The sketch: Sheila Fraser vs. Infoman

The former auditor general, the comedian and the Fair Elections Act

Thomas Mulcair seemed to think Pierre Poilievre had erred in his phrasing.

“Yesterday, the Minister of State for Democratic Reform claimed that there were regular reports of Canadians voting multiple times that could be found on Elections Canada’s website, ” the NDP leader recalled. “The only problem is, it is just not true. The only case the minister can actually cite is a skit from a comedy show.”

The minister of democratic reform attempted here to sidestep the foot he’d put wrong the day before.

“Mr. Speaker, what I said was absolutely accurate. In fact, there are documented cases where people received multiple voter information cards,” he explained.

Sure but what Mr. Poilievre says he said now is not quite what he said yesterday. Rather, what he said was that, “There are regular reports of people receiving multiple cards and using them to vote multiple times” and that, “That, too, can be found on the Elections Canada website.”

Except, at least insofar as “regular” might suggest some steady series of events, that is not quite absolutely accurate. Which is to say that Elections Canada has so far documented two such cases.

“And I gave the example which was documented by the French CBC where two Montrealers each received two voter information cards and therefore, they each voted twice,” Mr. Poilievre continued. “The fact that a comedy show was able to carry this out right under the noses of Elections Canada, is yet more evidence that these cards cannot be relied upon.”

The minister has used this logic before. It might at least be considered. Perhaps even as an alternative form of legislative scrutiny. Perhaps we could use Infoman as some kind of guinea pig for new laws. Perhaps Infoman should be an officer of parliament. Perhaps Infoman should be the chief electoral officer.

It is only perhaps somewhat funny that now, at least for the moment, Infoman would seem to have more influence over the Fair Elections Act than various other more experienced observers. At least in one aspect. (Marc Mayrand and Harry Neufeld have recommended expanding use of the voter information card.)

Of course, it is still early days. But to the list of critics was today added Sheila Fraser. She is something of a secular saint. At least in the vicinity of this church, where over the last 12 years, her name has been invoked far more than Jesus (and even once more than John Diefenbaker).

It would be invoked another ten times today. In response, Mr. Poilievre would attempt another sidestep.

“We are aware of Elections Canada’s views on these issues,” the minister explained.

Ms. Fraser, you’ll understand, is the co-chair of a committee that advises the chief electoral officer. Ipso facto, Ms. Fraser equals Elections Canada.

“We just happen to disagree with the agency. In a democracy, we have a right to do that,” Mr. Poilievre continued. “We are a democratically elected government and we will take all of these arguments to the Canadian people who believe that our common sense reforms are in fact merited.”

So far as taking these things to the people, the next direct opportunity to do so will be the same election these things will be applied to, which would seem to make for a rather convoluted exercise. But at this rate, 2015 already will be. And 2014 already is.

“Mr. Speaker,” Mr. Poilievre said a bit later, “all Canadians, I think, would agree that it is reasonable that when one crosses the border, one should be asked to bring ID; that when one gets on an airplane, one should be asked to bring ID.”

Except that one doesn’t necessarily need to substantiate one’s current address when flying or crossing the border. (As a general rule, politicians should just avoid analogies.)

Next Mr. Poilievre clarified that when he talked about the seniors he was protecting from red tape he meant “grandmothers” and there was a minor debate about the mobility rights provided for in the Charter and later Mr. Poilievre helpfully clarified which experts’ credentials he’d questioned he day before (specifically, an American professor who was comparing American and Canadian laws).

These minor skirmishes and word games and celebrity cameos are fun, but somewhere in here remains the matter of the legislation. And in the midst of today’s airing of grievances, the NDP’s Megan Leslie wondered if Mr. Poilievre was or was not open to amendments.

“The reality is that there are no amendments to consider,” the minister mused, “because the committee will not consider amendments before April 25. When there are amendments, we will consider them.”

So we must hold our breath or continue arguing for three more weeks. And then we will find out what direct impact all of this has had. And then we will see what all of this means, politically and practically, for 2015.

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