The Harper Conservatives have an apparently insatiable appetite for bending (and sometimes breaking) Canada’s electoral laws in order to gain, and hold onto, power – so that they can serve the interests of their corporate masters.
The Courts ruled against the Conservatives in their dispute with the independent Chief Electoral Officer over their attempts to circumvent electoral funding rules. Conservative operatives used robocalls to misdirect voters on election day. And they continue to spend millions of taxpayer dollars advertising non-existent programs.
Harper’s latest and most comprehensive attack on Canadian democracy is Bill C-23, which they have the audacity to call the “Fair Elections Act”. Bill C-23 was passed by the House of Commons on May 13, 2014 and has moved on the Senate. The Conservatives want it in place for the next federal election, expected in 2015.
Bill C-23 follows the now-familiar Harper playbook. Unlike previous changes to electoral laws, the Conservatives presented the Bill with no prior consultation with other political parties (or with anyone who is not a rabidly-partisan Conservative). They invent imaginary problems that the legislation is supposed to correct, to disguise the fact that it is a highly anti-democratic piece of legislation.
C-23 also continues the Harper Conservatives’ tactic of pushing large and complex pieces of legislation through Parliament with little time for reflection or public debate. Bill C-23 is 244 pages long. Many of its provisions are unclear and many questions remain unanswered. Though almost-universal opposition has forced the Conservatives to make a small number of changes in the original bill, Bill C-23 is still partisan and undemocratic.
Despite the fact that we are already facing a declining voting rate (particularly among young people), many of Bill C-23’s key provisions are clearly aimed at further discouraging voting and reducing voter turnout.
The most-widely discussed part of the Bill concerns the “vouching” provisions that have, in the past, allowed people to vote who lack photo I.D. with a current address: typically students and the poor (who are less likely to vote for Conservatives) and seniors in care facilities. The Conservatives presented no evidence of voter fraud to justify the change. Overall, vouching accounted for only about 1% of all voters in the last election.
The original Bill C-23 would have disallowed any vouching. In the face of broad opposition, the Conservatives have partially backed off, so that some vouching will be allowed (in a much more complex process), but it will still be harder for many legitimate voters to vote, and many people will no doubt be discouraged from voting.
Bill C-23 will weaken the position of Chief Electoral Officer (one of Mr. Harper’s many enemies). Bizarrely, the Bill would even prohibit the Chief Electoral Officer from running non-partisan programs to encourage voting.
While not restricting the Harper government’s ability to use public funds for advertising year-round, Bill C-23 will seriously restrict the advertising spending of third-party groups between elections.
Under the guise of cracking down on (the Conservatives’ own) robocall misdeeds, C-23 would introduce provisions that would complicate and hamper unions’ (another Harper enemy) efforts to talk to their own members through phone banks.
C-23 is bad piece of legislation that will discourage voters and favour the Conservatives. Even the conservative Globe and Mail has called for it to be withdrawn.
It is just another reason why the Harper Conservatives need to be defeated in 2015. We can only guess what Harper’s next attack on democracy will be, if he gets re-elected.