communications—from political parties;
- that they have the ability to request access to, and correct, inaccurate personal information held by political parties; and finally
- that political parties be required to indicate in their policies how electors' personal information may be shared (in addition to how it is collected, used and sold).
Mr. Chair, I believe that better safeguarding electors' personal information will help maintain Canadians' trust in Canada's political parties, and by extension, the electoral process.
That said I want to be clear. I do not believe that such an important reform of the Canada Elections Act should take place in the context of a Budget bill, but rather it should be done through a separate bill.
Thank you for inviting me today. I welcome your questions.