Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Dismissing the Watchman: The Fair Elections Act

Earlier this month the Conservative government under Stephen Harper (CPC – Calgary Southwest, AB) introduced a piece of legislation called the Fair Elections Act. The Orwellian-named piece of legislation has already moved passed second reading and is now being worked on in committee. It is more than passing reasonable that this bill will become law before the month is out and change the way elections are run in this country.

Having had a week the media has begun to sift out some of the issues in the legislation, or perhaps the problems. If you ask the Minister of Democratic Reform Pierre Poilievre (CPC – Napean-Carlton, ON) he’ll tell you the law is designed to combat election fraud. This should be pointed out for what it is, a red herring bearing little resemblance to the truth, like tightening laws on private citizens' use of the internet and calling it a bill to combat pedophiles. Election fraud is not a major problem in this country, at least not because the wrong people are voting.

What election fraud that occurred in the last federal election seems to have been perpetrated by political parties who lied, overspent, mismanaged, misdirected and cheated voters. Elections Canada has been painstakingly trying to reconstruct what happened over the last few elections and has only become to bring some to some kind of justice. But Elections Canada was not only toothless in its punishments, but in its abilities to investigate. The new legislation actually weakens Elections Canada and moves the power to investigate away from that body.

Other bizarre changes will make it so Elections Canada will merely oversee elections, and not even advertise civic engagement to Canadians. Laws will be tightened to make it harder for the poor, the transient, students and seniors to vote. The Conservatives, like their Republican cousins in America, are introducing voter identification laws. In America these are seen as code to exclude minority and lower-income voters, who skew for the Democrats.

Election fundraising laws will be relaxed, including some bizarre provisions that will allow parties to write-off money used to raise money from existing donors. While experts I read seem unsure what this means, it could mean that if a party throws a gala dinner to fundraise the entire expense does not have to be claimed. This is an idea rife for abuse. The individual donation limit will be raised which at the current time is a benefit to the Conservative Party.

Leading journalists across Canada have concluded that something untoward happened in the last federal election, which has led some to doubt the legitimacy of the Harper government. I have never been part of that camp, but there were many who appear to have been playing fast and loose with election laws, such as the former Labrador MP and Dean Del Mastro (CPC – Peterborough, ON). Instead of improving our election laws this bill seems poised to make abuse easier and consequences less likely. It causes me great anxiety, and like many things in this country it will pass unnoticed and the risk not fully realized until after 2015.

Below are some pieces on this topic:

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