[Un]Fair Elections Act: What would a REAL Fair Elections Act include?

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The current fair elections act is about making elections fair to the extent that the omnibus budget bill was about the budget – both have nothing to do with their names and everything to do with gutting regulations that do not suit a particular agenda. The current government is attempting some concessions to this bill, but the changes do not go far enough – the government is employing the bait and switch technique – if they amend a few things, the opposition will decrease – Canadians cannot let that happen. In early 2014, LeadNow, a non-partisan progressive non-profit working for fair democracy, fair economy, and climate justice, went out an asked Canadians what they wanted to see for our country’s future – concerning fair democracy, this [Un]fair elections act not only misses the mark, it aims in the opposite direction.

Disallowing the use of vouching and doing away with the voter ID cards is tantamount to saying “If you can’t afford to purchase ID to vote with, your vote should not count.” These changes will target students (young and educated is not a category of voter that the current government appeals to), low income Canadians, seniors, and First Nations. Voter ID cards are helpful for all Canadians to know where and when to vote, whether or not they have ID with their address (handy little things) and over 500 000 Canadians from all corners of the political spectrum used them in the last election. If we want fair elections, they should represent more Canadian voices, not less. By my math, in an election where 60% of Canadians voted, with a majority of 39%, the current government represents, at best, 23% of the Canadian population – this is not a government that should be making such sweeping reforms. A young Stephen Harper would have agreed with both opposition parties, as well as 465 leading academics who decry this legislation – in 1996 when the Liberals wanted to change election laws, he said:

“In my view, the procedure of using time allocation for electoral law, doing it quickly and without the consent of the other political parties, is the kind of dangerous application of electoral practices that we are more likely to find in Third World countries….Every indication that we have had during the debate, in the committee hearings and in the House, has been that with further discussion we would reach an all-party consensus on virtually all of the items in the legislation.” Now the opposition parties, as well as the senate and 483 top academics and over 80 000 Canadians who have signed our petition, agreed what the Fair Elections Act cannot go through as it is – indeed that it should be heavily amended or scrapped all together.”

In February and March, LeadNow held events called Connect in 80 communities across Canada, ranging from 12 to 300 in size, and we asked real Canadians what they want to see as far as moving toward a fair democracy: What they had to say is reflected nowhere in this bill, which again speaks volumes about what this highly partisan bill is meant to accomplish.

The Canadians we talked to moving beyond the first-past-the-post system to make sure all votes count, while reducing partisanship, limiting party discipline, and promoting cooperation. Currently, the majority of the votes cast don’t actually count –the majority of Canadians wanted a different party than the one that currently hold a majority, and indeed, want the parties to work together. In Western Europe, 21 or 28 countries use a form of proportionate representation, which takes into account the number of votes cast for each party. Furthermore, regarding fair representation, the amount that an MP can say, even if it represents the wishes of their constituents, even in the leading caucus, is limited, which limits debate. It is up to the leader of a party to decide if a candidate can run in a riding, whether that is the preferred constituency preferred candidate or not- this power to can be used to force MPs to tow the party line for fear of not being allowed to run in the next election – Elections Canada should have the power to regulate candidate races fairly

Some of the biggest dangers of this bill would be to further disengage and disenfranchise Canadians, who already are voting at the lowest numbers and who don’t believe that the government is listening to them – a great many young Canadians, 60% of whom from 18-34 don’t vote – believe government only listens to big money. The Canadians we talked to participate through participatory budgeting, referendums, online consultations and town hall meetings, so that people can be involved in the decisions that impact them, like huge over-arching trade agreement that last decades. And so many of the people we talked to wanted greater power to get given to Elections Canada to promote voting (this bill still prohibits Elections Canada from doing that), and educate children on why it’s important and how hard we had to fight for it.

The current act attempts to strip the power of Elections Canada from informing voters of when and how to vote and from running get out the vote campaigns and mock elections (sadly not surprising, as the majority of youths discover they are progressive in these mock elections, or so was my experience, back in the day). Even if these points are removed from the bill, it should be scrapped on the grounds that they even tried it. Ed Broadbent stated it very elegantly in a piece in the Toronto Star:

“Just as anti-democratic are changes that amount to a massive clawback to Elections Canada’s outreach mandate. This would severely restrict the agency’s public education and information programs, essentially prohibiting Elections Canada from encouraging people to vote. Gone would be its ability to support programs in our schools, like Student Vote’s mock elections, or the outreach work in aboriginal communities. To believe it’s accidental that these groups normally prefer the opposition parties is to believe in the tooth fairy.”

It also disallows Elections Canada to let the public know when they are investigating fraud charges, as in robocall scandals, and still withholds the power of the Chief Electoral Officer from compelling testimony on such matter – these are hardly the actions of a government fighting for transparency.

There is a great desire in the people we talked to to limit the part that big money can play in government and this bill only serves to increase the amount of money that can be spent by a particular candidate. Some of this has been proposed to be amended; however, the amount of money that a candidate can put into their own campaign is to be increased over 300%, which will greatly stack the odds on who will win, usually against the Candidate who would be most representative of their constituency. To increase fairness, election donations should be limited to something that most people could afford, say $100 as newly mandated in Quebec, for individual and corporate donations. Bank loans in the current act are unlimited, and given that banks are regulated by federal politicians, to prevent undue influence all loans should be limited to the same amount as donations. Federal election watchdogs should have a right to any document they request to confirm compliance with the Canada Elections Act (including all receipts so they can audit all spending and donations) as watchdogs do in several provinces.

In our focus groups, Canadians wanted to see a great emphasis put on Immigrant and First Nations rights, and yet this act does nothing but strip First Nations voting rights. To be fair, it does not address Immigrant rights whatsoever; however, hard-working new Canadians, permanent residents who will pay all their taxes here and raise their children here, have no voting rights – it is now their country too, and most of our ancestors were in their shoes at some point – shouldn’t a real FAIR elections act bring that into consideration, too?

This “Fair” Election act has nothing to do with making the elections any fairer – in fact, it goes against the best interest and the best ideas of the Canadian Public. A Maple Ridge MP said that because of the lack of mass protests (one would think over 80 000 signatures on a petition is fairly substantial), Canadians generally agree with the act. Correction: It’s not that the majority of people support the measures; it’s that the majority are not aware of the measures…. AngusReid polls suggest only 20% are familiar with the Act (the rest vaguely or not aware) and the more they know “among Canadians familiar with the proposed legislation, 17 per cent give the Conservative marks for improving democracy and fully 57 per cent say the Harper government has diminished the democratic process.” http://www.angusreidglobal.com/polls/48918/awareness-breeds-contempt-the-more-canadians-are-aware-of-fair-elections-act-the-more-they-oppose-it/

The amount of pressure Canadians have put on the government has forced them to amend the act, but there is still too much fodder that is dangerous to the country. It is likely that this bill will go through and it will be up us to appeal to Universities, City Councils, Seniors Centres, and First Nations Offices to provide the necessary ID to allow the majority of Canadians to vote, and to go out and mobilize voters around this issue, if not the multiple other tyrannies this government is trying to or has brought in. It is possible the Council of Canadians and other groups for fair democracy will have to take our government to court and if that time comes it will be up to the public to support them or risk losing what Canadians fought so hard to achieve.MAC2501-770x497

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