Letter: Democracy depends on fair elections

Forget the robocalls affair, what the Fair Elections Act represents is voter suppression through the front door.

To the editor:

I resent Ron Cannan’s attempt to minimize the problems with and controversy surrounding the Fair Elections Act and the blame he’s heaped on those who do not have proper I.D. for voting purposes (“Protecting integrity of every ballot,” March 12, Lake Country Calendar).

One critic of the proposed legislation pointed out that all you need to do is move just before an election and chances are you won’t have valid I.D. that shows your current address.

It so happened that 300,000 Canadians moved during the 2011 election period.

Forget the robocalls affair, what the Fair Elections Act represents is voter suppression through the front door.  That’s certainly what the non-partisan 160 professors of law have said in their just-published open letter to the nation.

Overall, they’re “alarmed” at the lack of due process in drafting the bill and how it’s been rushed through parliament without significant consultation with Elections Canada, opposition parties, and the public at large.

Specifically, they’re deeply concerned about the elimination of Voter Information Cards, the postcard-style cards we all receive in the mail before elections that were recognized in the past as proof of address.  They’re also concerned about the elimination of vouching – a provision that allowed about 120,000 Canadians without acceptable I.D. to exercise their constitutionally protected right to vote in the 2011 election.

Further, they’re concerned about the removal of the Commissioner of Elections from the Elections Canada branch, resulting in the Commissioner no longer reporting to parliament.  And they’re worried about the fact that the bill tried to muzzle the Chief Electoral Officer (the government says they’ve now clarified parts of the proposed law so Marc Mayrand will be free to speak, although this has yet to be proved).

The professors are also concerned that the law doesn’t provide Elections Canada the power to compel witness testimony or to require political parties to provide documentation of their spending.  Without such power, we will get as far with new cases of electoral fraud as we have gotten with the fraud of 2011 which affected two-thirds of federal ridings across the country.

As for spending, the professors say that changes to rules will increase opportunities for big money to influence electoral outcomes, which “stands at stark odds with principles of political equality and democratic fairness.”

Lastly, they condemn the new bill for requiring Elections Canada to appoint poll supervisors from lists provided by the candidate or party that came first in the last election.  They quote the Neufeld Report: “appointing election officers on any basis other than merit is inconsistent with the principle of administrative neutrality, and contrary to predominant Canadian values and established international electoral practices.”

The professors call for full parliamentary and public debate of the proposed legislation, which we can do, too, through letters such as this one to newspapers and the government.  Our democracy depends on fair elections, which the Conservatives are doing their best to avoid.

Dianne Varga,