Marc Mayrand calls for more clout and more money

In an exclusive interview with CBC Radio's The House, Canada's chief electoral officer demands new powers to compel witnesses and a bigger budget to manage new ridings. Marc Mayrand also responds to Fix That House ideas for redesigning the voting system.

Head of Elections Canada hopes Throne Speech will signal movement on electoral reforms

Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand is asking the government for more powers, but electoral reform is on hold. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Canada's Chief Electoral Officer says some fundamental changes to our voting system warrant a public discussion.

In an interview with CBC Radio's The House, Marc Mayrand said that mandatory voting, lowering the voting age and proportional representation should be carefully considered. Mayrand was responding to ideas submitted in the context of CBC's Fix That House initiative.

One of the most popular suggestions to improve things on Parliament Hill was to adopt a form of proportional representation. Despite some reservations, Mayrand said the concept is not without merit.

"One of the problems we have is that there are so many variance on proportional representation, that's it's very difficult to establish consensus around it. But again, that's a matter that Canadians should be discussing," he said.

Mayrand noted that, even if Canadians might not be in favour of forcing people to vote, more than 30 countries in the world, including Australia, have adopted mandatory voting.

"We've seen turnout decline. We've seen political strategies targeting certain groups of voters. And maybe if they had to reach out to all voters equally, that may change the nature of campaign," he said.

Voter turnout for the 2011 federal election was 61.1 per cent, up slightly from the all time low of 58.8 per cent in 2008.
The chief electoral officer said that even if federal parties have not adopted the cause yet, lowering the voting age should also be explored.

"The argument would be that young people at 16 are mature enough and they're still at home, so they're easier to reach, and probably easier to engage in the democratic process," he said.

Will throne speech signal electoral reforms?

Mayrand also talked about the urgent need for the federal government to introduce new election rules.

In April, the government abruptly postponed its promised electoral reform package on the day before it was supposed to be tabled in the House. A new minister of democratic reform has taken over the file, but no legislation has been forthcoming.

I am concerned because the more time it takes to see the legislation, it takes time away from getting ready.- Chief Electoral Officer Mark Mayrand

Mayrand said he would like to see mention of the legislation in the upcoming Speech from the Throne on Oct. 16. But, he added, the new minister, Pierre Poilievre, has indicated the reforms package will come in "late fall."

"I am concerned because the more time it takes to see the legislation, it takes time away from getting ready. And again the legislation is not only for Elections Canada. It's for all stakeholders. It's for voters, it's for campaign, it's for parties and we all need to be acquainted with the new legislation and be ready to implement and follow the rules that will be set out in the amendments," he said.

The head of Elections Canada made the case for new powers to compel people to testify and produce documents.

"Without that power to compel it adds time and complexity to investigations and sometimes they get into a dead end for lack of co-operation from witnesses," he said.

He also advocated for increased transparency and accountability in the financial affairs of political parties.

"Right now, for example, after an election we pay $30 million in reimbursement to political parties," he said. "We have no invoice, nothing whatsoever to validate whether expenditure were correctly incurred."

Mayrand said he expects implementing electoral reforms and managing riding redistribution will cost more money. But he said he'll wait to see the new legislation before requesting a bigger budget.

"We'll have to support 30 new ridings. I don't know what will be coming out in the new legislation. It's likely that we will need additional funds to ensure that we can sustain the reforms and the 30 new ridings that have been added," he said.