HALIFAX - Nova Scotia's privacy and elections watchdogs say they are concerned about proposed changes to the provincial Elections Act that would give political parties access to the year of birth of each voter and whether they cast a ballot.
A spokeswoman for Dulcie McCallum, the protection of privacy review officer, said the independent ombudsman has raised a red flag about the proposal.
"The review officer has raised concerns ... around potential privacy issues," Mary Kennedy said in an interview Tuesday. "There are concerns about personal information — in particular, the collection, retention and distribution of birth years and whether a person has voted."
Before each election, political parties and candidates are given lists that include the name of each voter and their address. The lists are mainly used to track voter support. The system is much the same across Canada and at the federal level.
On election day, when the returning officer checks off the names of voters as they cast their ballots, party representatives are often there to do the same. The information is used to make sure party supporters make it to the polls.
However, Nova Scotia's NDP government has introduced legislative changes that would compel its chief electoral officer to compile that information and give it to the parties and candidates between elections, along with the name and year of birth of each voter.
Justice Minister Ross Landry has argued the information will be used to help increase voter turnout.
Dana Doiron, a spokesman for chief electoral officer Christine McCulloch, said he's not aware of any other jurisdiction in Canada that is compelled by legislation to provide that level of detail to political parties.
McCulloch said there is cause for concern.
"The date of birth is private information that is not currently given to registered parties or candidates," she said in a statement. "It is used to confirm the identity of an elector ... We have concerns about the effect of releasing this information with respect to our agreements with partners, including Elections Canada."
As well, she said her office doesn't keep data on who voted between elections.
"While the utility of this information during an election is evident, it is less evident after or between elections," she said.
Duff Conacher, a co-ordinator of the Ottawa-based advocacy group Democracy Watch, said linking the year of birth with a person's name constitutes a violation of one's privacy.
"A person's age is private, personal information and it should never be disclosed without the consent of the person," said Conacher.
He said if the Nova Scotia government wants information about the age of voters, that kind of data can be broken down poll by poll without disclosing any names.
Premier Darrell Dexter shrugged off the criticism, arguing that Elections Nova Scotia already provides most of the information to the parties when an election is called.
"We have a different opinion with respect to what she sees as a problem," he said outside the legislature.
"I don't see there being any problem with information that is available right to election day being available after election day."
Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil said he believes the government intends to use the birth year information for inappropriate purposes.
"It's an invasion of privacy and it's none of our business what year someone was born in," he said.
"It's our hope that this government will listen to Elections Nova Scotia and not try to run roughshod over them ... We need to make sure private information is not being disclosed."
He said political parties could use the information about the age of voters to determine which party they voted for.
"Why wouldn't (the government) want Christine McCulloch to review these? There's a reason for that. They know it's inappropriate, they know it's heavy-handed and they know it's none of their business."
He said the bill requires close scrutiny, but the majority government is trying to ram it through in short order.
Dexter said that's not true.
"The legislative consultation went on for a long time on it," he said. "This is a good piece of legislation and we're going to pass it. It's not a hurry."
The criticism raised by the opposition amounts to "a vacuous debate about nothing," he said.