OTTAWA – Politics – This week my time away from the riding was spent working on two very different issues; the proposed new undemocratic elections law that was hastily introduced by the Conservative government, and the future development of the Ring of Fire.
At the start of the week, the Conservative government of Stephen Harper tabled Bill C-23 which directly targets the head of Elections Canada by reducing his power to investigate complaints and communicate with the public. If C-23 passes it will also prevent Elections Canada from engaging in any campaigns to increase voter turnout, and actually make it more difficult for many Canadian citizens to vote – the ones who don’t usually vote for the Conservative Party of course.
That’s right, as the Conservatives face numerous criminal charges for using ‘robocalls’ to misinform Liberal and NDP voters in Guelph about the location of their voting station, accepting illegal corporate donations, overspending on at least three campaigns, and which has already plead guilty to illegally transferring money between ridings and their central campaign to undermine the spending ceiling the Harper Conservatives have decided it is just easier to declare war on Elections Canada than to obey by the law.
Bill C-23 is huge – 242 pages in all – and would change the role and responsibilities of Elections Canada which, of course, was not consulted on the drafting of this bill about elections. The most shocking outcomes of the bill that I have seen so far include the fact that Elections Canada will be barred from engaging in any communication with the Canadian public designed to increase voter turnout, would give new powers to the unelected and unaccountable Canadian Senate by allowing it to ‘veto’ any new voting practices (ie: electronic voting) or other changes to the voting process, and would disenfranchise poor, homeless, aboriginal, student, and youth voters by tightening identification rules – a practice known as “voter suppression.”
Hosting NDP Northern Caucus
The last half of the week was more positive as I played host to many New Democrat MPs in Thunder Bay prior to heading out on a tour of the Ring of Fire. On Thursday, I was joined by NDP MPs Claude Gravelle (Nickel Belt), our Aboriginal Affairs Critic Jean Crowder (Nanaimo-Cowichen), and our Deputy Leader Megan Leslie (Halifax) for a townhall meeting that focused on how to develop the Ring of Fire in a profitable and environmentally responsible way with the support and approval of the First Nations communities that live in the area and who hold claim over much of the territory.
The four of us were joined Friday by others for a tour of the region including; NDP Natural Resource Critic Peter Julian (Burnaby-New Westminster), Romeo Saganash (Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou), and Mike Mantha the NDP Member of Provincial Parliament for Algoma – Manitoulin. Together, we are touring the region with several stops include a meeting with the Matawa Tribal Council, Eabametoongn First Nation, and a site visit to KWG’s Koper Lake chromite mine among others.
So overall it was a week of minuses and plusses. The Conservatives continue to denigrate our democracy by muzzling Elections Canada and disenfranchising voters, while my New Democrat colleagues and I fought against that and worked to learn more about the Ring of Fire in an effort to spur economically and environmentally sustainable development that benefits all who live and work throughout our region.
John Rafferty MP
UPDATE: As this column was being written the Conservative government invoked what is known as legislative “closure” on Bill C-23, which means they used their majority to limit debate and move it through parliament as fast as possible. MPs will now have just TWO WEEKS to read, debate, and vote on this 242 page bill that will fundamentally change the way elections are conducted in our country. Oh…and they did it with the support Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party caucus. I can assure you that both the Harper Conservatives and Trudeau Liberals will have a fight on their hands regarding this anti-democratic elections bill.