04/09/2014 13:41 EDT | Updated 06/09/2014 05:59 EDT

Tom Mulcair, Justin Trudeau hit back at Pierre Poilievre

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and NDP Leader Tom Mulcair say a government attack yesterday on the head of Elections Canada was unprovoked and partisan.

Speaking separately after their parties' caucuses met on Wednesday morning, both leaders defended chief electoral officer Marc Mayrand against allegations by Pierre Poilievre, minister of state for democratic reform. Poilievre said Tuesday that Mayrand opposes the government's proposed changes to election laws because he "wants more power, a bigger budget and less accountability."

"For a minister of the Crown to engage in such blindly partisan attacks is weakening the fabric of our democracy and is absolutely unacceptable," Trudeau said.

"But it is yet again proof that this government no longer sees a difference between the interests of the Government of Canada and the interests of the Conservative Party of Canada." 

Trudeau promised that, should the bill become law and should he be elected prime minister, he will repeal all the changes contained in the bill.

"The Conservatives' election bill is bad for democracy. It is bad for Canada. It will prevent large numbers of Canadians from voting in the next election," he said.

Trudeau said it's "entirely inappropriate" for an MP or government minister to attack an officer of Parliament. Trudeau says that, as an officer of Parliament, Mayrand "safeguards our democracy."

'Unprovoked' and 'undeserved'

Officers of Parliament are named by the prime minister and report to Parliament, rather than to a cabinet minister. Mayrand was named to his role by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Mulcair said it's the "Harper method" to attack critics and attack them personally.

"It is a fundamental breakdown of parliamentary institutions to see a sitting minister of the Crown attacking independent officers, present and past, of Parliament. It's ad hominem, it's personal, it's unprovoked and it's certainly undeserved. But I think that it's the end of a regime," Mulcair said, referring to the Conservatives' nine years in office.

"This is a subject that all Canadians should be concerned about, because it deals with the essential rules of our democracy — how we vote. Nothing could be more important than that." 

A number of people who work at promoting democracy or running elections have criticized Poilievre's proposed changes to the laws governing how parties campaign and how Canadians vote, including Mayrand, former chief electoral officer Jean-Pierre Kingsley, former auditor general Sheila Fraser, and groups representing seniors, students, Canadians with disabilities and aboriginal Canadians.