It's become a cavalcade of (polite) opposition. Pretty much anybody involved in administering elections is against the government's election-reform bill, especially the idea of eliminating vouching.
(What is the Fair Elections Act? Read The Globe and Mail's easy explanation)
On Tuesday, it was the chief electoral officers of British Columbia and the Northwest Territories, appearing before a House of Commons committee, who warn that surprising numbers of people in remote communities will be disenfranchised.
The Conservatives don't seem to worry. If it were almost anything other than elections, they'd be well within their right to press on and make their bill law despite parliamentary opposition and the criticisms of so-called experts. But it is elections.
And those experts are warning that the rush will lead to thousands being turned away from the polls next years, barred from casting votes.
It was one thing to hear that from the federal chief electoral officer, Marc Mayrand. The Conservatives have squabbled with him over robocalls and lots of other more mundane matters, and they've used this elections bill to strip investigations out of Elections Canada. Maybe, some might think, Mr. Mayrand has got too much skin in the game.
But on Tuesday, there was David Brock, chief electoral officer of the Northwest Territories, telling MPs on Procedure and House Affairs Committee that eliminating vouching will see many lose their vote. Vouching is when a person without ID is allowed to cast a ballot because another swears they are who they say they are, and it's widely used in the Northwest Territories most remote communities.
Why? Mr. Brock testified that in 27 or the NWT's 33 communities, more than half of the residents do not have a government-issued ID. That's not Yellowknife, but the smaller, more remote communities, usually majority aboriginal. In a few communities, only 2 to 4 per cent have a government ID.
"You can't just walk down to the DMV office," Mr. Brock said in an interview. Plus, many don't need ID on a daily basis. If they don't own a car, they don't need a driver's license; even flying within the north doesn't require ID.
The Northwest Territories' voter-ID system is pretty much the same as Elections Canada's, so people can still use two pieces of other forms of ID – as long as one has an address – but many people don't have those available, or don't want to show poll clerks a document that also has other, confidential information, Mr. Brock said.
Then there was B.C.'s chief electoral officer, Keith Archer, saying pretty much the same thing. Vouching used us most heavily in the remote communities of the province's northernmost riding, Stikine, where folks are less likely to have ID. In B.C., 14,000 used vouching to vote. If vouching didn't exist, "I would expect most of them would have been disenfranchised," Mr. Archer said.
The issue of vouching has produced testy politics. The Tories say vouching has to be eliminated to combat fraud. The opposition argues the Conservatives are trying to suppress the votes of groups, like students and aboriginal people, who tend to vote for other parties.
The Conservatives cite a report commissioned by Elections Canada that found irregularities – like poor record-keeping – in many cases of vouching. That's not concrete evidence of fraud, but Conservative MP Scott Reid, a member of the committee, said Elections Canada's assumption that those irregularities were not cases of fraud is less than convincing, since they just don't know.
Mr. Brock argues that sentiment that there's voter fraud going on is "just a feeling," without evidence, and not reason enough to get rid of vouching. And he notes that pretty much everyone outside government ranks who studies elections – elections administrators, academics, NGOs, and so on – thinks it is a bad idea.
Now, there are other measures in the bill. A few are positive, others are anodyne, and some are self-serving moves by the Conservatives – like increasing limits for political donations, and allowing parties to appoint polls supervisors. Eliminating vouching is just one. But it's clear that it's one of the main reasons the bill shouldn't be passed.
This is, after all, about the elections. Usually, political parties try to forge some consensus on that. This time, the Conservatives are trying to rush it into effect for next year's election. The fact that all the experts are against shows there's good reason to pause, and at the very least keep this bill on hold until after the 2015 vote.
Campbell Clark is The Globe's chief political writer.