Fair Elections Act

“In Canada, our problem isn't people voting more than once, it's people voting less than once.”

Elections Canada is the independent, non-partisan agency responsible for conducting federal elections and referendums. Once appointed by the House of Commons, the Chief Electoral Officer reports directly to Parliament and serves until retirement at age 65 or until he or she resigns.  She can only be removed from the position by the Governor General of Canada for cause in a process requiring a joint motion and majority vote in both the House of Commons and the Senate.

Elections Canada is charged with running fair elections. It provides the public with information about our election system, ensures eligible voters are registered and can vote, registers political parties, monitors election spending and helping adjust federal riding boundaries, and enforces election legislation.

Well, that’s what it did until now.

Yesterday, February 4th, 2014, was a bad day for Canada, when the Harper Government unveiled Bill C-23, the so-called “Fair Elections Act.”

Appointed in 2007, our current Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand was unanimously approved by the House of Commons in 2007.  [post script: every single Member of Parliament in every party, including Mr. Harper during the last Harper Government minority, supported the choice of Mark Mayrand. ] Throughout Mayrand’s term of office, there have been what seems an never ending list of electoral scandals, ranging from creative financing all the way up to the Robocalls.  Here are a few of the highlights:

Conservative Minister for Democratic Reform Pierre Poilievre was quoted as saying, “The referee should not be wearing a team jersey,” a clear indication the Harper Government feels Elections Canada has been unfairly targeting Conservatives.

And while Prime Minister Harper can’t remove Marc Mayrand from his job, it seems he can remove half of Elections Canada. It certainly looks like revenge to me.  My own opinion is that Elections Canada’s has been treating the Harper Government with kid gloves.

“The reason I doubt anything the Conservatives say on electoral matters is they have a proven track record of consistently cheating in elections,” NDP Leader Tom Mulcair said outside the Commons

“Huffington Post, Fair Elections Act: Changes Will Register Robocalls, Raise Spending Caps by Bruce Cheadle.

This law aims to crack down on voter fraud by making it harder for Canadians to vote. There are many good reasons for citizens eligible to vote to lack sufficient credentials. Not everyone has photo ID.  Wallets are stolen, people who have just moved often lack proof of residence. In the past, such situations could be overcome by having a voter with the correct credentials vouch for you. It is estimated that this change will prevent thousands of Canadians from voting. This change will hit the young and the homeless hardest.

There have been suggestions that this Law will create an independent Electoral Commissioner, but in reality, the Independent Commissioner exists already; they are simply moving him.  [post script: The current system protects the Election Commissioner and the process of policing the Elections Act from partisan interference.  Placing the Commissioner of Elections under the authority of the Public Prosecutor, who is himself a political party appointee, would appear to remove such protection.  If I am correct, this law will effectively remove any accountability in Canadian electoral law.]

The idea is supposed to be to hold those responsible for electoral fraud accountable.  But how are they planning to find these frauds? Well, it seems political parties engaging in Robocalls will be required to register and submit their scripts to the CRTC. This is voluntary registration is supposed to protect citizens from being deliberately disenfranchised by fraudulent robocalls that send them to non-existent polling stations.

If someone wants to commit robocall fraud, are they really going to turn themselves in to the CRTC ahead of time?   I think not.

The Green Party’s Democratic Reform Critic, Bruce Hyer, said,

If the Conservatives were serious about electoral reform, we would be talking about ending First Past the Post and introducing Proportional Representation, reforming our unelected and unaccountable Senate, and ending the practice of having party leaders sign off on candidates’ nomination forms.  Unlike Michael Chong’s important Reform Act, this is just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.


Image Credit
Elizabeth May by Mike Gifford released under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license
Plain Text: “In Canada, our problem isn’t people voting more than once, it’s people voting less than once.” ` Elizabeth May

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What’s wrong with Canada’s Electoral System?

horse and buggy

Canada has a form of “Representative Democracy” known as “Single Member Plurality.” Each geographic electoral district (that we call ridings) elects a single candidate to send to parliament.

outdated

Canada’s First Past The Post electoral system, the basis of our Representative Democracy, was progressive in 1867. Before automobiles, telephones, airplanes, space travel, computers or the Internet. Our antiquated electoral system is totally inadequate for Canada in 2013.

unfair

Our winner take all system is inequitable. Some votes count more than others, and some don’t count at all.

Steam Train

mysterious

It has long been considered impolite, if not downright rude, for Canadians to talk about politics. Most Canadians are proud we are not “flag wavers” like Americans are. But although there is plenty wrong with the American electoral system, they understand the mechanics of how their government works. Americans learn about politics in school, and talk about it ever after. Any Canadians who feel the urge to talk about politics tend to talk about American politics.

After all, we know more about how the American system works than we understand our own. We can no longer afford not to talk about politics. We need to learn how our system works.

democracy

We think Canada is governed democratically. But it’s not.

When an election produces a majority government, as is often the case, our government is effectively a time limited dictatorship. And if you take a look at Canadian History, you’ll see that our majoritan electoral system has traditionally produced serial dictatorships.

The only element of democracy in the current system is that Canadians get to vote periodically.

broken

While most of us think we have “majority rule,” the reality is that a minority of voters elect our government. The majority of Canadians are not actually represented in Parliament.

The system is so bady broken, almost half of our eligible voters don’t vote. After all, what incentive is there to vote when your vote doesn’t count?

Since the system is stacked against us, as things have steadily worsened, Canadians have been trying to outsmart the system by voting strategically.

But the point of representative democracy is to allow citizens to vote for the candidate who will best represent our interests in parliament. Yet if we’re voting strategically, we aren’t voting for who we want, we’re voting against someone else.

The fact Canadians have come to accept strategic voting as legitimate demonstrates just how broken our supposed democracy actually is.

crisis

Our civil liberties, human rights, guaranteed Canadians by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, are being steadily eroded. The public good is ignored in favour of special interest lobbyists.

checks and balances

Canada’s Upper House, The Senate, was supposed to catch ill advised government policy. The reality is succeeding governments stack the senate with partisan senators, robbing Canadians of the protection of “sober second thought,” and now all we can expect from the Senate is a rubber stamp.

There are no effective checks and balances available to Canadians. Our system grants majority governments absolute authority for the term; our only recourse is public opinion, the same as in any monarchy or dictatorship.

proportional representation

Most modern democracies have chosen proportional representation. England, Canada and the United States are the only hold outs clinging to our outdated First-Past-The-Post systems.

“Democracy is NOT about picking winners and losers. You are thinking of sports, or perhaps capitalism. Democracy is about working together to accomplish more than we can do as individuals. It is about bringing all stakeholders to the table so everyone can get what they need. When democracy functions as it should, we are all winners. For that, you need a fair voting system”  Wayne Smith, Executive Director, Fair Vote Canada

we want democracy

If two thirds of Canadians want proportional representation, why don’t we have it already?

the problem

The people with the authority to change the system, are the same people who got into power with this system.  If they change the system, they will lose the unfair advantages that put them in power.  One of the loudest advocates for electoral reform to proportional representation was Stephen Harper… before he became Prime Minister.  NDP Party policy supports electoral reform to Proportional Representation, yet they have done nothing to implement it in the two provinces where the currently NDP holds a majority, which begs the question: can we trust the NDP to implement electoral reform?

to be continued . . .

I started out to write “Why I’m a “Liberal Party of Canada” Supporter” but as it turned out, I had to first write this necessary prequel. I will be unable to finish the next article tomorrow, but I hope to have it posted by Saturday night.
a horizontal border of red graphic maple leaves