Elections law changes would register robocalls, raise spending caps

The Harper government is introducing legislation to toughen up parts of Canada’s election law, while loosening the rules that govern political donations and party spending.

OTTAWA — The Harper government is introducing legislation to toughen up parts of Canada’s election law, while loosening the rules that govern political donations and party spending.

The bill includes a mandatory public registry for automated election calls and jail time for anyone convicted of impersonating an elections official, said Pierre Poilievre, the junior minister in charge of democratic reform.

“It closes loopholes to big money, imposes new penalties on political impostors who make rogue calls and empowers law enforcement with sharper teeth, a longer reach and a freer hand,” Poilievre said.

The legislation would move the office of the commissioner of elections under the mantle of the public prosecutor’s office. The commissioner is responsible for enforcing the elections law.

Yves Cote, the incumbent commissioner, has more than five years left in his term.

In future, the commissioner would be appointed by the director of public prosecutions to a non-renewable, seven-year term. And the legislation bars former political candidates, political party employees, ministerial or MP staffers or employees of Elections Canada from being named commissioner.

The changes would also raise the individual political donation limit to $1,500 from $1,200 and increase party spending limits by five per cent. Union and corporate donations are still banned.

The legislation would also tighten ID requirements for voters. Having someone vouch for another’s identity at the polling place will no longer be permitted. And it would also lift a long-standing ban on the premature transmission of election results, allowing voters in Western Canada to know what’s happening before going to the polls.

Poilievre said the bill will make laws stricter, but also easier to follow.

“The Fair Elections Act will ensure everyday citizens are in charge of democracy by putting special interests on the sidelines and rule-breakers out of business.”

NDP critic Craig Scott, who responded immediately after Poilievre’s news conference, said the legislation demands a close examination.

“Do we trust this government without reading every word as carefully as possible?” Scott said. “We have to see exactly what the wording is.”

Scott said he fears the bill may be salted with obscure provisions that would serve to help the Conservatives in the next election.

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