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NDP fears Tories won't act on pledge to strengthen elections watchdog

Minister of State for Democratic Reform Tim Uppal speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on March 9, 2012.

CHRIS WATTIE/Chris Wattie/Reuters

The Conservatives say they support an opposition motion that would strengthen Elections Canada's power to investigate voting irregularities like the ones alleged in the robo-call affair. But New Democrats are skeptical of the government's commitment.

The House of Commons will vote Monday on the motion by NDP MP David Christopherson that would allow the chief electoral officer to request any documents needed to ensure compliance with the Elections Act. It would also force mass-dialling companies that provide services to political parties during an election to register with Elections Canada and require their clients to be registered and verified.

When asked about the original motion, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said his party is " not at all opposed to that proposal." But, because it is non-binding, the government is not obligated to follow up with legislation.

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So, for two days in a row, New Democrats have demanded to know if the government really intends to act on its motion and whether it will accept the amendment to backdate it to cover the 2011 election. And for two days they have not received a straight answer.

When Interim NDP Leader Nycole Turmel asked Thursday if the government would commit to introducing legislation to expand Elections Canada's powers within the next six months, Mr. Harper's reply was: "The government has clearly indicated its position on this matter before the House of Commons."

And Friday, when deputy NDP leader Libby Davies asked if the Conservatives believe Elections Canada should have the power to look at all records from the 2011 election, the response from the government was much the same. Tim Uppal, the Minister of State for Democratic Reform said: "The Prime Minister has been clear that we support the motion that was before the House yesterday."

Ms. Davies pointed out that, in 2005, Mr. Harper had said the government has the moral responsibility to respect the will of the House.

"If the Conservatives agree to our motion and it passes, will they commit to introduce legislation within six months to ban these activities?" she asked. "Or will they ignore the will of the House, as they have done so many times, and hope to weather the storm?"

Mr. Uppal's reply had a familiar ring. "The government has clearly indicated that it supported the motion that was before the House yesterday."

The motion would give the chief electoral officer powers his provincial counterparts have had for several years.

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But, if the Conservative government does bring in legislation that is consistent with the motion, it would be a change of position from last year. When the chief electoral officer previously asked the procedures and House affairs committee for the additional powers, the Conservatives on the committee used their majority to reject the request.

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