Democratic reform

Good news, Celine Dion

Ex-pat Canadians, and a whole bunch of others, will have an easier time voting soon. Money-in-politics reforms, though, are still missing.

A new law will make it easier for Canadians to vote, but does nothing about money in politics

The Trudeau government will undo a series of voting changes brought in by the previous administration, but there will be no new rules on how the wealthy can access ministers or how pressure groups can influence politics. At least not yet.

The changes will allow more than a million Canadians living abroad to vote, reinstate mechanisms like vouching — where one voter can endorse another who is lacking identification — and make it easier for voters to register.

The Liberal government also intends to boost funding to Elections Canada in order to clean up and improve its antiquated and cluttered electoral database.

The law will largely revert Canada’s Election Act back to what it looked like prior to 2014, when the Stephen Harper government brought in a slew of changes that generally made it harder to vote. They were designed to crack down on voter fraud even though there have hardly been any documented cases of it in recent decades.

The proposed legislation also repeals an older law, which bans many ex-pat Canadians from voting. Under the new law, anyone with Canadian citizenship living abroad will be able to vote. Previously, any ex-pat Canadian living outside of the country for more than five years were banned from voting — raising the possibility of disenfranchising everyone from Wayne Gretzky to Neil Young and Celine Dion. It will also allow teenagers between 14 and 17 to “pre-register” to vote.

“There are barriers between the writ being dropped and people being able to cast a ballot,” Democratic Reform Minister Maryam Monsef told reporters on Thursday.

The changes will mean nothing for money in politics, however, ignoring a growing number of calls to limit the access of big donors to government ministers and insiders. It also doesn’t addresshow pressure groups can run advertising and start campaigns in-between elections, styled after American SuperPACs.

In the run up to the last election, a handful of groups — most notably, the anti-Conservative Engage Canada — spent tens of thousands of dollars to run advertising that was not covered under political financing regulations. That same sort of activity, during an election, is tightly controlled.

Since they’ve taken power, the Liberals have faced heavy scrutiny for their practise of providing regular access to ministers, senior staff, and even the prime minister himself, at fundraising events that cost between $1,000 and $1,500 a ticket. VICE News reported last month that more than 100 of these fundraisers took place in 2016 alone. The Trudeau government has spent weeks defending this system.

When the Ontario Liberal government faced similar scrutiny, they moved virtually immediately to draft new legislation to ban all political fundraisers involving ministers and their staff.

When asked why the legislation doesn’t cover money in politics, Monsef hinted that additional changes were coming, but offered no details.

“We’ll be coming back with those reforms,” she said. When pushed whether those reforms would crack down on unregulated third-party spending, Monsef continued: “We’re just getting started. That is a yes.”

The big part of Monsef’s mandate — repealing the first-past-the-post voting system and replacing it with something else — will be moving forward next week, when a special committee will provide a list of recommendations on what system Canada should adopt next.

Cover: (Photo by Al Powers/Powers Imagery/Invision/AP)

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