Monday, March 22, 2010

The not so awesome Conservative attack on Elections Canada continues

Remarkable article in the Hill Times today on Harper's parliamentary secretary, Pierre Poilievre, attending the Procedure and House Affairs Committee meeting last Thursday basically in order to guest star for the Conservatives in badgering and impugning Elections Canada: "Poilievre says Elections Canada using money to 'awesomely lose' two court cases involving Tories." The committee meeting dealt with Elections Canada's request for funding for the next election and to pay for the fall byelections. Poilievre showed up, however, to poke at Elections Canada CEO Marc Mayrand about the cost of the litigation battles that the Conservatives and Elections Canada have been engaged in, on the "in and out" funding, a case under appeal and a second case regarding GST rebates.

Missing from Poilievre's presentation, however, was any context to those battles. Poilievre's questioning was meant to suggest that Elections Canada was somehow acting improperly by taking legal steps to challenge Conservative party maneuvers in both of those cases. Despite the fact that those maneuvers were being used to gain tactical spending advantages over their opponents by adopting new interpretations of the elections law provisions in question. The uncertainty over the Conservatives' novel interpretations of those provisions warranted Elections Canada's scrutiny of the Conservatives' actions. For Poilievre to now show up at committee and essentially harass the Elections Canada CEO for having done so tells you what respect they have for one of our foundational democratic institutions. They can't just leave well enough alone and let the legal proceedings speak for themselves.

And of course, by needling Elections Canada for having the audacity to spend money to respond to Conservative efforts to strike down different aspects of the elections laws that they find too constraining, the message coming from the Harper government was that the Conservatives would prefer if Elections Canada would just drop the litigation and stop spending money on it. What else are we to infer?

For the record, from the report, some of Mayrand's response on the issues raised:
Mr. Mayrand explained that Parliament can approve Elections Canada's budget, but under the Canada Elections Act, there are legal appropriations for the agency that are statutory and therefore the money would always be available.

"What we're dealing with is the salaries of people in indeterminate positions. Under the act, Elections Canada has a legal appropriation. Now we must make sure that the administration of elections are not subject to political fluctuations," he told the committee. "It's a delicate matter. I just want to say that all of our compliance efforts are more focused on education, awareness communication and prevention. Once in a while, there is litigation. It's rare. If you take the long view, Elections Canada has been involved very rarely in litigation. However, legitimate issues might arise and political parties have diametrically opposed views and that's why we have a legal system."
Imagine if the Conservatives had a majority on that committee, and in Parliament, of course. Wonder what would be presently happening to Elections Canada's budget and its ability to appropriate moneys for legal fees to respond to unconventional Conservative election spending tactics. I think we can guess, based on Poilievre's outlandish and ongoing efforts to attack the agency's impartiality.