The nicer the name the nastier the bill

When the Conservatives introduce legislation it seems that the more controversial the subject matter, the more likely the bill will receive a sunshine name.  With that in mind consider the potential for the Fair Elections Act.  As you do, remember that the Conservatives have spent the better part of their time in power battling Elections Canada and defending themselves from numerous Elections Act charges.

In 2008, Conservative headquarters were raided by the RCMP relating to charges that the party used local campaigns to hide the cost of national advertising.  In addition to that, there were Robocalls in the 2011 election, overspending that negated the result in Labrador, and most recently multiple charges of spending irregularities on the campaign of the former Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister.   While all parties have been investigated by Elections Canada, it is the Conservatives who lead in terms of sheer volume and severity.

That helps to understand why they are making changes that will limit the Chief Electoral Officer’s ability to speak publicly; increase the campaign spending limits while exempting fundraising costs from the cap; and eliminate vouching, a process that allows people without voter information cards to cast ballots.

The Conservatives also want to fast track the bill and limit the ability for Canadians to have input when it is studied at committee.  If that strikes you as inherently undemocratic you are not alone.  New Democrats are doing everything we can have committee meetings extended and brought to every region in Canada.  The stakes are too important to do otherwise, especially when the bill amounts to allowing the Conservatives every home field advantage possible.

It is a no brainer to understand how the Conservatives want the process over as quickly as possible.  If Canadians are consulted, they will likely give a resounding thumbs down to proposals that favour the Conservatives by increasing the amount deep-pocketed donors can give while making it more difficult for voters who are less likely to support them to cast ballots at all.  I believe it is important to note that, unlike the wide call for public input to create new prostitution laws, the Conservatives have asked for no input for these changes.

Voter suppression is defined as strategies to influence the outcome of an election by discouraging or preventing people from exercising the right to vote.  Disallowing vouching will do that by disproportionately affecting young and impoverished voters who don’t tend to support the Conservatives.  Perhaps we could learn from our American neighbours who went through a bitter battle in Pennsylvania recently that was strikingly similar.  If we care to listen, the legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union for Pennsylvania is warning strongly against the changes outlined in the “Fair Elections Act.’

Additionally, the changes will prevent Elections Canada from speaking publically about democracy, the importance of voting, conducting research, and engaging with Canadians in projects such as Democracy Week or Student Vote.  At a time when voter turnout is going down, this doesn’t make any sense. It’s no wonder the bill got a sunshine name.