A Conservative MP is backtracking on one of his arguments in favour of the government’s proposed “Fair Elections Act” – saying he has not actually witnessed voter identification cards being scooped out of recycling bins and used fraudulently.
Ontario MP Brad Butt’s mea culpa came in the House of Commons Monday as the NDP continue efforts to slow the government’s passage of the bill, tabling a motion calling for the committee considering the proposed new law to travel the country to hear input on its proposed changes.
The Fair Election Act’s proposed changes are wide-ranging, and would overhaul Canada’s election laws and reorganize parts of Elections Canada.
They would also eliminate the option to use a voter ID card as one form of valid identification on voting day. Mr. Butt, who sits on the committee currently reviewing the bill, had earlier said the voting cards were used to scam the system.
“One of the things that I have seen is I’ve seen on mail delivery day, when the voter cards are delivered to community mailboxes in an apartment building, we often find that many of them are actually just discarded. They’re in the garbage can or in the blue box. I have actually witnessed other people coming in, picking up voter cards, going back to, I guess, whatever campaign of the candidate they support, and actually handing out those voter cards to other individuals, who then walk into a voting station with a friend of theirs that vouches for them with no ID,” Mr. Butt said on Feb. 6.
On Monday, Mr. Butt stood up in the House of Commons to say that wasn’t true, adding he wanted to correct the record to say that he had not personally witnessed such fraud. He gave no details on what he had witnessed, or why he’d made the statement in the first place.
“I made a statement in the House during the debate that is not accurate, and I just want to reflect the fact that I have not personally witnessed individuals retrieving voter identification cards from the garbage cans or from mailbox areas of apartment buildings. I have not personally witnessed that activity and want the record to properly show that,” he said Monday morning.
Mr. Butt elaborated on Twitter by saying: “I misspoke during debate and corrected the record.” On Feb. 13, he made a similar statement to committee, but said he only heard “anecdotally” that voter cards were used fraudulently. He did not say on Feb. 13, as he did Feb. 6, that he personally witnessed that happening.
Meanwhile, the NDP on Monday called for hearings for the bill, which the Conservatives have been trying to quickly push through the House of Commons.
NDP Deputy Leader David Christopherson tabled a motion Monday, effectively calling for a vote – expected by the NDP on Monday or Tuesday – on whether the committee reviewing the government bill should tour the country and hear input from several groups, including Elections Canada, other political parties and several advocacy groups. The motion also called for the committee to travel to “all regions of Canada,” including urban and rural locations, during March and April. The proposal would then see the committee begin its clause-by-clause review in May.
“I rise as much in sorrow as in anger – sorrow in the state of affairs of our democracy,” Mr. Christopherson said in the House on Monday, saying the bill includes “massive, sweeping changes” but that government shut down debate.
“Any attempt to change the rules of an election needs to have the buy-in of all those that are participating,” he said.
The NDP argue the bill would block “tens of thousands” of people, including seniors, students and lower-income people, from voting by changing the rules on what is considered valid ID and eliminating so-called “vouching,” or allowing someone to vote if someone else swears to the voter’s identity. Mr. Christopherson said Monday the bill will also muzzle Elections Canada and “create loopholes that will allow big money back into Canadian politics” with changes to campaign finance rules.
“Let’s go ask the Canadian people what they say,” he said Monday.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s parliamentary secretary, Paul Calandra, responded to Mr. Christopherson Monday by saying the NDP are simply opposed to the bill itself. He did not address the request for cross-country hearings. “I’ve yet to hear from the NDP what difference they would propose,” Mr. Calandra said when addressing some of the proposed changes.
Conservative MP Michelle Rempel, the Minister of State for Western Economic Diversification, said the NDP motion for a cross-country tour was better suited for the committee than the House of Commons itself. “I really don’t understand the purpose of it, given committee is the master of its own business,” Ms. Rempel said. The Conservatives hold a majority in the House and the committee.
Liberal MP Kevin Lamoureux said the handling of the bill has been “an absolute, total disgrace,” and has not sufficiently included public consultation. “Many including myself would say they should have consulted with Canadians prior [to tabling the bill],” he said, backing the NDP’s call for hearings.
The NDP had previously blocked funding for all other committee travel, a rare move that effectively grounds parliamentary committees. Conservative Caucus Whip John Duncan had signalled the Tories will simply work around the travel ban, rather than relent and allow the Fair Elections Act a cross-country tour. “Government members will work to ensure that thorough studies continue to occur by continuing to meet in Ottawa and by using available technology. This will likely result in cost savings, which Conservative members strongly support,” Mr. Duncan’s office said in a statement earlier this month.
If the Conservative majority in the House of Commons votes down the NDP proposal, the opposition won’t yet be out of options to slow the bill’s passage – Mr. Christopherson says he will continue to hold the floor when the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs resumes its consideration of the bill Tuesday. In its last meeting on Feb. 13, Mr. Christopherson filibustered proceedings by speaking on the bill until the end of the meeting. “We have the floor and we’re not relinquishing it,” Mr. Christopherson said Monday, referring to the committee.