In the steady march of the Stephen Harper Conservative government’s reshaping the image of Canada, yet another bill is being added to its arsenal. Using the kind of Orwellian language now commonplace among politicians, the latest proposed reform being rushed through Parliament, is the Fair Elections Act.
In a shameful attempt at unhinging the spirit of democracy, a significant portion of the document is dedicated to narrowing access to the voting booth. Vouching for the identity of a person who does not have required identification by another qualified voter would no longer exist if this bill becomes law.
The effect however would be to curtail access to voting among the more vulnerable within the electorate, namely Aboriginal people, the poor and seniors, 120,000 of whom were able to vote in the last federal election through vouching. Or, as Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand points out, the kind of people who, when they do go to the polls, don’t generally cast their vote for Conservatives.
Similarly, the bill would discontinue the use of voter identification cards.
Why in a democratic country would those in government seek to diminish people’s ability to vote, when interest in voting is already in decline? And, why does this sound so familiar?
It is because the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) is taking another page from the U.S. Republican handbook on encoding into law the requirement for voter identification documents. In effect, this prohibits voting by those who would traditionally cast their vote for the Democrats: ethnic and racial minority groups, the poor and seniors.
Echoing the Republicans, the Harper Conservatives say it is to prevent voter fraud, despite there being little evidence of such fraud. Their truer goal, it seems, is to ensure that they will continue to stay in power by disenfranchising voters who they think would vote for the opposition.
Minister of Democratic Reform, Pierre Poilievre, who is no stranger to gravity-defying political spin, has been adamant that this must remain in the bill, citing evidence of irregularities connected to vouching from a compliance report on the 2011federal election. However, the Neufeld Report on Compliance Review pointed to weaknesses in procedure by elections officers rather than evidence of voters intentionally providing false verification.
It should be no surprise that the Conservatives would attempt this strategy of distraction within the bill, given their own record of irregularities as identified by Elections Canada. This government has broken the rules for campaign overspending and its operatives were found to have provided false directions to polling stations to those thought to be opposition voters during the last federal election. This, of course, was meant to suppress opposition votes.
It is no secret that the Conservatives are wary of Elections Canada which, in the past, has called its behaviour into question. That is why it is also troubling that this new act would attempt to diminish the Elections Commissioner’s ability to demand spending transparency of political parties. In fact, a significant portion of the 247-page document is devoted to rules for funding parties and how to account for spending, while at the same time limiting Elections Canada’s ability to carry out thorough audits.
What is also curious is why the Conservatives would forbid Elections Canada from running campaigns encouraging people to vote. What is it these politicians do not understand about the true meaning of the democratic right to vote?
The fact that this is a majority government means that no matter how odious their political maneuvers are to many Canadians, they will do as they please. The Prime Minister’s inner circle, and that includes the likes of Poilievre, plays a defensive game while undermining defining aspects of national institutions, in the mistaken belief that Canada must become the right-wing model they and a shrinking segment of Conservatives hold dear.
When Conservative leaders such as Reform Party founder Preston Manning and former Prime Minister Joe Clark voice concerns that the Harper government is damaging the Canadian brand, it is time for all Canadians to take notice.