VANCOUVER - Bowing to widespread opposition and criticism, the Conservative party government of Stephen Harper has agreed to modify legislation that critics charge is designed to help the Conservatives steal the 2015 elections.
The proposed changes to Bill C-23 include:
- While all voters will still need ID to prove who they are before voting, a voter whose ID doesn't list an address can sign a written oath of residency. Another voter, with full ID, would have to co-sign the oath. Previously, a voter would have been barred from voting without ID proving identity and residence.
- Eliminating a provision that would have exempted the cost of mail and phone calls to past donors asking for campaign donations from the election spending cap.
- Allow the Chief Electoral Officer to communicate with the public on any issue. Previously, he could not say anything, other than tell people where to vote.
- Permit Elections Canada (the agency responsible for organizing and running election) to offer programs explaining voting to elementary and secondary students. Previously, the agency was barred from running any sort of campaigns to encourage voter turnout.
- Elections Canada will continue to appoint supervisors to run polling stations. Previously, the winning party would be allowed to propose names for supervisors.
- Communication companies and call centers have to keep audio records and scripts for 3 years rather than 1 year.
However, the Conservatives will still scrap vouching, which allows one voter to vouch for another voter who has a government issued voting card but lacks ID proving name and residence. The most controversial of the proposed changes, critics charge that it will disenfranchise tens of thousands of non-conservative voters. The new Commissioner of Elections will still have no power to investigate fraud, such as compelling witness testimony.
Democratic Reform Minister Pierre Poilievre said the amendments have been submitted to the Parliamentary Committee studying Bill C-23, dubbed the "Fair Elections Act" by the Conservatives.
Opposition parties and groups called the changes a partial victory but have vowed to continue efforts to scrap Bill C-23. The Liberal Party, which is running neck and neck with the Conservatives in the polls, have promised to do away with the legislation if elected government in the 2015 elections.
At a press conference held by small federally registered parties in Ottawa, the Communist Party demanded not only that Parliament reject Bill C-23 but "open a wide, open and transparent discussion across the country on genuine electoral reform, including the convocation of public hearings and citizen meetings in both large and smaller urban centers, as well as rural areas."
"If the Conservatives had any real commitment to improving the current electoral system, they would open broad public discussion around genuine reforms to enhance democratic participation in the country, including consideration of proportional (or mixed proportional) representation in Parliament, further restrictions on campaign spending, a return to full voter enumeration before every election, greater and more equitable access to media for all political parties, not just the large, entrenched parties", party leader Miguel Figueroa told reporters.