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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