Late Tuesday, MPs stood in the House of Commons to vote on third reading of Bill C-23, sending it to the Senate, which is expected to speedily pass it, leaving only the formality of royal assent. On Thursday, when the government brought in time allocation to limit debate on the bill, Democratic Reform Minister Pierre Poilievre declared victory. “The Canadian people widely support this bill,” he said. “It is a very popular piece of legislation. We won the debate on it and now we will pass it into law.” On Monday, the NDP said they won the debate, rallying opposition to C-23, forcing the government to accept changes. “What was at the beginning a very bad bill is simply today only a bad bill,” NDP Leader Tom Mulcair said. Either way, the long, strange process by which the Fair Elections Act — or Unfair Elections Act, as the opposition calls it — is coming to an end, and the most significant piece of legislation in this session is about to be law, not quite as either side intended.
The story begins in March 2012, at the height of the robocalls scandal, when NDP MP David Christopherson moved a motion calling for the government, within six months, to strengthen Elections Canada’s investigation capabilities, giving the agency power to “request all necessary documents from political parties to ensure compliance with the Elections Act,” and establish a robocall registry.
The Conservatives, keen to put the robocall scandal behind them, voted for the motion. Other scandals took centre stage, the six-month deadline quietly slipped by, and nothing happened until April 2013, when then-democratic reform minister Tim Uppal announced he would table a bill. Uppal’s bill was ready to go, but at the weekly Conservative caucus meeting, MPs objected to sections, and the Tories shelved it.