In his defence of his Fair Elections Act in Monday’s Globe and Mail, Pierre Poilievre says critics who are against the proposed legislation, Bill C-23, have succumbed to “hysteria” and offered only “predictable hyperbole.”
Under the proposed changes to Elections Canada, Poilievre’s bill would eliminate a registered voter’s ability to vouch for another person who can’t, for whatever reason, provide the necessary acceptable identification that proves his or her identity and residence.
“The risks of vouching are obvious at a glance,” Poilievre writes. “Worse, the safeguards against these risks were violated in 50,735 cases (42 per cent of the time) in the 2011 election, according to Elections Canada’s own compliance report.”
However, the author of that report, Harry Neufeld, later defended the vouching system as a necessary means for marginalized groups to participate in our electoral system. His report recommended widening the use of voter information cards to reduce the need for vouching.
But the Conservative bill would do away with both vouching and VICs, even though the change will potentially disenfranchise more than 100,000 people across the country — a detail Poilievre managed to leave out of his written defence.
Not only did Poilievre completely ignore criticism of his government’s plan to increase political donation limits, but he also uses faulty logic in suggesting that Elections Canada should only provide basic information to voters, including where, when and how to vote on election day.
“There are two things that drive people to vote: motivation and information,” he said. “Motivation results from parties or candidates inspiring people to vote. Information ... is the responsibility of Elections Canada. The agency’s own data suggests it has done a poor job of it.”
It should be the duty of political parties, not Elections Canada, he argues, to motivate voters during elections.
Voter apathy has been worsening for decades, in spite of the efforts of political operatives to “get out the vote” on election day. Taking away Elections Canada’s ability to advocate for and urge Canadians to exercise their right to vote will certainly not improve matters. We need more people in society urging people to exercise that right, not fewer, including civil servants.
Elections Canada’s own research into the reasons for voter apathy suggests the situation is more complicated than merely a lack of interest in the issues or a lack of time. Among Canadians who did not vote in the 2000 federal election, one of the main reasons they avoided the ballot box came down to the negative campaigning conducted by parties and candidates, and a lack of faith in politicians and party leaders.
This information was supported by a study on young voters in Atlantic Canada, published in the Canadian Journal of Education in 2006, that found most of the young people the researchers interviewed did not intend to vote as a result of various negative views toward politics.
In an interview yesterday, Brandon University political science associate Prof. Kelly Saunders says the Fair Elections Act would fundamentally change the role of Elections Canada.
“The whole point of independent agencies, and let’s remember that Elections Canada is an independent agency, is to try to encourage people to embrace the idea of voting, and to get more information out there, to get people excited about the electoral system, to provide the information that they need so they can make informed decisions. That’s the job of Elections Canada. That’s a big part of what Elections Canada is designed to do.”
Saunders thoughts on the subject don’t sound “hysterical” to us. And she’s not the only one to question the bill.
The Globe and Mail editorial board has now called for C-23 to be killed outright. Canadian and international scholars have expressed concerns over the bill and its effect on Canadian democracy. Even former Reform Party leader Preston Manning has suggested amending Bill C-23 “by strengthening rather than reducing the role of Elections Canada and the Chief Electoral Officer.”
If the improperly named Fair Elections Act becomes law in this country as is, Canadians will come to regret it.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition March 25, 2014