Once upon a time, having a government department implement legislation before it passed Parliament would be considered contempt of Parliament. In Justin Trudeau’s Canada it is what is expected of senior civil servants.
Trudeau recently reversed course in appointing a new Chief Electoral Officer. After informing opposition parties of his plan to nominate Michael Boda, the top elections official in Saskatchewan, Trudeau switched gears. Two weeks ago he announced that acting Chief Electoral Officer Stephane Perrault would take the job.
Now we may know why.
Before you yawn and think this position doesn’t matter, remember Marc Mayrand. Mayrand was the top elections official all through the Harper years and was often at loggerheads not only with the government but with Parliament.
Mayrand felt he was above Parliament, above those pesky people that we elect to represent our interests in Parliament. I always felt that Mayrand was the epitome of the entitled, arrogant civil servant.
Now his deputy will run the show.
Why Perrault? Why switch after Boda had been hired?
Well neither the PM nor his office will say. But a pair of stories in The Globe and The Star hint at the reason, even if unintentionally.
The Globe reported on Monday that the Liberals plan to limit debate on Bill C-76. This is a sweeping new bill designed to change our election laws that was only introduced on April 30, or 24 days ago. Yet the Liberals want debate to end soon.
In fact under questioning about this on Wednesday, the PM said the House had already debated this bill for four hours! Imagine that! Debating fundamental changes to our election laws in Parliament for as long as four hours!
Then on Tuesday, The Star reported that Perrault was willing to make sure any changes in the bill are implemented in time for the next election. A little over a year from now.
“We will implement this law,” Perrault assured the committee.
How can the yet to be confirmed head of Elections Canada, he still needs to be confirmed by the House and Senate, assure a House committee that a bill yet to hit committee will be implemented?
“We do have a bill, and what we are doing which is somewhat unusual is we will start preparation for its implementation … anticipating its passage and adjusting as required,” Perrault said, who has served as acting CEO since 2016.
Who knows how many ways this bill can and should, or could, be changed before it is passed. Maybe the whole thing should be scrapped, maybe a whole new section, say on foreign funding needs to be added.
Perrault is willing to play ball with Trudeau though and push through whatever the PM wants.
My guess is that Boda, like Mayrand before him, said there was not enough time to implement these changes in time for 2019. Perrault said he could do it, even if Parliament hasn’t passed them, and so he got the job.
The Liberals have now invoked time allocation on the elections bill, meaning they are shutting down debate to push this bill through. They once promised never to do that.
Watch as Trudeau dodges questions about this in the House of Commons.