Canada's top election official says he wants to see the law changed to deal with deceptive phone calls.
Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand says he will recommend to Parliament that the Canada Elections Act be updated to fight those deceptive calls, like the live and automated robocalls made in Guelph, Ont., that sent voters to the wrong polling station in the last federal election.
Mayrand says new technology has changed how parties and candidates communicate with voters.
"These technologies are not in themselves problematic and in fact can and are used in positive ways to reach out to electors. However, I am concerned now that they can be misused during an election and, in fact, easily misused. As we have seen this past year, deceptive telephone calls, both live and automated, have arrived on our electoral landscape. And their use will have an impact on how Canadians view the electoral system," he said in a speech in Ottawa on Tuesday.
Mayrand says Canadians are rightfully offended by news reports about possible electoral fraud related to campaign phone calls, and need to know there's a process in place to address the problems.
"In this regard, I will be bringing forward recommendations to ensure that the Canada Elections Act has the right measures to deal with this new reality. I feel strongly that an electoral system and an electoral law that do not reflect the concerns and values of a modern Canadian electorate will only in the long-term help fuel disillusionment and disengagement from political process. That is why modernizing the Canada Elections Act speaks to our needs to maintain the integrity of the electoral process," Mayrand said.
Complaints about misleading phone calls in the 2011 election have now grown to 1,300 in more than 200 ridings, he said.
Not the first call to give Elections Canada more power
Mayrand wouldn't provide any more details on the changes he'd like to see to the laws, saying he has to share them with Parliament first. He is expected to report by the end of March 2013.
"One of the things we have to look [at] is how efficient are those laws," he told reporters after the speech.
The chief electoral officer can't change the law. He reports to Parliament through the committee on procedure and House affairs, which can issue a report to the House of Commons endorsing his recommendations.
Last winter, the committee heard from Mayrand that he wanted the power to force political parties to turn over receipts and other documents supporting their spending, much like candidates have to do after an election campaign.
Conservative MPs, who have a majority of seats on the committee, didn't support the recommendation. NDP MPs on the committee issued a dissenting report backing Mayrand's request.
Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae says the changes Mayrand wants are necessary. But he says there's also a need to link breaches of the law more closely to the need for byelections.
"One of the great ironies of the act is that you can have a lot of breaches of the Elections Act and there are no consequences other than a slap on the wrist. It does not affect your holding of a seat. If you want to get a new byelection you have to go to court and that's a separate process from the Elections Canada process. I think somehow these two processes need to be brought together — the court process and what happens with Elections Canada, and that's a change I'd like to see," Rae said.
A former Liberal MP is awaiting a Supreme Court decision that could result in a byelection. Borys Wrzesnewskyj lost the Etobicoke Centre seat to Conservative MP Ted Opitz on May 2, 2011. Wrzesnewskyj won on Ontario Superior Court decision to force a byelection after the judge threw out a number of ballots, but Opitz appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada.
NDP House Leader Nathan Cullen also agrees with the need for an updated Canada Elections Act.
"Technology has changed the way that Canadians interact with politics and elections, and if we need to give Elections Canada more tools to deal with anybody who's trying to mislead Canadians or corrupt the election process, then we absolutely need to give them those tools."
Legislation coming 'in due course'
Last March, MPs voted unanimously in favour of a non-binding NDP motion to bring in legislation in increase the power of the chief electoral officer.
The motion called for legislation to:
- Give Elections Canada stronger investigative powers, including the ability to force political parties to provide supporting documents for their expenses.
- Require all telecommunication companies that provide voter contact services during a general election to register with Elections Canada.
- Make telecommunication companies identify and verify the identity of election clients.
The March 12, 2012, vote gave the government a deadline six months later, Sept. 12, 2012. New Democrat David Christopherson said at the time that while the motion wasn't binding, there would be "hell to pay" if the government didn't act.
Asked about it last week, the minister of state for democratic reform said a proposal would be coming "in due course."
"A comprehensive proposal will be put forward shortly," Tim Uppal said.
Read a recap of Kady O'Malley's live blog below.
Mobile users, read the live blog here.
Related on HuffPost:
It has been just over a year since the last federal election, one that has become known almost as much for allegations of electoral fraud in Guelph, Ont., as for the way it redrew the House of Commons.<br><br> <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/news/robocalls-scandal" target="_hplink">Investigators are now looking into calls wrongly claiming to be from Elections Canada that redirected voters to a polling station they couldn't use</a>. It's illegal both to interfere with a person's right to vote and to impersonate Elections Canada.<br><br> A year later, here's what we do know, according to court documents and information provided in interviews:<br><br> <strong><em>With files from CBC.</em></strong><br><br> (CP)
1. Probe Started Early
Elections Canada investigator Al Mathews started looking into complaints in Guelph on May 5, 2011, three days after the election that saw reports of illicit phone calls. The winning candidate in the riding, Liberal <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/03/10/robocalls-by-liberals-guelph_n_1336895.html" target="_hplink">Frank Valeriote, compiled a list of almost 80 names</a> of people complaining about the calls. News of the investigation didn't break until Feb. 22, 2012. (Thinkstock)
All political parties use automated robocalls and live calls to identify voter support and contact people during a campaign. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/02/23/racknine-robocalls-elections-canada_n_1296383.html?ref=robocalls-scandal" target="_hplink">The campaign of Guelph Conservative candidate Marty Burke used RackNine</a>, a company that offers voice broadcasting services, to make legitimate robocalls to campaign supporters. The person who made the fraudulent robocalls also used RackNine. (Alamy)
3. Pierre Poutine
The <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/02/28/robocalls-scandal-pierre-poutine_n_1307730.html?ref=robocalls-scandal" target="_hplink">person who made the calls used a disposable, or burner, cellphone, registered to a "Pierre Poutine."</a> The RackNine charges were paid via PayPal using prepaid credit cards, purchased at two Shoppers Drug Mart stores in Guelph. Shoppers Drug Mart doesn't keep its security camera videos long enough to see who bought the cards more than a year ago. (Alamy)
4. IP Traced
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/05/04/andrew-prescott-pierre-poutine-robocalls-conservative_n_1478809.html?ref=robocalls-scandal" target="_hplink">Elections Canada traced the IP address used to access RackNine</a> on election day and send the fraudulent message. Mathews got a court order for Rogers, the company that provided the internet service to that IP address, to provide the customer information that matches that address, on March 20, 2012. (Alamy)
5. Andrew Prescott Linked To Poutine IP
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/05/04/andrew-prescott-pierre-poutine-robocalls-conservative_n_1478809.html?ref=robocalls-scandal" target="_hplink">Pierre Poutine and Burke campaign worker Andrew Prescott (pictured here with Tony Clement) accessed their RackNine accounts using the same IP address</a>. On election day, they accessed their RackNine accounts from the same IP address within four minutes of each other, Mathews says in documents filed in court.
6. But Accounts Don't Match
A court document lists the billing account numbers for the customer information provided by Rogers to Mathews. <a href="http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/story/2012/05/11/pol-robocalls-guelph-rogers-account-numbers.html" target="_hplink">Those accounts don't match</a> the number found on the Burke campaign's Rogers invoices submitted to Elections Canada, suggesting RackNine wasn't accessed through a computer in the Burke campaign office.
7. Misleading Calls Discussed?
Two Conservative staffers, accompanied by the party's lawyer, told Mathews they overheard <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/05/04/michael-sona-robocalls-pierre-poutine-guelph_n_1479400.html?ref=robocalls-scandal" target="_hplink">Michael Sona (pictured here with Stephen Harper), another Burke campaign worker, talking about "making a misleading poll moving call."</a> Sona, who stepped down from a job in the office of Conservative MP Eve Adams when the story broke, has previously said he had nothing to do with the misleading calls.
8. Poutine Used Tory Database?
Arthur Hamilton, the Conservative Party's lawyer, told Mathews the list of phone numbers uploaded to RackNine by Pierre Poutine appeared to be a list of identified non-Conservative supporters, with data on it that was updated in <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/05/17/robocalls-scandal-privacy-information_n_1525197.html?ref=robocalls-scandal" target="_hplink">CIMS, the party's database</a>, days before the election. The CBC's Terry Milewski had reported a similar pattern after sifting through complaints in 31 ridings.
9. Deluge Of Complaints
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/03/29/marc-mayrand-testimony-robocalls_n_1387176.html?ref=robocalls-scandal" target="_hplink">News coverage led to 40,000 people contacting Elections Canada one way or another</a> -- whether to report a misdirecting call or by signing an online petition to express concern that it had happened -- chief electoral officer Marc Mayrand told a parliamentary committee in April. There are now specific allegations in almost 200 ridings by 800 people.