Over the weekend, chief electoral officer Marc Mayrand has publicly worried that the Fair Elections Act would inhibit his ability to comment on elections. When this was put to Pierre Poilievre yesterday, he noted that existing legislation requires the chief electoral officer to report to Parliament. But Mr. Mayrand’s concerns include whether and how he will be able to comment publicly and through the media and what reports Elections Canada will be available to produce and release (go to the 11:55 mark of this interview). “Basically,” he told the CBC, “my reading of the act is that I can no longer speak about democracy in this country except two points, where and when to vote.”
What is in question is clause seven of the Fair Elections Act which replaces Section 18 of the Elections Act with the following.
18. (1) The Chief Electoral Officer may provide the public, both inside and outside Canada, with information on the following topics only:
(a) how to become a candidate;
(b) how an elector may have their name added to a list of electors and may have corrections made to information respecting the elector on the list;
(c) how an elector may vote under section 127 and the times, dates and locations for voting;
(d) how an elector may establish their identity and residence in order to vote, including the pieces of identification that they may use to that end; and
(e) the measures for assisting electors with a disability to access a polling station or advance polling station or to mark a ballot
After QP yesterday, I spoke with Mr. Poilievre and attempted to sort through this. Will the chief electoral officer still be able to speak to the media openly and freely? Mr. Poilievre says, “yes.” No restrictions whatsoever on that? “No, no restrictions whatsoever.” Furthermore, in my interview, and in a later interview with the CBC, Mr. Poilievre seemed open to the possibility of amending the bill to clarify that. “If [the chief electoral officer] needs clearer wording to comfort him in speaking publicly and into parliamentary committees, frankly I have no problem with that,” he said to me. The minister of state says the intent of this section was to “focus” Elections Canada’s advertising and outreach efforts on the basics of voting and that will not change.