The first consideration of bill C-23 — the Fair Elections Act — came up today before the Procedure and House Affairs committee. While journalists were initially evicted from the room, as the committee went in camera to consider the schedule for the bill’s consideration, MPs were eventually let in the room. Before they were let in, journalists quizzed Conservative MP Tom Lukiwski, who leads the government’s side on that committee. Here’s a selection of some of the questions I had for him. My questions are in italics, his answers are bolded.
Are you open to keeping vouching as a method of alternative voting?
I don’t think so. Quite frankly we think that, based on the evidence that we’ve had before us, that vouching lends itself to abuse of the democratic process. By that I mean that there’s people who have abused the process who weren’t eligible to vote, who were perhaps able to cast votes because of vouching.
Well that’s not true, according to the audit from Elections Canada.
Let’s put it this way, and maybe this is the best way to answer it: right now, provisions in the bill allow for up to 39 different documents to be presented by anyone wishing to vote. I would suggest that if someone can’t come up with a couple of those 39 options, they probably weren’t prepared to vote.
But that was 120,000 people in the last election.
[Subsequent questions and discussion of other parts of the bill.]
In both the CEO report and the audit of the last election, and from 2008, it was suggested that the voter information card be expanded, not restricted, to ensure that people — like Aboriginals who, maybe only have status card — can vote by using it as a second piece of ID. Do you support that?
Well we’ve heard testimony from previous meetings … you will have seen and read of the many times that people who have, not abused the system, but could have because of the incorrect information on the voting cards. Voter ID cards are a fairly recent phenomenon, but very very open to abuse because, as testimony has been presented in committee, some people get two or three voter ID cards at the same time. Scott Reid, Scott R. Reid, Scott Reginald Reid, that sort of thing-
But you need two pieces of ID.
-many times, voting cards end up in the hands of people who are not the person who is intended to vote. I think we’ve come to a fairly good compromise on what is an acceptable form of identification and what also protects the sanctity of the vote.
Tim Naumetz (Hill Times): Was there any specific evidence of vouching leading to voter fraud?
We heard a lot of testimony from people who said that the fraud could have occurred. Some of this is obviously anecdotal. How do you know, when someone votes, whether it was fraudulent or not?
Well there was an audit done and it showed that there was no voter fraud.
Well, it also shows that the vouching itself — 25%, in fact — there was a lot of irregularities.
Well that was staffing irregularities.
There were a lot of irregularities that were serious in nature, that’s more than just staff.
Lukowski was then whisked into the committee room.
Unless the Liberals hold up the proceedings — as they’re hoping to get the Tories to agree to have consultations on the road, outside of Ottawa — the first meeting will occur on Thursday, featuring Democratic Reform Minister Pierre Poilievre and, if they can get him, Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand.
I asked Ted Opitz, who is a member of the committee, how he feels about the bill. His defence in a case that came before the Supreme Court was, after all, that irregularities in his riding of Etobicoke Centre that came about because of vouching did not impact the results of the election. His point was that those issues were paperwork issues, not fraud or serious, election-altering, irregularities.
He did not answer. He ignored my questions while waiting for the elevator.
Follow Justin Ling on twitter: @Justin_Ling