The "Fair" Elections Act isn't just bad, its being implemented in a bad way
Mar 7, 2014

The "Fair" Elections Act isn't just bad, its being implemented in a bad way

Changes to our electoral system - changes, that is, to the very core of our democracy - are not to be taken lightly. Regardless of where you lie on the political spectrum, we should be able agree on process. We should be able to agree that such changes must be taken with an open and transparent process that engages a genuine debate in Canada.

I dislike many aspects of the proposed electoral reform bill. Pouring more money into elections - asymmetrically advantaging the Conservatives - is a terrible idea. Making it harder to vote - asymmetrically advantaging the Conservatives - is a terrible idea. Muzzling elections Canada, even preventing them from doing get out the vote operations - leaving it to those who spend the most money, advantaging the Conservatives - is a terrible idea.

But it is the process that is the icing on the cake, the way this horrible bill is being stuffed into law with any shred of open adversarial debate being sidelined at every opportunity. Andrew Coyne documents the latest in a list of shenanigans on process:

No wonder the Tories were so nervous. The government had been noticeably skittish about what Marc Mayrand would say before the Commons Procedure and House Affairs committee Thursday: not only had it kept the chief electoral officer largely out of the loop in the months before it introduced its landmark Fair Elections Act, but there was doubt whether he would even be allowed to testify about it afterwards. A promise to that effect had been made to the NDP’s David Christopherson the night before to persuade him to end his filibuster of the act in committee. Yet on the day Mayrand’s testimony was interrupted by the calling of not one but two votes in the Commons just as he was scheduled to speak.
At any rate, at length he was allowed to give his testimony, at the end of which very little of the act was left standing. The chief electoral officer, in his quiet, workmanlike way, simply shredded it, almost line for line, proposing more than two dozen amendments that would effectively rewrite the bill. 
The provision banning “vouching” came in for particularly heavy fire: while the government insists the practice, by which voters who lack proper identification can have another voter vouch for them, has given rise to widespread voter fraud, Mayrand observed there was no evidence for this. It did not help the government’s position that the authority it cited in response, Harry Neufeld, author of a report on electoral irregularities in the 2011 election, later backed up Mayrand’s stance. (“I never said there was voter fraud,” he told The Canadian Press.)
The treatment of Mayrand, like the misrepresentation of Neufeld’s report, is unfortunately of a piece with this government’s approach generally, in which secrecy, deception, and brute force are very much the watch words.

We deserve better than this.

In the US, the debate over voting reforms has been raging since shortly after Obama took office. Republicans trump up the need for strict voter ID laws and other measure to combat voter fraud. Two empirical points have long been clear: the voter fraud is effectively nonexistence (ditto for Canada), and the people most likely to be affected by this law overwhelmingly vote for the left. It is hard to see it as anything but Republicans setting aside basic democratic principles for partisan gain. And for the Conservatives, long known to emulate so much of the schenanigans they see tried by Republicans, it is hard to see this election reform bill as anything but precisely that as well. Instead of proudly achieving an advancement for democracy showcased in the public sphere, they are shoehorning in a a bill designed for partisan gain in the coming 2015 elections. 

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