OTTAWA — New Democrats are accusing the governing Conservatives of trying to rig Canada’s election rules while clouding criticism of the proposed changes as just another battle in the Ottawa bubble.
The NDP, backed by the Liberals, wants a House of Commons committee to hold hearings across the country on proposed changes to the Elections Act.
NDP deputy leader David Christopherson has introduced a motion that would instruct the Conservative-dominated committee to take the hearings on the road and complete them by May 1.
Christopherson says the government is resisting the idea because it wants to make the fight over election rules just another “battle in the bubble” that Canadians can easily tune out.
Pierre Poilievre, the minister for democratic reform, spoke to the bill’s merits in the House but did not say why travelling committee hearings were a bad idea.
Poilievre said the committee can invite testimony and put together a long list of what he called the best experts in the field.
But Christopherson argues Canadians deserve to have a say on how their elections are conducted and should be able to make their opinions known in their home regions.
The major overhaul of elections rules by the Harper government was drafted without the usual opposition consultations or formal input from Elections Canada, the watchdog that oversees election fairness.
Kevin Lamoureux, a Liberal MP who sits on the committee that will examine the legislation, called the way it was drafted “an absolute and total disgrace.”
However Conservative MP Michelle Rempel responded that the move to hold hearings on electoral reform outside Ottawa “seems like a big delaying tactic.”
The legislative overhaul was scheduled to be introduced in Parliament last April but was pulled at the last minute after Conservative MPs privately objected to some of the proposed provisions.
The bill finally tabled Feb. 4 effectively splits Elections Canada in two by putting its investigative powers in a separate office.
While placing new restrictions on automated robocalls during campaigns, the bill does not give Elections Canada the added investigative powers it was seeking to get to the bottom of the widespread fraudulent phone campaign of the 2011 election.
It also restricts the chief electoral officer from communicating with Canadians and effectively increases the amount parties will be able to spend during campaigns.
Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand has questioned the proposed changes, fearing they will undermine Elections Canada’s efforts to encourage all Canadians to cast a ballot.