The Conservative government is increasing the maximum that Canadians can donate to federal political parties, as public subsidies based on election results disappear.
The increase – described by government sources as “modest” – gives a greater advantage to parties with strong fundraising skills. The Conservatives lead in this regard but the Liberals have been closing the gap.
At the same time, the Harper government is introducing legislation to dramatically shake up the structure of Elections Canada.
Democratic Reform Minister Pierre Poilievre will unveil a bill Tuesday that would end the Chief Electoral Officer’s influence over investigating alleged violations of elections law and make the task of policing these matters a wholly independent post.
This shakeup at Elections Canada would completely separate the task of running elections and enforcing elections law. The Chief Electoral Officer is currently empowered to appoint the Commissioner of Canada Elections, the official responsible for investigating and prosecuting Elections Act breaches.
The government is also expected to take action on the practice of “vouching” during balloting – the process by which an elector with authorized identification can “vouch” for the identity of another voter who lacks sufficient identification. Sources say changes will be aimed at protecting the accuracy and integrity of the system.
The Tories have had a fractious relationship with Elections Canada over the years. Conservatives have frequently been at odds with the watchdog and Tory MPs are unhappy with the Chief Electoral Officer having influence over both the administration of elections and policing of elections law. Tories privately say they believe the Chief Electoral Officer, currently Marc Mayrand, has too much power over the Commissioner of Canada Elections.
It won’t be clear until Mr. Poilievre’s announcement how the government intends to set up the elections.
Sources say the changes will have no impact on current Elections Canada investigations and will not grant the elected government in Ottawa any influence over probes of alleged violations.
The individual donation limit is currently $1,200. The Conservative government has already passed a bill to end per-vote public subsidies that were introduced by former Liberal prime minister Jean Chrétien. They are set to be phased out shortly.
The 2013 fundraising results for major political parties show the Liberals have managed to gain ground on the front-runner Conservatives. The NDP remains in third place.
The electoral reform bill was originally slated to go ahead last April but it was held because Tory MPs felt it needed more work.