Most of the debate about the changes the government wants to make to how Canadians vote and run elections has centred around vouching. But there are many more controversial measures inside Bill C-23. Here are seven things you may not know about the proposed fair elections act.
1. Party-appointed election workers
The government wants to introduce rules that would let the winning candidate of the previous election — the member of Parliament — choose some of the workers at polling stations. The candidate would select the deputy returning officers, central poll supervisors and poll clerks.
The bill's clause 20 would allow a returning officer to refuse appointments on "reasonable grounds," but doesn't set out what qualify as reasonable grounds.
Under current legislation, those workers are appointed by returning officers, who are hired by Elections Canada. The central poll supervisors, for example, are put in place at polling stations to make sure voting unfolds smoothly.
Harry Neufeld, British Columbia's former chief electoral officer and an independent election consultant, told the CBC's Rosemary Barton last month that the move is "completely inappropriate in a democracy." Neufeld told reporters later in March that the bill is an attempt to tilt the playing field in favour of the Conservatives.
2. New spending loopholes
Often, updating legislation means closing loopholes. In this case, the bill would also loosen campaign spending rules to create a loophole.
Clause 86 of the new bill would let political parties spend as much as they want on election fundraising from people who have contributed $20 or more in the last five years. Right now, if a party hires a company to solicit money during an election, that counts as an election expense. Election expenses are capped based on the population.
One concern about the loophole is that it would let the parties not only raise funds but solicit support from voters in those calls, emails or mailouts.
As former chief electoral officer Jean-Pierre Kingsley said, it's hard to separate what Elections Canada calls advertising calls from fundraising calls. Both are currently included under the spending cap, which is meant to ensure an even playing field for all candidates. Exempting the fundraising calls would allow the parties with more money to spend more hiring professional fundraisers to raise more money.
"It is simply not possible to seek funds without including reasons for giving, and this can only constitute advertising for or against a party or a candidate. Moreover, it favours richer and established parties to the detriment of small and especially newer parties," Kingsley told MPs at the procedure and House affairs committee on March 25.
The Senate legal and constitutional affairs committee will recommend removing that loophole, the CBC's Leslie MacKinnon reported Monday.
The bill also increases donation limits from $1,200 from $1,500 a year.
3. CEO gag order
Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand says he's concerned about a measure that would limit what he can say publicly.
The act would change the current Canada Elections Act's section 18 to limit the topics on which the chief electoral officer can speak. The bill's clause 7 would allow him only five topics:
- How to become a candidate.
- How voters can add their names to the voters list or have it corrected.
- How voters can cast ballots.
- How voters can prove their identity and address.
- How voters with disabilities can get into polling stations and mark their ballots.
Mayrand told the Senate committee last week that he's concerned the chief electoral officer would no longer be able to alert the public to problems during an election or even to work with programs that teach students about civic affairs and how elections work.
The Senate committee is recommending allowing the chief electoral officer to continue his work with those programs and that he be allowed to notify the public of problems.
4. Notification of investigation
On the flip side of that, the commissioner of Canada Elections — the person who investigates possible wrongdoing under the Elections Act — would have to tell people being investigated about the probe.
Section 510 of the existing law would see a number of changes, including an instruction to provide written notice "as soon as feasible after beginning an investigation ... to the person whose conduct is being investigated."
Proposed changes would provide the commissioner an out, however, noting that notice "is not to be given if, in the commissioner’s opinion, to do so might compromise or hinder the investigation or any other investigation."
5. Using the voter information card
In 2011, Elections Canada tested a pilot program that let groups of voters use their voter information cards as proof of address. Approximately 400,000 Canadians living on reserves, in long-term care or studying at post-secondary institutions used their VICs as proof of address that year, and Mayrand recommended using the VICs for all voters starting in 2015.
Bill C-23 would ban that option.
Prior to 2007, voters in Canada didn't have to show ID if they were on the voters list. For those without a driver's licence, it can be difficult to prove their address.
Conservative MPs and senators say that the cards are riddled with errors. Mayrand admits there's a seven per cent error rate, which translates into more than 1.6 million mistakes on the cards.
Mayrand told MPs on the procedure and House affairs committee that about 250,000 Canadians move during a five-week election campaign, making some IDs out of sync with their addresses for a few weeks.
"Even driver's licences may not have correct addresses. That's why we have a revision process that allows electors to update their address, and at some point in time during the election, I would suggest — we could have a debate on this — that the VIC is the most precise piece of ID that electors can rely on to establish their address," he said.
"Many of them will not have had a chance to update their driver's licence for the purpose of voting, but they may have, through revision, updated their address correctly."
6. No party spending audits
Canada reimburses candidates and parties for some of the costs of running a campaign. Right now, candidates have to turn in receipts to back up that spending. Federal parties, however, do not, despite submitting $66 million in expenses after the 2011 election. Those expenses were reimbursed at 50 per cent, meaning taxpayers provided $33 million in refunds but have no receipts to show for that money.
Mayrand has asked repeatedly for the power to require receipts for that spending. There is no measure proposed to give the chief electoral officer that ability.
7. Robocalls gaps
The proposed legislation would bring in a number of new rules for voter contact services to close some of the gaps that made it harder to investigate the misleading robocalls made in Guelph, Ont., during the 2011 federal election. The measures are part of what Pierre Poilievre, minister of state for democratic reform, refers to when he says the bill would give enforcement officials "sharper teeth, a longer reach and a freer hand."
The new rules would have the CRTC keep a registry of who orders automated calls and a list of the companies making the calls. The records have to be kept for a year after a campaign.
But critics say one year isn't long enough for the commissioner of Canada Elections to investigate before the records are destroyed. The new rules also don't require companies or parties to keep the list of phone numbers called.
Senators are recommending the calling companies keep the records for three years.
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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