New election rules panned
OTTAWA—Canada’s chief electoral officer has provided fuel to opposition claims that new election rules being proposed by the Harper government are designed to tilt the field in the Conservative party’s favour.
The massive rewrite of the Canada Elections Act will increase party spending and decrease voting among some groups—all the while failing to provide the investigative powers needed to get to the bottom of election fraud, Marc Mayrand told a House of Commons committee yesterday.
“By increasing those spending limits and, most significantly, creating an exception for certain fundraising expenses, Bill C-23 may well compromise that level playing field,” he warned.
Mayrand has had a fractious relationship with the governing party ever since he was appointed to his post in 2007 by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
It took five years and dozens of spirited denials in the House of Commons before the Conservative party finally pleaded guilty in 2011 to significant overspending in the 2006 campaign—a plea deal that Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre celebrated as a victory.
Poilievre also frequently rose in the House to defend the government in the ongoing investigation into fraudulent robocalls during the 2011 campaign.
Poilievre, now the minister responsible for democratic reform, is questioning Mayrand again—dismissing his criticism and declaring him wrong about many of the provisions in the sweeping bill.
Among Mayrand’s concerns:
•By ending the practice of “vouching,” the bill would disenfranchise tens of thousands of voters who are unable to provide identification with an address (mostly students, the elderly, natives, and the poor);
•The bill would muzzle both Mayrand and the elections commissioner, who investigates violations and enforces the Canada Elections Act;
•The bill fails to give investigators the power to demand receipts from parties, who got $33 million in public rebates after the last election without providing documented evidence of expenses; and
•The bill creates some new offences and increases penalties, but fails to give elections investigators the powers they need to compel testimony or evidence.
“It’s all well and good to have penalties and offences, but if the commissioner doesn’t have the tools to shed light on the truth, then it’s all in vain,” Mayrand told the committee.
Mayrand did not specifically say which party would benefit most from the changes, but New Democrats, Liberals, and the Bloc Quebecois all say they’re of the most advantage to the party with the deepest pockets—in this case, the Conservatives.
Later in the Commons, NDP leader Tom Mulcair pounced on Mayrand’s testimony to charge: “The only reason [the Conservatives] are doing this is to stack the deck for the next election.”
Poilievre responded that Mayrand “is wrong on this point, as well as on other points.”
He said the bill provides many layers of protection against illegal campaign spending, including requiring external audits of party books.