After spending more than a month listening to what election officials, academics, students' groups, seniors, First Nations communities and other interested parties had to say about the government's bid to rewrite Canada's election laws, a Commons committee has begun the painstaking process of going through the full bill, line by line.
The procedure and House affairs committee met late into the night Tuesday to decide what, if any, changes should be made before sending the bill back to the House.
Between now and Thursday afternoon, the committee will have to go through more than 150 clauses that make up the 200-plus-page bill, as well as 344 amendments, including 45 put forward by the government in response to widespread criticism of the bill as originally drafted.
During the opening round of debate Tuesday morning, MPs dealt with more than 30 proposed tweaks, the bulk of which originated from the opposition side of the table and were eventually defeated, including several motions put forward by Independent MP Brent Rathgeber to level the electoral playing field for candidates not affiliated with a party.
Several government-backed amendments were passed, however, including a provision that would make the chief electoral officer's 10-year term non-renewable.
Chief electoral officer's freedom
During an extended evening session, the committee spent considerable time discussing one of the most contentious sections of the bill — specifically, the provisions related to the chief electoral officer's freedom to communicate with the public.
Lukiwski and his Conservative colleagues maintained nothing much had changed on that front. Even so, they attempted to allay concerns by amending the bill to include a specific reference allowing the CEO to "implement public education and information programs" aimed at primary and secondary students, as well authorizing him to launch advertising campaigns on "any other purpose related to his mandate."
Despite those concessions, opposition members wanted still more assurance that the CEO would be free to speak out on any issue, both in Canada and abroad, and put forward several amendments to do so, each and every one of which was ultimately defeated by the Conservative majority.
As Lukiwski repeatedly averred, the government's view was that such guarantees are unnecessary, as the bill would only impose limits on future advertising campaigns.
The chief electoral officer, he assured his colleagues, would still be able to hold press conferences, issue news releases, appear on television, lecture at universities and make his views known in any other manner he saw fit.
Lukiwski also served notice that, instead of proposing amendments related to the appointment of partisan-picked poll supervisors, government members would simply vote down those clauses when the committee hits that point in the bill.
The committee is scheduled to continue clause-by-clause review on Wednesday evening.
Read a blog recap of the midday and evening sessions below.