May 5 2014
By Chad Ingram
Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock MP Barry Devolin says he is surprised that the Conservative government’s Fair Elections Act has become such a lightening rod of controversy.
“There’s kind of a bandwagon” Devolin said mentioning the Council of Canadians a social justice organization and adding that others seemed to have jumped on.
The act would make numerous changes to rules around elections including those around vouching and the role of Elections Canada.
Vouching means one person attesting that another is eligible to vote.
In its original form the bill sought to scrap vouching all together.
“I do not think that it is unreasonable that people need to show a piece of ID in order to vote” Devolin said adding there are 37 pieces of identification that are acceptable proof of identify.
Devolin spoke to the Times about the bill on April 25. Later that day Minister of State for Democratic Reform Pierre Poilievre announced the government would make a series of amendments to the bill following weeks of criticism in the House of Commons the Senate and from academics and elections experts some of whom called the act unconstitutional.
Revisions will still require voters to produce ID but if they lack proof of address another person can vouch for their place of residence.
Another controversial aspect of the bill has been limits it would put on the country’s chief electoral officer.
In the original manifestation of the bill a gag order would have been placed on the chief electoral officer prohibiting him from speaking publicly on anything accept the mechanics of an election – how to vote etc.
Amendments mean the chief electoral officer will be able to speak freely in public. However the act still places limits on what ads can be run by the chief electoral officer and Elections Canada including advertising encouraging people to vote.
“The job of Elections Canada is to administer the election process” Devolin said. “It’s not their job to promote democracy. We don’t ask the police to give driving lessons.”
The MP stressed the government was not eliminating the authority to investigate anomalies in elections.
As for promoting participation in elections Devolin said there were others to do that.
“All the candidates and their political do” he said adding organizations such as Vote Canada and Student Vote Canada also promote participation in elections.
While the chief electoral officer has been able to serve to the age of 65 chief electoral officers would be appointed to single terms of 10 years after the retirement of the current CEO.
There would also be changes around spending and donations.
One proposal a loophole that would have removed limits on fundraising calls to people who had donated $20 or more in the past five years was scrapped.
Devolin said he was not intimately familiar with the conversation leading up to that proposal.
Individual donation limits would increase from $1200 to $1500 and the candidate limits to their campaigns would increase from a limit of $2200 to $5000.
There were sweeping changes made to election spending rules under former Prime Minister Jean Chretien.
“There was a huge choking of the system in terms of cash flow” Devolin said.
The changes under the Liberals included banning corporations and unions from making contributions.
“It’s still nowhere near what it was 15 years ago” Devolin said. “Fundraising rules sooner or later benefit the parties who work the hardest at it.”
Devolin was asked if he thought it was fair for a single party to change the rules around elections.
“If you want to strip away the rhetoric every single thing that government does is done by one party if you have a majority government” he said. “I don’t remember people saying in 2003 [under the Liberals] that it was inappropriate.”
Devolin said he expects to support the bill.