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Fair Elections Act: An attempt to rig the next election?

The Conservatives' Fair Elections Act defies reason and defies advice from electoral experts. The only people supporting Bill 23 are a small number of Conservative insiders whom revolve around the increasingly secluded world of Democratic Reform Minister Pierre Poilievre and Prime Minister Stephen Harper. With such an outstanding rejection to such illogical policy, one must wonder what motive lies behind the stubborn push to get it passed.

Let's sum up what we know so far about the proposed changes.

  1. The incumbent candidate or incumbent party will have the power to appoint polling clerks. This gives the incumbent party a major advantage in the next election and could sweep irregularities under the rug. Is it only a coincidence that the party proposing this is the very party that would like to retain their majority government in 2015?
  2. Spending rules would be loosened in a manner that creates a loophole. Currently, if a party hires a company to solicit funds, it counts as an election expense capped based on the population of a given riding. The loophole in the new legislation would not only allow parties to use soliciting calls for fundraising, but also for support. Yearly donation limits per person would also be raised to $1,500 from $1,200. The savings would give a party with a lot of money the tools to raise even more money. This would benefit one party greatly: the Conservatives.
  3. The Chief Electoral Officer will be silenced through a new limit in what he/she can speak about. Many Canadians looked to Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand for answers when non-Conservative voters in over 200 ridings were subjected to an unprecedented act of voter suppression by misleading robocalls advising them of a phony change in voting location. If made into law, Mayrand would no longer be allowed to speak about investigations into election irregularities, nor would Elections Canada be allowed to create turnout campaigns to increase voter turnout.
  4. Voters will need to bring identification that proves a voter's address - notably a driver's license. Before 2007, being on the voter's list gave voters a free pass but as Conservative MPs cite an Elections Canada 7% error rate on voter information, voter ID has become a must for voting in federal elections. This move is estimated to consequently take away voting rights from over 100,000 people who don't have a driver's license. Based on demographics, those who would be barred on identification issues are more likely to vote for the opposition. Adding this new dimension would also make voting more difficult, possibly driving down an already low voter turn out. Who benefits from that? The Conservatives.
Bill C23 has come under fire from all directions as being "unfair." Experts question if Poilievre selectively read their reports on the 2011 election campaign. The average voter should wonder: Is this a blatant attempt to rig the next election?

One of the experts Poilievre cited is BC's former Chief Electoral Officer Harry Neufeld who said, "The minister has used my report … as the basis for justifying the elimination of vouching. He has not interpreted my report correctly. I think he has been selectively reading and quoting from my report."

The consensus in the political sphere is that Bill C23 is an attack on Canadian democracy as we know it. At the front of the pack attacking the bill is former Auditor General Sheila Fraser who is now a co-chair on an advisory board to Mayrand. 

"Elections are the base of our democracy and if we do not have truly a fair electoral process and one that can be managed well by a truly independent body, it really is an attack on our democracy and we should all be concerned about that," Fraser said.

"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."

These are views first voiced by Mayrand.

“Electors still have a challenge producing proper identification at the polls.”

“Groups that come to mind are aboriginals, young people, even seniors, who are increasing in terms of population and have increasing difficulty producing proper ID documents.”

Fraser's attack added new fuel to that fire in her bid to praise the integrity and competence of Mayrand, which has come under fire by Poilievre and his bill.

"Those provisions say to me that this is really a bit of an attack on Elections Canada and I find that really unfortunate because I really do believe Mr. Mayrand has done his job with great integrity, has certainly not shown the bias that some would like to claim he has and I just think it's really terrible the way he's been treated by government," she said.

The government has long been in war with Elections Canada. It started after the 2006 election when their in-and-out money transfer scheme from candidate accounts to the central war bank and back were scrutinized and continued as in 2008 and 2011, the Conservatives broke spending rules. The final straw may have been after the 2011 campaign when investigators linked those robocalls to the Conservative Party. One staffer, Michael Sona in Guelph has been charged but for an event that was widespread in the election, there is still much to investigate.

It's a dangerous war, one that risks dismantling democracy as we know it in an effort to tilt elections in the Conservatives' favor. Add 30 ridings in Conservative hot spots to this legislation and the Tories could be in for a good several mandates before the opposition would be able to outnumber them at the polls. The Conservatives' war has went as far as to strip the independent powers of Elections Canada to give them to MP-appointed officials.

"Independent officers of Parliament and the government is now restricting what they can say? It's just so inappropriate," Fraser said, adding the credibility of our elections would be at stake.

"And if that independence from government is attacked or is viewed as not being there, I really think those institutions lose the credibility and the respect that they have from the public. And then if people start to doubt about the elections process, where does that leave us in this country?"

Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, Andrew Reynolds says this bill would leave a terrible impression on regions of the world that are finally moving toward democracy.

"When a democratic, established democracy in the West like Canada seems to be curtailing its own ability to do that, it sends a very poor message to new countries in the Arab world, in Africa, in Asia, who are attempting to move from authoritarianism to democracy."

The bill is now in the senate where amendments are likely to be proposed but in the event the Conservative majority let's it pass, the bill would be catastrophic to our rights and freedoms as a whole - not to mention another black mark in the international community.

Perhaps the most disturbing aspects about the bill have to do with the motives that defined its design. A desire to get payback on Elections Canada, a relentless and power hungry style of politics that has moved campaigning away from policy and toward American-style personal attacks. Perhaps another disturbing aspect is the timing and circumstances considering the robocall scandal that still has more questions than answers. But if we look at the bill and its main changes, we realize each change benefits the Conservative Party - sometimes at the expense of the opposition. 

Will Conservative partisans appointed as polling clerks in Conservative-held ridings, some held by the narrowest of margins, really prevent voting irregularities during the count? Is there really an issue with voter fraud in this country where people falsely fill multiple ballots? How does one justify silencing the Chief Electoral Officer in the wake of irregularities in 2011? Could the Fair Elections Act really be a blatant attempt to rig the next election? Share this article and join the discussion and let us know what you think: Facebook, Twitter, Google+.

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