Tag Archives: Marc Mayrand

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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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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