Tag Archives: Fair Elections Act

Can Elections Canada walk and chew gum?



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



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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Facing down the music on democratic reform



As the choir of experts sings ever more harmoniously about the perils of the federal government’s Fair Elections Act, its ardent champion continues to counter with his patented – and, by now, painfully familiar – version of white noise.

Simply and evidently, insists Democratic Reform Minister Pierre Poilievre, critics of Bill C-23 are misguided, ill-informed, disingenuous, or politically motivated – maybe a toxic mixture of all ingredients. 

There’s nothing wrong with the bill, he says. In fact, there’s everything right with legislation that improves the accountability, transparency and impartiality of the election process, and prevents voter fraud from drowning the system. Those who say otherwise are doing themselves and their fellow Canadians a grievous disservice.

To every other Canadian than Mr. Poilievre, however, those who say otherwise are not so easily dismissed. 

There’s Marc Mayrand, Canada’s chief electoral officer, and Yves Cote, commissioner of Canada Elections. There’s former Auditor-General Sheila Fraser and notable Elections Canada analyst Harry Neufeld. There’s even Preston Manning, former leader of the old Reform Party. 

Armed with impressive credentials, each trills the same melody: Any piece of legislation that curtails a citizen’s right to cast a ballot (in C-23’s case, by disallowing registration cards and voters “vouching” for one another as means of identification) is purely and self-evidently wrong.

What’s more, they argue, the measure to transfer the commissioner of elections into the Office of Public Prosecutions is, at best, unnecessary. At worst, it could obstruct the collaborative relationship between the chief electoral officer (who is responsible for overseeing the vote) and the commissioner (who is responsible for enforcing the Elections Act) –  a development that would not be, in Mr. Cote’s estimation, a step in the right direction.

Indeed, says Paul Thomas, an emeritus professor at the University of Manitoba and a well-known political scholar says, “This should not happen in Canada.” In an interview with The Huffington Post Canada last month, he noted, “(We have) one of the strongest reputations in the world for staging fair and free elections under the supervision of Elections Canada, the oldest independent and impartial national election body among established democracies.”

Earlier this month, Ms. Fraser appeared to concur, telling the Canadian Press that she had serious misgivings about the bill as it now stands. Not only would it deprive thousands of people their right to vote, she insisted, it would tip the playing field in favour of the government’s party, and hinder due process, generally. 

“Elections are the base of our democracy and if we do not have truly a fair electoral process and one that can be managed well by a truly independent body, it really is an attack on our democracy and we should all be concerned about that,” Ms. Fraser said.

“When you look at the people who may not be able to vote, when you look at the limitations that are being put on the chief electoral officer, when you see the difficulties, just the operational difficulties that are going to be created in all this, I think it’s going to be very difficult to have a fair, a truly fair, election.”

Yet, for all these principled objections – not one at variance with any other, not one even obliquely self-serving or politically motivated  – Mr. Poilievre refuses to acknowledge that his bill’s critics might have a legitimate point or two to make.

Instead, he chooses to make partisan hay, launching bitter, personal attacks, especially against Mr. Maynard, about whom, he said in the Commons on Tuesday, “The reality is that regardless of amendments and improvements that the bill potentially will have included, the CEO (Mr. Mayrand) will not ultimately approve it. (His) recommendations really boil down to three broad requirements for him: he wants more power, a bigger budget, and less accountability.”

When called to apologize for such a clear display of intemperance, Mr. Poilievre replied calmly, “I stand by my testimony” – a posture that is all the more lamentable.

For many who spend their days and nights pondering the weighty subject of democratic reform in Canada, C-23 is an eminently flawed document. 

Their concurrence on this matter should give the nation’s duly elected government reason to, at least, pause and consider – not crank up the volume of their noise makers in Parliament.


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Who vouches for real democratic reform?



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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Canadians chime in on ‘unfair’ Elections Act


Those habitues of the Ivory Tower who have, from time to time, harboured serious misgivings about the average Canadian’s commitment to democracy in this country need worry no longer.

Thanks to his Fair Elections Act – which purports to reduce the risk of voter fraud by eliminating “vouching” (in which a voter vouches for another if the latter lacks sufficient ID) and rewriting much of the rulebook to render Elections Canada more accountable, but also less independent – Pierre Poilievre, the federal government’s Minister of State for Democratic Reform, has done more in one year to light a fire under his fellow citizens’ butts than an invading army could in 10.

Having passed its second reading, Bill C-23 (officially saddled with the cumbersome descriptor, “An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and other Acts and to make consequential amendments to certain Acts”) represents Mr. Poilievre’s earnest effort to fix what he and his political masters perceive is a seriously flawed system.

The problem is, the more time one spends examining the substance of the proposed legislation, the less one tends to agree with its sponsors and proponents. The most contentious issue is the attack on vouching, which would very likely undermine the democratic rights of First Nations citizens, students in transition and residents of old-folks homes, among others.

In fact, according to an Angus Reid Global poll last month, “Canadian support for changes to the Elections Act proposed by the Harper government is highest among those who aren’t aware of the issue. Among those who are familiar with the contents of the Fair Elections Act, 44 per cent say they support it and 56 per cent are opposed. However, among those who are only aware of the issue in passing or who are just not paying attention, that support rises to 53 per cent, while 47 per cent say they’re opposed.”

How this breaks down along party lines is instructive, of not especially unexpected. “When it comes to awareness and political affiliation,” the pollster reports, “awareness is highest among past Liberal and NDP voters (25 per cent and 24 per cent respectively) followed by past Conservative voters (18 per cent).”

Meanwhile, the survey indicates that Canadians, in general, are fed up with the Conservative government’s fetishistic tinkering with the cogs and gears of a system that is not, essentially, broken. Angus Reid Global interprets its poll results bluntly: “Canadians do not trust the motives of the Conservative government in introducing the proposed legislation, and do not feel the Harper government’s impact on the democratic process has been positive.”

Not that Mr. Poilievre hasn’t done his level best to knock some sense into our recalcitrant noodles. In an opinion piece for The Globe and Mail earlier this week, he decried his critics’ “hyperbolic” reaction to the Bill, which, he insists is “common sense. “Canadians instinctively understand that these changes are reasonable and fair. That is why they have not shared the critics’ hysteria.”

Again, though, that’s not entirely accurate.

Yes, a group of international scholars have grabbed headlines by claiming, in an open letter to national media, that “the governing party in Canada has proposed a set of wide-ranging changes, which if enacted, would. . .undermine the integrity of the Canadian electoral process.”

And, yes, an assemblage of Canadian academics recently echoed these sentiments when they publicly stated, “Beyond our specific concerns about the Bill’s provisions, we are alarmed at the lack of due process in drafting the Bill and in rushing it through Parliament.”

But, increasingly, what fills the letters and comment pages of print and online versions of major media are the grumblings of the the hoi polloi, i.e., the Great Unwashed. i.e., you and me.

“The Harper government’s latest assault on democratic ideals and practices with its proposed Fair Elections Act, while roundly criticized, is at least consistent in its semantic tactics with earlier attacks, notably in the 2006 Federal Accountability Act,” writes Neil Burk of Nepean, Ontario. “As the fair Elections Act has nothing to do with fairness principles, the Accountability Act is unaccountably silent on accountability principles.”

His screed appeared in the Globe’s letters section on one of two days this week during which the newspaper published nine archly critical, and well-written, letters from readers.

No, no, all you professor of political science, fear not.

From the recent evidence you may deduce that the condition of democracy in Canada is just fine, after all, thank you very much.

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