Robyn Benson, PSAC

Canadian democracy: update

democracy cartoon.jpg

Mr. Speaker…I intend to oppose this bill that imposes changes to the federal elections act without the consent of the opposition parties. These changes are not necessary and they are also dangerous to the operation of Canadian democracy.

No, not a speech opposing that so-called Fair Elections Act presently before the House of Commons. Click on the link!

The present Bill, being pushed through the House of Commons amid a deafening chorus of opposition across Canada, is so obviously “dangerous to the operation of Canadian democracy” that the country should be figuratively up in arms. But the Minister piloting the bill, Pierre Poilievre, has been arguing that black is white throughout the process, suggesting that rampant electoral fraud has made the changes necessary. This from a member of the party that made robocalls a household word.

I’ve already blogged about the problems with the legislation, and don’t need to repeat them all here. But the question of voter fraud needs some more attention. In a word, it’s a non-problem—at least according to the very expert that Poilievre cited as proof to the contrary. Harry Neufeld is a former BC elections official and the author of a report used by the Minister to allege widespread voter fraud. But Neufeld testified before a Parliamentary committee a few days ago that his report had been misinterpreted by Poilievre—that very few cases of voter fraud occur, and that the current Bill, chasing this phantom, could disenfranchise more than half a million Canadians.

Conservative backbenchers came forward to try to shore up Poilievre’s claims. MP Brad Butt claimed in the House of Commons that he himself had witnessed voter information cards used to commit fraud in the 2011 election. Later he completely retracted that statement, but the Conservatives squelched Opposition demands for an investigation. Then MP Laurie Hawn made a similar claim about the 2006 election, but voter cards, as it happens, were not accepted as ID at that time.

Meanwhile, former Elections Canada chief electoral officer Jean-Pierre Kingsley, who had originally given the Bill an “A-“, apparently took a closer look at it, and now says that it puts voting rights at risk. The current chief electoral officer, Marc Mayrand (a Harper appointee, incidentally), has expressed similar concerns. As for Neufeld, he stated that Bill C-23 should either be amended or killed outright. In his view, it was intended to “tilt the playing field in one direction…their direction.”

But instead of listening, Poilievre has put his fingers in his ears. Remember, this is no ordinary Bill—it goes to the very root of our democratic system of government, where one might imagine the widest consultations might be held, and a consensus sought. Instead, it will likely be made law essentially unchanged.

Meanwhile, in the House of Commons, another vast everything-but-the-kitchen-sink Omnibus Bill, 359 pages long, has just been deposited, ensuring that the many pieces of legislation it contains will not get anything approaching proper scrutiny before being passed into law.

“In the interest of democracy I ask: How can members represent their constituents on these various areas when they are forced to vote in a block on such legislation and on such concerns? We can agree with some of the measures but oppose others. How do we express our views and the views of our constituents when the matters are so diverse?” asked the very same person whose words appear at the top of this post. Too bad we can’t travel backwards in time.

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This page contains a single entry by Robyn Benson, PSAC published on April 3, 2014 8:30 AM.

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