The Fair Elections Act carnival

And now an old-fashioned filibuster


The House will reconvene this morning and presumably pick up the privilege debate concerning Brad Butt. Yesterday’s debate starts here. Tom Lukwiski gamely tries to defend Mr. Butt here. (I might quibble with Mr. Lukiwski on two points. First, Mr. Butt didn’t quite correct the record at the Procedure and House Affairs committee. Rather, he changed the context—what he’d actually seen a week earlier was then something he’d heard anecdotally. There was no acknowledgement that his first version was incorrect. Second, Mr. Lukiwski argues that if Mr. Butt hadn’t admitted the mistake, nothing would have come of his original statement. Maybe. Or maybe the complaint to Elections Canada in regards to his comments would have eventually resulted in some kind of reckoning.)

Eventually, things got weird, with a minor debate over the applicability of comparisons to Russia and a Conservative MP suggesting that if he was more like the NDP he would relentlessly pursue the author of this comparison “until he started to cry to mommy.”

Anyway. This particular situation is rather ridiculous in its entirety. But here we are.

The government will apparently move at some point to end this privilege debate. Meanwhile, the Procedure and House Affairs committee is due to meet at 11am and presumably the NDP’s David Christopherson will then resume his filibuster (which is now at about three hours).

What else?

In addition to Preston Manning’s concern, Harry Neufeld questions the Fair Elections Act‘s provision to give incumbent candidates and parties the power to recommend polling supervisors. Pierre Poilievre parried this point yesterday by pointing out that Elections Canada will maintain the right to refuse any of  those recommendations. Leadnow’s Andrew Schletzky quibbles with the Fair Elections Act on a few fronts. Sixty-two percent of respondents to one poll are suspicious of the government’s intent. And a former lawyer for Elections Canada questions how the legislation would limit the chief electoral officer’s ability to communicate on investigations.

The New Democrats have also tabled a number of motions (No. 7 through No. 14) related to the study of the Fair Elections Act. Because the bill has been passed at second reading—essentially adopting the bill in principle—there are limits as to how far an amendment can go in changing the bill. (The NDP had proposed that the bill be sent to committee before a vote at second reading, theoretically providing the committee more latitude to amend the bill.) Those motions, if adopted by the House, would give the Procedure and House Affairs committee more latitude.

All previous coverage of the Fair Elections Act is here.

Update 2:10pm. This morning’s first move went to the government, who moved concurrence on a committee report, forcing a debate about matters unrelated to the question of privilege concerning Brad Butt. The government has since moved closure on the question of privilege, meaning there will be a vote tonight, at the end of the day’s scheduled business, to determine whether or not to send the matter of Mr. Butt to the Procedure and House Affairs committee for further study.

Meanwhile, at the Procedure and House Affairs committee, the Conservatives have moved to extend this morning’s meeting indefinitely. This effectively challenges Mr. Christopherson to a test of stamina—the NDP MP can continue with his filibuster, but the Conservatives are apparently prepared to sit there until he gives up or passes out. Mr. Christopherson is receiving a break at the moment with MPs summoned to the House to vote on the government’s closure motion and he will receive a similar break for any subsequent votes, but otherwise he will have to keep talking, conceivably through the night and into tomorrow if he is both willing and able.

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The Fair Elections Act carnival

  1. Douglas Adams – “To summarize the summary: anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job”

    • And this has what to do with Canada or the topic of AW’s post?

      Here’s an equally relevant quote: “A wet bird doesn’t fly at night”. [anonymous]

  2. I watched the debate yesterday and concede there was a certain amount of sanctimony coming from Nathan Cullen and Charlie Angus and silliness from Stephen Fletcher and others but I disagree with the notion that it was all trivia for the following reason, provided during the debate by Peggy Nash:

    “It is about whether this member, through his so-called vivid memories of voter fraud, as he is calling it, were accurate, and whether his memories, which have now been proven to be untrue, were the justification for the changes that are being brought forward in the bill that will lead to voter suppression and the inability of voters to cast their ballots.”

    In other words, it’s not such a big deal if a member is bull shifting to make himself look important on TV, but it’s a very big deal if his lies are the actual basis for legislation that will almost certainly deny at least some electors their franchise. That question deserves explanation.

    • Not quite following here. Is Nash actually saying that Butt’s [ couldn’t’ve picked a better name to represent the scope of CPC enquiry and research] so called memories actually effected the drafting of provisions in this bill? If true, that’s simply astonishing. We don’t draft measures that effect elections in this country on the specious, as it turns out, dolly daydreams of individual members do we?

      • “We don’t draft measures that effect elections in this country on the specious, as it turns out, dolly daydreams of individual members do we?”

        Nope, but we seem to use those dolly daydreams as a smoke-and-mirrors explanation for bad legislation. Kinda like unreported crime as “justification” for a sh*tty bill to amend the criminal code. The daydream gets established as truth in the minds of the government’s supporters.

        • It’s not a daydream. The card and voucher problem is real. Their alleged use has been a complaint for years but Elections Canada has never taken any action — how can you investigate something for which you keep no evidence?

          • How do you know the alleged problem is real, in the absence of any evidence?

      • I also watched the debate. Elizabeth May had a plausible supposition – that since there is no actual evidence of voter fraud of the type the FEA means to stop, Conservative members are being encouraged to invent it by the PMO. Butt was just overzealous.

        On another note, I found Fletcher’s performance utterly bizarre, especially when he started doing ‘shout outs’ and describing the Fair Elections Act as ‘awesome’. His strawman attack on Morin was one of the dumbest I’ve ever seen. No wonder they don’t let him talk much.

        • He is apparently a great fan of Sudbury.

        • There’s no ‘evidence’ because Elections Canada doesn’t keep any evidence that can be investigated or do any investigation. If a voter has no signature on record anywhere — very hard to believe — then any signature used to vote cannot be checked. But if follow-up investigations were done, and addresses were checked in person after the election, charges could be laid. But EC doesn’t bother.

          This is a well-known issue. Candidates from all parties have complained about it in the past.

          • EC seemed quite interested when Butt made his claim. And it is an easy thing to investigate since the person voting must be vouched for with a sworn statement by someone with ID who’s name appears at the same polling station.

      • I take her point to mean that his repeat offerings on the subject without being reined in by the notoriously controlling PMO leads one to suspect there is similar imaginary reasoning going on with respect to the drafting of the clause. Let’s not forget a previous version of this bill was presented to the Conservative caucus and sent back to the drawing board. In the absence of other sources of evidence that vouching is leading to electoral fraud, how do we know there wasn’t dissembling by Brad Butt or others in caucus that led to the vouching provision? The point is, without him being called to account, parliament, and the rest of us, don’t know.

        • Ah, so Butt is either the classic fool who speaks the unsaid truth[cpc version] because it’s really what they think, or he’s the leak in the wall they didn’t get to in time?

        • The rest of you don’t know because you don’t pay attention or have never actually worked on an election. I recommend it to all my students. Because at the actual campaign level you worry about how the rules are being used for improper advantage by your opponents. Every campaign does. Join any campaign. This issue took prominence after the 2011 election due to allegations about vouchers used in an Etobicoke riding. It was in the media. You’ll find it with google. But the ongoing problem with election cards and lack of ID is nothing new. It literally happens every time.

          Here’s how to scam it. Have an electors list from a previous election (not hard to get) or scoop some tossed elector cards at a post office. On the first day of voting, take a gang of people to vote using the cards and vouchers. The ID for the person or persons vouching can be faked. Vote before the real people do. Your ballot can’t be stopped even if the real person with real ID shows up to vote. In tight votes this can change the result. And in early votes the poll staff are often less familiar with the rules.

          • it is my understanding that the issue in the Etobicoke election was (among other things) vouchers that were not properly recorded by the electoral staff, not that vouchers were used to cheat in the election.

          • Ahem, I’ve worked as a poll clerk and a DRO in 2 federal elections and a provincial. And I did read about the vouching problem, and have been actively complaining on these boards because the actual problem was that the election officials didn’t do their job properly.

            They shouldn’t have allowed one elector to vouch for more than one other elector. (which is why there wasn’t proper documentation).

            So the actual problem isn’t vouching it’s incompetence,maybe even partisan inspired incompetence because the Returning Officers are appointed by Order in Council, and then they hire whoever they want.

            By the way, once appointed they can only be fired by Order in Council, which is completely unrealistic in a 40-60 day election period. That’s what the Elections Act should fix, institute a non-partisan, merit-based hiring process for ROs and empower the Commissioner to remove anyone who isn’t doing their job properly.

    • This is untrue: “will almost certainly deny at least some electors their franchise”

      No. No one is denied their right to vote or its exercise. They must simply prove who they are. The same as at the border. When they’re pulled over. When they rent a DVD, get a Hydro hook-up, get a bank account, hook up cable, etc. EC has always accepted a wide variety of ID. A Hydro or utility bill with matching name and address, for example.

      They have many days from now until 2015 to acquire ID and then use it at advance or regular polls. I’m asked each time for ID and show it. Why should some be treated differently?

      Anyone who gets their mail from a mail lobby, in their building or residence or even in a post office, will see the voting cards littering the counters and recycling boxes. The problem is real and in a tight race can provide a winning margin. Every campaign has had such subterfuge reported to it. So the reality of what Butt reported is not the issue, just his hyperbole. But it’s not uncommon for MPs to go too far. Remember when Liberal Dr. Hedy Fry told the House of Commons that “even as we speak” crosses were being burned on lawns in BC? Wasn’t true. She was in cabinet. She remained in cabinet. She’s still an MP. But her gaffe is on the record as is Butt’s. Time to move on and plug the loopholes.

      • Be honest, what you are saying is that anyone without proper ID ought to be denied the vote.

  3. The biggest problem is that the media and 99% of those commenting have absolutely no clue as to how the minutiae of elections have been handled in the past (e.g. how winners have traditionally been required to provide a list of poll workers to EC, thus reducing volunteers for their own campaigns — because poll workers can’t also work on campaigns). As a result, every paragraph seems a revelation.

    It’s pretty clear to anyone who has worked on an election with any dedication just why the changes have been made. I live in a condo tower in Toronto. I have lived in apartment buildings. Each election is the same. When the voting cards arrive from Elections Canada, the mail lobby garbage cans are filled with them. Anyone can scoop them and organize illicit voting through vouchers, sloppy poll clerks who don’t ask for ID, or mail-in ballots using the same voter’s name. The solution? EVERY voter must prove their identity. Would we demand any less if we were supervising an election in a new democracy?

    Unfortunately, in making this point Brad Butt clearly exagerrated. But the point and issue remain.

    What about low turn-out, how can that be addressed? Well, given all the dumped voting cards it’s clear a lot of people don’t intend to vote, from the get-go. But some say it’s because they work too far from the poll location or don’t have time to vote. The Fair Elections Act will now allow voters to cast their ballot at any poll in the electoral district, and will add another full day of advance voting. Indeed, the FEA will make Canada the most open voting democracy anywhere in the world — none other allows so many hours to vote, and so many options.

    And yet the uninformed media (quick: explain the full roles of scrutineers) and opposition (which should understand electoral machinery, but look for partisan advantage) tell us the Fair Elections Act changes everything. No, it addresses loopholes, forces Elections Canada to do a better job at its core responsibility of actually running elections, and adds more voting time.

    As we see with each piece of legislation, the opposition is mostly about obfuscation and delay. The media could actually point that out. It doesn’t.