OTTAWA - The Conservatives used their majority muscle in the House of Commons to pass a controversial bill that makes sweeping changes to election laws.
Bill C-23, dubbed the Fair Elections Act, passed Tuesday by a vote of 146 to 123.
The bill was virtually universally panned by electoral experts when it was first introduced.
The Harper government eventually modified or removed some of the most contentious provisions — including backing down on plans to eliminate vouching, muzzle the chief electoral officer and create a loophole that would allow rich, established parties to spend untold millions more during election campaigns.
"We introduced a common sense bill, we listened carefully to all the witness testimony and accepted the amendments that were worthy of passage," Democratic Reform Minister Pierre Poilievre said moments after Tuesday's vote.
"And I think the final result is a bill that started off very good and is now in an excellent form as it heads to the Senate."
The Senate's legal and constitutional affairs committee conducted a "pre-study" of the bill last month and recommended nine amendments, which were subsequently incorporated into the amendments accepted by Poilievre. The committee will hold more hearings now that the bill is actually before the Conservative-dominated upper house but is unlikely to insist on more changes.
Conservative Sen. Bob Runciman, chairman of the committee, said he believes the amendments made by Poilievre address the concerns of senators.
"By and large, the feedback I've had from fellow senators has been very positive about the way the minister reacted," he said in an interview.
However, Poilievre's changes weren't enough mollify opposition parties.
"The changes that have been made aren't good enough and if we form government in 2015, we will establish a much fairer principle around elections and repeal C-23," said Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau.
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, who has led the charge against the bill, said the original bill was "very bad;" with the amendments, he said it is "just bad."
He cited two particular flaws: the provision that would eliminate the use of voter information cards as proof of address and the bill's failure to give the commissioner of elections the power to compel witness testimony during investigations into suspected electoral wrongdoing.
The current commissioner, Yves Cote, has said his investigation into robocalls that misdirected voters to the wrong polling stations during the 2011 campaign was stymied by his inability to compel unco-coperative party operatives to talk to investigators.
It was the furor over robocalls that triggered the bill, although its scope went well beyond dealing with automated phone services used by all parties during campaigns.
Opposition parties maintained the original bill was aimed at tilting the election battlefield in the Conservatives' favour — and much of their criticism was echoed by federal and provincial electoral experts, as well as experts abroad.
The bill has been hugely controversial, pitting Poilievre against the chief elections watchdog, Marc Mayrand, whom Conservatives believe has unfairly targeted their party. Poilievre at one point accused Mayrand of wearing "a team jersey" and, at another point, accused him of wanting more power, more money and less accountability.
Nevertheless, he eventually amended the bill to deal with at least some of the concerns raised by Mayrand.
The most controversial provision involved eliminating the practice of vouching for voters without proper identification. Combined with the ban on using voter information cards to prove one's address, experts said the bill would disenfranchise up to 500,000 voters.
Poilievre ended up retreating from a total ban on vouching. As amended, the bill would allow a voter who has no ID showing an address to have another voter vouch, in writing, for his or her residency.
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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