The Niagara Falls Review
Crackdown on election abuses
Act would clamp down on voter fraud, robocalls
OTTAWA — The chief electoral officer had his wings clipped Tuesday under new legislation that transfers investigations of suspected wrongdoing to an independent agency and permits MPs to fight disputed election expense returns in court.
Elections Canada would be solely responsible for running elections under the proposals contained in the Fair Elections Act while policing and investigative powers would be shifted.
The sweeping reforms were panned by the NDP’s democratic reform critic, who rejected the electoral fixes before reading the bill.
Craig Scott said the changes are retaliatory because of longstanding disputes between the Tories and Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand.
Mayrand has faced criticism for not pursuing NDP and Liberal misdeeds with the same vigour as Tory electoral misbehaviour.
“This is more of an attack on Marc Mayrand than anything else,” Scott said.
Nonetheless, the act would clamp down on robocalls, voter fraud and impose prison terms for “impostors” posing as Elections Canada officials and make it an offence to obstruct or mislead investigations.
The crackdown is in response to a series of automated calls made during the 2011 election in Guelph, Ont., by someone posing as an Elections Canada official who gave incorrect polling station information to voters.
A Liberal won the seat and a former Tory staffer was later charged.
The work of the commissioner of elections of Canada, who is appointed by the chief electoral officer, will now be conducted out of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, who will also appoint a replacement starting in 2019.
“The referee should not be wearing a team jersey,” Democratic Reform Minister Pierre Poilievre said about relocating the chief investigator’s office.
Other changes include ending the practice of allowing someone to vouch for a person’s identity at a polling station if the person lacks proper identification.
To prevent a debacle like the 2006 Liberal leadership campaign where some candidates never settled their accounts, personal loans will be outlawed in all campaigns.
Union and corporate sponsorship remains outlawed in response to the NDP selling wall space at a 2011 convention that contravened the rules.
The party repaid more than $ 300,000 to its donors, but was never charged.
With the per- vote subsidy about to dry up, the government will increase the cap for individual contributions to a party to $1,500 a year from $1,200.
“The goal of the Fair Elections Act is to let small donors contribute more to democracy through the front door and block illegal big money from sneaking in through the back door,” Poilievre said.
The minister said allowing MPs to challenge allegations of ineligible election spending in court would expedite rulings before any decision is made by the chief electoral office about whether the MP is fit to sit.
Other measures include adding a fourth day of advance polling, repealing the ban on transmitting election results before polls close and more advertising to encourage youth, aboriginals and people with disabilities to cast a ballot.