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Viewpoint: Hold on to our democracy, Canada

by Jan Lovewell I woke up in the middle of the night, deeply distressed over the Fair Elections Act that is being rushed through the House of Commons.

by Jan Lovewell I woke up in the middle of the night, deeply distressed over the Fair Elections Act that is being rushed through the House of Commons.

Elections Canada is a politically-neutral body responsible for safeguarding citizens’ right to vote; for ensuring elections are conducted fairly; and enforcing financial regulations for political parties.

In an interview on CBC Radio, February 8, Canada’s chief electoral officer Marc Mayrand emphasized the right every Canadian citizen has to vote. Canada has a large diversity of people, and for some it is “quite a significant barrier” to meet the ID requirements, so there is a vouching system. This allowed 100,000 people to vote in the last election. The bill eliminates the vouching system.

A fundamental issue for any democracy is to get people out to vote. Under the new legislation, Elections Canada will only be allowed to communicate with the public about when and where to vote. Elections Canada conducts and publishes research about why people do or don’t vote, and undertakes initiatives to encourage voting. They have a Student Vote program, which serves 300,000 youth across Canada. They warned the public about robocalls. None of this falls within the limits of “when and where to vote.”

Maynard said, “[I am] not aware of any electoral bodies around the world who cannot speak about democracy.” And, “If turnout continues to decline at the pace it has been declining over the last 40 years, we have to question...the legitimacy of our government and how representative they are. And I think that’s why we have to be concerned about it now and start taking action.”

I have wondered why there has been so little apparent action on the robocalls that were reported in 246 of 304 ridings in the last federal election. The commissioner of Canada elections has no power to compel witnesses to testify. Potential witnesses have simply been refusing to speak. The commissioner has no power to access information or people who have information, nor does Yves Côté have the authority to require political parties to provide documents to verify their expenditures.

Instead of strengthening the authority of Elections Canada to do its work, the new bill weakens it. To do a complete job, they need to be able to follow the flow of money, but they do not have the authority to do this. Any prosecutions will be referred to Public Prosecutions. Elections Canada reports to Parliament; Public Prosecutions reports only to the government. While Elections Canada will be required to notify those who are being investigated, it will be forbidden to inform the public of any suspected violations or investigations.

New financial guidelines are also in the 242-page bill. The limit on individual donations will be raised from $1,200 to $1,500. In the last election, Conservative supporters who gave the maximum outnumbered those from all other parties combined. The more I look at these and other changes, the clearer it becomes that they are not fair or neutral, but benefit the Conservative Party.

We must oppose this bill, for if our basic democratic process is not safeguarded, we will lose the ability to legally impact the future of our country.

Jan Lovewell has been a scrutineer in most elections, observing the counting of paper ballots and witnessing them being sealed securely in their boxes, and sent on their way to the Elections office.