Conservative Senator Linda Frum says Elections Canada's efforts to increase voter turnout put it in a conflict of interest.
Frum has made the argument before while promoting her party's Bill C-23 (Fair Elections Act), but a tweet on the subject Wednesday promoted backlash on social media that led the senator to attempt to reframe her position.
After pollster and pundit Bruce Anderson asked if anyone had a transcript of Frum's previous comments on the Chief Electoral officer, the senator tweeted that "Elections Canada should not have a vested interest in recording a high voter turnout. That’s a conflict."
Anyone post a transcript of @LindaFrum 's seemingly odd assertion it's conflict for CEO to both promote turnout & ensure fair elections?— Bruce Anderson (@bruceanderson) April 9, 2014
Frum's tweet led to a deluge of negative tweets. Bill C-23 would prohibit Elections Canada from engaging in activities aimed at encouraging people to vote, instead placing that responsibility in the hands of political parties. Frum was quick to back away from her statement.
In a series of follow-up tweets, Frum explained that in her view Elections Canada's role is to administer fair elections and that inducing people to vote interferes with that responsibility. She also posted that "Motivating voters to fill out a ballot [is] inherently political."
Elections Canada role is to administer fair elections. Not to motivate. Not to induce. More integrity when mission is clear cut.— Senator Linda Frum (@LindaFrum) April 9, 2014
3 expert witnesses at todays senate hearings agreed that GOTV efforts do not fit w/ Elections Canada mandate.— Senator Linda Frum (@LindaFrum) April 10, 2014
@bruceanderson Motivating voters to fill out a ballot inherently political. Glad we can agree to disagree.— Senator Linda Frum (@LindaFrum) April 10, 2014
After further backlash, Frum tweeted a "retry" of her argument, shifting focus from an allegation of conflict to empowering politicians instead of "bureaucrats."
Retry: the job of motivating people to vote and thus achieving desirable goal of high voter turnout belongs to politicians not bureaucrats.— Senator Linda Frum (@LindaFrum) April 10, 2014
The measure in the Fair Elections Act barring Elections Canada from engaging in get out the vote efforts has been widely criticized by academics, the media and opposition parties. Critics say the measure favours the Conservatives because the government agency's voter turnout initiatives have focused on young people, a demographic unlikely to vote for Stephen Harper's party.
In the past, Democratic Reform Minister Pierre Poilievre has argued that Elections Canada's efforts have failed to actually get more young people to the polls, but the Tories seem to have abandoned this line of attack.
The move comes amid mounting criticism of Bill C-23 after Poilievre said Tuesday that Chief Elections Officer Marc Mayrand is after more power and a bigger budget. Mayrand has publicly criticized the legislation.
Poilievre's attack led to a rebuke from former auditor general Sheila Fraser, famous for her role in uncovering the sponsorship scandal.
NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair characterized Poilievre's comments as "crazy" while Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau pledged to repeal the act if he is elected prime minister.
Poilievre and other Conservatives have repeatedly criticized Mayrand for what they see as political bias. Elections Canada has spent much of the last three years investigating allegations that the Tories engaged in voter suppression activities, such as fraudulent robocalls, during the 2011 election.
Besides the measure aimed at voter turnout, Bill C-23 would prevent thousands of people from voting by placing a ban on vouching as a means to prove eligibility. The Conservatives say the measure will prevent fraudulent voting.
Among other things, the legislation will raise election contribution and spending limits, move the principal elections investigator out of Elections Canada and give parties the right to see which registered voters cast ballots.
The Conservatives are seeking to pass the bill with a minimum of debate. The party did not consult opposition parties before drafting the legislation and is using time allocation motions to hasten a final vote in the House of Commons.
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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