Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Bill C-23 "The Fair Elections" Act - Part I

Bill C-23 is enormous - the pre-tabling draft posted on Maclean's website is a whopping 247 pages in length.  It's going to take a while to sift through it all and digest it.

This is a massive reworking of Canada's elections system, and I think it prudent to review the bill carefully.

One of the first things that comes to my eye is the model of "guidelines and interpretation notes" that has been added to section 16.1.

Perhaps most telling is Section 16.1(8), which more or less renders any guideline or interpretation note that is issued:

(8) The guidelines and interpretation notes are issued for information purposes only. They are not binding on registered parties, registered associations, nomination contestants, candi- dates or leadership contestants. 
So, unlike the CRA, who regularly issues interpretation bulletins for the income tax act which are considered legally binding, the CPC has just written in a lovely little clause that allows them to ignore any interpretation or guideline that happens to be inconvenient.  This is not good.  What it does is allow the CPC (which is the party best known for little electoral tricks like the "In-and-Out" campaign money laundering scheme, or the 2011 Robocall fraud) to claim that they "interpret" the law differently, and therefore they can do whatever they want.

This stands in contrast to the following in section 16.2(6):

(6) If all the material facts have been sub- mitted by an applicant for an opinion and they are accurate, the opinion issued by the Chief Electoral Officer under this section is binding on the Chief Electoral Officer and the Commis- sioner. It remains binding for as long as the ma- terial facts on which it was based remain sub- stantially unchanged, the activity or practice is carried out substantially as proposed or a con- trary interpretation has not been subsequently issued by means of an interpretation note or guideline issued under section 16.1 or an opin- ion issued under this section. 
In short, an opinion issued is binding on Elections Canada, but not binding to the political parties.  This appears to be designed to kneecap the authority of the Elections Canada to act as the body which ensures that elections are conducted in a free and fair manner by enabling parties to pretty well do as they please (because nothing is actually binding them) and Elections Canada will fairly shortly be tripping over the shackles placed around its ankles.

By no means do I think this is the only stinker hiding in this legislation - the Harper Clan have had a blood feud with Elections Canada for years.  I will continue to review the legislation as time permits, others have pointed out that there are interesting changes made to the voter id parts of the law, and I want to take some time to better understand what has been done to the ability to investigate and prosecute electoral fraud like the Robocalls perpetrated during the 2011 election.

1 comment:

Rural said...

I have only glanced through this massive document as yet but I also picked up on that clause which effectively makes any Elections Canada rulings regarding Party rule breaking totally ineffective. LOTS more reading for us all to do on this one!!