"So now we know what the Conservatives think is the most important reform for our democracy: people not voting. In their minds, voting is not a good thing. It is to be discouraged, at least for everyone who isn't likely to support them." — Larry Brown, NUPGE National Secretary-Treasurer.
By Larry Brown
National Secretary Treasurer
National Union of Public and General Employees
Ottawa (07 Feb. 2014) — With this Conservative government, it's very difficult to choose the most gobsmackingly hypocritical of their actions. There are just so many to choose from.
But surely, close to the top of any list would be that the Conservative government, the most anti-democratic government in Canada's history, has a Minister of Democratic Reform.
Minister of Democratic Reform should be renamed Minister of Anti-Democracy
That the Minister is Pierre Poilievre, formerly the Conservative's Parliamentary Secretary in charge of misrepresentation, lies, diversion, and mindless recitation of speaking points, just makes the current title more absurd.
And now this mistitled Minister has tabled a Fair Elections Act. We shouldn't be fooled. Under this government, legislation is always given a name that sounds positive, even when the contents completely contradict the name.
So now we know what the Conservatives think is the most important reform for our democracy: people not voting. In their minds, voting is not a good thing. It is to be discouraged, at least for everyone who isn't likely to support them.
Conservative election legislation makes it harder for people to exercise their democratic right to vote
Like their ideological cousins in the Republican party, the Conservatives apparently think that anyone who isn't predisposed to vote for them really shouldn't have the right to vote. While they can't outright prevent it, they can certainly minimize the participation of, for example, youth and those people without the right paperwork for their identification documents.
This new legislation would end the practice of allowing voters to cast ballots if another elector vouches that they are qualified, and imposes more restrictions on the kind of identification required to vote.
The Chief Electoral Officer, Marc Mayrand, has noted “there are some provisions (of the bill) there that seem to be limiting access for certain categories of voters. 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.”
This is against the backdrop that, according to most observers, if young people had voted in serious numbers in the last election, the Conservative government would not have a majority and might even have been in opposition.
Minister Poilievre conducted no consultations with Elections Canada or appointed panel on election reform
Of course, the Minister did not consult with the Chief Electoral Officer before he introduced the changes to the legislation that Mr Mayrand oversees. True to form, though, the Minister claimed that he had consulted the Chief Electoral Officer, until Mr Mayrand pointed out that this had never happened.
The Chief Electoral Officer was actually working on electoral reform. He had put together a panel of luminaries to advise him about electoral reform. Former Liberal leader Bob Rae, former Liberal cabinet minister John Manley, former Progressive Conservative cabinet minister Michael Wilson, former auditor general Sheila Fraser and former Supreme Court judge Ian Binnie were all on this panel. All panellists were ignored by the Minister.
Legislation removes a fundamental purpose of Elections Canada: encouraging voter participation
In the face of declining voter turnout, the Conservatives made their real intentions clear. The Bill has removed Elections Canada ability to encourage people to vote! (I'm not making this up.) Perhaps that's not surprising, since this government apparently believes that the only rule is winning elections, at any cost to democracy.
Participation in the voting process has been declining markedly in this country. The last federal election was decided by just over 60% of the electorate. Yet the Conservatives suggest that political parties are the only ones who should advocate for more people to turn out at the polls.
We know that doesn't work. Why, then, would Elections Canada be told to stay quiet on the issue? Because the majority of older, well-established, statistically more likely Tory voters, are the ones that turn out at the polling stations.
New Canadians, young people, or people living in poverty are more likely to have an open mind to other political parties than the Conservatives. They are also the ones who are least likely to vote. Having a federal agency with a mandate to encourage these people to get to the polls doesn't fit in with the Conservative strategy.
Act further limits role of Chief Electoral Office to publicly comment on agency's work
Mayrand also expressed concerns about provisions in the bill that would effectively muzzle the Chief Electoral Officer by limiting his or her ability to speak publicly. He said it would end the agency’s ability to survey Canadians on its performance, for example.
The legislation bans the Chief Electoral Officer from using the media or any other means to make public any “information relating to Canada’s electoral process, the democratic right to vote and how to be a candidate.” The Chief Electoral Officer would be explicitly barred from speaking of such matters.
The Bill destroys transparency about election misdeeds
This government has been caught red-handed violating the election law on several occasions. As well, there are deep suspicions about who actually orchestrated the notorious robocalls, which a judge ruled were a serious attempt at voter suppression.
This new legislation would move to address that, perversely, by making it harder for the public to find out about such abuses. The Bill would ban the Commissioner of Elections from revealing that any investigation is underway without the consent of all involved to reveal the details, including the person or political party under investigation.
So, unless a political party that is being investigated for fraud or criminal interference in the voting rights of Canadians agrees to having that information made public, the public will never know how their democracy is being abused.
This is democratic reform?
Legislation allows MPs accused of election violations to fully participate in Parliament while appealing
One last thing. Remember how many Conservative MPs have been charged with violating election rules, making their participation in the House a very dubious matter? No worries.
This Bill will allow MPs in a dispute with Elections Canada to keep voting in the House of Commons and sit on committees until a judge rules on the matter.
Conservatives trample on democracy once again by using majority to stifle debate, rush passage of legislation
There are other problems with this legislation; the government knows that. That's why they have imposed closure on the debate about the Bill in the House.
And maybe that's the final hypocrisy; a Bill that pretends to enhance democracy is being pushed through at unseemly speed so that MPs can't have a genuine debate about it.
So long, democracy, it's been good to know you.
The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE