Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Elections secrecy is absurd

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The public release of information from the Elections Canada office leaves much to be desired. In the Internet age, it is not good enough for the office to tell the public that information it holds on record can be viewed in person, during regular working hours at its Ottawa office. It is time the office came into the electronic age and embraced transparency.

Candidates and parties are required to send to Elections Canada information on their spending and donations during an election campaign, which the federal agency then reviews for compliance with financing rules. That information is available for public perusal in the office, but that is hardly living the spirit of transparency for the vast majority of Canadians.

Furthermore, the information made public on the Elections Canada website regarding complaints investigated by the office and the commissioner is limited, relating primarily to prosecutions, or compliance agreements signed with those who transgressed election laws in minor ways. Many complaints are dealt with informally, or dismissed for lack of evidence, and a good account of that is not published. A digest of sentences rendered in official prosecutions is published after the fact, but Elections Canada's commissioner has discretion as to whether to publicly post the fact court proceedings are in play. In 2007, the Harper government gave the agency discretion over releasing final decisions in its investigations.

The discretion gives rise to absurd situations. This spring, media informed Canadians that Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand had notified the Speaker of Parliament that two Winnipeg MPs were refusing to correct their election-expense accounts, and so were subject to being suspended from the House. The public should not have to rely on a reporter happening upon a court dispute to round out the story behind such action.

The electronic posting of party and candidate information out of election campaigns on the website ought to be near-instantaneous. Receipts, invoices and filings of documents should be available for public review at a computer click. This is equally true for provincial bodies, such as Elections Manitoba, which also releases limited information in a timely fashion.

Not all complaints are valid and not all deserve lengthy disclosure to the public but there is no reason why a summary of complaints and their dispensation cannot be published. Similarly, court proceedings ought to be made public. Voters should not have to simply trust Elections Canada is vigilant in keeping the electoral process honest, open and secure.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 26, 2013 A8

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