Robyn Benson, PSAC

Fair elections, Conservative style (part 2)

Free and fair elections.jpg

Following on from yesterday’s post, here are some further major problems with the so-called Fair Elections Act:

4. Spending limits have been increased.

This will benefit the Conservatives: they received 10,780 donations worth $200 or more in the first nine months of 2013. The Liberals got 7,133, and the NDP, 3,492.

But other kinds of spending have been restricted. The NDP, for some reason, has received considerable financial support in the past from bequests, more than any other party. Unsurprisingly, the new legislation will put an end to that.

New language on third-party election advertising has also been proposed. The current spending cap of $150,000 no longer applies just to an actual election period, but to anything “in relation to a general election.” That provision is dangerously loose. Legitimate day-to-day communications by unions and environmental groups, for example, could be deemed to be “related” to an election, restricting their ability to participate in the democratic process when an election is called.

5. The Chief Electoral Officer will be forbidden from encouraging people to vote.

In the past, outreach by Elections Canada was conducted to encourage low-turnout sectors to vote—youth and Aboriginals. Turnout in Canadian federal elections has dropped significantly over the years, and this was seen as one way of addressing that. But low turnout also tends to favour incumbents, in this case the Conservatives. So the familiar Harper muzzle has now been applied. Further restrictions: no public comments will be allowed about fraud complaints. Reports from Elections Canada and the Commissioner of Canada Elections will no longer be published.

In a nutshell, this is a deeply flawed Bill that strikes at the heart of our most basic democratic rights. It was pretty clearly designed to tip the scale for the Conservatives as we head into the 2015 election. The government has moved with lightning speed to cut off debate in the House: the Bill could become law quickly, without a comma being altered. A proposal by the NDP to have public hearings on the Bill across Canada was opposed by the Conservatives.

With the cards being rapidly stacked against us, how can we make the next election fair? In the short term, by doing our best to force changes to this Bill as it proceeds through the House of Commons and the Senate—lobbying MPs and Senators, for example, and participating in organized public campaigns (such as the current one by the Council of Canadians) to fight for elections that are honest and above board.

If the Conservatives insist on ramming this legislation through unchanged, however, as they show every intention of doing, their anti-democratic intentions will become ever more obvious to ordinary Canadians. Ultimately it will be up to all of us to take back our democracy—by voting in such numbers next year that we restore the balance. That’s our challenge, and, as we can see, it’s no small one. Here’s hoping we’re up to it.

[Photo credit: Sokwanele]

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This page contains a single entry by Robyn Benson, PSAC published on February 19, 2014 8:30 AM.

"Fair" elections, Conservative style (part 1) was the previous entry in this blog.

Politicization of the CRA? is the next entry in this blog.

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