Elections Québec is the new name of the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer of Quebec (DGEQ). But no matter what its name, the organization seems to be out of touch with the last few months.
In fact, let us say it right away, it is to the electoral process that blows have been made; it is to him that bruises have been inflicted. It is he who is mired.
And if it was the fault of parliamentarians? Yes, parliamentarians, because it is the fault of the National Assembly if two major issues have turned into dishwashing water.
The first deals with personal data held by political parties. Elections Québec’s Director General, Pierre Reid, proposed a legislative change in April so that his organization could go and check what parties collect as personal information, in what ways, how they keep it and what they do with it. Hand on heart, parties all said they agreed. The scandal of Facebook-Cambridge Analytica hung in the news.
But why did the bill introduced by Minister Kathleen Weil not even make it to the vote in the Salon Bleu?
First simple answer: because the parties, basically, did not want the Chief Electoral Officer – let’s call it that – to put his nose in their affairs. Especially not in the middle of an election campaign.
Note: Although this will surprise many, the government seems to have wanted more than the opposition parties. If he has been more voluntary than them, it is also because he has feared to wear the hat of a failure on this front. An unfounded fear, since the politico-media world has finally returned to the subject – even if he had hit the headlines earlier this year. The search for “novelty” often crushes the essential, but let’s move on.
More technically, Ms. Weil’s bill was introduced late on June 6, when the National Assembly was scheduled to close on the 15th, which she did.
Nevertheless, everything is possible in a few days when all parliamentarians want it. It was all the more possible that the legislative proposal contained only three articles – in addition to the date of entry into force.
The rest of the story was played behind the curtains. On June 8, the Parti Quebecois asked the government that no fewer than 18 groups be heard in a parliamentary committee on this matter.
The government refused. He felt that hearing the DGEQ and Eric Montigny, Chair of research on democracy and parliamentary institutions, was enough for now.
And so, quite simply, everything fell into the water; that the DGEQ did not get the power to dive into the techniques of targeting voters of our political parties when it would have mattered most, that of the election campaign.
In Quebec, the law instituting fixed election dates was adopted in June 2013. Five years later, however, there are still no rules on pre-election expenses for the current precampaign. The DGEQ decided to observe the situation. This wait-and-see attitude was reproached to him. This is understandable: rules already exist in Ontario, for example.
But should the establishment of a pre-election spending framework not have to go back to the government and Parliament? Yes, absolutely. She is on this side the real responsibility.
To frame what already exists, it will be necessary one day or another to modify the electoral law of Quebec – and to do it without giving place to possible legal challenges (because a control of expenses of the kind is considered as an attack on the freedom expression by the courts, although they accepted it for the election periods).
However, only the National Assembly has the power to amend this law. It did not act because no member of Parliament took the trouble to think about this issue.
The National Assembly itself, de facto , decided to wait for the recommendations that will be made next year or later the team of Pierre Reid at the end of his observation. She did not have to wait, let’s insist on that.
If she decided to do it, it was because she wanted it. And that’s why and how a piece of the electoral process passes and will fall through the cracks this year.
Oh, if Trump could denounce Couillard …
If one wanted to joke about such a subject, one could say that with the tone and the words he uses to his place – which have gone crescendo – Philippe Couillard secretly dreams of being denounced by President Trump himself … It might be worth it to the electorate! After all, Justin Trudeau’s points about the Washington agitator did not serve him.
But do not joke. The subject is too serious. What must be noted is that the Premier of Quebec is consistent with himself. In November 2016, just hours before polls closed, Couillard had himself called for the election of Democrat Hillary Clinton to the White House.
Sometimes the partisan interests of a government and those of a state converge. This is the case here. This convergence was illustrated during the meeting of cabinet ministers and representatives of employers ‘and unions’ associations this week, as well as during the unveiling of the action plan intended to enable Quebec to cope with the uncertainties caused by the Trump administration.
At its own level, the Quebec government has an “obligation of means”, that is to deploy its best efforts to achieve the goal. So far, on this front, he has discharged his responsibility.