Tories to support NDP motion on Elections Canada powers

An NDP motion that calls on the government to make call centres used for campaigning to register with Elections Canada is expected to pass, with the Conservatives planning to vote in favour.

Robocalls scandal inspires motion to force election call centres to register

Federal election signs crowded the landscape outside the Ottawa Convention Centre before last spring's leaders' debate. Political parties go to great lengths to identify support among voters before election day. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

An NDP motion that calls on the government to make campaign call centres register with Elections Canada is expected to pass, with the Conservatives planning to vote in favour.

The motion is non-binding but gives opposition MPs the chance to speak at length about the need for such legislation, dredge up the so-called in-and-out scandal and tie it to the current controversy over fraudulent and harassing phone calls during the last federal election.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Stephen Harper confirmed Conservative MPs will support the motion.

The NDP motion, to be debated Thursday, calls for the government to make three changes to the Elections Canada Act in the next six months:

  • Give Elections Canada stronger investigative powers, including the ability to force political parties to provide supporting documents for their expenses.
  • Require all telecommunication companies that provide voter contact services during a general election to register with Elections Canada.
  • Make telecommunication companies identify and verify the identity of election clients.

On Tuesday, NDP and Liberal MPs said the Conservatives denied a request by Elections Canada for the power to demand receipts for political parties' election spending.

In his report on the 2008 federal election, Canada’s chief electoral officer asked MPs to give him the power to request supporting documents from political parties for their expenses. Individual candidates are already required to provide their receipts, as are leadership contestants, Marc Mayrand told the procedure and House affairs committee.

But opposition MPs say the Conservatives on the committee looking at the report overruled them last week, refusing to support Mayrand’s recommendation.

Conservatives reverse position

Despite the focus the previous day on the committee report, in question period Wednesday, Harper said he wasn't aware Elections Canada had said it needed more powers.

"I am unaware of Elections Canada claiming they don't have the authority or resources to investigate this matter as they should," he said.

It's not clear why Conservative MPs would support the non-binding motion but block committee support for Mayrand's request.

"We have no opposition to this proposal," Harper told interim NDP Leader Nycole Turmel.

"At the same time, it's necessary to note we are giving all our information to Elections Canada and nothing is stopping the NDP from giving their information to Elections Canada too."

Harper says the party's information is available to Elections Canada. A spokesman for the Conservative Party of Canada said Tuesday that the agency hadn't asked for it.

It's an apparent reversal from the party's position the day before.

After criticism by opposition MPs Tuesday, the parliamentary secretary to the government House leader said the committee had two options. 

"The committee chose the option that put the financial burden on the individual parties rather than the taxpayer," Tom Lukiwski said in a statement.

New Democrat clarifies comments

New Democrat MP Pat Martin, one of the party's leads on the election calls file, on Wednesday clarified comments he made at the beginning of the controversy. 

Martin had been threatened with a libel suit over comments he made about Campaign Research, a Conservative-linked company that runs live phone banks for the party during federal elections. A spokesman for Campaign Research released the statement on behalf of Martin after their lawyers worked out an agreement to end the threat of the lawsuit.

In a televised intervew on Feb. 26, Martin says in the statement, "I made certain comments dealing with the allegations of voter tampering at the 41st federal general election of May 2, 2011, that seem to have been misunderstood by the corporate officers in charge of Campaign Research Inc, an Ottawa-based company.

"Today, I would like to clarify my remarks. I did not accuse Campaign Research Inc. of having engaged in criminal activity in respect of robo-calls during the spring 2011 election campaign, nor did I intend to convey that meaning.

"My exact remarks were to the effect that this is a company, meaning one of a number of companies, of a size and organizational capacity as to be able to have engaged in strategies to influence the outcome of the election. In fact, the concluding part of my comments was: 'So I would hope the investigators look at the other contractors that are working for the Conservative Party.'

"As a member of Parliament, I not only have the right, but indeed the obligation, to comment on current issues vital to democracy and to the conduct of public affairs."