Column - MP Report: Electoral reform proposals come in at the eleventh hour

Goldstream News Gazette

After waiting more than two years and abandoning its key promise to make the 2015 election the last held under first-past-the-post, the Liberal government has brought forward Bill C-76: a 230-page electoral reform omnibus bill, which was introduced at the eleventh hour on April 30. This was the deadline set by Elections Canada as the date to enact changes in time for the 2019 federal election. It appears that the government’s timeline already falls short of having those changes in place in time because the bill is only at second reading in the House of Commons and will also need to progress through the Senate.

The timing is unfortunate because there are some positive elements in the bill. Among other things, the bill creates a defined pre-writ, during which spending is limited; it creates a 90 per cent reimbursement for child care expenses, which was previously 60 per cent under “personal” expenses; it sets requirements for third-party engagement in elections; it allows the chief electoral officer to communicate more directly with Canadians; and it removes the ban on voting for expats who have been living outside of Canada for more than five years. The bill also take steps to broaden voter participation by re-allowing the practice of vouching and the use of voter ID cards, as it is often the marginalized and those who live in poverty who have problems producing identification.

One component I am very pleased to see is a maximum limit set on the length of elections. The government is proposing a 50-day maximum, which falls just short of the 46-day limit I proposed in my private member’s bill C-279, which was introduced in May of 2016. Longer election periods cost Canadians more; the 2015 campaign cost Elections Canada $443 million to administer, which was $150 million more than in 2011, and political parties were allowed vast increases in their spending. The reduced writ period is a welcome change to halt the increasing influence of money in our elections.

Notably absent from the bill is the replacement of the first-past-the-post voting system, which was promised again and again by the prime minister. Third parties are not required to report their spending until after an election concludes. There may be consequences after-the-fact, but the impact would already be borne-out from inappropriate spending and influencing of voters. The bill also does not create penalties or incentives for protecting voters’ personal information through the collection of data.

It is unfortunate that we have had to wait this long for Bill C-76, and the Liberals have seemingly rushed to put this legislation together at the last minute. There is room for improvement, and I will be looking toward amendments proposed during committee and when the bill is reported back to the House. Hopefully we can come together to strengthen the bill in the hopes of enacting meaningful upgrades to our electoral system in time for the October 2019 vote. We can only hope there is still enough time.

— Alistair MacGregor is the MP for Cowichan-Malahat-Langford