Canada will soon have new rules for election campaigns, after an amended version of the government’s “Fair Elections Act” passed the Senate.
Bill C-23 passed its third and final reading in the Red Chamber on Thursday evening, and now only needs royal assent to become law.
Democratic Reform Minister Pierre Poilievre, who spearheaded the controversial bill’s progress, said it was a “great day for our democracy” to see it passed, and suggested it would receive royal assent this summer.
(What is the Fair Elections Act? Read The Globe and Mail’s easy explanation.)
The bill proved to be a lightning rod, and was fiercely opposed by opposition parties and other critics. The NDP filibustered its progress and held cross-country hearings to raise awareness of the bill, which it dubbed the “Unfair Elections Act,” while Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau later said he’d repeal the law if his party forms government.
A Senate committee, including Conservative senators, recommended changes to the bill and the government later changed some of its proposals, including dropping one that would have exempted certain fundraising calls from spending limits and, critics warned, essentially opened a campaign spending loophole. The government passed 45 amendments to its bill before sending it to the Senate.
Conservative Senator Linda Frum said Friday the bill benefited from lengthy scrutiny in the House of Commons and the Senate, where it had received “pre-study” before the government announced amendments.
“Despite the naysayers, this bill is a model of successful consultation between all parties and two houses of parliament,” Ms. Frum said.
The bill passed third reading in the Senate with the support of Conservative senators. The Senate Liberals, who Mr. Trudeau kicked out of his national caucus, and two independent senators voted against it.
The bill eliminates vouching, whereby a person could cast a ballot without sufficient ID so long as someone else swore to the voter’s identity. It’s replaced with another similar system where a voter, with ID but insufficient proof of address, can still cast a ballot if a second voter signs an oath backing up the first voter’s claim of residency.
The bill also introduces new limits on Elections Canada, in particular banning any advertising or campaign aimed at boosting voter turnout, though voter education campaigns aimed at minors can still go ahead. It means Elections Canada will only be permitted to advertise the basics of voting, such as where to vote and how to do it, rather than encouraging Canadians to cast a ballot.
The bill also moves the Commissioner of Canada Elections, an investigator, out of Elections Canada and under the office of Canada’s Director of Public Prosecutions, a move some critics fear will compromise the commissioner’s independence.
Parties will also now receive detailed lists of which Canadians cast a ballot, and donation limits are increasing, with a particularly large increase in what a person can donate to their own party leadership campaign. Finally, the bill – despite repeated calls from Elections Canada – does not change the rules to require people to co-operate with Elections Canada investigations.