A Conservative senator on the committee recommending changes to the controversial Fair Elections Act says she is convinced that vouching is “problematic,” and that alternatives to proof of identification must be found.

A Senate committee made up primarily of Conservative members earlier this week recommended nine changes to the Harper government’s Fair Elections Act -- an electoral reform bill proposed by Minister of State for Democratic Reform Pierre Poilievre.

But the committee did not recommend changes to one of Bill C-23’s most-controversial provisions, which would eliminate the practice of vouching -- where one person can vouch for another if they don’t have proper ID -- and the use of voter cards as a way for voters to prove their identity.

“In our Senate report, we didn’t touch those provisions; we stood by them, we agree,” Senator Linda Frum told CTV’s Question Period.

Frum said it is “reasonable” to ask voters to produce identification and proof of residence.

“I’ve heard all the statements about how that can be difficult in some instances, but frankly, I think for most Canadians, it’s not problematic.”

And for those who do have difficulty proving identity and address, Frum said it’s up to Elections Canada to expand the list of approved identification for federal votes. There are currently 39 forms of identification permitted.

The Senate committee has, however, recommended that heads of retirement homes, homeless shelters and aboriginal reserves be required to vouch for people who reside in those places.

Frum also said the committee is also encouraging Elections Canada to make electronic invoices an acceptable form of identification, “so that there are other ways to improve options for ID without having to revive vouching. Vouching is a problem.”

Experts have warned that upward of half a million citizens, including students, low-income and aboriginal people, could be disenfranchised if vouching is disallowed.

But Frum cited a report written by former B.C. electoral officer Harry Neufeld for Elections Canada after the 2011 federal elections: it said there were irregularities in cases where voters vouched for others.

“In the Neufeld report, we learned that 42 per cent of those had serious irregularities, enough to throw out potentially a result. So that is way too high a rate of error for Canadians to put their faith in that form of voting,” she said.

She added that 500,000 was an “inflated” number, saying that 120,000 people were vouched for in the last federal election. “That inflated number of half a million; that’s not to do with vouching, that has to do with people who use their voter information card as ID,” she said.

But speaking to a Commons committee last month, Neufeld accused Poilievre of misrepresenting his position by “selectively reading and quoting” from his report. He said irregularities in vouching cases were a result of administrative errors and not voter fraud.

While the committee hasn’t proposed changes to the provision on vouching and voter cards, it recommended a total of nine key changes to the Act including:

  • Dropping provisions that muzzle the chief electoral officer and election commissioner
  • Removing provisions that give potentially unfair financial advantage to established parties during elections
  • Extending the retention of robocall records from one year to three years

Mulcair threatens to take Act before the courts

Meanwhile, Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair says if the government passes the Fair Elections Act, the NDP would take the matter to court.

“I guarantee you…we would take this to court immediately,” Mulcair told CTV’s Question Period. “This is removing from groups of Canadians their right to vote, the most fundamental right in a democracy, and we’re not going to let it go through.”

Mulcair said the bill would allow the Conservative government to “(stack) the deck in their favour with a series of moves making it harder for people who don’t vote Conservative.”

He added that this is the first time in Canada history that the government would use its majority to “force through” changes to Canada’s election laws without the approval of other parties in parliament.

“It’s simply unprecedented, and the reason it’s unprecedented is because it’s so wrong,” he said.