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, March 16, 2014

Undemocratic Democratic Reform

Are changes to an electoral system in a democracy valid if they are brought in by a less than democratic process, are they in fact valid if the very 'independent' body charged with overseeing said electoral system is excluded from the process? Are they valid if recommendations from said body are ignored, debate within our parliamentary system on such measures is curtailed, concerns by parliamentarians and democracy experts across a broad range of political and non partisan stripes fall upon deaf ears? Are they in fact actually antidemocratic if they are not generally accepted by those whos right to select their government representative in a free and unbiased system is impacted?

Irregardless of the content of the (Un) Fair Elections Act the process to make such changes MUST be seen to be an open and unbiased process with all views carefully taken into account and partisan issues set aside if it has any chance of being anything more than a cynical attempt by a regime already proven to have little regard for democracy, either at the election booth or withing parliament, to further diminish our ability to elect a government that reflect our wishes.

Electoral or parliamentary reform by decree is NOT democratic reform, it is the first step towards dictatorship. If the population does not trust the electoral process or is prevented from participating the our democracy is on the very edge of that which Mr Harper is so busy condemning in Crimea.

Thats the process, and that is troubling enough, but the content is almost universally condemned as unacceptable. Not only that but it is so far reaching and contains so many changes to the electoral process, the funding thereof and Elections Canada’s ability to oversee the election process that few, if any, really know what the full impact of passing this bill would mean. Here are SOME of the more well known issues raised thus far:-

Some of biggest problems identified by Elections Canada:
– The Fair Elections Act allows the incumbent party in each riding to appoint the central poll supervisors, a key job at each polling place. This may give rise to the impression that their decisions are partisan, whether they are or not. Elections Canada wants to appoint central poll supervisors and other election officials rather than letting parties put their people in.
– The act will stop the use of voter information cards (VICs) as identification at the polls. Elections Canada says for Canadians who don’t have ID showing their address — including many aboriginals, students and seniors — the VICs provided a simple way to show where they live.
– The act will require Elections Canada to give “bingo cards” — lists of who have voted — to the political parties after each election, which Elections Canada warns has privacy implications. Currently, officials give the cards to party scrutineers to assist in their get-out-the-vote effort but it’s not possible for parties to assemble a national database of who has voted.
– The new robocall registry that the act will require be established will not require records to be kept of what numbers were called, “which is key information for investigations,” according to Elections Canada.
– The act provides an exemption from election spending limits for money spent on telephone fundraising from former donors, which Elections Canada warns sets up a big loophole that political parties can exploit, since the agency will have no way of knowing if the parties’ reporting is accurate.
– The act allows for compliance audits of the parties’ books, but does not allow Elections Canada to produce documents proving that its financial statements are on the up and  up.
– The act requires that commissioner, who supervises investigations, keep confidential information about investigations. This means that nobody will have the authority to report to Canadians on election crime, even to reassure voters that fraud did not take place.
– The act does not do several things Elections Canada had requested — extend privacy protection to political parties, and provide investigators with the power to compel testimony from witnesses to election crime.

Other issues

Electoral Education
The Chief Electoral office may no longer be given the mandate to promote and educate our electoral process to Canadians.
The hiring of staff on the part of the Chief Electoral Officer will have to go through the treasury board.
Campaign Funding
The amount election candidates would be able donate to their own campaign (to $5,000 from $1,200), and the amount party leadership candidates would be able to donate to their own race (to $25,000 from $1,200).”
It would also allow parties to exclude money spent during campaigns to solicit funds from donors who have contributed $20 or more to them at any point over the previous five years.
Failure to consult

The proposed legislation was prepared without any consultation with our Chief Electoral Officer and in fact ignore sever of his earlier recommendations. Debate has already been limited in the House and proposals to consult with Canadians across the country have been rejected. Several observers including some influential Conservatives and former Leaders have said that electoral reform must have broad support in order to be legitimate.

Interpretation of rules
16.1 (1) The Chief Electoral Officer shall,in accordance with this section, issue guidelines
and interpretation notes on the application of this Act to registered parties, etc etc
(8) The guidelines and interpretation notes are issued for information purposes only. They are not binding on registered parties, etc etc

Some of the Spin
In an attempt to defuse the impact of facts, Pierre Poilievre went on CPAC to "correct the explicit factual error in the CEO's testimony" and again read the sentence from the report that he's quoted so many times he probably hears it in his sleep.  "The Supreme Court made it clear that such errors in other circumstances could contribute to a court overturning an election." 

Now it seems that Mr Neufeld himself, would like to correct Mr. Polilievre's deliberate SELECTIVE quoting.  According to Neufeld at no point in his report did he suggest that any of the irregulatities sited in his report were evidence of fraud. The author of a report cited repeatedly to justify cracking down on potential voter fraud says the Harper government is misrepresenting his report and ignoring his recommendations. Indeed, Harry Neufeld says there's not a shred of evidence that there have been more than "a handful" of cases of deliberate voter fraud in either federal or provincial elections.

His recommendations (never quoted by Poilievre )
  • voter information cards should be more widely allowed as valid pieces of i.d.
  • vouching process and paperwork should be simplified
  • elections officials better trained

And finally some of the reaction by those far more qualified to speak to the matter than I:-

Ed Broadbent
Past governments have avoided turning democratic process into a tool for one party’s advantage. Changes in electoral processes were always based on all-party consensus.
That Harper derides such all-party consensus is, sadly, no surprise. That his robotic backbench will unquestioningly obey is not news either. Except now, the victims of his disregard for debate aren’t only the people we elect. It’s those doing the electing as well.

A letter signed by over 150 professors at Canadian universities who teach and conduct research on the principles and practices of constitutional democracies, including 15 past presidents of the Canadian Political Science Association.
We, the undersigned — professors at Canadian universities who study the principles and institutions of constitutional democracy — believe that the Fair Elections Act (Bill C-23), if passed, would damage the institution at the heart of our country’s democracy: voting in federal elections.
We urge the Government to heed calls for wider consultation in vetting this Bill. While we agree that our electoral system needs some reforms, this Bill contains proposals that would seriously damage the fairness and transparency of federal elections and diminish Canadians’ political participation.
Beyond our specific concerns about the Bill’s provisions (see below), we are alarmed at the lack of due process in drafting the Bill and in rushing it through Parliament. We see no justification for introducing legislation of such pivotal importance to our democracy without significant consultation with Elections Canada, opposition parties, and the public at large.

Preston Manning
Manning said he wants to see the federal government's Fair Elections Act legislation amended to "strengthen, rather than reducing, the role of Elections Canada and the chief electoral officer with respect to promotional and educational activities designed to increase voter participation in Canada’s elections."

We cannot let the Conservative regime continue with their destruction of our parliamentary democracy by allowing them to force through legislation that disenfranchises some segments of our society, enables the rich to have an increased influence upon election activities and totally guts the ability of Elections Canada to encourage citizens to participate in this fundamental democratic process.

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