Harper’s (Un)Fair Elections Act

Lana Payne
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It’s a perverse and horrid piece of legislation that is anything but fair.

And if a cadre of experts are to be taken at their word, the Harper government’s proposed new elections act will deny many Canadians the right to vote.

In other words, the government is determined to eliminate the voting rights of some of the Canadians most likely to vote for someone other than the Conservatives, like young people.

The right to vote and fair elections are at the heart of democracy.

Maude Barlow, head of the Council of Canadians, has said that the act is an attack on the most fundamental right of all citizens in a democracy, “the right to cast a ballot in an election that is fair and free from corruption and dirty tricks.”

The government’s (Un)Fair Elections Act is currently being rammed through Parliament by none other than Pierre Poilievre, the just-as-perversely named “minister of democratic reform.” It doesn’t have a single expert, commentator, champion, booster or friend outside of the government.

Not one. Even Preston Manning has raised serious concerns about the proposed law. He said instead of limiting the role of Elections Canada, the government ought to be expanding it giving the agency more power to boost voter turnout rather than measures that will suppress voting.

The head of Elections Canada, Marc Mayrand, has been openly and profoundly critical of the proposed legislation, going so far as to suggest to his staff that it was a vindictive act against the independent elections agency. Elections Canada has had to take the federal Conservatives to task several times for breaking the country’s election laws.

They view the bill, which would limit the agency’s role, as retaliation from a government that has at its core vengeance.

Just look at their record and how they deal with anyone in society who disagrees with their views or ideology. Charities, environmental organizations, unions, scientists, feminists.

One of the main complaints against the proposed law is that it will deny tens of thousands of Canadians voting rights.

“I certainly can’t endorse a bill that disenfranchises electors,” said Mr. Mayrand, who called it “an affront to democracy.”

The new law proposes to eliminate vouching.

That’s a process where one voter can vouch for the identity of another on election day at polling stations.

It will also, some warn, prevent Elections Canada officials from reporting on the outcome of its investigation into fraudulent robocalls in the 2011 election campaign.

The pile of experts and other people — including international scholars — calling out the Harper government for its partisan elections bill (C-23) would fill a soccer stadium, including tens of thousands who have signed petitions opposing this latest attack on Canadian democracy.

Last week in an open letter,  19 scholars from universities around the world said that Canada’s global reputation as a “guardian of democracy and human rights” is threatened by the Harper government bill.

They wrote that the proposed act undermines the integrity of the Canadian electoral process, diminishes the effectiveness of Elections Canada, reduces voting rights, expands the role of money in politics and fosters partisan bias in election administration.

The Council of Canadians, the Canadian Federation of Students, Canadian academics, civil liberties organizations, Democracy Watch and a host of others have also been extremely critical of the proposed law.

 The global scholars say they believe the proposed act will deeply damage Canada’s electoral integrity and, in turn, harm international standards of electoral rights.

This is pretty serious stuff.

And Canadians need to take notice, if they haven’t already.

This is about our fundamental right to vote — a right that people in our world are still dying to achieve.

Jessica McCormick, president of the Canadian Federation of Students, says the goal of the so-called fair elections act is to suppress the vote of many groups of citizens who likely also don’t vote Conservative,  including students, indigenous people and low-income Canadians.

She was also critical of the government’s attempt to muzzle the chief electoral officer’s role to encourage voting.

The Council of Canadians, which has been active in highlighting “widespread election fraud” in the 2011 federal election, says the proposed law does nothing to address these abuses.

But of course to do so would mean the party running the government, which shamelessly breaks electoral laws, would have to admit to its past abuses rather than blame others for their bad behaviour.

 There is nothing fair or good about this proposed law. It will deny many, many Canadians their voting rights.

It is an act that is full of spite by a government that has proven time and time again to be spiteful.

Lana Payne is the Atlantic director

for Unifor. She can be reached by email at lanapaynenl@gmail.com.

Twitter: @lanampayne

Her column returns April 5.

Organizations: Elections Canada, Conservatives, Canadian Federation of Students

Geographic location: Canada

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Recent comments

  • Drina Read
    April 26, 2014 - 21:40

    The Green Party of Canada has a petition: http://www.greenparty.ca/defend-our-democracy

  • Bill Lalonde
    March 28, 2014 - 13:12

    Sign the petition at http://www.change.org/en-CA/petitions/prime-minister-harper-make-the-fair-elections-act-actually-fair