Before the last election, Canadians probably thought our electoral system worked pretty well. We have formal, structured elections overseen by an impartial and effective elections agency, Elections Canada.
In fact, our system was so enviable that we even exported its skills, helping other countries build sustainable and fair democracies.
But that was before the last federal election, and before the growing number of troubling concerns about what’s beginning to look like an organized campaign of voter suppression and election abuse.
Elections Canada is now dealing — perilously slowly — with complaints about election abuse from a variety of ridings across the country, complaints that voters were being deliberately misdirected away from polling stations and into non-existent electoral hinterlands. It turns out the new complaints were addressed with the federal Conservative party even before Canadians started voting — and Elections Canada’s concerns were met with legal letters, stonewalling and, in the end, calls that continued to redirect voters away from legitimate polling sites.
The latest revelations show one thing perfectly clearly.
Elections Canada either needs more teeth — big, scary nasty legislative teeth it’s not afraid to use — or else it needs to find the resources to shift into high gear and complete its already-broad investigations, before Canadians start to lose faith in its effectiveness.
The endless Robocalls investigation, the in-and-out election financing slap on the wrist, the recent revelations that Elections Canada was getting complaints about Tory poll-shifting tricks even before election day, the Peter Penashue “oops, I spent too much” performance — if anything, it says that politicians and political backrooms either have a clear contempt for Elections Canada, or some kind of tacit belief that any improper behaviour can be solved with a lame, after-the-fact excuse that it’s perfectly fine to deliver from a comfortable seat in the House of Commons.
It is the ultimate example of the end justifying any means — and it strikes at the very heart of our democracy.
It’s time that we stop pussyfooting around the interests of the already-elected.
Toy with people’s democratic rights and you’ll automatically lose your seat. More to the point, if you’re caught cheating, you shouldn’t even be allowed to play again, at least for a couple of elections. Any time there’s clear spending violations or voter suppression or any tampering, the seats involved should be declared vacant and byelections should be held.
As the Tories themselves are fond of saying about other illegal behaviour, the punishment should fit the crime.
If you cheat your way into a seat, you automatically lose that seat. If you break the rules in any way, you’re out. If cheating can be shown to have occurred, we automatically start the process again. Party insiders involved in the tampering should get jail time. And perhaps the party involved with the tampering should be required to pay directly for the inevitable cost of the byelections involved.
Bet they’d get that message pretty quick.