The federal New Democrats plan to approach a select list of Conservative backbenchers in the hope of convincing them to vote against their own government's election reform bill.
NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair said Tuesday that members of his party will be talking to Conservative MPs over the next few days and inviting them to join the ranks of opponents of the bill that the Conservatives have dubbed the Fair Elections Act.
"The polls are showing that Canadians are worried about it," Mr. Mulcair said in a telephone interview. "Whether I am in a public market, as I was in Halifax on the weekend, or in a hotel in Montreal on Sunday, or in an airport today, people are literally coming up to me and saying we can't let (Prime Minister Stephen) Harper get away with this."
(What is the Fair Elections Act? Read The Globe and Mail's easy explanation)
The targeted Tories, who will be named in coming days, were chosen because they have previously indicated a willingness to vote offside with the government or have expressed an interest in democratic reform, the New Democrats said.
There is no indication that Mr. Harper will allow a free vote on the bill – and it would be unusual for him to give his MPs that sort of licence on government legislation.
But Mr. Mulcair said this is a situation in which a free vote would be appropriate.
If the bill were passed into law, he said "it would indeed be the first time in the history of Canada that a government was able to use its majority to force through fundamental changes to our elections laws without the support of a single [other] party in Parliament and, we can add, without the support of any single expert in Canada, and we can go on and on."
Since the bill was introduced in the House of Commons in February it has been a magnet for criticism from opposition members and experts who say it would give the Conservatives an unfair electoral advantage. A Conservative-dominated Senate committee, which has been studying the bill at the same time as a committee of MPs in the Commons, released a report on Tuesday that contains a long list of recommended changes.
But the New Democrats say the revisions suggested by the Senate do not go far enough. The opposition party quickly released a list of 10 other alterations it would make, including reversing the ban the bill would impose on the use of voter information cards as identification and restoring vouching as proof of the right to mark a ballot.
The Liberals also said the revisions proposed by the Senate committee do not go far enough.
They "do very little to change the core deficiencies of this bill," said Liberal House Leader Dominic LeBlanc.
But "when even your own caucus is telling you to stop, it is time to pull back," he said. "The Prime Minister needs to withdraw this flawed legislation."
Mr. Mulcair said he believes the legislation has to be withdrawn in its entirely and the government should start over again.
The Conservative report "is window dressing compared to what actually has to be done to fix the thing," said the NDP Leader. Mr. Harper, he said, should be asking himself "what was the first clue your bill was in serious trouble? I guess it should be when your unelected senators from an undemocratic institution are telling the Prime Minister that he doesn't understand the rules of democracy and elections."
The NDP Leader announced the campaign against the election act in Toronto where he planned to take part in campaign events for Joe Cressy, the NDP candidate in Trinity-Spadina.