Harper’s Orwellian “Fair Elections” Act Violates Canadian Constitution

by: Obert Madondo | February 12, 2014

Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Photo by Remy Steinegger

Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Photo by Remy Steinegger

The Harper Conservatives’ Bill C-23, the so-called “Fair Elections” Act, violates Section 3 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

It’s clear the Conservatives are preparing to steal the 2015 federal election. Bill C-23 is part of their ongoing war on the politically-marginalized. It unequivocally proposes to disenfranchise non-Conservative voters and marginalized groups.

The Charter’s Section 3 clearly states that “Every citizen of Canada has the right to vote in an election of the members of the House of Commons or of a legislative assembly and to be qualified for membership therein.”

Bill C-23 proposes to strip the youth, aboriginals, the poor, and other politically-marginalized groups, of this right. If passed, the the act would make voting using a voter identification card illegal. The Fair Elections Act invites us to believe that the elimination of the practice of vouching for voters without IDs toughens voter identification rules. That it eliminates voter fraud.

In 2011, more than 120 000 Canadians voted by being vouched for.

Marc Mayrand, the Chief Electoral Officer, is justifiably worried that these voters would not be able to vote if the bill passes.

“Aboriginals, young people, even seniors that are increasing in terms of (the proportion) of the population and have increasing difficulty producing ID documents,” Mayrand told reporters last week.

On CTV’s Question Period on Sunday, Mayrand said at least 100 000 Canadians would be disenfranchised. That’s far too many people to be denied a constitutionally-protected right to vote in a democracy.

Bill C-23 is voter suppression, Canada-style.

Of course, the Conservatives also seek to turn us into an uninformed and disengaged electorate. Why else would Bill C-23 propose to ban Elections Canada from educating Canadians through advertising?

Robocalls and U.S.-style voter suppression tactics rocked the 2011 federal election, robbed thousands of voters of their right to vote. We still don’t know the real nature of this beast. But a Federal Court challenged supported by the Council of Canadians revealed that unidentified fraudsters used the Conservative Party’s voters database to dissuade non-Conservative voters from voting.

The court clearly stated that “there was an orchestrated effort to suppress votes during the 2011 election campaign by a person with access to the [Conservative Party’s] CIMS database.”

Responding to the robocalls scandal, Canadians and Elections Canada demanded a full and independent inquiry into the scandal. Elections Canada presented a full report titled Preventing Deceptive Communications with Electors – Recommendations from the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada Following the 41st General Election to Parliament last March. Elections Canada requested robust powers to carry out investigations and bring the culprits to book, stiffer penalties for election fraud, more voter privacy.

The Conservatives’ response to Elections Canada’s modest request is to weaken the agency. Bill C-23 proposes to move the office of the Commissioner of Elections Canada to within the Director of Public Prosecutions. That’s bringing the agency’s independent investigative powers under political control.

The NDP suggests that Bill C-23 will enable the rich to “skew” the electoral process.

“While Conservatives are making it tougher for everyday Canadians, they’re also making it easier for well-connected insiders,” the party says in this online petition. “Stephen Harper’s election reforms will increase the influence of big money in politics by raising individual donations to $1500 and allowing candidates to give $5000 to their own campaign.”

But even more vexing is the Orwellian doublespeak that accompanies the Conservatives’ latest assault on our democracy. According to Pierre Poilievre, Harper’s minister for “democratic reform”, the Fair Elections Act will “increase democracy.” The bill is even christened “Fair Elections Act”.

Then there’s the usual suggestion that we are agreeable to the assault. That relevant institutions were duly consulted. Last week, Poilievre told the House of Commons the government had consulted with the Chief Electoral Officer. To which Mayrand’s officer immediately replied: “The chief electoral officer has not been consulted. There’s been no consultation on the contents of the bill.”

But wait a minute, the Conservatives are “inspired.” Aren’t they? In the U.S., the Republicans successfully arm-twisted more than 30 states into enacting laws that disenfranchise groups less likely to vote for them – women, people of colour, and the poor – through tough voter ID laws.

Obert Madondo is an Ottawa-based progressive blogger, and the founder and editor of The Canadian Progressive.

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Obert Madondo

Publisher and editor
Obert Madondo is an Ottawa-based independent journalist and progressive political blogger. He's the publisher and editor of The Canadian Progressive.