Edmonton MP Laurie Hawn has finally appeared before a parliamentary committee that is studying proposed changes to the Fair Elections Act.
Hawn's appearance Thursday had been rumoured for weeks.
Hawn elaborated on a story he has mentioned before: That in the 2006 election, someone called him and offered voter information cards that had been left in apartment building lobbies.
Hawn said it wasn't uncommon to find VICs in recycling bins in buildings, and that it also wasn't unusual for Chinese or Vietnamese people to receive two or three of the cards due to what he called the transposition of their names.
Hawn also brought up names of other MPs in the past who had also complained about the abuse of the voter information cards.
He said he was using these example to attest that the potential for voter fraud is "absolutely clear."
"The simple fact of human nature is that there will always be those who, for their own gain, will want to cheat — whether that be on their taxes, EI claims, insurance claims ... or elections."
Hawn says election fraud exists
He added, "Election fraud does exist in Canada, We need to stay alert," he added. "People will also find a way."
Hawn also spoke of people he claimed were using business offices or shops as addresses on the voters list in 2006. He explained he not only complained to Elections Canada, but also put out a press release about how his campaign scrutineers would be vigorously checking ID and addresses on voting day.
"About 400 people were removed from the voter list and we knew of several hundred more who we didn`t have time to get to. We made it clear that we would challenge suspect voters and that we would seek to press charges against anyone attempting to vote fraudulently," Hawn told the committee.
Hawn said he didn't know how many possibly illicit voters were deterred by his team's efforts, but noted that in Edmonton Centre in the 1993 general election, the winning margin was just 12 votes.
"I would personally rather have an election with certainty of the result than an election with a large turnout of questionable voters," he said.
Hawn also alluded to his former career as a fighter pilot, saying that at 30,000 feet you don't see much, but flying at ground level you see much more, likening the experience to politicians "on the ground" who see voting abuses.
Asked about a part of the new bill that would eliminate vouching, Hawn said he personally didn't see a problem with what he called "one-on-one" vouching if the identity of the person doing the vouching could be validated before a ballot was cast.
He also seemed to agree with Liberal MP Kevin Lamoureux that the voter information card could be used as ID, if the system of creating the database for the cards could be scrubbed for errors.
At one point Hawn quipped about his responses to opposition MPs: "I hope I haven't been too supportive."
One of the more controversial provisions of the new bill is the complete elimination of the use of VICs as ID on voting day. VICs are mailed to every potential voter Elections Canada has managed to find an address for. Receiving a card means the recipient is on the list of voters, but must still provide ID in order to cast a ballot.
Bill Casey says independent MPs treated unfairly
Bill Casey, a former Conservative MP from Nova Scotia who ended his career sitting as an Independent because of a dispute with the government, also appeared as a witness Thursday.
Casey complained that independent MPs are at a disadvantage because they can't raise funds for elections in the same manner as MPs who are running under a party's banner. Casey explained donors can give donations totalling up to $1,200 a year to partisan candidates, but can only give once per election cycle to someone running as an independent.
At one point, NDP committee member Craig Scott gave some of his time to Brent Rathgeber, a former Conservative MP who currently sits as an Independent. Rathgeber talked about the absurdity of having to run in 2015 against a Conservative Party candidate who will enjoy the benefit of surplus funds that Rathgeber himself raised for his former riding association.
Casey pointed out that Elections Canada has twice recommended that financing rules for Independents be reformed, and said that perhaps the word "fair" in the Fair Elections Act isn't appropriate.
In response, Conservative MP Scott Reid said he agrees that the unequal rules for independent candidates may violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which he said guarantees not only the right to vote, but the right for any qualified person to run for election.
Senators also hear from witnesses
A Senate committee that is also studying the election reform bill, was hearing from former B.C. elections chief Harry Neufeld Thursday.
Neufeld, who has previously appeared at the Commons committee, said he planned to focus on three contentious aspects of the bill.
In pre-released speaking notes, Neufeld says he will address a part of the bill that allows federal election candidates to appoint central poll supervisors to work an election.
Currently, candidates have the power to name deputy returning officers and poll clerks, but Neufeld notes the position of central poll supervisor is a more crucial job and should be filled by a neutral party, not a partisan. He also recommends that all election day workers should be hired on merit, not on political affiliation.