On Tuesday the Conservative government introduced the Fair Elections Act, a comprehensive list of reforms aimed at modernizing Elections Canada and Canada's whole electoral system.
Bill C-23 was introduced by Minister of State for Democratic Reform Pierre Poilievre and proposes to implement a number of recommendations made by the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO). These include:
- Tough new rules requiring a public registry for mass automated calls and prison time for individuals found to be impersonating elections officials;
- Cracking down on potential voter fraud by prohibiting the use of vouching and voter information cards in lieu of acceptable identification;
- Clarifying elections rules that have been broken due to "honest mistakes." The bill notes that every political party has found certain rules to be unclear, resulting in inadvertent breaches without ever realizing it;
- Raising the political donation limit to $1500 per person per calendar year, and maintains the ban on donations from unions and businesses. It also raises the maximum spending limit by five percent;
- Currently, the Chief Electoral Officer can remove an MP's ability from sitting or voting in the House of Commons because the CEO disagrees with the MP's elections expense return. The Fair Elections Act would put the dispute before a judge to quickly rule on the matter, allowing the MP to keep his or her seat as a democratically elected member;
- Lifting the ban on the "premature transmission of election results." An earlier law said that voters in British Columbia might be discouraged from voting if they already know the election results in Nova Scotia -- this has become ineffective with the creation of social media;
- Provides better customer service to voters by focusing Elections Canada's advertising on the basics of voting. C-23 would also give an extra advance polling day.
Incumbent Guelph Liberal MP Frank Valeriote was fined for engaging in illegal robocalls during the 2011 election that failed to identify who was calling; failed to give a call back number; and failed to include a way for the person receiving the call to contact whoever was sending the call. To crack down on this, the Fair Elections Act would give Elections Canada "sharper teeth and a longer reach." This includes tougher penalties for existing elections-related offences, and creates more than a dozen new elections-related offences.
These new offences would include making a false statement, making indirect political loans, registering as a voter when not qualified to do so, and making it an offence to impersonate a candidate, a candidate's representative, a representative of a political party or association, the Chief Electoral Officer, or any of his staff.
But most critically, C-23 would reorganize Elections Canada. As I noted several times throughout 2013, Elections Canada botched the investigation into any possible robocalls by sole-sourcing their investigative powers to private contractors with political connections.
Those contractors were given raises and contract extensions without any paperwork to back it up. The Fair Elections Act would solve this problem by establishing the Commissioner of Canada Elections as a deputy head reporting to the Director of Public Prosecutions. This leaves the CEO free to administer elections and the Commissioner to investigate and prosecute elections offences.
The Free Elections Act is the bill Canadians have been waiting for since the media hysteria surrounding robocalls in the wake of the 2011 election. With stricter laws, better customer service, an independent Commissioner focused on upholding elections laws and the continued promise to keep big union and business money out of Canadian politics, Bill C-23 is the right change for Canadians.