Goodbye to all that

Chris Selley memorializes the veiled-voter debate.

The first law that was supposed to do that is now in effect. But all it does is instruct poll clerks, having determined that a voter’s name and address are on the register, to ask for either one piece of photo ID that lists the voter’s home address or “two pieces of identification authorized by the Chief Electoral Officer each of which establish the elector’s name and at least one of which establishes the elector’s address.” So not only does it not ban veiled voting, in other words, but it doesn’t even require photo ID.

Nevertheless, when Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand said as much, he was pilloried. “We just adopted this spring… a law designed to have the visual identification of voters,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper fumed. “That’s the purpose of the law,” he added, astonishingly. Not satisfied with his boss’s gaffe, Tory MP Joe Preston—a real live member of the committee that OKed the legislation, apparently without having read it—then upped the ante. “I’d love for [Mayrand] to come here and try to explain to us what he doesn’t understand,” he said, causing numerous heads to explode in the few Canadian newsrooms that actually noticed what was going on.

One of the first public events I attended after arriving in Ottawa was Marc Mayrand’s press conference to respond to all this. For a half hour he sat and calmly refuted his interrogators as reporter after reporter told him how sorely mistaken he was. Then everyone went back to their offices, read the law and realized he was right. Probably one of the five best performances I’ve witnessed in these two years.

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.