Stephen Harper’s next enemy

Mark Mayrand has big plans to reform the way we run elections. Will the government listen?


Chris Wattie / Reuters; Adrian Wyld / Reuters

When a judge decided last spring not to order new elections in six federal ridings where voters had received phone calls directing them to false polling locations, the ruling was a victory of sorts for the Conservatives. After all, the case, launched by the left-leaning Council of Canadians, was the first real test of whether the Tories might pay a price for what’s been dubbed the “robocalls” affair, after the automated calls used in the 2011 election to confuse voters. But even though Federal Court Justice Richard Mosley found there wasn’t enough evidence to require any sitting Conservative MPs to face by-elections, he didn’t hold back when it came to describing their tactics. In no uncertain terms, he wrote that they “engaged in trench warfare” in a bid to “block these proceedings by any means,” while their party “made little effort to assist with the investigation.”

It was the sternest official assessment so far of the way Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s party reacts to probes into how it has campaigned. Marc Mayrand, Canada’s chief electoral officer, hasn’t spoken nearly so bluntly; he usually takes pains not to sound confrontational. Still, asked about Mosley’s characterization of Conservative stonewalling, Mayrand didn’t hesitate to endorse it. “The judge was very clear and severe in his comments,” he told Maclean’s. “I think it was a point he made strongly and he should be listened to.” And Mayrand speaks from experience: he’s overseen federal elections since 2007, tried to sort out their often messy aftermaths, and urged major reforms for future campaigns. He often seems locked in a contest of wills with a governing party largely defined by its fierce approach to waging and winning electoral battles.

Mayrand is about to face what might be the biggest test yet of his influence as Canadian democracy’s top watchdog. Next week’s Throne Speech, which will set out the government’s new agenda, is expected to signal how soon Harper plans to table long-delayed election reform legislation, likely later this fall. Mayrand’s reactions, pro and con, are bound to be key to the Prime Minister’s ability to sell the bill’s merits—and use it to repair his Tories’ reputation for dubious campaign tactics. They exceeded spending limits with their so-called “in and out” scheme in the 2006 election. Harper’s former parliamentary secretary, Ontario MP Dean Del Mastro, was recently charged over local campaign-financing irregularities dating back to the 2008 election, leading him to resign from the Conservative caucus while his case goes to court. And, of course, voter complaints about misleading robocalls in the 2011 election are the subject of a prolonged Elections Canada investigation, which isn’t expected to wrap up until next spring.

Through it all, Mayrand has emerged as a formidable figure on the federal political scene, though a reluctant focus of media attention. He didn’t appear cut out for such prominence. Prior to being recruited in 2007 to succeed the less reserved Jean-Pierre Kingsley as chief electoral officer, Mayrand served a decade as the federal superintendent of bankruptcy, not exactly a marquee position. The meticulous former law professor, originally from Trois-Rivières, Que., soon concluded that the rule book he inherited is badly outdated. “We need to bring the legislation into the 21st century,” he says. “We need to rely more on technology. We need to find ways of reducing complexity in the system. We need to improve accountability in the system.”

It’s a long wish list. Mayrand’s specific proposals span everything from enhancing Elections Canada’s clout when it comes to uncovering corruption, to imposing new reporting requirements on political parties, to streamlining the way polling stations are run on election days. How much of his vision the Conservatives accept isn’t clear. Last spring, the government announced that its reform bill was about to be unveiled, only to mysteriously go back to the drawing board, reportedly after Conservative MPs were briefed on the planned changes and balked at some of them. That awkward retreat erased all doubts about the sensitivities surrounding any serious change in how politicians run for office.

The abortive bid to proceed with new legislation was overseen by Alberta MP Tim Uppal, then minister of state for democratic reform. In his cabinet shuffle last July, though, Harper replaced the low-key Uppal with a far more polarizing figure, Ottawa-area MP Pierre Poilievre, among the most hard-hitting ultra-partisans in the Tory ranks. Poilievre called Mayrand to his office soon after taking over the democratic reform portfolio—a notable meeting, since Mayrand hadn’t been consulted previously on the government’s plans. On his sit-down with Poilievre, Mayrand says “it was more about getting acquainted” than hashing out ideas. He adds that Poilievre “didn’t give any indication” about any further meetings. Poilievre’s spokeswoman would not discuss the timing or possible content of electoral reforms in advance of the Oct. 16 Throne Speech.

As for what Mayrand proposes, details have been on the record since 2010, and some were updated in a report last spring. Against the backdrop of a string of protracted investigations, his most important recommendation might be calling for Elections Canada to be given the power to force individuals with information about possible wrongdoing to disclose what they know. The power to compel evidence is already wielded by federal agencies such as the Competition Bureau, when it investigates companies abusing their clout in the marketplace, and the government has recently proposed giving the National Energy Board similar authority when it seeks information from pipeline companies in environmental safety audits.

In the particular case of Elections Canada, Mayrand says the need to compel evidence has grown ever more urgent. “There seems to be a pattern developing where people increasingly refuse to meet with investigators,” he says. “At times, it makes the case more complex. That’s why we end up with investigations that take far too long to come to a conclusion.” While Mayrand is characteristically careful not to point the finger at any particular party, Elections Canada has reportedly been unable to persuade some Conservative operatives to talk in the robocalls investigation. (The echo of Mosley’s comment about Tories engaging in “trench warfare” hangs over the entire case.) Mayrand stresses that suspects wouldn’t be forced to reveal information that could hurt them; their right to remain silent would be respected. His frustration is with party officials who aren’t themselves the targets of investigations, but still won’t talk to Elections Canada about what they know.

He also calls for more stringent rules on information parties would have to provide about their campaign telemarketing activities. Both national parties and local organizations, he says, should have to keep records about the firms they hire to contact voters by phone, and turn that information over to Elections Canada when asked. The firms should be made to keep records of what they are paid, what numbers they called and the scripts heard by voters who picked up the phone. More broadly, Mayrand insists that parties and local riding associations should be required to file much more detailed information after elections about how they spent money on campaigns. He points out that, under the current law, they don’t have to supply invoices or other supporting documentation to prove they stuck to the spending rules.

Although he might seem preoccupied only with catching campaign cheaters, Mayrand says he’s not so single-minded. For instance, he also wants to streamline the way polling stations handle voters who turn up without standard identification, and to make it easier for Canadians to go online to update their voter registrations, especially when they move from one riding to another. To leave enough time to make all these changes for the scheduled fall 2015 election, he says a reform bill should be passed before next summer.

By then, the robocalls investigation should finally be completed, and any resulting charges laid. And who knows what else might turn up in the meantime? Elections Canada hasn’t had a dull stretch in years. “I don’t think we’re looking for wrongdoing, or chasing wrongdoing,” Mayrand says. “I’m sorry, we don’t set any rules; we simply apply rules set out by Parliament. We can’t turn a blind eye when these things happen.”


Stephen Harper’s next enemy

  1. Likely not. Harper has everything to lose if he gives EC more powers.

    • What he would lose most if he gave them more power is a chance at some well deserved jail time.

      • And that’s exactly why Harper won’t do anything.

      • ..with every jail cell having it’s own can, His Most Introverted “J” being locked up would make him feel like he is on some diplomatic mission, like Brazil.. G20 maybe?? The photo ops would be somewhat different with the many bars running through the pictures.. I wonder if Loreen would be allowed to use the big black limo for forays up to the Pen for conjugal visits..??

      • Canada doesn’t jail politicians for crimes. No one is in jail tonight….just lots of feel good talk and no real tangible actions.

    • harper even has reporters neutered.

      • Not really, CBC is owned b government for a reason. While media might attack a politician like Harper, they will never attack the core Ottawa culture of waste, corruption and deception. As it isn’t all Harpers fault, he is just the current puppet of the back room occupying the seat.

        When we get tired of Harper, back room will arrange for another different named puppet to do the same.

        I like how Swiss do it, no PM, no president, a 7 member committee and the chair position rotates. Less corruption that way. It gets away from the absolute power corrupts absolutely problem.

  2. He let them off with nothing more than a scolding. Whithout consequences it will be open season next election campaign. To me that is cowardly. He could have pushed the agenda and instead made a few recommendations. Apparently he is afraid of the wrath of SH.

    • EC is nothing but impotent.

      • Yep, bankrupt like USA and Canada as they all print (electronic counterfeit) money to buy debt no legitimate lenders are buying.

  3. Voters should have the same rights as consumers – EC should have the same investigatory powers as the competition bureau.

    • Do you mean our Competition Bureau? They are a sad joke on Canadians, all talk, all deception, lips a moving and no real results. Just a union pay check to do nothing really tangible but to provide the perception but not the reality.

      Canada is a taxed inflated, cartel protectionist economy of debt. CRTC, RIV, Competition Propaganda Bureau, dairy boards, CBSA tax protectionism on foods to tax even the poor with high prices…..

      Job of our Competition Bureau is to propganda us, blame others and ignore government protectionism and tax costs which make our lives expensive.

      Take its attack on credit ard companies. For 2-3% they provide a huge network of terminals, process many millions of credit transactions per day, operate collections and credit, protect legitimate business from cash them and money counting costs/risks. Hard to skim a bar tile with credit card recipients.

      Yet CRA gets 3.5% of each tax dollar, doesn’t facilitate trades of goods and sservies, doesn’t operate terminals and cash flow….no where near the same numbers of transactions and get more?

      So while CRA costs up more and does less, Competition Bureau vilifies credit card companies?

      Thats called penny wise pound foolish. Shoot the productive and ignore the waste.

  4. Well, well, well, there you have it folks!! Mr. Mayrand has moved on already.. from what you might say? Mr. Mayrand is calling for changes to Canadian elections, which in a sense is good but what I really want to know is how the hell the Conservative Party lawyer was allowed to sit in on the investigation conducted by your man , Mathews, of the CPC employees/participants.. what ever you want to call them. Not only was he allowed to sit in on the investigation/interviews.. he was allowed to apparently ask questions!! And 2 1/2 years for an investigation.. (..make work project.. maybe??)
    Well, Marc, ..what gives?? It appears that between you, the library clerk over at the PBO, Paulson at the RCMP, Byrne in the PMO, the mail room clerk in the PM’s chair will survive. Congrats on a job well done!! Taxpayers appreciate your efforts!!

    • You had doubts? You don’t get to stay PM as long as Harper has without knowing how to dodge a few landmines (to borrow a classic line).

      • Dodge a few landmines by lying through your teeth and having everyone in the PMO also lie.

        • You don’t get to be a PMO (any party) unless you can effectively lie and device the people.

          Its all about protecting government from the people while using taxes to bilk them for back room deals, bailouts, inflated contracts…and toss a few trinkets back for perceptions sake.

          Only real choice you have from any party is which group of their buddies will get more of your money. Hardly an effective democracy. Show me a less taxing option if you disagree.

  5. New rules , “Ministry Of Truth” has taken over EC , Pierre Poutine Lives !

  6. Soon be getting robocalls about the chief electoral officer accusing him of non partisan activities. I note locally that our br—–ss mayor is now sending personal robocalls from his office phone attacking those that don’t support him seems illegal, would probably be acceptable in the Harper plan for openness and honesty

    • Probably meant accusing him of partisan activities..

  7. Two suggestions for Elections Canada – clamp down on the robocalls from all parties. Nobody wants them. Don’t allow the formation of special interest groups which have connections to the US – VoteNow, VotePair, DemocracyNow and Avaaz. That’s not the way we do politics in Canada.

  8. Name one conservative convicted in the so called Robo calls??

    • Should be some trials coming up pretty soon. The one for Del Maestro should be entertaining.

    • Apparently some aren’t answering questions posed on our behalf by Elections Canada – this can lead to others doing the same thing. The government should grant Elections Canada the investigatory powers they seek to build confidence in the system.

      • Then you can end up with a double edged sword of a partisan Elections Canada only going after parties it doesn’t like at the behest of its political masters. This is happening in the US right now where government agencies are targeting conservative organizations for investigations.

        • Elections Canada has gone after all parties – if we were to deny them this request because we fear partisanship then we may as well say the same about our police and our judges – and our political masters – but that could cause utter chaos. Therefore we should grant Elections Canada the investigatory powers they request.

          • A lot of people are already saying the police and judges have now crossed the line into partisanship.

          • Those people should be providing proof of their statements. It’s not impossible, but it’s a big accusation to be tossing around lightly.

          • Who cares what people say is happening. The only relevant thing is what is actually happening.

          • Good point

    • Did you read the article? Mosley all but accused the CPC of a coverup, reluctantly dismissing the case due to a lack of evidence. No convictions, but one heckuva stink. Cons keep bringing up Adscam, but there weren’t any convictions there either… lack of jail time is not proof of innocence, just insufficient, beyond-a-reasonable-doubt proof of guilt. There’s a reason why, in criminal cases, the declaration is not “innocent” but “not guilty”.

  9. Fair elections should never be a “left vs. right” issue.

  10. ALL automated calls need to be completely banned, and not just political ones. The penalty should be a business losing its phone privileges–literally. The CRTC needs to license commercial phone operations, like Rack Nine. And the campaign donation limit needs to be further reduced. Over a thousand dollars really is excessive. All three parties have been dirty in the last election: Tory robocalls, NDP voter fraud (Edmonton, East Toronto), and Liberals destroying rivals’ campaign materials. If this continues, we will resemble a third world basket case, or Chicago.

    • it could be excessive in terms of the influence it buys, but it’s not excessive in terms of what it takes to run a national party. there could be a reduction in the maximum donation amount, but it should be coupled with a return of the per vote subsidy.

      • reduction and return… sounds good to me

      • No. Absolutely no. We saw what happened with the NDP and the per vote subsidy. You get a bunch of straw candidates running all over the place just to get the money. Remember Ms. Las Vegas? She wasn’t even in the country during the election. Parties should be run on member donations not in and out scams, interested third parties or the equivalent of Super Pacs. The minute you allow money into the equation, you have corruption. It shouldn’t take a lot of money to run a national party. It gets expensive when you start hiring advertising agencies, election teams from other countries, consultants and advisers plus allowing your leadership candidates to not be charged for not paying for their campaigns.

        • yes. Absolutely yes. (See how easy this is?)

          Longshot candidates happened for the NDP because they suddenly became competitive in areas they’d been written off. It happened during Mulroney’s landslide as well. And Ms. Ruth has worked hard to prove herself and is looking better than some other MPs i could name for each party. The per vote didn’t create that situation. And the in-and-out scandal also had nothing to do with the per vote, but it was based on the refund policy for expenses in the current system.

          Some of your ideas are intriguing and I’m actually open to looking at ways to make it cheaper to be a political party, whether its hard caps on advertising or polling or some such. But that’s another conversation and for now we have to look at what we have.

        • ” We saw what happened with the NDP and the per vote subsidy.”

          The NDP ran candidates in non-competitive ridings in Quebec before the subsidy.

          ” The minute you allow money into the equation, you have corruption”

          Which is an argument for per vote subsidies over donations.

          • Why do they need subsidies? Think about it. Forget political parties. Why should we be subsidizing politicians?

          • In your words “the minute you allow money into the equation, you have corruption”.
            However all the subsidy favoured by Harper does is act as a multiplier in the money/corruption equation.
            If you don’t like subsidies you’ll never get any satisfaction from Harper. He’s never shown the slightest interest in getting rid of them.

    • What NDP voter fraud in Edmonton?

  11. How can Canada go any lower than Harper? Can’t vote for Trudeau..he’s bring back in bad advisers, the NDP has the best leader..but represents Government and Unions (no disrespect)..he allows no place for business. So..the GOP, sorry Christian Right Conservatives have taken over? The “Doggies” have rapped their arms around bumpkin..no respect to Alberta..and Canadian are to suffer the consequences.

    How about..Canadians fighting against the Christian Right Extremists and showing up our brothers & sisters in the United States.

    • Old stereotypes die hard I see.

  12. I wish the political class in Ottawa would take ‘cheating in elections’ more seriously.
    It’s not just the way things are done these days and kind of cute and clever.
    “Oh those Conservatives; they’re so much smarter than NDP/Libs, you know the chess checkers thing.”

  13. ““The judge was very clear and severe in his comments,”

    No one cares what the judge thinks or says,, just what he does.
    And by not ordering by elections by condoned the actions of harper and his henchmen!

  14. Pakistans Elections are more fair and honest than elections have been in Canada when harper is involved.

  15. Our democracy is a ruse anyway. We all vote for MPs that do not answer to us. They answer to party leaders money bought.

    Majority of Canadians were against bank, GM and other bailouts, we got them anyways. Most people don’t see value in defective F35s, rusty subs, fake lakes and G8 billion parties of opulence for self important politicians. Most are against putting debt on kids, grand kids and bailout waste, yet we are forced to accept it.

    Most working and productive Canadians want less taxes on food, stuff and less taxes on income and property, yet no option on our rigged ballot for it.

    If you examine it closely, our politics is designed to factor out our influence as we elect term dictators who will be more influenced by lobbiests and back room deals than those that pay for it. All options on the ballot only vary in who gets more of your money and getting more of your money is a forgone conclusion.

    Hey, I don’t see any recall, no referendum, no direct binding vote of the people for the people. What I see is a money/media bought ballot coaxing the majority to vote “big government” at every turn.

    We are not as democratic or free as we think we are.

  16. Canadian Election Revoltion

    Stephen Harper must be voted out of office, I whole heartedly agree. He has been the worst Prime Minister Canada has ever known.

    Problem. Voting for another Political Party does not fix the problem.

    The object of political protest should be parliamentary reform, but reform will never happen as long as political parties are in control of the political system. Parliamentary reform has been a political football by all parties almost forever. The prime objective of every political party is to benefit themselves. Canada and Canadian citizens are fifth on the list after; Raising Campaign Money, Electing Candidates, Opposing the Other Party, Attracting Media Attention. After all that, people only matter as long as they fit into the party defined demographics.

    What are Canadians to do? We must break the party hold on Members of Parliament.
    How? Have each candidate for election sign a contract with each respective constituency.
    Each constituency needs to have a group of caring citizens willing to work on behalf of Democracy and Parliamentary reform. I am not talking a new political party nor is a committee to endorse any particular candidate.

    The premise is that the cause of the lack of democracy and the culture of partisanship within the Canadian Parliament is rooted in party politics. Limit the influence of political parties in the House and Senate and democracy will improve, the culture of partisanship will transform into co-operation, open debate, compromise and in turn, good legislation.

    Next Election be part of the solution. Website: http://mympaccountable.blogspot.ca/
    Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/myMPaccountable

Sign in to comment.