By Garth Staples (Guest Opinion): I have been loath to react to the letters and opinions presented in this forum concerning the Fair Elections Act presently before Parliament. They have become more shrill and inaccurate as the submissions increase. They keep repeating the same mistaken interpretations.
I have probably knocked on more doors canvassing for politicians including both my own successful and unsuccessful candidacies than anyone on P.E.I. This experience from the age of 14 when my political hero, Robert Stanfield became premier of N.S. to J. Angus MacLean who was also to bring the same integrity and honesty, as P.E.I. premier, to public life with a set of standards which I have tried to emulate.
I have studied and abided by election acts in N.S., Ont., N.B., P.E.I. and Canada. I have assisted hundreds of Canadians in their quest to vote. I have seen some pretty shabby conduct in the name of democracy from vote buying with the $5 bill to the pint of rum. Robert Stanfield and Angus MacLean would have none of that. In Ontario the practice was unheard of.
In N.B. a table was full of goodies inside the polling booth for the taking. People were sworn-in and voted, when they were incapable of understanding the process. During my first 25 years on P.E.I., I, like many Islanders, became aware of some pretty shabby practices. Vouching for people who do not have the capacity to understand the process was and is absolutely wrong, yet some today would insist on this horrible practice. Election officials must bear some of the blame for turning a blind eye, not knowing or taking their responsibilities seriously.
The new Fair Elections act is a serious attempt to protect the integrity of the system which is such an integral part of our democracy. Under the new system it will be easier to vote at your pleasure and leisure. Today it is common practice to use personal identification in our everyday living. Should the voting system be any less demanding?
The shrill cries that thousands of Canadians will be barred from voting, is a sad attempt to confuse and conceal the truth. Why are these charges being leveled? Are there private agendas?The citing of homeless people and those on Indian Reservations as examples of disenfranchisement demonstrates that the act has not been read or understood. Provisions have been included to allow these people to vote, should they choose?
Suggestions have been made that the Chief Electoral Officer, who serves at the pleasure of Parliament, should be chief investigator, prosecutor and judge flies in the face of the separation of powers so long cherished in our democracy. Prosecution must remain the responsibility of the Justice department.
I ask all those who see the new act as an attempt to rob some people of their right to vote to read the bill and if necessary seek clarification before running off in all directions.
- Garth E. Staples of Charlottetown is a former senior civil servant, tourism operator, businessman and instructor.