Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau has pledged to repeal the government’s Fair Elections Act if he forms government next year, a move that comes amid mounting opposition outside of the political fray.
Mr. Trudeau’s announcement is an escalation of the Liberals’ position on a bill where the NDP have largely led the way from the opposition benches – filibustering its progress, holding their own cross-country tour and regularly raising the issue in Question Period. The NDP say their priority is to stop the bill before it becomes law and influences the next election.
(What is the Fair Elections Act? Read The Globe and Mail’s easy explanation)
Nonetheless, Mr. Trudeau emerged from his caucus meeting Wednesday to dismiss the “terrible piece of legislation,” which has been the subject of several committee hearings this week. He pledged to repeal it in its entirety if his party wins the 2015 election and he succeeds Stephen Harper as Prime Minister.
“The Conservatives’ election bill is bad for democracy. It’s bad for Canada,” Mr. Trudeau said, later saying he hopes the bill will drive more people to polling stations in next year’s election than will be turned away by its changes – which eliminate vouching and the use of the voter information card, changes that will make it more difficult to provide sufficient ID to cast a ballot.
“This Elections Act is designed to help Conservative get re-elected. But I am confident that yet again Mr. Harper has misjudged Canadians,” Mr. Trudeau said. “And the frustration and the outrage of having their right to vote assailed, to turning away possible hundreds of thousands – particularly aboriginal Canadians, seniors, students who want to have a say in how this country is directed, have been frustrated by the direction this country has [been] given – will be even more motivated to come out and make sure we have a government worthy of Canadians’ trust.”
The NDP have also firmly opposed the bill, and say they’re instead calling on Conservative backbenchers to pressure government to change or abandon it – a fate the cabinet has given no significant sign it is considering.
“We’re focused on stopping this bill right now. We hope this means the Liberals will now join the fight,” NDP Democratic Reform Critic Craig Scott said. The party responded to the Trudeau announcement by saying they’ve asked more than 10 times as many questions about the bill as the Liberals in the House of Commons, by a count of 256 to 20, since it was tabled.
The bill has proven to be a flash-point – experts called to testify about it have overwhelmingly called for changes, including the current and former chief electoral officer, the current and former commissioner of Canada elections, a former auditor general and others.
Democratic Reform Minister Pierre Poilievre said on Tuesday that Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand was opposing the bill only because he wants “more power, a bigger budget and less accountability,” part of a lengthy personal rebuke of the independent officer of parliament. Mr. Trudeau slammed Mr. Poilievre’s “blindly partisan” comments, while NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair said they’re indicative of how Mr. Harper’s Conservative react.
If you disagree with Conservatives’ legislation, “you’re going to be attacked. That’s their modus operandi, that’s always the way they’ve acted,” Mr. Mulcair said.