Once bitten, twice shy — that’s precisely the approach Canadians should take to the federal government’s abrupt conversion over what the Conservatives like to call the Fair Elections Act.
The act, which has been roundly criticized by experts in democratic government almost worldwide, has been deemed for months to be “perfect” legislation by its chief apologist, federal Democratic Reform Minister Pierre Poiliviere.
The “perfect” legislation would reduce the ability of some Canadians to vote, along with a host of changes widely seen to primarily benefit the governing party in the next election.
Now, some parts of the legislation will change: the chief electoral officer will be free to speak or report on any matter, Elections Canada will continue to be able to support programs that explain voting to primary and secondary school students and Elections Canada will continue to appoint poll supervisors without having to take recommendations from political parties.
Those, and a group of other changes, will go at least some way towards solving the problems with a bill that only the Tories felt was necessary in the first place.
The legislation, to describe things simply, was supposed to solve problems that real election specialists said didn’t even exist in Canadian elections. At one point, trying to defend the bill, a Tory member of Parliament went so far as to claim he personally witnessed voter fraud taking place, only to have to explain later that he’d seen nothing of the kind. He “misspoke.”
When you have to lie to defend your case, you really don’t have a case at all.
And that’s the way this legislation has seemed from the start.
After all, this is a bill that some Tory insiders have suggested was simply revenge being taken against Elections Canada for its investigative efforts into the election behaviour of the Conservatives.
So, now that changes are coming, should the bill’s broad-ranging opponents shout “Hurrah!” and go home feeling vindicated?
There are still plenty of things that should be addressed in the bill, but more than that, this is a federal government that has for years specialized in the bait-and-switch method of government. It hides unpalatable and indefensible changes to legislation inside omnibus budget bills, it promises one thing and then delivers something quite different in the fine print, it tells you blue is pink and then, when caught, says it misspoke.
There are still plenty of problems with the legislation that’s since been nicknamed the “Unfair Elections Act,” and everyone should watch closely to ensure the changes the government is now promising actually show up in the final product. It’s not for nothing that eternal vigilance has been describe as the price of liberty.
And while we’re at it, could we perhaps get a new minister of democratic reform? Perhaps one who understands both democracy and reform?
As Pierre Poiliviere would say, that would be “perfect.”