Senators recommend 9 changes to controversial elections bill
Published Monday, April 14, 2014 4:25PM EDT
Last Updated Monday, April 14, 2014 10:23PM EDT
A Senate committee made up of mostly Conservative members is recommending nine changes to the Harper government’s Fair Elections Act.
In an interim report on Bill C-23, slated to be tabled Tuesday, the committee is calling for the government to pull back on its plan to effectively muzzle the chief electoral officer and the elections commissioner, a beefing up around the rules governing robocalls and the introduction of new provisions that would make it easier for certain populations to vote.
A source has told CTV’s Ottawa Bureau Chief Robert Fife that Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre -- the minister responsible for the bill -- has privately said he was “open” to constructive amendments, but wouldn’t say if he’d accept major changes to the bill.
Last week, Poilievre personally attacked Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand, who called some of the bill’s provisions “deeply concerning.”
Among the recommendations the Senate committee is suggesting is the removal a provision that would potentially allow established parties to spend millions of dollars on soliciting donations during a campaign.
Under the provision, money spent to solicit donations from people who have given at least $20 over the previous five years would be exempt from campaign spending limits.
Former auditor general Sheila Fraser has said the provision would be an “unfair” advantage over new parties that have no past donors.
The committee is also asking for continued communication between the elections commissioner and the chief electoral officer.
Bill C-23 currently proposes that the elections commissioner -- who investigates alleged wrongdoing and enforces elections laws -- be split off from Elections Canada, which would separate the regulation and enforcement functions of the agency.
The senators also say both the chief election officer and the elections commissioner should be allowed to continue to speak publicly about problems in the electoral system.
As the bill currently stands, both officials would be limited in what they can say to the public. The commissioner, for instance, wouldn't be able explain to Canadians why charges could not be laid in a particular case or reassure them when an investigation finds no evidence of voter fraud.
However, the committee is not recommending any change to another controversial provision: a ban on voter cards.
Critics have said the ban could disenfranchise voters, including aboriginals and low-income Canadians, who might find it difficult to vote with other forms of identification.
Other recommended changes include:
Allowing the use of electronic correspondence as identification at polling stations.
Making institutions like seniors’ homes, homeless shelters and aboriginal reserves legally required to provide attestation letters, outlining name and address, for those who request them.
Extending the retention of robocalls records to three years, rather than the one year currently proposed in the bill.
Encouraging Elections Canada to include candidates’ photos on ballots, to help voters who have trouble reading.
Encouraging Elections Canada to provide additional information to blind voters, including the availability of braille ballots. Also, the committee calls for Elections Canada to conduct a pilot project examining the use of specialized voting kiosks for the vision-impaired.
- Ensuring that Elections Canada’s new reduced role in promoting voter participation will not affect the agency’s involvement in the Student Vote program or other educational programs for students.
Collectively, the proposed changes are significant and could signal an impending confrontation between the upper and lower chambers, with this interim report foreshadowing the minimum changes needed to win Senate approval.
If Bill C-23 isn’t passed before June, when the House traditionally rises for its summer break, it’s unlikely that the Fair Elections Act will be put into place before the next federal election in 2015.