Now that a Senate committee has recommended nine changes to Bill C-23, Fair Elections Act, the legislation seems pretty solid. And, since Pierre Poilievre has, apparently, indicated privately that he’s open to changes, an amended version of the bill will likely become law by this summer.
We would probably have gotten to this point earlier had not the minister responsible for the bill been MP Pierre Poilievre (Nepean-Carleton), Minister of State for Democratic Reform.
Opposition to Bill C-23—according to an April 14-15 poll by Angus Reid Global—is growing. Apparently, 59 per cent of Canadians who claimed to be very or fairly familiar with the bill were opposed to it. This represents a three-point increase since Angus Reid’s similar survey in February.
More disturbing are these findings: 65 per cent of those polled say they don’t trust the Conservative government to ensure the best possible elections oversight. Moreover, among those aware of the issue, 72 per cent claim “government’s changes are motivated by politics and a dislike of Elections Canada,” with a mere 28 per cent of all respondents saying “the Conservatives are making a genuine attempt to improve … Canada’s elections.”
Isolating the controversial issue of “vouching” at a polling station, nearly 75 per cent of all respondents support elimination of the option.
In my view, the trust issue is largely a reflection of the style Minister Poilievre has brought to this debate. The minister comes across as hyperpartisan, combative and rigid, and he’s the last member of parliament I’d expect to be charged with responsibility for something as sensitive as reforms to election legislation.
Recoil from Minister Poilievre’s style has been intensified by unseemly ad hominem attacks he’s led against Marc Mayrand, the chief electoral officer and Sheila Fraser, the popular and much respected former auditor general.
In fairness, I do have doubts about Mayrand’s impartiality. For example, the chief electoral officer does seem to have been rather generous to the Liberal party’s leadership contenders by grossly extending the time period for their campaign loan repayments, while being overly rigid when dealing with issues relating to members of the Conservative party.
Payback of this kind, though—if this is indeed what we’re seeing—seems petty and unbecoming of Canada’s preeminent political party.
But Sheila Fraser? How many times in the past have the Tories praised this woman and acknowledged her credibility? And, in her many years of public service, when was she ever found to be self-serving or partisan? It was Ms. Fraser’s report, after all, which revealed details of the multi-million-dollar Liberal sponsorship scandal, while the Liberals were still in office.
It must be said, however, that despite the way the bill has been mishandled in the House and broadly in the public sphere, the strategy—intended or not—of having Conservative Senators come to its rescue has been inspired.
In closing, let me say that the amended legislation deserves a better response than it has so far received from the opposition. Before the amendments, they may have had a legitimate case to make; post-amendments, their objections are mainly partisan and not substantive.
The way I see it, we’re set to go for 2015.