The growing chorus of people speaking out against the Conservative federal government’s ironically named Fair Elections Act reads like a who’s who of well-respected experts on public policy.
University of Manitoba emeritus Prof. Paul Thomas, a “widely published expert on Canadian politics” as the Huffington Post called him, and “a member of a commission that advised Parliament on recent federal electoral boundary changes in Manitoba,” said the act will weaken the public’s trust in Canadian elections and lower voter turnout.
Thomas is joined by dozens of other professors and respected scholars from around the country, and internationally, including Brandon University political science associate Prof. Kelly Saunders, as we have mentioned before on this page.
B.C. elections chief Harry Neufeld, who authored the Compliance Review for Elections Canada — the apparent basis for the Tories’ elections act — has come out against the legislation, saying Minister of State for Democratic Reform Pierre Poilievre must either reform the bill or kill it.
There has been no proof of any voter fraud — Neufeld’s report never alleged that the act of vouching for a candidate who could not produce identification created voter fraud, and the Conservatives have been unable to produce any tangible evidence of it, only vague and misleading assertions.
By disenfranchising hundreds of thousands of Canadians, Neufeld says the Conservatives are in danger of committing a serious violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
“This is a fundamental right. It’s guaranteed by the charter. It’s guaranteed by international treaties. You have the right to vote,” Neufeld said late last month.
This has gone well beyond partisan sniping and whining. Criticism over Poilievre’s bill speaks directly to the heart of our electoral system. As we have mentioned before, even former Reform Party leader Preston Manning has publicly questioned the legislation.
And still, Poilievre contends that his Fair Elections Act is a reasonable overhaul of federal election rules, going so far as to call the act “terrific.”
Until now, the minister has been defending the bill by focusing on the idea of the need for producing an ID to vote. But there’s much more to dislike about this bill than simply disenfranchising voters, as if that weren’t enough.
Investigations involving the Conservative party, including an ongoing probe into fraudulent robocalls made during the last federal election, are in danger of being scrapped if this bill is passed without amendment.
As reported by CTV News, elections commissioner Yves Côté said that if he isn’t given the power to compel testimony from witnesses, “some investigations will abort because of our inability to get at the facts.”
However more the Conservatives dig in their heels to defend the bill, the government may find it more difficult to vilify the latest well-known critic to add their voice to the growing chorus against the bill — none other than Canada’s former auditor general, Sheila Fraser.
Keep in mind, this is the same woman who exposed the sponsorship scandal that brought down the previous Liberal government. According to a report yesterday by The Canadian Press, Fraser now argues that Canadians need to speak up against this sweeping legislation to force the Tories to back down.
“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.”
We think Ms. Fraser is absolutely correct. If Canadians are troubled by what they are hearing and reading about the Fair Elections Act, now’s the time to speak up.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition April 4, 2014