Changing rules — and not for the better

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The Harper government is trying to prevent close public scrutiny of the changes it has unilaterally made to our election legislation in its Fair Elections Act and that is cause for deep concern.
Election rules are fundamental to our democracy and should only be changed after extensive consultation with all parties and election experts and the Canadian people. The act should then be openly debated clause by clause in Parliament so everyone is fully aware of its impact on our democracy.

Instead, Harper is trying to keep it under the radar.

He introduced the act when he knew Canadians were distracted by the Olympics and then he limited debate on it in Parliament. The Harper government refuses to hold Canada-wide hearings on it, saying such a public review of this important legislation would be a “gong show.” This shows great disrespect for all Canadians and our democratic process.

The act needs close scrutiny. According to the new legislation, voter vouching is no longer allowed, which could have the effect of disenfranchising certain segments of our population, including students. Spending limits have also been unilaterally changed and require careful examination to ensure they don’t confer a hidden benefit on any one party.

Harper has made no secret of his disdain for Elections Canada, which is disturbing. When he was president of the National Citizen’s Coalition (NCC), he fought with Elections Canada and called them “jackasses” because their electoral laws limited third-party spending on political advertising. He fought those limits right up to the Supreme Court, which ruled against the NCC, deeply frustrating Harper.

In the new act, Harper has stripped the chief electoral officer of most of his duties, including conducting investigations into voter fraud, which has been given to a commissioner.

The commissioner reports to the director of public prosecutions, and he answers to the justice minister, who happens to be a member of the ruling party.

This raises the possibility of political interference in investigations.

This should be very alarming to all Canadians, particularly since the Conservatives are under suspicion for possibly playing a role in the 2011 robocalls scandal, which is currently being investigated. Under Harper’s new rules, the public wouldn’t even be allowed to know an investigation into possible voter fraud was taking place.

During the bill’s limited Parliamentary debate, Conservative MP Brad Butt justified the new legislation by twice telling the House he had personally witnessed discarded voter cards being collected which were then used to commit voter fraud.

After the bill passed, he admitted to Parliament that he “misspoke” and had never witnessed any such acts.

Why is Harper still allowing this MP to sit as one of the Conservative members entrusted to review the election act in committee?

As prime minister of Canada, Stephen Harper should be the foremost guardian of our democratic rights. Instead, he is undermining our democracy by refusing to

hold cross-Canada hearings which would allow extensive public scrutiny, understanding and news coverage of the terms of the Fair Elections Act.

In Harper’s own words in 2006, “You won’t recognize Canada when I get through with it.” He’s right. Our Canada is changing, and not for the better.

Eleanor Clouter writes from St John’s.

Organizations: Elections Canada, NCC, Supreme Court Conservatives Cross-Canada

Geographic location: Canada, National Citizen

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Recent comments

  • ginn
    March 08, 2014 - 16:55

    As is usual with the anti-Harper crowd, a lot of innuendo and little real facts. Please point out in a clear manner where our democratic rights have been diminished. As far as I can see there is no proposal to limit our right to vote in secret and without fear. Canada is changing and in the main part for the better. I'm a senior on fixed income and a lot better off since 2005 when the conservatives came to power.

    • Mary Mckim
      March 09, 2014 - 08:06

      Since you don't think the details in the above article demonstrate at least one way that Canada will be worse off under the Harper regime, respectfully, how about you give examples of exactly you are "a lot better off since 2005" because of Harper-driven policies? The list of people and organizations that are not better off include vets, women's rights organizations, many NGOs, people living in poverty, federal prison inmates, food inspection, environmental groups, the scientific community, the unemployed, the homeless… I could keep going but I hope I've made my point. That is why I really would be interested in hearing from someone who is actually better off…. because mostly, those who are better off under the Harper regime are in the top 10 per cent economically and the demographic who visibly support Harper's right-wing policies and beliefs.

    • nerilldp
      March 11, 2014 - 15:05

      I think Mary, ginn on a fixed income, can at best only say he is at least not worse off (he thinks) because interest rates have been so low. But that has nothing to do with Harper: some people mistakenly attribute undeserved credit to him and Harpercite is only too happy not to say otherwise. So, I guess it's not exactly lying, right?

  • Mary Mckim
    March 08, 2014 - 10:55

    Thank you for writing this letter. It is important that people learn what is happening. At a hurried glance, the Fair Elections Act seems nebulous and it is designed by the Harper government to be that way. This is a deliberate attack on Canadian democracy. We should all be informed about exactly what this bill is going to do… and we should all be deeply concerned.

  • nerilldp
    March 08, 2014 - 08:58

    Harper's slow but insidious scheme to create a "democracy" by his terms, reminds me of a similar process put in place by a certain former KGB Chief in Russia. Next will be a law that has anyone arrested for wanting to run against our own Czar since doing so would be seen as sedition or treason (especially if they actually have a chance of unseating him). The Russian populace allowed it to happen, so can it be happening here as well? Although Mr. Harper appears to distance himself from Vlad, he seems to know his Russian counterpart better than you might think and maybe quite intimately: when responding to a former US president about the time Vladimir introduced his Black Lab to show how big he is, our PM stated, “You’re lucky he only showed you his dog.”

  • Pierre Neary
    March 08, 2014 - 08:33

    We'll said Ms. Clouter. The federal government we have in place right now is rife with corruption. They have proved it over and over. The faster we get rid of these thieves and liars the better.