Feds amend controversial Fair Elections Act

OTTAWA—After a collective howl of displeasure that resonated across the country at the Conservative government’s proposed Fair Elections Act, led by junior Minister of State for Reform Pierre Poilievre, the federal government announced late last week changes to the contentious bill.

The first draft of the Fair Elections Act took away the option to have someone vouch for his or her identity at the polls in lieu of voter identification. It also allowed political parties to access a list, showing who had voted and who did not. Elections Canada was also stripped of its rights to advertise with the hopes of encouraging voter turnout.

The bill also saw changes to campaign finance, what the Chief Electoral Officer can and cannot say, the role of the Commissioner of Canada Elections and the ability for local party associations, or the national party itself, to nominate returning officers and poll clerks, among many other items.

On Friday Minister Poilievre announced that voters will still be required to show identification, but if they don’t have proof of address another person can vouch for them. He also amended the original bill to allow the Chief Electoral Officer to speak on any issue, removing the ‘gag order,’ as well as the amendment that saw returning officers and poll clerks appointed by party.

The spending stipulations in regards to mail outs and phone calls to past donors have also been dropped, and ‘robocalls’ by telemarketing agencies will now have to keep all scripts and recordings for three years, instead of the proposed one year.

“From the start, Mr. Poilievre said there would be no changes, that the bill was not flawed,” Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing MP Carol Hughes told The Expositor. “Obviously there are problems and there continues to be problems.”

Ms. Hughes said that any election reform should take in the say of all Canadians. “Every piece of legislations is important. There used to be a time when you could weigh in on issues such as this,” she added, calling the circumstances surrounding the Fair Elections Act part of the failure of the political system over the years.

“The NDP have been very vocal on this: we’ve all made mention with respect to this act, which is anything but fair,” Ms. Hughes added. “It’s really providing less of an opportunity for people to vote when we should be encouraging people to vote.” In reference to eliminating Elections Canada’s right to advertise, she said, “they’re saying advertising resulted in less voter turnout, and that’s definitely not true.”

“We’re seeing where they’re trying to skew this in their favour,” Ms. Hughes continued, noting similar situations in the United States with the Republican party making it so that “only the people they want to vote will vote.”

She called the Friday announcement by Minister Poilievre a positive step, but said more work needs to be done.

Ms. Hughes explained that she was part of the Parliamentary Library Committee that was in the midst of undertaking the Parliamentary 20/20 study before the last election, which looked at how to interest Canadians in their government, in turn increasing voter turnout.

“After the last election these efforts went by the wayside and no matter how many times I bring it up, there’s never a favourable response,” she said. “And that’s been intentional.”

Ms. Hughes said that time and time again, Conservative government moves that have little to no public consultation are coming back to “slap them in the face,” noting the bills on prostitution, minimum mandatory sentences, the support of Judge Marc Nadon to the Supreme Court and now, the Fair Elections Act.

“Instead of doing their due diligence, they should be having conservations with Canadians,” Ms. Hughes added. “This is a government that’s really not interested in points of view other than their own.”