Used to be that the NDP had an easy fight in the House of Commons whenever they mentioned electoral reform. New Democrats picked on big, glaring problems with C-23, the Fair Elections Act, and they enjoyed the support of just about anyone who wasn’t Conservative on a day-to-day basis.
Everything changed when Democratic Reform Minister Pierre Poilievre proposed a bunch of amendments—45 in all—to C-23, and those who heretofore opposed the bill nodded politely, if tentatively. The NDP remains unimpressed, and there’s one substantive change its caucus still wants to see, and has called for consistently since the beginning of the debate. This afternoon, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair claimed the Commissioner of Canada Elections—Yves Côté, currently—could use a few more powers when he conducts investigations into alleged electoral wrongdoing. Specifically, Mulcair says Côté should be able to compel witnesses to testify.
Poilievre’s response talked past Mulcair’s question. The minister claimed Côté can already compel documentation, and Mulcair should know that. Mulcair’s response: Côté can’t compel both documents and testimony; that conjunction, and, being the important part of the rejoinder.
So, who’s correct? Both are correct.
Poilievre’s press secretary, Gabrielle Renaud-Mattey, laid out Poilievre’s defence:
- s. 511(3) of the Canada Elections Act says “any person charged by [Côté] with duties relating to the administration or enforcement of this Act is deemed to be a public officer”; and
- s. 487.012 of the Criminal Code of Canada allows public officers to apply for a court order to produce documents
So, yes, Côté can convince a judge to produce the documents he so desires. Mulcair’s claim, however, goes further. He says Côté can’t independently haul someone in to testify during an investigation. That is true, and Côté called for such powers in recent testimony at a House committee.
This is where the debate now stands. Now, a House committee initiates a clause-by-clause analysis of the Fair Elections Act. Should be a slog.