Skip to main content
A scary good deal on trusted journalism
Get full digital access to globeandmail.com
$0.99
per week for 24 weeks SAVE OVER $140
OFFER ENDS OCTOBER 31
A scary good deal on trusted journalism
$0.99
per week
for 24 weeks
SAVE OVER $140
OFFER ENDS OCTOBER 31
// //

Prime Minister Stephen Harper answers a question during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Tuesday, April 1, 2014.

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is signalling the government will push ahead on its controversial overhaul of Canadian electoral laws – praising the Fair Elections Act's proposals as his government moves to fast-track its approval.

The government tabled a motion Tuesday to "pre-study" Bill C-23 in the Senate at the same time a House of Commons committee is studying it. That came after the bill's proponent, Pierre Poilievre, addressed Conservative senators in a private caucus meeting on Tuesday, before which at least one of them expressed doubts about the bill.

(What is the Fair Elections Act? Read The Globe and Mail's easy explanation)

Story continues below advertisement

The bill has been under fire from a wide range of elections experts, who warn it could disenfranchise thousands of voters and tilt the playing field in favour of the Conservatives. But the Senate fast-tracking motion – made shortly after Mr. Harper defended the bill in Question Period – will help ensure the bill passes by the end of June, said Claude Carignan, a Conservative senator and the government's leader in the Red Chamber.

"Sometimes we receive the bill [in the Senate] in June, and certain dispositions [in the bill] have to be adopted for the end of June. So we don't want to have a rush at the end of the session, so we want to study the bill with more calm," Mr. Carignan said. Some of the urgent changes – he didn't specify which – "have to be adopted at the end of June if we want to have [them] in application for the next election," he added.

A vote on the motion to pre-study the bill is expected Tuesday or Wednesday.

Bill C-23 overhauls Canada's election laws, and the committee considering it has heard repeatedly that major changes are required – changes the government has showed no willingness to make. Among its many proposals, the bill will eliminate vouching – having another voter swear to your residency – and use of the voter information card as ways to prove identity at the ballot box. It will also substantially limit what Elections Canada can say or do publicly, effectively killing the agency's voter turnout campaigns, while also creating a loophole to exempt certain fundraising costs from spending limits.

Mr. Carignan dismissed the concerns of experts, suggesting they don't understand the bill like government does.

"I don't think the comments from the experts are appropriate," he said, adding: "you need to understand the work, you need to understand how it's working in an election. I did election organizing, like a political adviser but also an electoral official, so I understand the bill very well and I think it's a very good bill."

Mr. Harper fielded questions on the bill during Question Period on Tuesday. "I think these reforms are important to increase the integrity of our elections system," Mr. Harper said, later adding: "We know the fundamental rule of elections in democratic societies is that votes are supposed to be secret, but voters are not supposed to be secret."

Story continues below advertisement

His comments are an apparent reference to vouching, and Mr. Harper suggested those opposing the bill's proposal favour no ID being required whatsoever. However, vouching is often used by people with ID, but no way to prove a current address – those people, due to the end of vouching and use of the voter information card to prove residency, will have a tougher time casting a ballot.

At the Senate caucus meeting Tuesday, Conservative Senator Janis Johnson acknowledged she's aware of complaints about the bill.

"It's certainly something that is concerning, and I'm going to be doing due diligence for sure on this," she said, adding: "The primary job of the Senate is to look at bills like this."

She was in the minority, however, as several other Conservative senators praised the bill.

"We have an opportunity to pre-study the bill in the Senate and have our recommendations back to the House committee before they finalize the committee report," Conservative Senator Bob Runciman said.

Conservative Senator Don Plett added: "We talk about being the chamber of sober second thought. Now we're the chamber of first and second sober thought."

Story continues below advertisement

Mr. Carignan's comments, however, suggested a time-crunch will leave the Senate fast-tracking its review once the bill passes the House, as opposed to doing two wide-ranging reviews of the bill. Senator James Cowan, the leader of the Senate Liberal caucus, said the Senate is meant to review bills after they pass the House of Commons. "Our basic position is we're a chamber of sober second thought. We look at something once it has passed the House of Commons," he said.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies