OTTAWA - Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government appears determined to whisk its controversial overhaul of election laws through Parliament, despite near-universal condemnation from electoral experts and strenuous political opposition.
When he was a Reform MP back in 1996, Harper had a starkly different view of how electoral reform should be handled. He objected to the way the then-Liberal government made several last-minute amendments as it rushed to get final parliamentary approval for a bill that staggered voting hours across the country, created a permanent electors' list and shortened election campaigns.
Unlike the current Bill C-23, Harper in 1996 nevertheless noted that all parties agreed in principle with Liberal bill's objectives, had been consulted extensively and had won a number of amendments.
Excerpts from a Harper speech to the House of Commons on Nov. 26, 1996:
"I intend to oppose this bill that imposes changes to the federal elections act without the consent of the opposition parties."
"In my view, the procedure of using time allocation for electoral law, doing it quickly and without the consent of the other political parties, is the kind of dangerous application of electoral practices that we are more likely to find in Third World countries."
"Every indication that we have had during the debate, in the committee hearings and in the House, has been that with further discussion we would reach an all-party consensus on virtually all of the items in the legislation."
"We have worked well with individual members of the government ... and other members of government staff who have worked to try to facilitate discussion and agreement on individual items. We acknowledge the importance of this work. Nevertheless, we have been operating within a terribly constricted timetable, a process that has not allowed us to come to a consensus."
On closing election day polls at 7 p.m. in British Columbia and 7:30 p.m. in Alberta: "People will be very upset when they realize the implications of this. I will say to them, a little bit tongue in cheek, to make sure the government pays for this decision at the polls — if they can get there, and that is an important if."
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Costas Menegakis, MP for Richmond Hill
"I love the bill the way it is."
Steven Fletcher, MP for Charleswood - St. James - Assiniboia - Headingley
"It's a very good piece of legislation and I will be voting for it with enthusiasm."
Gordon O'Connor, MP for Carleton-Mississippi Mills
"There might be minor changes, but yes, I support it...I'm anticipating there might be some little minor changes, but in essence, I support the bill. People should identify themselves when they're voting. I don't believe in vouching, okay. That's the big issue here. I don't support that."
Chris Warkentin, MP for Peace River
"I certainly support the Fair Elections Act, absolutely...I think that it's great legislation, and it will be supported by the government members."
Larry Miller, MP for Bruce–Grey–Owen Sound
Miller: "I will support the bill, yes." <strong>Q: Whether it's changed or not or?</strong> Miller: "Yes, because no bill, doesn't matter what, is ever perfect. But I think that it's a step in the right direction."
Bob Dechert, MP for Mississauga—Erindale
"I'm supporting the bill, and I think it's a good bill. I think it's making some changes that are necessary in our elections laws."
Greg Rickford, MP for Kenora
Declined to answer. "Hmm...," he said as he walked away munching on a chocolate chip cookie.
UP NEXT: Pierre Poilievre Through The Years
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.
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John Patrick Stanley