Hill Times Article: Time to Modernize Election Process
Following the tabling of the Chief Electoral Officer’s Report to Parliament on the 40th General Election last week, I filed a story for the Hill Times, which was published in this morning’s edition. It is reprinted here with kind permission.
Time to modernize election process, urges Canada’s chief electoral officer
Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand tells Parliament the Elections Act needs an overhaul.
By ALICE FUNKE
The wave of legislative reforms to federal political financing and reporting rules in recent years has resulted in an increasingly complex system that needs more coherence, advises Chief Electoral Office Marc Mayrand in his comprehensive post-2008 general election report released last week.
Saying “we need to modernize the electoral process and make it more efficient,” Mr. Mayrand is recommending that Parliament enact a series of changes to make the rules more consistent between the five main political entities he regulates—parties, candidates, nomination contestants, riding associations, and leadership candidates—to strengthen his ability to ensure compliance, but also to reduce some of the unnecessary burden on largely volunteer bodies.
Topping his list is a request for authority to ask for supporting documentation from political parties for the expenses reported on their national campaign returns, both to determine that the expenses were properly incurred before paying out their rebates, and to ensure that the national spending limit was adhered to.
Currently national parties file a one-page audited report summarizing their campaign expenditures under a set of nine categories, but unlike the case with candidates or riding associations [actually, it's only the case for candidates], the law does not allow Elections Canada to request receipts or other supporting documents in order to certify those expenses. Given that some $29-million in public funds were paid out as election expense rebates in the 2008 election, Mr. Mayrand said he believes that his power of oversight for parties should be at least equivalent to that for candidates, riding associations and leadership contestants in this regard, and be consistent with similar powers already granted to every one of his provincial counterparts under their governing statutes.
A second key area needing consistent rules is the area of contribution limits for leadership contestants, versus political parties, candidates and riding associations. Contributions to a leadership contestant are currently capped for the entire contest, while contributions to a candidate, riding or political party are capped on an annual basis, something Mr. Mayrand said he believes should be the case for leadership contestants as well.
The legislative regime for leadership contestants was put into place before later rule changes prohibiting corporate and union donations and further capping contributions came into effect, and should be reviewed to ensure that all the pieces work together, Mr. Mayrand explained.
“Often you’ll see the recommendations reflect issues that happen as a result of successive legislative changes, and no-one’s taking a step back and asking, ‘Are we still making sense,’ ” he said.
Mr. Mayrand is also suggesting the introduction of some administrative penalties when parties or candidates overspend their limits, as is the case in Ontario and Manitoba. Currently the commissioner of elections can send a warning letter or enter into compliance agreements with candidates, or prosecute them. Setting an administrative penalty, such as a dollar-for-dollar reduction in their election expense rebate, would offer a middle ground, and provide more timely consequences and better compliance, Mr. Mayrand said.
A total of 50 recommended changes to the Elections Act, covering the electoral process, political financing, governance and a variety of technical issues, will now be studied by the Commons Procedure and House Affairs Committee.
Another key area needing attention is that both citizens and political parties want to do more business electronically with Elections Canada, Mr. Mayrand said. But in order to permit both e-registration on the voters’ list and the electronic filing of many party and candidate reports, an amendment to the Elections Act is required to authorize a secure non-signature means of authentication for electronic transactions.
E-registration is set to commence in the fall of 2011, but Mr. Mayrand said the act needs to be “modernized” in order to provide a “fuller range of e-services,” and to obtain Parliamentary authorization to commence pilot projects of i-voting for certain groups of voters during a by-election.
Alice Funke is the publisher of the Pundits’ Guide to Canadian Federal Elections (punditsguide.ca)