Harper government – bettering the advantages

By Patrick Hunter Thursday April 24 2014 in Opinion
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The following quote has been attributed to Winston Churchill: “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.” One aspect of our democracy is that political parties will do everything they can to get in power. And, once in power, they will do anything to stay in power.


It is the kind of scenario that saw the invention of “gerrymandering”. This, to use the Wikipedia definition, “is a practice that attempts to establish a political advantage for a particular party or group by manipulating district boundaries to create partisan advantaged districts”.


It is not the only tool in the bag of politicians.


If you are a fan of Star Trek, you probably know that Captain James T. Kirk was the only cadet to beat the “no-win scenario”. Kirk did this by changing the rules. In other words, Kirk cheated. What we are currently experiencing is an attempt by the governing federal party to change the rules in the administration of elections.


To my mind, one of the things that the Harper administration’s Fair Elections Act – Bill C23 wants to do is take away the independence of the chief electoral officer in the promotion of fair elections, affecting democratic participation. It also increases partisan political influence into how elections are run. These are the kinds of activities that are often linked to what have been reprehensibly referred to as “banana republics”.


The Conservative Party got caught with their hands in the cookie jar, so to speak, in the use of “robo-calls”, those calls that interrupt you at suppertime, this time to tell you how to vote. In some cases, in the last election, these calls were used to misdirect voters thought to be from opposing parties to wrong polling venues.


If the Act becomes law, you will no longer be able to rely on the voter information card which you receive in the mail as an access to voting without producing a piece of identification. More significantly, unless you have a piece of identification that confirms your address, chances are you will not be allowed to vote. So, if you have just moved into the neighbourhood and you do not have something with your new address, you are out of luck.


Under the current law, you could have someone who is on the list vouch for you – that you are who you say you are, and that you live where you say you do. Under the new law, a considerable number of voters could lose their ability and right to vote.


The Senate, which is currently reviewing the Act, has raised questions as well from Conservative members. The minister responsible for seeing the Bill through has given some indication that he may reconsider some of the new provisions. But, the price we pay for majority government is that they will eventually get most, if not all, of what they want.


One of the things that really bother me about the Bill is the new controls it proposes to impose of the chief elections officer. The role the current officer had in dealing with the problems that arose in the last election appear to have had a significant influence in the proposed changes. I would have imagined that one of the main functions of that office, in addition to ensuring that the election machinery is executed fairly, is the need to promote through advertising and other means at its disposal the civic responsibility of voting. It would be, and has been to the best of my knowledge, a non-partisan approach to educate and encourage those who meet the qualifications – age and citizenship – to take part in this process. Voter turnout at election time is pathetic and it is through no fault of the chief elections officer. The cynicism and apathy about elections and voting are largely the faults of governments – all governments – who fail in responding to the wishes of voters. To essentially put the blame of poor election turnout on the chief electoral officer is a bit disingenuous.


But we have had a few years of Harper’s glove-fisted authoritarian approach, haven’t we? If appointees do not toe the line, as in the Atomic Energy Commission situation of a few years ago, then they are dismissed. And if scientists do not say what the government wants them to say about the environment, then they are muzzled. We have witnessed these types of tampering over the past few years, so it probably should not come as a surprise that they would launch an attack on the chief electoral officer, however obliquely it may appear.


The question remains now, will Harper and his Cabinet and caucus be held to account for these matters when the next election is called? After all, there is still the unresolved matter of the Senate mess – specifically the Duffy affair – along with other appointments the prime minister made that were busted.


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