OTTAWA – The Harper government is being accused of trying to limit the chief electoral watchdog’s testimony on its proposed overhaul of election laws.
Marc Mayrand, who has been highly critical of the reforms, was supposed to have 90 minutes this morning — half an hour longer than usual — to testify on the reforms at the Commons procedure and House affairs committee.
The Conservatives agreed to the extra 30 minutes earlier this week as part of a deal to end a filibuster at the committee by New Democrat MP David Christopherson.
But the Conservatives have moved this morning to limit debate on two other bills, requiring votes in the House of Commons at the same time that Mayrand’s testimony was to begin.
Debate and votes on the time allocation motions have now left Mayrand cooling his heels for an hour, with no end in sight.
NDP MP Paul Dewar accuses the Conservatives of orchestrating the timing of the votes to disrupt Mayrand’s testimony.
Government House Leader Peter Van Loan calls that a baseless conspiracy theory, saying the committee is free to rearrange its business to give Mayrand as much time as it pleases.
The filibuster was aimed at forcing the government to agree to cross-country hearings on its controversial proposed changes to the Canada Elections Act, which the NDP believes are designed to stack the deck in the Conservative party’s favour.
Among other things, the reforms would impose stiffer voter identification requirements, eliminate the ability of people to vouch for voters who don’t have proper identification, and increase the amount of money political parties can spend during election campaigns.
As well, Mayrand has said he fears the changes would muzzle him, allowing him to communicate with Canadians only for the purpose of explaining how, where and when to vote.