Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Tories Accuse Elections Watchdog of Political Activism against Reform Bill

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Tories Accuse Elections Watchdog of Political Activism against Reform Bill

Article excerpt

Tory accuses Mayrand of political activism

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OTTAWA - The Harper government has opened up a new front in its war with the chief elections watchdog, accusing him of engaging in political activism against its controversial overhaul of the country's election laws.

Conservative MP Tom Lukiwski said Thursday it was inappropriate for chief electoral officer Marc Mayrand to criticize the government's proposed electoral reform bill during a private meeting with his own staff.

Lukiwski is parliamentary secretary to the government House leader and the Conservatives' lead hitter on the Commons committee charged with studying the bill.

Mayrand's private remarks to Elections Canada staff -- as reported in the Ottawa Citizen based on the account of an anonymous source -- were inappropriate for a watchdog who is supposed to be scrupulously impartial, Lukiwski told the procedure and House affairs committee.

The Citizen described Mayrand's speech as leaving the impression he believes the government is using the bill to retaliate against Elections Canada, which the Conservatives have repeatedly accused of bias in its pursuit of electoral wrongdoing.

Lukiwski said it appears from the Citizen story that Mayrand was "railing against the government ... (in) almost a campaign-style speech to rally (staff) up, to get them angry at the government.

"I can only interpret that, in my mind at least, as political activism."

Pierre Poilievre, the minister responsible for democratic reform who was at committee to defend the bill, declined Lukiwski's invitation to comment on the appropriateness of Mayrand's alleged remarks. But he too implied that Mayrand, who has publicly criticized elements of the bill, has strayed into the realm of politics.

"Listen, I don't take these things personally. In politics, emotions can run high from time to time," Poilievre told the committee.

Mayrand has been particularly critical of a provision in the bill which would prohibit him from communicating with Canadians about anything other than the mechanics of how to vote.

The government has denied its aim is to muzzle Mayrand.

Nevertheless, Lukiwski suggested Mayrand should hold his tongue until he has a "private audience" with the minister or is invited by the committee to give his views on the bill.

"We're going to bring him to committee. That's where he'll have a chance to give us exactly what he feels about each and every one of the provisions in the bill," Lukiwski said outside the committee room.

"He has a perfect right to make comment on that in committee ... I would like to see him, if he's going to be critical, do so at committee."

Elections Canada spokesman John Enright declined to comment on Lukiwski's criticism.

However, he did summarize the speech Mayrand gave Wednesday at the annual Elections Canada staff meeting, which was primarily aimed at recognizing the achievements of various individuals. Mayrand spoke on a variety of subjects, including giving an update on the electoral reform bill, "focusing on both its positive aspects and those that cause him concern," Enright said. …

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