cbc.ca (© Copyright: (C) Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, http://www.cbc.ca/aboutcbc/discover/termsofuse.html#Rss)
Updated: Tue, 04 Feb 2014 22:05:28 GMT | By CBC News, cbc.ca

Election reforms would bring big changes to campaign spending



Pierre Poilievre, minister of state for democratic reform, speaks at a news conference in Ottawa Tuesday February 4, 2014 regarding changes to the Canada Elections Act. Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press

Pierre Poilievre, minister of state for democratic reform, speaks at a news conference in Ottawa Tuesday February 4, 2014 regarding changes to the Canada Elections Act. Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press

Some fundraising would be exempt from campaign spending limits under changes proposed by Canada's Conservative government in the election reform bill tabled today.

The change would essentially increase the amount parties can spend during federal elections, aside from a separate measure that would increase the cap for national and local campaigns by five per cent.

The measure would exempt as election expenses "the commercial value of services provided to a registered party for the purpose of soliciting — by mail, telephone or other electronic means — monetary contributions."

The exemption would apply to services soliciting donations from each person who has donated $20 or more to the party, any of its riding associations or candidates, or leadership candidates in the five years before an election.

Parties and candidates can spend thousands of dollars soliciting donations both in and out of an election campaign.

The measure isn't mentioned in the documents provided to reporters to explain the bill's proposed changes.

Debate on the bill will start Wednesday.

Warning of investigations

The act also proposes the commissioner of Elections Canada warn people who are under investigation.

"As soon as feasible after beginning an investigation, the Commissioner shall give written notice of the investigation to the person whose conduct is being investigated," the bill says.

It provides for the commissioner to decide not to notify someone who's under investigation if it could compromise the investigation or any other investigation. 

The bill also instructs the commissioner or anyone working for the commissioner not to disclose any information about an investigation, "including information that reveals or from which may be inferred ... the person whose conduct is being investigated or any witness."

The commissioner is responsible for ensuring the election law is followed.

Other changes proposed in the bill include:

- Requiring identification to cast a ballot — a voter identification card will no longer be enough.

- Ending the process of vouching for someone without proper identification.

- Moving the commissioner of Canada Elections into the office of the director of public prosecutions.

- Having the director of public prosecutions appoint the commissioner of Canada Elections, rather than the chief electoral officer.

- Limiting the chief electoral office's role to sharing information with the public on how to be a candidate, how to be added to the voter list, how to vote, what identification to use, and ensuring people with disabilities can get into polling stations to cast a ballot.

The Conservatives have had several disputes with the current chief electoral officer, Marc Mayrand, since the party was first investigated for moving advertising money from local to national campaigns. The party pleaded guilty in 2011.

Bill gets A-

Former chief electoral officer Jean-Pierre Kingsley said if he had to give the bill a grade, he'd give it an A-.

In an interview with Evan Solomon, host of CBC News Network's Power & Politics, Kingsley said it lacks the means to give Elections Canada the authority to compel testimony.

Poilievre said not even police have that power, a fact with which Kingsley agrees, but says administrative and regulatory tribunals have that authority.

"I think it would still have been possible if they had consulted the statutes dealing with other regulatory agencies of a similar ilk to Elections Canada, and to what the new role of the commissioner will be. Because that authority does exist elsewhere," he said.

Kingsley would have liked to have seen stiffer financial penalties for parties that exceed their national campaign spending limits in elections.

"I think that if a federal political party exceeds the ceiling by which it can run its campaign, the fine should be double that difference by which they've exceeded it," he said.

'Strip Elections Canada' of power

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau alleged the changes are an attack on Elections Canada.

"The government's response to repeated findings of Conservative wrongdoing? They want to strip Elections Canada of its investigative powers, attacking its independence. Why?" he said in question period.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the bill would make sure the commissioner "has full independence" and is "effectively" housed in the office of the director of public prosecutions.

"That should help the independence and the effectiveness of law enforcement," Harper said.

Mayrand has repeatedly asked for increased investigative powers and for the ability to audit political parties, which don't have the same reporting requirements as individual candidates.

Mayrand has also said he and his officials weren't consulted on the bill, and had just one meeting with Minister of State for Democratic Reform Pierre Poilievre, at which there was no discussion of the legislation.

Harper said the government read all of the agency's reports and that Poilievre met with Mayrand in August.

"What we are doing is making sure that office [of the commissioner] has full independence and of course that office is vested with all of the powers necessary of all other investigators to conduct any investigations on breaking the law."

Mobile users, read the legislation here

more video