Thursday, February 13, 2014

The "Un"fair Elections Act and the "Un"democratic Reform Minister!

The "Un"honourable Minister of "Un"democratic Reform

Mayrand denounces electoral reform bill in meeting with Elections Canada staff

Glen McGregor
Wednesday, February 12, 2014

OTTAWA — In a private address to Elections Canada staff on Wednesday, Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand denounced the government’s electoral reform plans as retaliation for Elections Canada’s past clashes with the Conservative Party.

Mayrand drew loud applause from a large group of assembled employees when he vowed he would not resign from the top job and planned to stay on until the next election, expected in 2015.

Though normally shy and soft-spoken, Mayrand at times appeared angry as he spoke about the Fair Elections Act and at one point apologized to staff for his tone, according to a source who was there.

His remarks came at the annual meeting of Elections Canada staff at the Palais des congrès in Gatineau, near the agency’s new offices. The meeting is held to recognize staff achievements and present awards for long service.

In both tone and substance, Mayrand went beyond comments he made in television and radio interviews in response to the legislation unveiled this month by Democratic Reform Minister Pierre Poilievre.

The remarks left the impression Mayrand believed the bill was vindictive, the source said.

Asked for more information about the remarks, Elections Canada spokesman John Enright said that Mayrand had given staff an update on the bill “focusing on both its positive aspects and those that cause him concern,” including the way it was presented to him.

Mayrand “reminded employees that this bill is not about Elections Canada or the CEO, but about Canadian electors,” Enright wrote in an email.

But the remarks suggest that Mayrand is rallying his staff for an acrimonious battle over the new bill and will do little to dispel the Conservatives’ attempts to portray him as an opponent, even though he was appointed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

The Tories have repeatedly accused Mayrand of bias over what they believe is uneven application of the elections rules — though many critics confuse his role with that of the independent Commissioner of Canada Elections, who is responsible for investigations into breaches of the law and decisions on referring cases to prosecutors.

While some Conservatives would like to see Mayrand removed from his job, firing him would be extremely difficult. By law, he serves until his death or retirement and can be replaced only “for cause” by the Governor General after votes by the House of Commons and Senate, something that has never occurred.

In the staff meeting, Mayrand described how he believed provisions in the bill were intended for partisan advantage, though he was careful not to specifically name any party.

He unpacked many of the proposed rules during his remarks and showed how they would help one particular party or limit the ability of his agency to police fair elections.

He noted, as he has done in interviews, that changes to identification rules for electors could deter seniors, young people and aboriginals from casting ballots. These people, research suggests, do not vote for the governing party, Mayrand said.

Mayrand also spoke out against provisions that would limit his ability to speak publicly on anything other than the date and location of elections and identification requirements.

Critics are concerned that the bill would prevent Mayrand from informing the public about investigations, as he did in March 2012, when he gave a House of Commons committee information about the ongoing inquiry into robocalls complaints.

Poilievre this week suggested the government might be open to changing this provision as the bill moves to committee for review and amendments.

Mayrand warned it would be damaging for Canada’s democracy if the bill was passed into law without revision, and said it was unheard of in an advanced democracy to not have a more consultative process involving all the parties and public.

He alluded to past disputes between Elections Canada and the Conservative Party, a history well-known among staff familiar with the robocalls investigation, the “in-and-out” scandal over 2006 election advertising, and Stephen Harper’s unsuccessful legal challenge of third-party advertising rules before the Supreme Court.
Enright said Mayrand “noted that he hopes that Parliament will take the time to consult Canadians and that the bill will reflect a broad consensus.”

The agency and its lawyers are still reviewing the legislation carefully, he said.


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