Tag Archives: Pierre Poilievre

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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Facing down the music on democratic reform

 

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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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Canadians chime in on ‘unfair’ Elections Act

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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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