The proposed Fair Election Act, first announced February 4, is set to cause controversy for quite a while yet.
A petition was presented yesterday on Parliament Hill that had garnered over 50,000 signatures in opposition to the proposed act, with members from the NDP, the Liberal party of Canada, and the Green Party also there to show support of the petition. The petition calls on members of Parliament to stop the U.S.-style voter suppression from becoming Canadian law.
Adam Shedletzky, co-founder of Leadnow.ca, an independent advocacy organization that “brings generations of Canadians together to achieve progress through democracy,” said “There is a groundswell of citizens’ opposition to this rush to rewrite election laws in Canada.”
Many critics say the act, which was designed to combat voting fraud after the scandal of previous elections, such as the infamous Robocall’ scandal in the 2011 federal election, is taking a step backwards rather than tackling the core issues.
“People are calling for the Conservative government to remove measures in the proposed elections law that would suppress the votes of young, aboriginal and low-income people,” says Shedletzky. “Instead, they want the government to address the real threat by giving election watchdogs the power they specifically requested to investigate fraud organized by political operatives.”
The fear is that the new Act will be a mirror case of some of the underhanded tactics used in historical American elections, such as poll taxes and literacy tests that were aimed at restricting the black vote after the American Civil war.
The proposed changes in the act would enforce a mandatory public registry for mass automated election calls, and allow jail time for those convicted of impersonating an election official. It will also remove the “vouching” for the identity of a voter, which allowed 120,000 people to vote in 2011, as well as no longer accept voter identification cards as valid identification, commonly used by youths attending university, seniors, and aboriginals living in reserves.
It’s no wonder, then, that there are worries that the changes will discourage voters when voting is already at an all-time low. However, it’s not just the restriction on identification that is worrying those opposed to the the bill. It will also prohibit the Chief Electoral Officer from engaging in public education or democratic outreach to groups that are less likely to vote. This seems strange from any viewpoint, and as Marc Mayrand, the Chief Electoral Officer says, “there are no other jurisdictions in the world where the electoral body cannot talk about democracy”.
This combined with the almost strong-arm tactics used by the conservative government to introduce the bill, refusing to consult the Chief Electoral Officer, the top expert on election laws, and shutting down debate after only an hour after the Minister introduced it, and many Canadians are wondering who this “fair”act is really aimed at.
Keep an eye out for the upcoming issues of This Magazine, as we follow the Fair Election Act protests over the next few months.