OTTAWA - New election rules sparked by widespread reports of fraudulent robocalls in the 2011 federal campaign do not go as far as they could to catch fraudsters, says a former chief electoral officer.
Jean-Pierre Kingsley, one of the few electoral law experts to give high marks to the Harper government's proposed Fair Elections Act, offered a more qualified assessment Tuesday in testimony to MPs.
He strongly recommended dropping new provisions that would muzzle Elections Canada and that would end the practice of "vouching" for voters without proper residency identification.
Still, the man who ran Elections Canada from 1990 to 2007 made a number of positive recommendations that could help burnish a bill that's been roundly panned by electoral experts in both Canada and abroad.
Conservative MPs on a Commons committee studying Bill C-23 were eager Tuesday to draw out Kingsley's compliments.
Hours after the 242-page bill was introduced by Democratic Reform Minister Pierre Poilievre on Feb. 4, Kingsley went on TV news channels to give the legislation a mark of A-minus. Conservatives have been quoting his comment ever since to defend the bill from its many detractors.
At committee, Tom Lukiwski, Poilievre's parliamentary secretary, noted measures in the bill "try and prevent the problem we saw with robocalling and the 'Pierre Poutine' example in the last election."
Pierre Poutine is a false name provided by an unknown individual who ordered thousands of misleading automated phone calls be placed to voters in Guelph, Ont., directing them to non-existent polling stations.
Lukiwski asked Kingsley to explain how the bill would "help prevent those kinds of situations from occurring again in future."
Bill C-23 requires that firms making campaign calls for political parties must register with the federal broadcast regulator, the CRTC.
Those who hire such services will also be kept on file, along with scripts of the automated messages delivered, for a period of one year.
"I've recommended that it should be something akin to 10 (years), which is the length of time that an actual investigation and prosecution can take place," Kingsley responded.
"I'm also recommending that the (phone) numbers that are called be kept, so that a trail can be followed right to the people who received the calls so that they can tell investigators what it is they remember about that call."
Lukiwski then asked Kingsley whether measures in the bill "would help ultimately prevent the same 'Pierre Poutine' situation we saw in the last election?"
"Yes, they would," Kingsley responded.
Craig Scott, the NDP democratic reform critic, asked Kingsley to explain why holding records for a year wouldn't suffice.
Political parties take six months to file their post-election reports and Elections Canada must then audit those reports, which can take several months, said Kingsley. An investigation follows, after which a recommendation to lay charges can be made.
"One year doesn't do it," he said.
Scott called the robocall registry a good start, but said it doesn't address the prospect of "truly rogue operators doing automated calls using proxy servers and burner phones — not even using the services of legitimate voter contact companies."
Elections Canada has been seeking the power to compel witnesses to testify and to require parties to provide documentation supporting their expense claims. Neither measure was included in Bill C-23.
"I would submit to you that even with those two (investigative) powers, it will be very difficult" to prosecute rogue operators, Kingsley responded.
"There are people who want to cheat. It's a simple as that. They are few and far between, but they're there.
"But obviously it would help if those two powers were included, and that's what the gist of my remarks were in my recommendations to this committee — to consider them seriously before not including them," he said.
It took Poilievre less than three hours to shoot down Kingsley's recommendation.
During question period Tuesday, Poilievre said he believes the bill strikes the "right balance" and that he's not prepared to have political parties and automated phone dialers hold records for more than a year.
Poilievre was previously co-owner of 3D Contact Inc., an Alberta firm that did polling, political research and automated phone calls for political candidates.
"The preservation of the script for one year, I think, is reasonable because it is mostly volunteers who will be retaining that information and to expect longer periods of time," he said.
"It might be unreasonable for a volunteer campaign worker who does not have financial resources and is not a sophisticated political consultant."
Follow @BCheadle on Twitter
Also on HuffPost:
Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre rises in the House of Commons to apologize for making an obscene gesture yesterday, in Ottawa Wednesday June 14, 2006. (CP PHOTO/Tom Hanson)
Ottawa-area Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre smiles as he talks with reporters on Parliament Hill in Ottawa Tuesday Feb. 27, 2007. Poilievre referred to "extremist elements" in the Liberal party that want to ease anti-terror laws and shut down the Air India inquiry last week.(CP PHOTO/Tom Hanson) Canada
Democratic Reform Minister Peter Van Loan (right), with Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre looking on, makes an announcement on the introduction of the Accountability with Respect to Loans legislation at the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, Quebec across the river from Ottawa, Tuesday May 8, 2007.(CP PHOTO/Fred Chartrand) CANADA ,
Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre rises in the House of Commons to apologize for saying in a radio interview Wednesday that native people need to learn the value of hard work more than they need residential schools compensation, on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Thursday June 12, 2008. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tom Hanson
With copies of the Conservative accountabilty booklets, Conservative M.P. Pierre Poilievre waits for the start of the Commons House affairs committee looking into allegations of Tory election spending misconduct during the last election, on Monday Sept. 10, 2007 in Ottawa. (CP PHOTO/Fred Chartrand)
Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre speaks in the House of Commons during question period on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday June 16, 2008. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Pierre Poilievre, parliamentary secretary to the prime minister, leaves a news conference after speaking with the media about the gun registry in the Foyer of the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Tuesday September 14, 2010. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre listens to a question during a news conference in Ottawa, Friday October 15, 2010. THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Adrian Wyld
Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre poses with a bust of Sir John A. Macdonald after announcing the former Bank of Montreal building would be renamed in honour of Canada's first prime minister during a ceremony in Ottawa, Ont., Wednesday January 11, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre rises during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Tuesday February 28, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre holds up copies of legislation as he responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa, Friday October 19, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Pierre Poilievre is sworn in as the minister of state for democratic reform during a ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on Monday, July 15, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
The Honourable Pierre Poilievre, Minister of State (Democratic Reform), poses for a group photo after the swearing in of the federal cabinet at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on Monday, July 15, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle
Minister of State Pierre Poilievre stands in the House of Commons during Question Period, in Ottawa Friday, February 7, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand
Minister of State (Democratic Reform) Pierre Poilievre responds to a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, February 27, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
UP NEXT: The Fair Election Act
"The Fair Elections Act will ensure everyday citizens are in charge of democracy, by putting special interests on the sidelines and rule-breakers out of business," says Democratic Reform Minister Pierre Poilievre. Read more about the Fair Elections Act <a href="http://www.democraticreform.gc.ca/eng/content/harper-government-introduces-fair-elections-act" target="_blank">here.</a>
Crackdown On Illegal Robocalls
The legislation proposes a <a href="http://www.democraticreform.gc.ca/eng/content/backgrounder-protecting-voters-rogue-callers" target="_blank">mandatory public registry</a> for mass automated election calls, jail time for those convicted of impersonating an elections official, and "increased penalties for deceiving people out of their votes."
No More 'Vouching' For Your Buddy
In the interest of cracking down on voter fraud, the bill would prohibit the practice whereby one Canadian vouches for another's identity at a polling station. In fact, voter information cards will no longer be accepted as proof of identity. <a href="http://www.democraticreform.gc.ca/eng/content/backgrounder-fair-elections-act-cracking-down-voter-fraud" target="_blank">But the government says voters will still have 39 forms of authorized ID to choose from in order to prove their identity and residence.</a>
Independence For The Elections Commissioner
The Commissioner of Canada Elections office, responsible for enforcing the elections law, will be moved under the mantle of the public prosecutor's office, not Elections Canada. Conservatives believe this will give the commissioner <a href="http://www.democraticreform.gc.ca/eng/content/backgrounder-independent-commissioner-sharper-teeth-longer-reach-and-freer-hand" target="_blank">more independence</a> as the Chief Electoral Officer will no longer be able to direct him to carry out investigations. In future, the commissioner would be appointed by the director of public prosecutions to a non-renewable, seven-year term. The legislation <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2014/02/04/fair-elections-act-poilievre-robocalls_n_4723565.html" target="_blank">also bars</a> former political candidates, political party employees, ministerial or MP staffers or employees of Elections Canada from being named commissioner. <a href="http://www.democraticreform.gc.ca/eng/content/backgrounder-independent-commissioner-sharper-teeth-longer-reach-and-freer-hand" target="_blank">Tories believe the legislation will give the commissioner "sharper teeth" and a "longer reach" to seek out stronger penalties for offences.</a>
More Donations Welcome
The ceiling for individual political donations would be raised to $1,500 from $1,200 and party spending limits would be increased by five per cent. Union and corporate donations are still banned, though.
The West Won't Have To Wait
A long-standing ban on the <a href="http://www.democraticreform.gc.ca/eng/content/backgrounder-fair-elections-act-respecting-democratic-elections-defending-freedom-speech" target="_blank">premature transmission of election results</a> will be lifted, meaning voters in Western Canada will get to know how things are shaping up out East before heading to the polls. Broadcasters can share results from Eastern Canada on election night, even if the polls aren't closed in the West. The government believes this change will uphold free speech.
New Rules On Political Loans
The legislation would raise the amount candidates can <a href="http://news.nationalpost.com/2014/02/04/conservatives-unveil-fair-elections-act-which-they-say-will-crack-down-on-illegal-robocalls/" target="_blank">contribute to their own campaigns to $5,000.</a> Leadership contestants will be allowed to give their own campaign up to $25,000.
UP NEXT: Funniest Robocall Movie Titles
John Patrick Stanley