45 amendments to a ‘perfect bill’
May 2nd, 2014 - 3:20pm
In case you haven’t heard, the Conservatives have watered down their proposed changes to the Elections Act after their bill received a thumping from all corners. Gone are the measures to eliminate vouching, as well as some of the items that were intended to muzzle Elections Canada and its Commissioner to name a few of the more contentious items. While it might seem only reasonable to respond to widespread and consistent criticism, we have to remember that the government appeared hell bent on digging in its heels and the Minister for Democratic Reform had spent the last two months claiming the bill was perfect.
Initially, the government’s Fair Elections Act, which will actually amend our existing Elections Act, was promoted as a series of measures intended to combat voter fraud. Academics, election officials, and grassroots activists disagreed and claimed the effect of the proposed measures would do little to address fraud while making it harder for specific demographic groups to vote. Not surprisingly those who would have been turned away at the polls most often were from groups that tend to support the Conservative Party the least; students and young voters, voters from impoverished areas, and voters from First Nations communities.
Ultimately, the blatant attempt to legitimize voter suppression failed and now the government is making concessions as the bill is studied at committee. Those concessions include; a return of vouching for individuals with at least one piece of identification but nothing that shows their current address, backing off a plan to limit the ability of our Chief Electoral Officer to give interviews and speak freely about elections, the elimination of the provision to exempt fundraising calls to previous donors from campaign expense limits, and extending the record-keeping requirements for mass campaign calls from one year to three years. Those mass campaign calls are more commonly known as robo-calls which can be legitimate, but have been suspected of being used to mislead voters as well.
One aspect of the bill that has not received as much attention as it might have if other sections weren’t so flat-out bad is the creeping increase in the amount an individual can donate to parties and campaigns. While most people likely can’t or won’t choose to afford to donate at the maximum level, there are those who will. By allowing the maximum for a creative donor to approach $5,000 a year, we are making room for politics to be a process that rewards those with money to spare more than those who can’t afford to donate at all.
The bill is expected back in parliament next week and if the Conservatives are true to form, they will place limits on the length of time it will be debated at every stage. It seems odd that a piece of legislation that is supposed to make our democratic process strong has to be hurried through the House of Commons with limited debate and no public consultation, but that is what has happened so far. What is important is that the hue and cry from nearly everyone who isn’t a Conservative Party official has trimmed back a lot of the measures that were designed to create a home court advantage for that party. Despite any improvements, the bill remains contentious and is nothing close to perfect.