Elections Canada needs electoral reform bill to be final to prepare for 2019

Canada's former chief electoral officer says the government needs to pass its electoral reform legislation before Elections Canada can work towards implementing it.

Former chief officer disagrees with minister that department can work on changes before bill is passed

Former chief electoral officer Marc Mayrand says time is running out to make legislative changes to elections laws before the next federal vote. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Canada's former chief electoral officer says the government needs to finish passing its electoral reform legislation before Elections Canada can work towards implementing it.

"We're running very short on time," Marc Mayrand told CBC Radio's The House. "We're past midnight."

Last week, Scott Brison, the acting minister of democratic institutions, said he's confident it's possible to pass and implement changes to elections regulations before the 2019 federal vote.

The Trudeau government tabled legislation at the end of April proposing to limit the length of federal election campaigns, restrict the amount of spending allowed in the period immediately before a campaign and introduce new rules to regulate third-party political activity.

Brison said work to prepare for the changes in the bill can begin before it's passed because a significant portion of the legislation is based on past recommendations from Elections Canada.

It may be true that the contents of the bill are familiar to the department, but it doesn't make the timeline realistic, Mayrand said.

"They need the bill ASAP and they need the definite version of the bill."

Campaign spending limits, foreign influence and the role of social media platforms ... are all things the federal government is trying to address with its bill to modernize election laws. But does the bill go far enough? We ask Canada's FORMER chief electoral officer, Marc Mayrand. 12:43

Some sections of the bill would require changes to IT systems, which requires extra time for integration and testing, he explained. Elections Canada is also likely hesitant to spend money now preparing for a bill that could morph if amendments are made.

Mayrand, who served as electoral officer from 2007 to 2016, isn't the only one calling attention to the government's timeline.

Canada's acting chief electoral officer Stéphane Perrault told a committee in April that major changes to election laws should have been enacted by then if they were to apply in time for the next federal election.

If the government wants to stick to their timeline, Mayrand said some of the changes included in C-76 may have to wait until after the next federal election before they can be implemented.

The bill is a "good first step," he said, but when technology is continually changing in ways that could affect elections, you face the risk of things shifting again before the legislation comes into effect. 

Mayrand said he's confident Elections Canada will do their best to prepare for the bill, but it's incredibly difficult to start making changes before the legislation is in place — especially if amendments mean you're always starting from square one. 

Acting Democratic Reform Minister Scott Brison lay out some of the proposed changes in a new bill tabled on Monday 1:29