Politics

MPs adopt 'vouching' compromise as elections bill review continues

MPs are continuing review of the fair elections act after dealing with some of the most controversial measures, including vouching and the appointment of central poll supervisors, as well as a BQ bid to force voters to show their faces. Follow Kady O'Malley's live blog of today's meeting.
MPs Democratic Reform Minister Pierre Poilievre's bill to change Canada's election laws has been undergoing a clause-by-clause review at a Commons committee this week. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

The painstaking, line-by-line review of the government's bid to rewrite Canada's election laws continued on Wednesday night.

Over the course of the four-hour session, MPs dealt with some of the most controversial aspects of the bill, including the section on vouching, a practice the government had initially hoped to eliminate entirely. That prompted widespread criticism from academics and legal experts, as well as students, seniors and First Nations communities.

In response, Democratic Reform Minister Pierre Poilievre put forward a compromise proposal that would institute a new system of attestation, which would allow voters without ID showing their current place of residence to register at the poll if they can get someone at the same polling station with proper ID to sign a written declaration attesting to their address.

After considerable discussion, that amendment passed Wednesday with the support of all parties.

As New Democrat MP David Christopherson observed, although he still felt it didn't go far enough to ensure no eligible voter would be turned away due to lack of identification, when it comes to democracy, he believed that "half a loaf … is better than none."

As it turned out, the committee was also of one mind on a Bloc Québécois amendment that would have inserted a requirement for all voters to show their faces before casting a ballot.

After just a few minutes of discussion, that motion was summarily — and unanimously — voted down on the spot.

Earlier in the evening, the clause that would have given the party that won the previous election appoint central poll supervisors met a similar fate.

The committee is scheduled to reconvene late Thursday morning for a final round of debate before the time allotted for clause-by-clause review runs out at 5 p.m. ET, at which point the chair will call every vote required to complete the process, setting the stage for the bill to return to the Commons early next week.

As of Wednesday night, MPs had made it roughly a third of the way through both the 200-plus-page bill and the 344 accompanying amendments.

Major government-backed amendments still on the to-do list include:

  • Replacing the provision to exempt fundraising calls to previous donors from campaign expense limits with one that would instead exempt free broadcasting time.
  • Extending the record-keeping requirements for mass campaign calls from one year to three years.
  • Tightening the rules governing election advertising by third parties, including those located outside Canada
  • Explicitly authorizing the elections commissioner to disclose information if, in his opinion, such disclosure would be in the public interest, taking into account privacy rights, the right to be presumed innocent and "public confidence in the fairness of the electoral process."
  • Allowing the chief electoral officer to provide documents to the elections commissioner.
  • Eliminating the statute of limitations for certain offences.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kady O'Malley covered Parliament Hill for CBC News until June, 2015.

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