By Dr. Herb Dickieson (commentary)
Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Pierre Poilievre
The Harper government’s so-called Fair Elections Act currently being forced through Parliament by Pierre Poilievre, junior Minister of State for Democratic Reform, is something that a growing number of Islanders and Canadians are becoming deeply concerned about.
This past week Canada’s highly respected former auditor-general Sheila Fraser, who was responsible for unmasking the Liberal sponsorship scandal, slammed the Harper-Poilievre bill as an attack on democracy. Ms. Fraser states Bill C-23, if allowed to pass, would disenfranchise thousands of voters, undercut the independence of the Canada’s Chief Electoral Officer, impede investigations into wrongdoing and undermine Canadians’ faith in the electoral system.
International and Canadian electoral experts, including former and current Chief Electoral Officers, have provided evidence demonstrating the proposed bill threatens Canada’s global reputation as a guardian of democracy and human rights. In particular, they state Mr. Harper’s changes would undermine the integrity of Canada’s electoral process, diminish the effectiveness of Elections Canada, reduce Canadians’ voting rights, expand the role of money in politics and foster partisan bias and intimidation at polling stations on Election Day.
Perhaps more controversially, the proposed bill will end the practice of vouching, disproportionately preventing seniors, First Nations people and young Canadians from voting. Bill C-23 would also ban the use of Elections Canada’s Voter Information Cards as corroborating ID, further suppressing the vote of Canadians who don’t happen to have picture ID that includes their address.
Junior Minister Poilievre disingenuously claims there are 39 pieces of acceptable ID, but fails to mention that most of these ID pieces would require additional proof of address such as a power or telephone bill. Many seniors, First Nations people, students and everyday Canadians use P.O. boxes, live in seniors’ residences, university dormitories, or as part of family household, meaning they do not have power or phone bills in their own name, making them ineligible to vote. Driver’s licences are one of the very few forms of acceptable ID that include the required street address, but only 87 per cent of voting age Canadians have a driver’s licence, further suppressing the vote of millions of Canadians.
In short, the Harper-Poilievre bill, if passed without significant amendments, would hamper officials from investigating electoral fraud, muzzle Elections Canada, give the governing party the power to name key elections staffers, allow political parties to keep their voter database information from investigators, limit political parties fully reporting on their use of public funds, suppress voters, and raise political contribution and spending limits.
Bill C-23, the so-called Fair Elections Act, should be scrapped and replaced by an inclusive, independent process that seeks broad consensus, promotes voting and meaningful enforcement, and respects and incorporates evidence and expert-based information. There is a real danger that Mr. Harper will step in at the last minute, bring his attack dog Poilievre to heel, and introduce token concessions wrapped up in doublespeak as an attempt to appease critics and deceive the public.
Should Bill C-23 become law in its current form, Canada will suffer the dubious distinction of a country attempting to limit the fundamental and most basic democratic rights of its citizens. Mr. Harper appears to have learned well from ongoing Republican efforts at voter suppression in the United States. Canada should not be heading down this same dangerous and anti-democratic path.
Dr. Herb Dickieson is a family physician practicing in Prince County and is a former member of the Legislative Assembly of Prince Edward Island.