Senators push Pierre Poilievre on controversial election measure
Fair elections act's vouching measure could be changed, but not pulled out of bill
The Conservative government is showing it is open to amending a controversial part of its proposed fair elections act, CBC News has learned following a meeting between the party's senators and the minister behind the bill.
Conservative sources in the Senate tell the CBC's Hannah Thibedeau and Rosemary Barton that Pierre Poilievre, minister of state for democratic reform, told them he is open to changing the section of Bill C-23 that would eliminate the practice of vouching at polling stations.
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The news comes as the government moved to have the Senate start a pre-study of the bill to speed its passage.
It comes out of a meeting Tuesday between Poilievre and Conservative Party senators where Poilievre gave a speech and took questions, telling the senators that he is open to anything that anybody could suggest to improve the bill.
On Wednesday, Poilievre stuck to his guns. Asked whether he was changing the bill, he said it's "terrific" the way it is.
"I'll let you know in a month when the committee actually reviews its amendments," Poilievre told reporters on his way out of the party's weekly caucus meeting.
"The fair elections act is common sense, it is reasonable and I think every day Canadians would say that it's fair to expect that someone bring their ID when they show up to vote."
Sources say the senators talked about amending the bill to allow an alternative to vouching. Poilievre, according to the sources, pointed to a method used in Queensland, Australia, as a possibility.
That method seems to be the same one elections expert Harry Neufeld pointed to last week. Neufeld, the former chief electoral officer of British Columbia and the author of a report to which Poilievre frequently refers, said that Manitoba election officials allow voters without proper ID to sign a declaration confirming their address.
"I think the most sensible solution is what Manitoba does, where somebody, if they have two pieces of ID but neither of them definitively proves their residential address, then they have to sign a declaration that the address they're claiming to live at is indeed their address," Neufeld told reporters outside of the procedure and House affairs committee.
Under the Queensland model, that declaration goes into an envelope with the ballot so the declaration can be checked before the vote is included.
The elimination of vouching is one of the more controversial measures in the changes proposed by the Conservative government to Canadian election laws.
Currently, vouching allows a person without proper identification to have someone else swear to his or her identity. Poilievre says vouching is susceptible to fraud and that there were 50,000 errors associated with vouching in the 2011 federal election.
Experts have complained that eliminating vouching would do more damage than good and could potentially disenfranchise tens of thousands of Canadians. Neufeld said there's no proof of fraud and that most of the errors he wrote about regarding the 2011 election were due to administrative mistakes such as not filling in the form properly.
The senators asked many questions about the legislation, a source told CBC News, after having asked for the briefing. The source described the meeting as cordial.
Another source told CBC News that Poilievre did a good job defending his bill and impressed some of the senators in the room.
Poilievre 'not quite as brash'
As senators headed into the room, Conservative Senator Janis Johnson told the CBC's Julie Van Dusen that she has concerns about the bill and that she's hoping for changes to it.
"I think the job of the Senate is to look at bills like this," Johnson said.
Conservative Senator Larry Smith said Poilievre would be giving them a "complete overview."
"Obviously there are people for and people against, and what we have to do is make sure we continue to listen and get more feedback so that we can really assess the overall benefits of the bill," he said.
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair told reporters after question period that he'd noticed a "slight change" in Poilievre's behaviour Tuesday.
"Not quite as brash. And I have a feeling they're starting to read him the riot act. His failure to do his job seriously has put them in a corner and I think they're starting to look for a way out," Mulcair said.
- This story has been edited to correct the reason for which Manitoba voters sign a declaration. They do so to confirm their addresses. An earlier version of the story reported that they sign a declaration to confirm their identities.Apr 02, 2014 3:08 PM ET
With files from Hannah Thibedeau and Rosemary Barton