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Fair Elections Act reminiscent of voter suppression

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Is Harper hurting democracy in Canada?
Is Harper hurting democracy in Canada?

If you are young, poor or a visible minority, Prime Minister Stephen Harper does not want you to vote. That is the message given to Canadians via Bill C-23, entitled in true disguised fashion as the “Fair Elections Act.”

Introduced in the beginning of February, Bill C-23 will fundamentally change the nature of elections and democracy in Canada.

The changes proposed in the Fair Elections Act include: limiting the Chief Electoral Officer’s freedom to speak publicly in regards to increased voter participation campaigns, increasing the spending limits for political campaigns, exempting any fundraising service costs from the limit and eliminating the established practice of vouching for someone as a means of identification at election polling stations.

The Conservative government claims that vouching — which was employed by 120,000 Canadians to cast their vote in the last election — is not a legitimate method of identifying a voter and is a process that is susceptible to abuse and fraud.

They attempt to legitimize this concern by citing that 25 per cent of cases involving vouching contained “irregularities,” but then fail to acknowledge, as Elections Canada has reported, that “irregularities” does not equal fraud. There is no substantial evidence indicating that vouching has led to significant voting fraud.

Instead of preventing fraud, the elimination of vouching as means of identification will hurt those who are unaware of what type of identification is needed or, even worse, do not have any such identification. These groups are represented mostly by the young, poor and visible minorities.

In regards to the increase in spending limits and the elimination of fundraising services from the limit, this change also appears to be one that will overwhelmingly help the Conservative re-election effort.

The Conservatives were the party able to raise the most money in the 2011 election at $18.2 million compared to the Liberal’s $11.6 million and the New Democrat’s $8.2 million. The less limits on how they can spend their big bucks the better.

Of course, the Conservatives’ talking points fail to mention the fact that they themselves were found guilty of knowingly breaking election-spending regulations in 2011.

The Conservatives’ response to Marc Maryland, Elections Canada’s chief electoral officer, for uncovering their shady and illegal campaign tactics? Strip him of his power.

After the proposed changes,  Elections Canada would no longer be free to provide information to the public in order to encourage voter turnout through get-out-the-vote campaigns. With the significant decline in public turnout for federal elections in the past 20 years, it is hard to imagine why encouraging people to vote is a bad thing — unless you’re a Conservative MP it seems.

The Conservative government claims that Elections Canada’s initiatives in get-out-the-vote campaigns over the past 20 years have failed and that the decline in voter turnout is proof of such failure.

This is an unfortunate and ignorant Conservative spin on the phenomenon of declining turnout. Correlation does not equal causation and it is possible that the voter turnout would have declined even further without such campaigns.

Bill C-23 was written and introduced with practically no consultation or input from Elections Canada, including Marc Maryland. His own comments in an interview with CBC on Bill C-23 are startling, saying “My reading of the act is that I can no longer speak about democracy in this country.”

Perhaps if all goes according to Harper’s strategy, there will be a change in how democracy is viewed in Canada.

Photo: pmwebphotos/flickr

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