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Trudeau government tables Bill C-76, the Elections Modernization Act

The Trudeau government has now tabled its Bill C-76, the Elections Modernization Act.

On April 30, CBC reporter Aaron Wherry noted, “The Trudeau government is proposing to limit the length of federal election campaigns, restrict the amount of spending allowed in the period immediately before a campaign and introduce new rules to regulate third-party political activity — all part of a new set of reforms to Canada’s elections laws.”

His article adds, “Reversing changes made by the previous Conservative government in 2014, the Liberals would make the voter identification card a valid piece of identification for use at polling stations, allow registered voters to ‘vouch’ for the identity or residence of another voter and empower the chief electoral officer to conduct public education campaigns. The elections commissioner would be moved back under Elections Canada’s authority and newly empowered. And the Liberals also would repeal statutes that make Canadian citizens ineligible to vote if they reside outside the country for five consecutive years.”

Wherry also notes, “Commenting before the new Liberal bill was tabled, [NDP critic Nathan] Cullen said his party fears the government hasn’t moved fast enough to bring forward changes in time for the next election. …Cullen also expressed concern over the fact that the government has not yet appointed a new chief electoral officer. Marc Mayrand, the previous officer, departed in December 2016.​”

Just a few days earlier, on April 27, Canadian Press reporter Joan Bryden had noted, “The Trudeau government is expected to finally move next week on a raft of promised reforms to election laws, but it may already be too late to fully implement them in time for the 2019 federal election. Acting chief electoral officer Stéphane Perrault told a House of Commons committee this week that major changes to election laws should have been enacted by April of this year if they were intended to apply in the next election — and the government hasn’t even come close to meeting that timetable. …It did introduce Bill C-33 in November 2016 [but] C-33 has remained parked at the introductory stage for 17 months, with the government making no attempt to prod it along through the legislative process.”

And just prior to that, on March 29, the Canadian Federation of Students and the Council of Canadians were served with six volumes (over 2,000 pages) of evidence by the federal government in response to our Charter challenge of the Fair Elections Act. That evidence defends the Harper government’s voter suppression measures Justin Trudeau has denounced and that Bill C-33 would have expunged. Because of the government’s failure to follow through on its promise in a timely manner, the Charter challenge, which seeks to remove those provisions will be heard this October.

While Brison says he believes there is time to implement the reforms before 2019, the Council of Canadians remains concerned about the inexplicable delay with moving forward on Bill C-33, the federal government defending the Harper government’s Fair Elections Act voter suppression measures in court, and the rushed nature of Bill C-76.

On that latter point, Huffington Post reporter Althia Raj now notes, “The democratic institutions minister’s office says it wasn’t aware its 349-page bill closes a loophole that allows political parties to receive tens of millions of taxpayers’ dollars in election reimbursements without showing any receipts. When asked Monday about the loophole, acting Democratic Institutions Minister Scott Brison thanked HuffPost for the question and invited opposition members to amend the bill if they wanted to see it closed. …Tuesday, Brison’s communications director, Jordan Owens, told HuffPost that neither she nor Brison was aware that the bill actually addresses the long-standing loophole — one the chief electoral officer has highlighted for a more than a decade.”

And as a “third party” that will be involved in the October 2019 federal election, we are also studying the implications of Bill C-76 on organizations such as ours, as noted by CTV reporter Rachel Aiello including “requiring third parties spending $500 or more on partisan activities or advertising during the pre-writ period to register with Elections Canada [and] forcing partisan ads conducted by political parties or third-parties to have an identifying tagline during the pre-writ period.” The “pre-writ” designation appears to be new and under C-76 would begin on June 30 – about 60 days before the writ would likely be officially dropped to formally begin the election (50 days before voting day).

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