A blog to give a voice to our concern about the continued erosion of our democratic processes not only within the House of Commons and within our electoral system but also throughout our society. Here you will find articles about the current problems within our parliamentary democracy, about actions both good and bad by our elected representatives, about possible solutions, opinions and debate about the state of democracy in Canada, and about our roles/responsibilities as democratic citizens. We invite your thoughtful and polite comments upon our posts and ask those who wish to post longer articles or share ideas on this subject to submit them for inclusion as a guest post.
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Sunday, September 25, 2011

Citizens drive out of their way to vote

But not by choice. Many rural residents who have just received their (cards) were surprised to learn that they are expected to travel beyond their local community to vote despite their being a polling station much closer. In some cases this involves driving 20 to 30 Km and past one or more of those nearby polling stations! In one community near this writers residence folks within walking distance of the polling station must travel to one of two places some 10 to 20 Km away to vote whilst residents from further away must vote at the local polling station where they (the local residents) cannot. I must presume that this is not an isolated incident in just our area as the practice of denying local residents access to the local polling station seems to encompass several of the polls that I have checked around here.

As one of those affected I contacted Elections Ontario to make them aware that they had a major problem with such arrangements being a big disincentive to voters. Here is the response I received.

Returning Officers must consider a number of criteria to find the most suitable voting locations including convenience for electors; the location’s capacity; the extent to which electors are likely to be familiar with the location; any significant barriers that electors will encounter in reaching the location; and any other factor that may be relevant to the proper conduct of the election. 

Additionally, recent amendments to the Election Act require that all voting locations are fully accessible. To meet these new requirements, Elections Ontario has developed comprehensive Site Accessibility Standards to help Returning Officers find the most accessible voting locations in their electoral district.

The changes we have made to selecting voting locations mean that some buildings which have held polls in the past are no longer used. In some instances, electors may therefore have to travel further to a voting location than in the past.

In the examples you have cited, it is true that in some instances there may be other voting locations that are closer geographically, however these locations are already at capacity. The electors would then be assigned to the next closest accessible location”.

Given that just a few months before Elections Canada managed to find suitable locations to enable voters to, for the most part, vote within or close to their local community I find the excuses given disingenuous to say the least. They say “The electors would then be assigned to the next closest accessible location”, however in our own case there are no less that three polls closer than the one to which we have been assigned!

I have, by using multiple searches for addresses via the Elections Ontario search engine, (not a user friendly process) and by questioning local area residents, produced the map below of one particular rural area which as far as I can tell is an accurate representation of the poll locations. It clearly shows the rather illogical way the polling places are allocated. We know that Elections Ontario has been under pressure to better accommodate those with physical disabilities but doing so by putting disincentives to vote up for many other voters hardly seems productive.

Click on MAP to enlarge
(My red overlay on the EO map, the circles represent polling station locations)

A poll clerk at one of the advanced polls told me that there is already considerable discontent with the voting locations (this not from the area mentioned in the original post on my other blog), as another who worked in previous polls said “It’s broken on all levels and no amount of tweaking is going to fix it – it needs a major overhaul.”, Whist talking about the federal election it is clear that the same hold true at the provincial level. The allocation and placement of polling stations is most certainly 'broken'!

Its long past time for 'electronic voting' be it by phone, on the internet or by machine at a poll location – preferably all three! Elections Canada is working on such an initiative I believe. Let us hope that any system devised is shared across the country with both the provinces and municipalities- or will everybody devise their own system each different from the next? I think we all know which way that will go!
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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Ontario to use Tabulating Machines (updated)

Some Ontario Returning Polls will be using 'Tabulating Machines' to count the ballots, this appears to be an experimental initiative and limited to a few polls in each area. During 'training' the Returning Officers (at least in this area) were unaware of this wrinkle and training officers were unable to answer most questions related to such machines. As one who generally supports the move to using technology to enhance the voting process I do not want to detract from any moves to improve our voting system.

HOWEVER I have been unaware of any per-election announcements regarding this, as as it seems those that will be overseeing said machines. Being in close contact with an individual who worked for Elections Canada during the last election I am aware of some problems during the federal election but initial observations seems to indicate that the Ontario Provincial election has far more problems in its voting process. It is not sufficient that the voting process must be free of bias, interference and possible miscounts it must be SEEN to be free of such impacts!

Whist the move to have far more days for 'advanced polling' is perhaps a good thing, previous polling clerks have said that the previously very limited days produced 'very limited response' and that they were ' not busy', we wonder how 'busy' the returning clerks are going to be over the week that advanced polls are open. We also wonder how how much thought has gone into the introduction of 'Tabulating Machines' into an area without prior notification, and how the voting public will view this update when they vote..... AND how the verification process would work in the event of a recount!

This post is not in any way intended to detract from the voting process in this province, I have at this point full confidence in the voting system, however I will be keeping a close eye on the results and process from the “Tabulating Machines' being used for the first time (in so far as I know) in the Ontario Elections.

Its not technology, its the process, and the public acceptance of the process ........

UPDATE:- These machine were first tested during advance polls in the Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock by-election. “The ballot marking device will allow electors with visual impairments or physical disabilities to mark their ballot independently. “

The Process.
For you interest here is how the tabulating machines work. The voter is handed a ballot (larger cardboard sheet aprox 8 x 11) inside a folder, the voter opens the folder and then makes their selection in the usual manner and then closes the folder and hands it to the returning officer who then (without opening the folder) offers the ballot up to the machine which extracts the ballot from within the machine, an audible sound is heard as the ballot is accepted and dropped in the box below. So far as I know the ballot is counted in real time and the results forwarded to the local district elections office electronicaly at that time. It is unkown to this writer how those votes are stored either localy or at the district office, I do note however that the hard copy of the ballots are retained at the local polling station.

I understand that those with .disabilities' are able to produce a ballot using ' assistive voting technology' using this same machine. “Voters with limited or no vision will be able to mark and generate a ballot by following step-by-step audio commands. Voters with physical disabilities will be able to use “sip and puff” technology or paddles. “ It is unclear however if this option will be available at the selected advanced polls that are using the 'Tabulating Machines' or if they must travel to the district returning office.

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Sunday, September 11, 2011

Access to Information – Ours or Theirs?

This recent article highlights just how much information foreign governments (in this case the U.S.) are able to obtain about you or I, meanwhile details of the agreement on almost all of the three dozen separate initiatives in the Beyond the Border action plan are “closely held” , i.e. unavailable to the general public or even our MP's. So in other words your government is negotiating providing even more information to U.S. Law enforcement whist at the same time withholding information as to what exactly they are negotiating, seems a little one sided to me!

Read on.......

More than a dozen Canadians have told the Psychiatric Patient Advocate Office in Toronto within the past year that they were blocked from entering the United States after their records of mental illness were shared with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Lois Kamenitz, 65, of Toronto contacted the office last fall, after U.S. customs officials at Pearson International Airport prevented her from boarding a flight to Los Angeles on the basis of her suicide attempt four years earlier.........................

So far, the RCMP hasn’t provided the office with clear answers about how or why police records of non-violent mental health incidents are passed across the border.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security did not respond to a CBC News request for comment.
According to diplomatic cables released earlier this year by WikiLeaks, any information entered into the national Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC) database is accessible to American authorities.
Local police officers take notes whenever they apprehend an individual or respond to a 911 call, and some of this information is then entered into the CPIC database, says Stylianos. He says that occasionally this can include non-violent mental health incidents in which police are involved.......................

RCMP Insp. Denis St. Pierre says information on CPIC not only contains a person's criminal record, but also outstanding warrants, missing persons reports and information about stolen property, along with information regarding persons of interest in ongoing cases. It also can contain individuals' history of mental illness, including suicide attempts.
The database contains anything that could alert authorities to a potential threat to public safety and security, and all CPIC information is available to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, St. Pierre says. There are a few exceptions, including information regarding young offenders, which is not available to American authorities.
The administrations of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and President Barack Obama are in talks over a perimeter security deal that would include further cross-border intelligence-sharing as part of a joint border security strategy.
In an Aug. 29 news conference in Toronto, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird told reporters that the privacy rights of Canadians remain top-of-mind during discussions about cross-border law enforcement programs........... OH REALY!

Not only that but said discussions are all but a done deal according to this article......

U.S. and Canadian negotiators have successfully concluded talks on a new deal to integrate continental security and erase obstacles to cross-border trade.
Negotiators have reached agreement on almost all of the three dozen separate initiatives in the Beyond the Border action plan, said sources who cannot be named because they are not authorized to speak publicly on the matter. The few remaining items mostly involve questions of wording and should be settled in time for an announcement in late September......................
Opponents have raised alarms that an agreement would cost Canadians both sovereignty and personal privacy. But failure to implement the agreements could further impair the world’s most extensive trading relationship, and put manufacturing jobs across the country at risk.
Details of the agreement are closely held. But goals outlined earlier include specific proposals to co-ordinate and align such things as biometrics on passports, watch lists, inspection of containers at overseas ports and other security measures..........................
The action plan is expected to propose making it easier to obtain temporary worker permits and documents such as the NEXUS card to circumvent Customs lineups. Factory shipments could be prescreened at the factory rather than at the border to ease passage.
The sources said much of what is proposed will not require legislation, although some if it will require budget outlays............................

Meanwhile in this recent Green Party mailing our attention is drawn to another area where government is not only seeking to access your private communications without warrant but doing it by including it in other legislation in a massive 'Omnibus' bill.........

Harper’s Conservatives plan to table an omnibus crime bill that contains some very bad legislation. Three of the more disturbing items lumped in with the omnibus Crime Bill are collectively known as the “Lawful Access” legislation:
  • Improving Access to Investigative Tools for Serious Crimes Act (C-50)
  • Investigative Powers for the 21st Century Act (C-51)
  • Investigating and Preventing Criminal Electronic Communications Act (C-52)
The Green Party supports efforts to tackle cyber crime, but is deeply concerned about the erosion of Canadians’ privacy. Currently, government agencies must show probable cause and obtain a court order before tapping your phones, and intercepting your mail and online communications. If this bill is passed, government agencies will be able access your online communications without a court order--they need only tell your service providers that they have a ‘reasonable suspicion’.
In this context, reasonable is a dangerously flexible word that threatens your right to privacy. A reasonable government would give each section of the crime bill the attention that it deserves, encouraging debate and a clarification of possible, unforeseen consequences. Omnibus bills are known to make profound changes to unrelated aspects of administration and policy, especially because Parliament can’t properly study them.
With a majority government, knowing that it can pass every piece of legislation that it creates, the Conservatve government shows a disturbing contempt for Canadians by continuing the practice of linking highly dubious laws to those upon which we can all agree................
No further comment required!

Then there is this from David Dodge retired Governor of the Bank of Canada which points out that Each (Ontario Provincial) leader is promoting “impossible” economic plans that unrealistically promise lower taxes and improved services for a province that he believes is facing a shrinking tax revenue base.
“Whoever wins will be seen to have lied to the public,” he said.
Some extracts follow........

During a recent early morning breakfast meeting in the Toronto office of his law firm Bennett Jones LLP, he says it is “unfortunate” that most senior civil servants have “hidden a bit,” from the long-standing tradition of speaking their minds about public policies in speeches, public hearings or committee sessions.
“I believe that Canadian citizens are more intelligent and more able to deal with things than the political operators believe. The foundation of a good public policy is really an open dialogue and open debate.”..................... 

In Europe and North America, households are bogged down by debts, job growth is stalled and governments are burdened with too much debt. Add it all up, he says, and “clear and real economic growth is not in the cards for some time.”
How bad will it get? To this question, Mr. Dodge responds with another: “Are we in North America and Europe facing a Japanese decade?” The question will not be directly answered, but his implication is clear: Most of the industrialized world is a long way from economic recovery.................

Given the current strength of the Canadian currency and fragility of the U.S. economy, he says, “we in Ontario are in an extremely difficult position.”
The worst of it, he says, is that none of the province’s three political parties appear willing to admit that jobs and corporate tax revenues are at potentially at risk. More disconcerting are the absence of viable economic strategies and incentives to attract manufacturing investment...............

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