ITQ has had this particular meeting circled on her calendar for weeks now – yes, in case y’all wondered, in red, surrounded by exclamation marks and little happy faces. Bring on the only-tangentially-related-to-the-official-order-of-business-yet-oddly-pointed questions!
Eeee! It’s Marc Mayrand!
Okay, now that I’ve gotten that out of my system, I made it to committee just in time to miss out on the last seat at the media table – damn you, Colleague McGregor and your uncharacteristic punctuality – which is why I’m now sitting in the staffer section, but on the *government* side of the room for a change.
Along with Marc Mayrand, by the way, we have various other Elections Canada luminaries, including Rennie Molnar,Stephane Perrault and Belaineh Deguefe, and there is no way on earth I’m going to be able to spell that with any consistency once the meeting starts, so let’s call him BD, shall we?
The meeting is about to get underway – Yvon Godin is, adorably, greeting the witnesses – and most of the MPs are already at the table. I see that Kelly Block is stalking me — well, or I’m stalking her – as is Guy Lauzon, but as yet, we are short one pixie dancer. Where are you, Pierre?
With an odd sort of vaguely nervous warning to his colleagues that “we’re in public today,” Chairman Joe hands the floor over to Marc Mayrand.
Also, I’ve been joined in temporary honourary Conservative stafferdom by another journalist – CanWest’s Andrew Mayada, and really, wouldn’t you think they would have realized there might possibly be more than two reporters interested in hearing about the last election? Not to mention anything else that may come up?
After an initial overview, Mayrand moves to one of the few potentially contentious areas of his report – the so-called “visual identification of voters” – and then moves onto the “procedural burden” involved in the administration of political financing, which should make the Conservatives at least a *little* bit happy with his work, and then opens it up to question, starting with Marcel Proulx.
Wow, that was a really succinct opening statement, wasn’t it? Not that this is a bad thing – I’m all for short and sweet. More time for questions! Proulx goes straight to the issue of voter identification, and suggests that the three hours of training provided to employees was inadequate.
Marcel Proulx is going on and on about the voter id-related problems that surfaced in *his* riding during the last election – elderly, and not even all that elderly people not being permitted to vote and that sort of thing. This is clearly a very sore spot for him; he seems to have a lot of rant stored up, but if he doesn’t wrap it up soon, Mayrand isn’t going to have any time to reply.
As Proulx keeps going – really, he’s got to be down to his last minute – Kelly Block and Harold Albrecht are giggling behind their respective hands. Proulx having finally run out of gripes, the chair points out that Mayrand has approximately fifteen seconds left to answer, but gives him a bit longer; apparently Chairman Joe just can’t say no to that face. Anyway, Mayrand pretty much agrees with Proulx’s complaint that there just aren’t enough returning officers and other election workers, and tells the committee that Elections Canada plans to look at compensation rates and other issues that could be discouraging recruitment.
Tom Lukiwski is up now – really? Shouldn’t it be the Bloc Quebecois first? I guess not. Anyway, he wants to talk voter turnout, which continues to fall – under 60% last time out – which he ties to the government’s ill-fated effort to increase advance polling days. Would that bring out more ballot-casters? Mayrand notes that there are many factors that lead to dwindling voting rates – including, he doesn’t add but could, many that have little to do with the mechanics and everything to do with the quality of candidates and parties being offered up – before telling Lukiwski that there is no evidence to suggest more advance polling would increase the numbers. Ah, Lukiwski points out, but there is also no evidence that it *wouldn’t*!
More on turnout rates and advance polls, particularly in rural areas; Lukiwski “applauds” Mayrand’s aside that Elections Canada plans to look into the “root cause” of the dropoff, and urges him to spend more time in schools, haranguing students to be less apathetic, which sounds like an exercise in expensive futility, but maybe things have changed since ITQ was a girl.
Over to Michel Guimond, who is resplendent in rose – well, his shirt, at least – and who is *also* concerned by low voter turnout, and really, guys — isn’t this like blaming the car for a traffic accident? Guimond, however, has whipped himself into an elegant Gallic frenzy; he suggests that inaccurate or out of date voter lists may be to blame. He also likes to shake hands with every single election worker at each and every poll in his riding. That must be such a thrill. Oh, but long lines in the cold — that definitely has a deterring effect.
The look of adoration with which Claude deBellefeuille is gazing at Guimond, waving his arms as he delivers what is truly a tour de force, is either very sweet, or deeply sarcastic. Oh, look – he’s done. At least that was a far more animated performance than Proulx. Anyway, Mayrand is somewhat mild and mannerly in response — I think he figures that MPs, being ultimately subject to the cruel hand of electoral fate, see him as a sort of proxy for everything that bugs them about democracy, so he just let’s them go off.
Oh, the missing boxes! Remember those missing boxes in Quebec that turned up in the returning officer’s car? Anyway, Guimond certainly does, but Mayrand assures him that in this case, the boxes weren’t compromised in any way, although he agrees that it was unfortunate. He’s not sure if that can be addressed through legislation, but is willing to look at it.
On to Yvon Godin, who also has his share of complaints about the last election, many of which echo those of previous speakers – not enough workers, time delay, British Columbians who found out who was elected PM before the polls closed – and particularly voter identification. He reads a letter from caucus colleague Libby Davies that goes into gory detail of some of the hangups that occured in *her* riding, and then meanders off to another issue – handshaking at a federal building, which provoked someone to threaten to “call the cops” and prompted an hour long fight on the sidewalk.
After he winds down, Mayrand gamely tries to put a new spin on the same answers he has given to the last few questions – a tricky job, what with the questions being pretty much exactly the same once you cut through the rest of the chest-off-getting rantage. Recruitment of more returning officers? They’re working on it. Voter identification? Still waiting for the results of the full survey from the last general election. Yes, he got the letter from Libby, and he’ll answer it – and as for access to public buildings, he notes that Bill C-31 increased access, and suggests that a public awareness campaign might not be misplaced.
After another gentle warning from Chairman Joe – this time, reminding members that as much as we love hearing their thoughts on matters electoral, the Chief Electoral Officer came all the way here to *answer questions* – Marcel Proulx begins his second round with – actually, that’s an interesting question. Apparently, in one riding, a candidate for the Green Party dropped out of the race but remained on the ballot. Did the party receive “financial consideration” – oh, you scamp, you didn’t think we’d notice that choice of phrasing? – on her behalf?
Brief interlude of utter chaos when the simultaneous interpretation goes out — lots of running back and forth from the booth and confusion on both sides of the room — before Proulx is permitted to continue, and he brings up — hey, I remember this! The Borys W. pamphlet! He summarizes what went down, which I’ll spare ITQ readers; if you google the site, you should find our posts on the subject – and asks if this matter is under investigation by Elections Canada.
Mayrand reminds him that this would be handled by the Elections Commissioner, not his office, and notes that he can’t confirm or deny that he’s looking into it. As for the Green candidate, apparently the party *did* get public financing credit for the votes that were received. Really? Huh.
Oh, bother — more technical difficulties with the French interpretation, which unfortunately means that the meeting has to pause as people fiddle with the wiring, and really, Chairman Joe is relentlessly cheerful despite the misfortunes that constantly seem to befall him.
Back to Harold Albrecht, who is up for the government, and wants to quibble about a survey in which he chose to take part, which sought the views of candidates on the electoral process, but which he found too technical, and would have better been put to campaign managers and administrators.
He also wonders about the decline in special ballots, and whether Elections Canada may not be making sure that people know they can vote at any time up until election day. Mayrand points out that this time, that fell in October, as opposed to January, which meant fewer Florida-ensconced Canadian snowbirds needing to make use of the special ballot, which makes sense.
Oh, right – this is Claude deBellefeuille’s first chance to speak — that’s why she’s been asking her question for the last six minutes or so, and shows no sign of stopping. Access, returning officers, lack of training – usual litany o’ election day grumbles.
Hey, I wonder if anyone will ask about that whole re-recount debacle in Vancouver last year.
In any case, we’ve gotten back around to Yvon Godin, who is still fretting about voter identification requirements, particularly for students, soldiers and various other transient types – at least, as far as staying in one place long enough to make it onto the voters’ list. Mayrand notes that the student vote is a perennial issue during elections; students have to choose where to plant their residency flag, as far as voting – at home or at school, it’s up to them.
Give Mayrand credit for not just shrugging off Godin’s worrying over student votes; he’s giving an incredibly thorough, thoughtful reply and not just trying to fob him off with cheery platitudes about raising public awareness. He suggests that for some electors – like students – an “elector card” might make sense, and I can just imagine how well that would go over with the privacywonk crowd. Yvon Godin, however, is not happy that his time has expired.
Marlene Jennings wonders why Elections Canada spent *less* on public education and awareness than expected – Mayrand promises to get back to the clerk with the details – before moving onto students. Again. What about polling stations *inside* the university residences and buildings, staffed by students? Actually, that’s an interesting idea – and apparently, it comes from Jennings’ parliamentary intern, who is either not here, or cool enough not to blush violently at the shoutout.
If Scott Reid doesn’t eventually take the mic for a round of questions, I’m going to be deeply disappointing. He’s so entertaining. It won’t be *this* round, however, because Kelly Block, it turns out, has issues – issues that have to do with advance polls, particularly the “clustering” – and worries that a malevolent-minded voter could breeze from one advance poll to another during the window, casting ballots hither and yon with no recourse.
Mayrand reminds her that it’s an offence to vote more than once, period – and agrees that someday, electronic lists might be possible – but there’s “a way to go” – probably five years. “In time for the next election,” pipes up Harold Albrecht, to much merriment, except from Kelly Block – who, it turns out, didn’t realize that you can’t just show up at a random advance poll, thus rendering her line of questioning embarrassingly moot.
Michel Guimond, who never fails to be as entertaining as questions about student voting are dull, demands that Elections Canada investigate an alleged translation error – well, inconsistency – in the guidelines, which are far clearer in English than French, followed by a question about proxies that I didn’t quite get, and finally, on the subject of leaders voting in front of the cameras, the only one who didn’t make the news was – you guessed it, the leader of the Bloc Quebecois, because *his* returning officer stuck to the letter of the law, and refused to allow it. First the Plaines d’Abraham, now this.
Anyway, Guimond, of course, is in full rhetorical flight at this point – we saw Obama vote! McCain! Karzai, for heaven’s sake! This is indeed a humiliation sans parallel!
Mayrand actually seems sympathetic, but reminds him that the law is the law; it’s up to the legislators to change it if they don’t like it.
You know, I think I’m the only reporter left. Even Colleague McGregor is gone. Committee amateurs. Oh well – all the more Rodger Cuzner for me, right? Speaking of which, he’s up – and he wants to know if the surveys on voter participation focus on those who don’t tend to do it – vote, that is – or a more general sample. Mayrand notes that there is some weighting, but doesn’t target non-voters specifically. It does ask about technology – e-voting, particularly – but Cuzner just can’t really hold back his confusion, and what seems to be barely contained anger, over those people who bail out on their democratic right/duty.
After an intriguing, if slightly tangential, explanation from Marlene Jennings on the so-smart-it-actually-sounds-a-little-unsettling voter tracking software that her campaign volunteers developed, Guy Lauzon points out that, speaking of software, the program foisted upon his poor official agent – an accountant, no less – for financial reports was downright user-hostile. Mayrand sort of gives him that look – the “I know, but what can we do?” look of longstanding patience, and Lauzon then switches to a new complaint about the need for receipts. “Don’t worry, you have enough money,” Proulx reminds him from the other side of the table.
One more round! And look – it’s Scott Reid at the microphone, who seems to have entirely gotten over any misgivings he may have harboured towards Mayrand: he thanks him for going out of his way to meet with committee members, individually, before this meeting. He notes that advance polls do seem to make a difference, particularly in remote and rural ridings, and suggests a special public awareness campaign for truly isolated communities to use mail-in ballots and other alternate measures to boost voter participation.
Proulx – yes, he’s up again – isn’t terribly keen on the idea that candidates would try to influence the placement of advance polling stations, as described by Reid, who waves himself onto the field briefly to clarify that these discussions with the returning officer were open to *all* candidates. Reassured, Proulx reiterates his discomfort with the permanent voter list – he just doesn’t think it’s accurate, really – and suggests that an election card would open up still more possibilities for fraud.
Chairman Joe decides to give deBellefeuille the last few minutes to make up for the trials and tribulations she endured with the simultaneous interpretation system earlier in the meeting, and she repeats her concern over access and all that stuff. Guy Lauzon, meanwhile, finds it “incredible” that 98% of the addresses on voter cards were correct – I mean, not in the sense that he is impressed with Elections Canada’s recordkeeping skills; he just doesn’t seem to believe it.
Chairman Joe points out that just because the cards weren’t returned doesn’t mean that they made it to the right recipient – they could just get thrown out – and then brings the meeting to an entirely good-natured close.
Lunchtime! Must gather strength for this afternoon’s adventures in nuclear science!