Can Elections Canada walk and chew gum?

 

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Conservative Senator Linda Frum’s dislike of collegial discourse is almost as sharp as her contempt for logical debate, which, given the lamentable quality of political talent these days, perfectly qualifies her to sit in this country’s Red Chamber.   

Installed in 2009 by Stephen Harper to, presumably, bolster the PMO’s determination to transform all parliamentarians into caterers of official government policy or, in the alternative, portray the hold-outs as renegades against the group-think her party expects of everyone in its orbit, Senator Frum has revealed her colours in recent comments before the nation.

Speaking to Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand during a Senate hearing on the “Fair Elections Act” (Bill C-23) 11 days ago, she effused: “Your concerns about section 18 removing your ability in future get-out-the-vote initiatives. Do you not see why there is a conflict of interest between you as a chief electoral administrator being in charge of the administrations of free and fair elections and also you being invested in get-out-the-vote initiatives so that you have then a vested interest in seeing the numbers increase? And that that balance. . .You don’t see the conflict there?”

Ms. Frum later defended her bizarre assertion (that Elections Canada’s CEO ought not be permitted to simultaneously walk and chew gum, electorally speaking, lest his enthusiasm for greater voter turnout somehow corrupts our representative democracy) in the Twitterverse. 

“Elections Canada should not have a vested interest in recording a high voter turnout. That’s a conflict,” she tweeted on April 9, to which political consultant Bruce Anderson remarked, “Don’t we all have a vested interest in a high voter turnout?”

Ms. Frum: “Absolutely we do. Who is suggesting otherwise?”

Mr. Anderson: “You did Senator: ‘Elections Canada should not have a vested interest in recording a high voter turnout.’” 

Ms. Frum: “Sigh. If u don’t agree – fine. But stop pretending u don’t know what I’m saying. It’s not EC’s role to motivate ppl to vote.”

Mr. Anderson: “Not pretending. . .with respect, I truly don’t know why a high turnout is a conflict 4 EC. But agree to disagree.”

Mr. Anderson was not the only witness to this carefully staged play who was left bothered and bemused by Ms. Frum’s political performance. Still, she refused to relent. In a guest editorial for the Globe and Mail, some days later, she noted that “Elections Canada is a bureaucracy with two missions: to ensure the integrity of the voting process and also to promote voter turnout,” before declaring that the two missions are fundamentally at odds with one another.

“You want the biggest vote total? Accept every ballot. You want to eliminate voter fraud? Eliminating improper ballots may reduce vote totals. In attempting to achieve a balance between these two different missions, the evidence suggests that Elections Canada has favoured its turnout goals over preserving the integrity of the process.”

What utter rot. Nothing prevents Elections Canada from both promoting the general vote and safeguarding the system. It’s not an either-or proposition. It’s a double-barreled responsibility that, when executed properly, enhances, rather than diminishes, the democratic process.

As one letter writer to the Globe astutely pointed out, “competing interests are not the same as a conflict of interest. Both are goods to be pursued to reach the goal of democratic elections.” 

Commented another: “Senator Frum’s argument does not demonstrate that there is an essential conflict of interest – rather that Elections Canada’s efforts to do both need to be administered more effectively. Conservatives cannot justify removing certain populations’ power to vote just because there are potential ways to be fraudulent.”

Rejoined yet another reader: “This is like saying judges should not be involved in preliminary hearings because they have a vested interest in the outcome. To be kind, the only thing Senator Frum’s argument supports is a bigger bureaucracy, not something one expects to hear from the ‘Government is the problem’ people.”

In fact, the contempt Ms. Frum displays is of the same species that routinely lumbers down Parliament Hill’s hallways en route to its familiar perches in the committee chambers and hearing rooms of Government – hers is a visceral contempt of the electors, themselves.

 

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