Tag Archives: democratic reform

All the pretty ironies in Canada’s ‘Unfair’ Elections Act

 

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But for Democratic Reform Minister Pierre Poilievre’s spiteful determination to ram his partisan conception of electoral freedom down his country’s throat, it’s getting hard to fathom what keeps his Bill C-23 – also known, with exquisitely unintended irony, as the Fair Elections Act – from perishing under the weight of public opprobrium.

Almost no one who has reviewed this monstrous abuse of voting rights and procedure in Canada has anything good to say about the unamended iteration awaiting passage. Not Marc Mayrand, the country’s chief electoral officer. Not Yves Côté, the commissioner of elections. Not Sheila Fraser, former auditor-general. Not a slew of jurists, educators and legislators from across Canada and all over the world.  

A month ago, Mr. Mayrand told the Ottawa Citizen he believed Minister Poilievre simply ignored his recommendation to enhance the elections commissioner’s investigative powers. “What worries me, I must say, is whether (he) will get the tool box he needs to do his job and I’m afraid that I don’t see it in the act that is currently written,” he said. “The commissioner doesn’t get the authority to compel witnesses.” 

Then, as recently as last week, Commissioner Côté told the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs that the Bill’s measure to transfer the auspices of his duties from the Chief Electoral Officer to Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) is “both unnecessary and problematic. . .Placing the Commissioner within the Office of the DPP is an attempt to respond to a problem that. . .does not exist.”

Throughout, the archest criticism has concerned the Bill’s perspective on what constitutes an authentic Canadian voter. (Specifically, it’s one who carries a photo ID. Period. A voter registration card will no longer be enough. Neither will a sufficiently identified fellow voter vouching for his buddy in the ballot queue).

“The prohibition against vouching is ostensibly to reduce voter fraud yet there is no evidence. . .that vouching results in voter fraud,” a letter signed and sent in March  by 19 international scholars and political scientists declared. “These changes to the voter eligibility rules will disproportionately impact seniors, students, the economically disadvantaged, and First Nations citizens, leading to an estimated disenfranchisement of over 120,000 citizens.”

In fact, the number is now thought to be closer to 500,000. Still, neither this nor any other criticism, no matter how reasonable, has managed to move Mr. Poilievre from the hard line in the sand he has drawn. He has viciously attacked those who have opposed him, most recently hurling mud at Mr. Mayrand, stipulating that the latter’s “recommendations really boil down to three broad requirements for him. He wants more power, a bigger budget and less accountability.”

One can only wait in wonder for Mr. Poilievre’s response to his latest setback. This one’s a doozy, as Josh Wingrove reports this week for the Globe and Mail: “In a rare exercise of power, a Senate committee (on Legal and Constitutional Affairs) is pushing back against Stephen Harper’s Conservative government by unanimously recommending changes to the Fair Elections Act, an overhaul of electoral law that is fiercely opposed by other parties. The. . .report, which will be made public this week, amounts to a warning shot from the embattled Senate.”

It sure does. According to Mr. Wingrove’s research, the Upper Chamber, two-thirds of which is composed of Conservative members, wants to ensure that the Chief Electoral Officer and Commissioner of Elections have more, not less authority, to prosecute their roles and responsibilities. It’s also skeptical about the utility in separating the two. Altogether, the Senate makes nine recommendations, the essence of which slaps Mr. Poilievre’s hands, depending on which version of spin one is inclined to swallow.

“I think it’s a recognition by all senators that there is something seriously wrong with this bill, according to every single witness that has appeared before both committees in the House of Commons and the Senate,” Liberal Senator George Baker told the Globe. “It’s really an expression of the impartiality of members of the Senate.”

On the other hand, said Conservative Senator Linda Frum, “Minister Poilievre has repeatedly expressed a sincere interest in any recommendations the Senate may have to improve the bill.”

Whether he has or he hasn’t, democracy’s self-appointed attack dog might finally face opponents he can’t readily ignore. That many are members of his own party merely transforms the many ironies about Bill C-23 from exquisite to downright delicious.

 

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Who vouches for real democratic reform?

 

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You have to hand it to him. When faced with utter, public repudiation the likes of which might send more seasoned political warriors running for cover, young Pierre Poilevre merely restocks his rhetorical ordnance and grins for the newsreel.

For more than a month, Canada’s minister for state for democratic reform (age 34, in case anyone is counting) has been thumping tables, insisting that the nation’s electoral system is grievously flawed and, so, requires an immediate and wholesale fix. He has even taken to penning editorials for major newspapers to ram his points home to “elites” about whose opinions he does not ordinarily care.

“Many of the government’s critics have reacted with predictable hyperbole to the Fair Elections Act. (Bill C-23, now in committee),” he wrote in a piece for The Globe and Mail last week. “Yet the bill is common sense. . .The bill requires voters to choose from 39 pieces of acceptable identification to prove identity and residence. Photo ID will not be required, but simply having someone vouch for a voter’s identity – without so much as a utility bill to back it up – will no longer suffice.”

To reinforce his arguments, Mr. Poilevre has relied heavily on the work of Harry Neufeld, the author of Elections Canada’s compliance report on the 2011 ballot. Quoting liberally from the report, the junior minister wrote: “‘Errors that involve a failure to properly administer these procedures are serious. The courts refer to such as irregularities which can result in votes being declared invalid,’ it reads on Page 5.” 

Moving on, chip appropriately balanced on shoulder, Mr. Poilevre, taunts, “If you don’t like that, try this, on Page 14. . .‘Too frequently, the errors are so serious that the courts would judge them to be irregularities that violate the legal provisions that establish an elector’s entitlement to vote.’ Further, Mr. Neufeld noted that the sorts of vouching errors that occurred in the riding of Etobicoke Centre ‘could contribute to a court overturning an election’.” 

The problem is that Mr. Neufeld, himself, isn’t buying anything Mr. Poilevre is selling and really wishes the young fellow would stop quoting him “selectively”. Even more damning, he told reporters following a parliamentary committee meeting last week that Bill C-23 should be either amended or killed outright, because “it appears like they’re (government) trying to tilt the playing field in one direction. . .theirs. It makes me wonder whether this process is really being administered in a completely neutral way.”

And what say you, Mr. Poilevre to this rather unequivocal rejection of your noble scheme by the very man on whose findings you base your entire case for reform? 

“Mr. Neufeld is entitled to author recommendations, he is not entitled to author he law,” the minister rejoined last week. “That (the law) is left to parliamentarians. And at no time did I ever claim to agree with his recommendations. I don’t agree with them, and that’s why they are not in the bill.”

Apparently, two public officials, like two physicians, can agree on a diagnosis; just not the course of treatment. This, of course, assumes that the two are equally qualified. In this case, however, they are not. Worse, one is carrying a gross weight of partisan baggage.

Mr. Neufeld is right to worry about the tens-of-thousands of people (possibly, as many as 500,000) the Fair Elections Act’s interdictions on vouching and voter registration cards will alienate from the democratic system. He’s also right to speculate about the minister’s motives for leaping to conclusions the evidence does not support.

According to a Globe story last week: “‘A large number of irregularities did occur, but there is no evidence whatsoever that any voters fraudulently misrepresented themselves in the vouching process,’ Mr. Neufeld said. The errors included mixing up the vouchee and voucher or failing to fill in the date, he said, adding of Mr. Poilievre: ‘I think he has been selectively reading and quoting from my report.’”

Of course he has. That’s what a loyal government member does. And the thicker his skin, the better the troops perform in the trenches where truth and ideology fight the eternal battle for supremacy. 

 

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