An overhaul of Canadian electoral law is one step closer to being in place for the 2015 campaign after the House of Commons passed Bill C-23 despite ongoing calls for changes.
The Conservative government’s divisive Fair Elections Act passed third reading in the House on Tuesday evening by a vote of 146 to 123. It will now be sent to the Senate, where a quick approval is expected. The government hopes to make it law by June.
Bill C-23 overhauls many of the rules for election campaigns in Canada. Chiefly, it will boost ID requirements on voting day and place limits on what Elections Canada can do publicly. It creates a registry for robocall rules, albeit one some fear will be toothless, and boosts penalties for certain offences while adding an extra day of advance voting.
(What is the Fair Elections Act? Read The Globe and Mail’s easy explanation.)
Critics have warned its effect could disenfranchise some voters, reduce voter turnout and tilt the electoral playing field in favour of the Conservatives.
Facing widespread calls for change, the Conservatives last month were forced to back down on certain proposals and amend the bill. The government, however, voted down more than 200 opposition amendments – all but a few minor, technical ones – aimed at further reforms.
The man spearheading the effort, Democratic Reform Minister Pierre Poilievre, brushed aside ongoing calls for changes and said it’s time to push the bill to become law.
“Now we move forward to decision day, having had all these debates [and] considered modest but fair changes. It is time for people to decide. This bill will allow Elections Canada to focus on its core mandate of running elections fairly and efficiently,” Mr. Poilievre said in the House of Commons on Tuesday.
House Leader Peter Van Loan said the bill will be in place in time for the next election and it’s not expected to be delayed in the Senate.
“All indications are the bill does have a lot of support – not only among elected officials in the House, but also in the Senate,” Mr. Poilievre said.
The bill continues to have opponents. A long list of non-partisan experts called for changes, including some that weren’t made. In return, the Conservative government attacked the motives of some critics, such as Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand, before abruptly announcing amendments.
Mr. Poilievre offered no contrition Tuesday when asked if he had any regrets about the process. “I’m very happy with how it went about,” he said.
NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair has said the bill would “weaken our democracy and make voting harder across the country,” and NDP MPs continued to outline their problems with the bill in the waning hours of debate Tuesday.
The NDP had asked 19 specific Conservative MPs – those with an independent streak – to oppose the bill. They included Harold Albrecht, Jay Aspin, Maxime Bernier, Peter Braid, Michael Chong, Rob Clarke, Robert Goguen, Bal Gosal, Laurie Hawn, Bryan Hayes, Gerald Keddy, Ryan Leef, James Rajotte, Lawrence Toet, Brad Trost, Susan Truppe, Tim Uppal, David Wilks and Stephen Woodworth. In the end, none voted against it.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau has pledged to repeal the bill if elected prime minister, a pledge he reiterated Tuesday.
“The changes that have been made aren’t good enough, and if we form government in 2015, we will establish a much fairer principle around elections and repeal C-23,” he said.