The Conservative government is pushing ahead with changes to Canada’s electoral laws despite mounting criticism of its proposed Fair Elections Act and the looming testimony of several experts.
Parliament resumed Monday after a two-week break with an NDP motion to essentially derail Bill C-23 by “abandoning” certain parts of it. That followed calls from domestic and international researchers to reconsider or reject many of the proposed changes.
(What is the Fair Elections Act? Read The Globe and Mail’s easy explanation)
The Conservative government, however, isn’t budging. It rejected the NDP motion, which was backed by the Liberals and other opposition MPs, by a vote of 149 to 131 as Democratic Reform Minister Pierre Poilievre continued to champion the bill.
“The opposition has reacted with predictable hyperbole to the Fair Elections bill, yet the bill is full of the common sense measures that are required for the improvement of our democratic system,” Mr. Poilievre said Monday in debating the NDP motion. He also offered to answer more questions in front of the committee considering the bill.
“We look forward to having continued debate on this bill. I expect that there will be a very thorough vetting at the committee, where dozens of witnesses will come and share their points of view … that being said, this Elections Act reform is fair. It is common sense and it would ensure that everyday Canadians stay in charge of democracy,” he said.
NDP democratic reform critic Craig Scott said the bill, as it stands, is “designed to secure strategic partisan advantage for the party that lies behind the government,” among other impacts. He had appealed to Conservative backbenchers to slow the bill’s progress. “You frankly have been spun by cabinet and by the minister. You have a duty to look at this in more detail because if you do not, you will regret it,” Mr. Scott said.
Liberal MP Kevin Lamoureux said the bill was pushed ahead without adequate consultation with Elections Canada or other stakeholders. “It is completely unacceptable that the government has chosen to put before us Bill C-23 in the fashion it has,” he said.
Among the bill’s many changes is the elimination of vouching, a last-resort provision allowing someone to cast a ballot even without proper ID. Mr. Poilievre stressed that there are 39 forms of ID and that vouching is too risky. “They could conceivably vote more than once or in a constituency in which they do not reside,” he argued.
The committee considering the bill is scheduled to hear from several experts this week. They include Jean-Pierre Kingsley, the former chief electoral officer set to address the committee Tuesday. He’d earlier said the bill was an “A-minus,” but said recently he’d elaborate further during the meeting.
B.C. Chief Electoral Officer Keith Archer and Northwest Territories Chief Electoral Officer David Brock are also set to speak to the committee Tuesday, followed by Harry Neufeld on Thursday. Mr. Neufeld authored a report on vouching and voter fraud after the 2011 election, one frequently cited by Mr. Poilievre. Several advocacy groups who study election laws are also set to speak on Thursday.