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.
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"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."
Conservative MP Jay Aspin, however, said Poilievre was "indicating his thoughts" on Mayrand.
"I don't think he attacked him. I think he's speaking the truth," Aspin told reporters on his way into caucus.
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"The minister's been quite forthright in this, and I believe the minister [Poilievre]," Aspin said.
Aspin said in his opinion, "looking at it objectively and non-partisanly," he believes there have been leaks about some of Elections Canada's investigations.
"There continues to be leaks and leaks and leaks.... Elections Canada have handled these various situations very unprofessionally, and I'll leave it at that," he said.
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.
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.
In question period, Mulcair used an old Harper quotation about limiting debate on electoral changes.
"'Using time allocation for electoral law, doing it quickly and without the consent of the other political parties is the kind of dangerous application of electoral practices that we are more likely to find in third-world countries.' Who said that?" Mulcair said.
Harper didn't answer, telling MPs that the NDP "decided itself before reading the bill that it would oppose" C-23.
Trudeau asked Harper whether he'd allow a free vote. Harper didn't answer that question either.
Earlier, Trudeau said it was "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."
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 told reporters 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."