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Minister ‘selectively reading’ report to bolster his election-reform plan, author says

Minister of State for Democratic Reform Pierre Poilievre speaks during a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, July 31, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Democratic Reform Minister Pierre Poilievre has been selectively quoting an Elections Canada report to argue in favour of the government's proposed Fair Elections Act, the report's author says.

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

Harry Neufeld authored the 2013 report that's cited frequently by Mr. Poilievre in arguing that vouching, where electors without ID can still cast a ballot, leads to irregularities, is too vulnerable to fraud and should be done away with under the bill. But Mr. Neufeld told a committee Thursday that his report's findings don't suggest any cases of voter fraud took place with vouching in the 2011 election.

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"A large number of irregularities did occur, but there is no evidence whatsoever that any voters fraudulently misrepresented themselves in the vouching process," Mr. Neufeld said. The errors included mixing up the vouchee and voucher or failing to fill in the date, he said, adding of Mr. Poilievre: "I think he has been selectively reading and quoting from my report."

The bill creates a fundamental imbalance between electoral accessibility and integrity, he said. Mr. Neufeld, an elections consultant who served as former chief electoral officer of B.C., argues the bill will hurt electoral accessibility, by removing vouching, and do nothing to boost electoral integrity, because fraud isn't a significant problem.

"Either amend it or pull it," he said of the bill. He suggested following Manitoba's lead by allowing those without sufficient ID to sign a declaration, rather than having someone vouch for them. Asked whether Mr. Poilievre consulted him in developing the bill, he replied: "I was waiting for that call, and it never came."

Various experts, including Mr. Neufeld, warn eliminating vouching would disenfranchise many of the 120,000 voters who used the provision in the 2011 election. Vouching is often used in cases where a voter has some ID, but nothing to prove a current address.

The Fair Elections Act would kill both vouching and the use of the voter information card (VIC), which Mr. Neufeld said 400,000 people used to verify their address in 2011. All told, he said, the vouching and VIC changes affect roughly 520,000 people, and he estimated half of those – 250,000 people – wouldn't be able to vote. Mr. Poilievre dismissed that as hypothetical, saying it's impossible to know how many would be able to find other ID.

Mr. Neufeld is the latest in a series of election experts to raise serious concerns with the Fair Elections Act, largely around the elimination of vouching and a provision that severely limits what Elections Canada can do publicly, such as barring voter turnout campaigns.

Many critics also said the bill is designed to favour the Conservative Party. And Mr. Poilievre has given no sign the government will abandon the controversial provisions. "Mr. Neufeld is entitled to author recommendations. He is not entitled to author the law. That is left to parliamentarians," Mr. Poilievre said Thursday.

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Mr. Neufeld was among five non-partisan experts who testified about the bill Thursday. While observers have said parts of the bill have merit, all five raised issues with it Thursday and encouraged the government to amend it.

"Fraud is not the problem in Canada. What is the problem is people not voting," said Nathalie Des Rosiers, dean of the common law section of the University of Ottawa's faculty of law and a board member of Fair Vote Canada. She called on the government to keep the vouching provision and not limit what the Chief Electoral Officer, and Elections Canada, can do to promote voter turnout.

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