Canada's Original Think Tank

Committee of the Whole respecting the subject matter of Bill C-76, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and other Acts and to make certain consequential amendments

Committee of the Whole respecting the subject matter of Bill C-76, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and other Acts and to make certain consequential amendments

Committee of the Whole respecting the subject matter of Bill C-76, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and other Acts and to make certain consequential amendments

Senator Terry Mercer: 

I would like to thank the Chief Electoral Officer and the Commissioner of Canada Elections and officials for being here. In my previous life I had the privilege of working closely with the Chief Electoral Officer Jean-Pierre Kingsley and I was on the committee of political parties that advised the Chief Electoral Officer. It was a pleasure to work with him and there was good co-operation and exchange of ideas.

I have one question today. Bill C-76 contains a requirement for political parties to have a privacy policy for the protection of personal information. During the debate of Bill C-50 in the Senate, a bill that I sponsored, there were privacy concerns about the collection and publication of attendees at fundraising events. Now we see that the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, Daniel Therrien, has concerns about Bill C-76. He noted:

The federal government’s response to public concern about how personal information is being used in the political process – Bill C-76 – adds nothing of substance in terms of privacy protection. It’s time to act to better protect the rights of Canadians.

Others have noted that this is a first step in the development of privacy policy when it comes to voter data and its use for political parties. Could you comment on what you see is missing from this bill in those terms? What concerns do you have that Canada may be seriously falling behind internationally recognized standards when it comes to privacy, especially with respect to voter data?

Stéphane Perrault, Chief Electoral Officer of Canada, Elections Canada: As I said in my opening remarks, I do believe that there should be in legislation minimal standards applicable to parties. One can debate what those standards should be and whether they should be identical to the standards applicable to other entities, but there should be minimum standards. This is not what Bill C-76 proposes, and there should be some oversight mechanisms. Again, I find that the bill is lacking in this regard.

What I did say is that we’re getting awfully close to the election. It is incumbent on parties — notwithstanding these disappointments with Bill C-76 — to have the ability to adopt robust privacy policies. We will see from their behaviour and how they can reassure Canadians about how they treat their personal information whether more needs to be done. I do believe, in the long-term, that Canada will need to catch up with other jurisdictions and adopt minimal standards as an oversight for political parties.

Senator Mercer: Thank you.