Robyn Benson, PSAC

"Fair" elections, Conservative style (part 1)



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Our electoral system is about to be “reformed” by Pierre Poilievre’s so-called “Fair Elections Act.” Once again, the Harper government is bringing forward legislation that will impact negatively on the fundamental democratic rights of Canadians. And, once again, it is doing so without any prior public discussion. In fact, not even Elections Canada was consulted on the proposed changes.

Here’s a partial list of what’s wrong with the Bill:

1. New ID requirements will disenfranchise the poor, students and Aboriginal people.

In the US, this legal tactic is called “voter suppression.” In recent months, both Texas and North Carolina have put stringent new voter requirements into place. Voter fraud in the US is rare—a grand total of 2,068 cases from 2000-2012. The real reason for such legislation is obvious: to take votes away from the opposition.

In Canada, new photo ID requirements are likely to have a similar effect. The “vouching” system, in which an elector can affirm that another elector without proper ID is legitimate, will be abolished. Poilievre says there have been a lot of “irregularities.” On closer inspection, though, these have been largely technicalities, such as boxes not ticked on a form—not fraud. But if the new rules had been in place in 2011, 120,000 voters would have been disenfranchised. (Note that Harper won his majority with a bare 6,000 voters in 13 close ridings.)

2. Real fraud will be practically impossible to investigate.

Was there fraud in 2011? Oh, you betcha—but not by voters at the polls. How does the new legislation address that?

It takes away powers from Elections Canada, moving the investigation of fraud into the Department of Justice, which reports, not to Parliament, but to the government. It does not allow the Commissioner of Canada Elections, which does the investigations, to compel testimony from witnesses, so they can simply refuse to cooperate. And, unbelievably, it forces the Commissioner to give a heads-up to people under investigation—rev up those paper-shredders!

It’s 2014, and we still don’t have anything like the full story about the 2011 election, during which complaints of fraud were received from 247 of the country’s 308 ridings. Thanks to the Fair Elections Act, we’ll be a lot less likely to learn about any fraud in the future.

3. Central poll supervisors will be selected by the winning party.

This means that the Conservatives, with their majority, will be able to select the largest share of these officials, who are supposed to be neutral. At present, they are chosen by the returning officer, with the approval of the Chief Electoral Officer. This process will now be politicized.

[Part 2 will appear tomorrow]


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This page contains a single entry by Robyn Benson, PSAC published on February 18, 2014 8:30 AM.

The 2014 budget and Canadian priorities was the previous entry in this blog.

Fair elections, Conservative style (part 2) is the next entry in this blog.

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