Conservative Senator Linda Frum says Elections Canada's efforts to increase voter turnout put it in a conflict of interest.
Frum has made the argument before while promoting her party's Bill C-23 (Fair Elections Act), but a tweet on the subject Wednesday promoted backlash on social media that led the senator to attempt to reframe her position.
After pollster and pundit Bruce Anderson asked if anyone had a transcript of Frum's previous comments on the Chief Electoral officer, the senator tweeted that "Elections Canada should not have a vested interest in recording a high voter turnout. That’s a conflict."
Frum's tweet led to a deluge of negative tweets. Bill C-23 would prohibit Elections Canada from engaging in activities aimed at encouraging people to vote, instead placing that responsibility in the hands of political parties. Frum was quick to back away from her statement.
In a series of follow-up tweets, Frum explained that in her view Elections Canada's role is to administer fair elections and that inducing people to vote interferes with that responsibility. She also posted that "Motivating voters to fill out a ballot [is] inherently political."
After further backlash, Frum tweeted a "retry" of her argument, shifting focus from an allegation of conflict to empowering politicians instead of "bureaucrats."
The measure in the Fair Elections Act barring Elections Canada from engaging in get out the vote efforts has been widely criticized by academics, the media and opposition parties. Critics say the measure favours the Conservatives because the government agency's voter turnout initiatives have focused on young people, a demographic unlikely to vote for Stephen Harper's party.
In the past, Democratic Reform Minister Pierre Poilievre has argued that Elections Canada's efforts have failed to actually get more young people to the polls, but the Tories seem to have abandoned this line of attack.
The move comes amid mounting criticism of Bill C-23 after Poilievre said Tuesday that Chief Elections Officer Marc Mayrand is after more power and a bigger budget. Mayrand has publicly criticized the legislation.
Poilievre's attack led to a rebuke from former auditor general Sheila Fraser, famous for her role in uncovering the sponsorship scandal.
NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair characterized Poilievre's comments as "crazy" while Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau pledged to repeal the act if he is elected prime minister.
Poilievre and other Conservatives have repeatedly criticized Mayrand for what they see as political bias. Elections Canada has spent much of the last three years investigating allegations that the Tories engaged in voter suppression activities, such as fraudulent robocalls, during the 2011 election.
Besides the measure aimed at voter turnout, Bill C-23 would prevent thousands of people from voting by placing a ban on vouching as a means to prove eligibility. The Conservatives say the measure will prevent fraudulent voting.
Among other things, the legislation will raise election contribution and spending limits, move the principal elections investigator out of Elections Canada and give parties the right to see which registered voters cast ballots.
The Conservatives are seeking to pass the bill with a minimum of debate. The party did not consult opposition parties before drafting the legislation and is using time allocation motions to hasten a final vote in the House of Commons.
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