In a rare exercise of power, a Senate committee is pushing back against Stephen Harper’s Conservative government by unanimously recommending changes to the Fair Elections Act, an overhaul of electoral law that is fiercely opposed by other parties. The Senate report, which will be made public this week, amounts to a warning shot from the embattled Senate. The move is not binding, but it raises the threat of the Senate changing the bill itself if the House of Commons ignores its recommendations before passing Bill C-23. The Senate committee, two-thirds of whose members are Conservatives appointed by Mr. Harper, heard from a broad range of experts last week, the vast majority of whom called for substantial changes to the deeply divisive bill. Now the senators are set to recommend, unanimously, specific amendments.
“I think it’s a recognition by all senators that there is something seriously wrong with this bill, according to every single witness that has appeared before both committees in the House of Commons and the Senate,” said George Baker, a Liberal-appointed senator who serves as deputy chair of the committee. “It’s really an expression of the impartiality of members of the Senate.”
It’s the latest development in a bill that has largely pitted the Conservative cabinet against a broad range of non-partisan experts, domestic and international, as well as the other parties. The NDP firmly oppose it and have filibustered its progress, while Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau announced last week he’ll repeal the entire bill if he becomes prime minister. Various key stakeholders – including the Chief Electoral Officer, the Commissioner of Canada Elections and the author of a key Elections Canada report last year – say they weren’t consulted on the bill.