Democratic Reform Minister Pierre Poilievre took the podium at the Chateau Laurier in Ottawa Thursday to discuss "the facts" surrounding his controversial proposal to rewrite Canada's election laws.
After spending several minutes on other topics, including the upcoming Supreme Court response to the government's reference on Senate reform, Poilievre noted that those who follow the news might think that "every element [in the election bill] is controversial."
"In fact," he countered, "Much of the bill has broad consensus."
Poilievre went on to provide a few examples of what he described as the “little-discussed elements of the bill which have received almost no opposition,” including a proposed registry for "mass" calls to “protect voters from rogue calls and impersonation,” new limits on loans to party leadership candidates, the addition of two additional advance polls during election campaigns and the end to the media blackout on election results.
“So what is all the fuss about?” he asked, and promptly answered his own question.
“The crux of the disagreement is over ID. The opposition believes that we should allow people to vote without even showing a shred of identification,” he said.
“Canadians disagree. In fact, the public opinion data shows they overwhelmingly disagree.”
In fact, concerns over the implications of imposing a blanket ban on "vouching" as a failsafe for voters without the required identification have been been raised by academics, senior citizens, students and First Nations communities, as well as groups representing homeless Canadians, persons with disabilities and other potential electors who may be at risk of being disenfranchised by the move.
Also left unmentioned by the minister: the calls to give the Commissioner of Elections the power to compel testimony from reluctant or recalcitrant witnesses during investigations into allegations of election fraud, or any recommendations that would require parties to provide documentation to support their annual financial reports.
Word on amendments coming 'soon'
An all-party Senate committee issued an interim report two weeks ago that included several proposed amendments to Poilievre's bill, known as the fair elections act.
Although he resisted providing any specifics on which amendments are under consideration, Poilievre said "and very soon, the government will make clear which amendments it will support."
"But," he added, "on this point let me be clear: the fair elections act in its final form will require every single voter produce ID showing who they are before voting."
"Away from the noise around political Ottawa, everyone understands that this is common sense."
The Senate committee has unanimously recommended several ID-related changes to the bill, including allowing “verified electronic correspondence” to be accepted as identification at the polls, and adding a requirement to ensure “attestations of name and address” would be provided for “those who seek it,” including “the elderly, homeless, Aboriginal peoples, etc.”
Other suggestions emanating from the committee's pre-study: “specifically authorizing communications between the chief electoral officer and commissioner of elections," as well as ensuring that both “expressly be able to inform the public of problems they uncover in the electoral system.”
Craig Scott, the NDP's democratic reform critic, said amendments are not enough and said the bill should be scrapped.
"Thousands of voters will be disfranchised and Elections Canada will be muzzled. In order to give an unfair advantage to the Conservatives, millions of Canadian voters are treated unfairly as potential fraudsters. It doesn’t make sense," he said in an email.
MPs return to Ottawa next week after a two-week Easter break.
The Commons committee that has been reviewing the bill is expected to send it back to the House — with or without amendments — by May 1.