Canada has changed – and is changing – in ways that cause most of us considerable concern. And now, through C-23, the (Un)Fair Elections Act, the Conservative government is seeking to lock those changes in, to set them in concrete.
“This bill is terrific,” said Pierre Polievre, the partisan bloodhound and counter-intuitively titled Minister for Democratic Reform.
Responded Tom Mulcair: “It’s almost as if the minister is delusional. He keeps affirming that everything’s fine with his bill, but every single expert in Canada, no matter whose side they’re on, has come out and said this is an undemocratic bill.”
Those experts include federal and provincial, past and present, domestic and foreign, chief elections officers, commissioners and academics.
The most recent to raise the alarm is Sheila Fraser, former Auditor-General of Canada – she who our Prime Minister once called, reverentially, “the mother of all accountants” for blowing the lid off the Liberal sponsorship scandal.
Fraser said of a future under C-23: “I think it’s going to be very difficult to have a fair, a truly fair, election.”
The (Un)Fair Elections Act has its genesis in an NDP motion of March 2012 that won the unanimous support of the house. The motion called on the government to empower Elections Canada in the wake of a whole host of investigations of, and charges relating to, electoral shenanigans – including vote-suppressing robocalls – that generally fall under the heading of electoral fraud.
But under this bill, and in the eyes of this Conservative government, it is the voters who are the fraudsters – specifically those who vouch or are vouched for on election day. (Never mind that, in the absence of any evidence of voter fraud, Conservative MPs have been caught making it up). These are mainly the young, the elderly and aboriginals. This bill threatens to disenfranchise them – 120,000 of them in total.
Meanwhile, the bill returns us to the days of big money politics. Contribution ceilings would rise. Candidate contribution ceilings would go way up! And any efforts to raise funds from recent donors would, under this bill, not count against election expenses. Can one really tell the difference between a solicitation for financial support and a solicitation for one’s vote? Not really. So those with sophisticated electoral machinery and comprehensive voter databases will be unencumbered by spending limits. Advantage to the already advantaged.
The NDP motion of 2012 was to have put in the hands of Elections Canada a whip to compel testimony, so that the many matters that walked, talked and quacked like fraud could be properly and expeditiously investigated.
It is the institution itself, however, that is being flogged by C-23.
I’ve seen more than a few “undemocratic” bills pass by me in my almost three years in the house. Among that number I include every Budget Implementation Act – all of them omnibus, all of them hundreds of pages long, all of them amending dozens of other pieces of legislation, and all of them addressing matters never raised in the budget itself. The current 362-page C-31 is true to its predecessors.
But, this is different still. As my colleague and NDP Democratic Reform Critic Craig Scott has argued in the house, only constitutional documents are more foundational to our system of government than the Canada Elections Act.
That is why one would have expected the Conservatives to consult experts. They haven’t. That is why convention would suggest consensus among all MPs should be the objective of the Conservatives. It isn’t. That is why public consultation should be part of this process. They refused.
All of this brings to mind another NDP motion – the motion from March 2011 that called for the creation of a democratic improvement committee charged with implementing proportional representation. Had the house had the wisdom to support that motion, perhaps today we’d be championing enfranchisement and not battling an act to suppress the vote.