QUEBEC, June 28 /CNW Telbec/ - Based on the evidence gathered during the
inquiry that he made on certain revelations of the book entitled The Secrets
of Option Canada, Commissioner of Inquiry Bernard Grenier proposes making
Québec's referendum process more transparent, notably by putting in place a
mechanism for disclosing expenses incurred before the referendum period, by
increasing the responsibilities of the official agents of the Committees for
the YES and for the NO, while making the agents more independent, and by
better supervising partisan volunteer work. Mr. Grenier also suggests that the
prior approval of the official agent of a national committee be required in
order to broadcast in Québec during the referendum period an advertising
campaign promoting or opposing the YES or NO option and funded by a government
or a business.
Marcel Blanchet, Chief Electoral Officer of Québec, today made public
Mr. Grenier's recommendations, which conclude his work that began in January
2006. "I receive Mr. Grenier's second report with enormous interest,"
indicated Mr. Blanchet. "I feel that this report contains ideas that should
attract the attention of the National Assembly, with a view to strengthening
Québec's referendum legislation," he continued.
It should be recalled that the Commissioner of Inquiry had established
that a sum of approximately $539,000 had been spent illegally in favour of the
NO option during the referendum period having preceded the 1995 referendum in
Québec and that approximately $10.5 million had also been spent during the
months leading up to the referendum period by the Canadian Unity Council (CUC)
and by Option Canada, an organization created by the CUC.
Controls during the pre-referendum period
When presenting his recommendations, Mr. Grenier emphasizes that "it is
during the pre-referendum period that most of the organization, surveying and
advertising expenses are incurred, which risks upsetting the balance between
the parties to the referendum, a balance sought by Québec's referendum
legislation." Within this context, the Commissioner of Inquiry submits "that
there would be a clear advantage to having a regulatory period that is longer
than one month and dividing it into two phases: the pre-referendum period and
the referendum period. At the start of the pre-referendum period, a
provisional committee would be set up and the official agent of this committee
would be appointed. The expenses of the provisional committee, affiliated
groups and independent groups in favour of an option would not be limited, but
they should, however, be brought to the attention of the official agent and
made public." When the referendum period begins, the provisional committee
would be transformed into a national committee subject to all of the financing
rules. In Mr. Grenier's opinion, the total period during which expenses would
be controlled should be 2 or 3 months. Such a system would require that the
government determine the date of the referendum earlier.
Role of the official agent
Describing the differences between a referendum and a general election,
Mr. Grenier reiterates that during a pre-referendum or referendum period,
"numerous stakeholders are likely to take a position in favour of either
option, for example groups affiliated with a national committee that often
have financial means that far exceed those of the political party supporting
an option and heading a national committee." Consequently, the Commissioner of
Inquiry is of the opinion that the official agent of this committee should
have "true control and oversight powers with respect to all of the affiliated
groups and other independent groups that support an option" in order to be
able to require "true accountability" from them.
This recommendation would require that the official agent begin his work
during the pre-referendum period at a time stipulated in the legislation. That
way, he would be able to know the identity of the main suppliers of a
provisional committee and the scope of the expenses that they incur. The
official agents should be given more in-depth training and their independence
would be recognized explicitly in the legislation. Moreover, they could
receive an allowance from the Chief Electoral Officer, which would help
increase their independence.
Mr. Grenier goes further by proposing that each affiliated group (as was
the case for the Canadian Unity Council in 1995), as well as independent
groups, have a delegated official agent who would report directly to the
official agent of a national committee. As for the suppliers of the various
committees and groups involved in the referendum debate, they should have a
place of business in Québec to avoid "the Chief Electoral Officer's
jurisdiction being called into question on territorial grounds".
Mr. Grenier revealed that "certain mechanisms had been set up to
circumvent the requirements of the Act, notably the granting of "severance
benefits" to some organizers of the Canadian Unity Council who were supposed
to be "volunteer" workers during the referendum period, but who in actual fact
were remunerated individuals. The Commissioner believes that the Act should
specifically stipulate that such severance benefits and any other amount
intended to encourage a person to be available to work during the referendum
period "constitute a regulated expense". Moreover, he feels that the Act
should define what constitutes a volunteer.
Media representatives should take note that Mr. Grenier will not be
granting interviews. The report and the press release are available on the web
site of the Chief Electoral Officer (www.electionsquebec.qc.ca).
For further information:
For further information: Denis Dion, Information officer, (418)
644-3320, 1 888 870-3320, firstname.lastname@example.org