THUNDER BAY – POLITICS – Canadians should get concerned about our democracy … and fast! After stalling for many months, the Conservatives introduced their so-called ‘Fair Elections Act,’ Bill C-23, in early February. Ironically, they then shut down debate in Parliament and rammed this anti-democratic bill through second reading within a week! Given the Conservatives’ history of undemocratic activities, including their connections to electoral fraud, having this government reorganizeElections Canada is like having foxes organizing henhouse redesign. C-23 doesn’t just ignore needed democratic reforms…it is actually dangerous to fair elections.
There are truly serious democratic issues to focus on. For example, our flawed electoral system gave Stephen Harper 100 percent of the power, after receiving merely 39 per cent of the support from the 60 per cent who voted! The Senate desperately needs reform, varying from useless to wasteful to dangerous. Party leaders exercise dictatorial control over their MPs, making it nearly impossible to speak up and put constituents first.
These issues are clearly essential to any real democratic reform. They would have been raised, had the Conservatives consulted with the Chief Electoral Officer (or heaven forbid, the Canadian people)! But instead of engaging with Canadians, they drafted a red herring bill in back rooms that deliberately distracts from the real issues.
After facing Conservative obstructions while investigating the election fraud scandal, Elections Canada asked for greater powers. For example, they can’t compel witnesses to cooperate with investigations. But instead of allowing Elections Canada to uphold fair elections, C-23 will not even allow Elections Canada to communicate with Canadians about threats to democracy! C-23 strips key powers from the Chief Electoral Officer, the non-partisan appointee accountable to Parliament. Instead, it gives them to civil servants who answer to the government and Cabinet. C-23 will actually prevent the Commissioner of Canada Elections from revealing that any investigation is underway. Instead, Canadians will be kept in the dark about reported election fraud.
The government claims they are “closing loopholes to big money,” but are raising the annual donation limit to $1,500,increasing the influence of big money, not decreasing it! C-23 also removes the right of voters to vouch for the identity of one another when they go to the polls, eliminating some Canadians’ right to vote. Studies of similar changes in the United States show that such changes disproportionately hurt marginalized groups, including youth, the poor and minority groups. In Canada, our problem is too few voters turning out, not too many!
The bill also adds to the advantage of incumbents and large party candidates over Independents and smaller parties. C-23 ends the current non-partisan appointment process for poll officers, instead leaving that up to the incumbent! Independents will still be prevented from seeking nominations or starting to raise funds until well after the election has begun, while candidates for large parties still have a huge head start.
If the Conservatives really cared about electoral reform, we would be talking about Proportional Representation, Senate reform and ending the recent requirement of national party leaders signing local candidates’ nomination forms. Instead, Conservatives are putting up roadblocks to voting, increasing the politicization of the electoral process. C-23 doesn’t improve our democracy or contribute to fair elections. It doesn’t make our electoral system more proportional, or strengthen the voices of MPs or constituents. Rather, it strips the power of Elections Canada. The Conservatives are deliberately rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic when it comes to democratic reform, hoping the media and the voters won’t notice or care. If this were happening in the Ukraine, people would be at the barricades … and are.
Bruce Hyer MP