Inside Politics

Robocalls Watch: 5 questions for Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand (that he can actually answer at committee)

Given the sky-high expectations for dramatic committee room reveals that are swirling around the Hill  in anticipation of tomorrow's committee appearance by Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand, this seems like as good a time as any to issue a general preemptive caveat, at least as far as what new information the CEO might be able to share with MPs -- and, by extension, the rest of us -- on the topic du jour, "allegations of wrong-doing during the 41st general election."

After all, not only will Mayrand be constrained by the fact that the hunt for Pierre Poutine is still underway, but he also has no direct role in active investigations, which fall under the purview of the commissioner of elections, and not the CEO.

As such, he's not likely to be able to provide specific details on the latest developments related to alleged voter suppression in Guelph, nor any other riding(s) that may now be under review following the flood of 700-plus complaints that followed the initial robocall revelations.

Given all that, what will Mayrand be able to discuss at tomorrow's meeting?

Here are a few possibilities, depending, of course, on the questions that he's asked by inquisitive MPs:

  • He can deliver a crash course in how the investigative process unfolds, from initial complaint to the laying of charges, which might be very useful for new or forgetful MPs, as well as the media and the public, many of whom are already wondering why it seems to be taking so long to get to the bottom of what happened in Guelph and elsewhere 

  • Although he would almost certainly shy away from speculation on the case(s) at hand, he can always provide context through precedent by elaborating on how the agency has handled similar cases of such complexity, scale and scope in the past

  • He can explain how Elections Canada dealt with the initial flurry of complaints that were submitted during, and in the immediate aftermath, the last election, particularly those that involved allegedly misleading phone calls, as well as other incidents of potential electoral interference, and take the opportunity to respond to claims that the agency failed to get back to some electors and candidates who reported similar incidents at the time

  • He can refresh our collective memory on the rules that currently govern the use of phone calls -- both automated and live -- during the writ, as well as offer recommendations on how the government could go about amending the Elections Act to comply with the motion passed unanimously in the House last month, which would, among other things, require all contractors engaged in "direct voter contact" to register with Elections Canada.

  • Finally, he can once again make his pitch for enhanced investigative powers, which was first made during his post-election report to parliament, and subsequently rejected by this very committee

What remains to be seen, of course, is whether committee members will keep the above in mind when it comes time to put their questions, or instead gallop madly off in all directions, thus putting themselves at grave risk of being ruled out of order by the chair, or politely rebuffed by Mayrand.

Too many members -- especially, but not exclusively, those on the opposition side of the table -- have also developed the very bad habit of delivering long, rambling preambles, which inevitably eats up the time available for the witness to respond, even if he or she very much wishes to do so, which is an understandable, but regrettable temptation that may prove even more difficult to resist than usual tomorrow, given the necessary, but likely frustrating, restrictions on what he'll be able to say.

That said, given the keen public interest in gleaning whatever scraps of insight and/or information Mayrand may be able to provide, here's hoping they keep it on topic. After all, it's going to be tough enough competing with the post-budget news cycle -- let's not have this rare by-request appearance by a witness near the centre of an ongoing controversy turn into two hours of wasted time.

I'll be there and liveblogging, so stay tuned!
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