The Fair Elections Act is a scary piece of work; condemnation of its destructive potential cannot – and must not –be understated in the name of diplomacy or pragmatism. Sure, there’s a few nuggets of half-reasonable amendments in Bill-C32, but they’re sealed in the core of a wrecking ball with the weight to level the fundamental rights and freedoms of voters, and the fundamental accountability and equality of parties and candidates. Worst of all, the wrecking ball is already swinging on a chain of Tory rhetoric, and with every fell swoop motivated by deceitful statements about the supposed insecurity of our existing system, it nears the very pillars of a sound and mostly-functional democracy with alarming momentum. All the while, Canadians haven’t noticed the crane, the chain, or the wrecking ball itself.
A recent poll reveals that less than one in three Canadians know that the government is rapidly pushing for major changes to the way we vote in, donate before, audit during, educate ourselves about and investigate our elections. Even fewer of us know how the government is rushing through these changes with alarming pace, founded on unsubstantiated claims, while shrugging off serious concerns from Elections Canada officials. In the shadows of our ignorance, the Harper Government is vehemently resisting perfunctory public consultation and ignoring the cries of opposition and internal critics alike with a paucity of tact that only it could.
This isn’t just another right-wing policy insipidly rammed down the throats of the progressive majority through an omnibus budget bill or pre-prorogue maneuver; it’s a very tangible threat of voter suppression that transcends any political philosophy. Only in praxis now associated with the American right do these proposed changes have partisan associations, and every Canadian, from bright red to deep blue, should recognize this bill as a black mark on all who let it proceed unimpeded.
So why don’t Canadians know about the Fair Elections Act, and how come the ones who do only seem to know about the most damning branches of its extraordinary reach? Because, like so many Conservative bills before it, it’s vast, swift, and deliberately overwhelming. In a desperate attempt to bring the bill to the attention of Canadians during the narrow window of opportunity, each party is grappling with only the most offensive elements with the most obvious effects. It’s a justified attempt at strategy with the unfortunate side effect of isolating Canadians from the sheer scope of the bill.
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While opposition parties cry foul over the new ID requirement that will exclude key demographics of their shared voter base and independent candidates hone in on nonsensical fundraising rules that perpetuate bias towards established parties, Canadians are distracted from other changes with serious implications. The weakening of key limits for large donations, candidates’ own contributions and partisan spending are direct affronts to the fundamental values of equality among electors, and the concept that public influence – and not corporate affluence – should be at the root of our democracy.
The proposal to eliminate restrictions on funds spent fundraising from established donors is nonsensical, as are provisions that would allow parties to hand-pick polling supervisors, a process in which total objectivity should be of utmost importance. Then there’s the idea that parties should be sent detailed summaries of voters nationwide, and have direct access to their personal ID. Distracted by egregious voter suppression tactics that Canadians will personally face at the polls next year, even the majority of informed citizens have failed to grasp a wide range of equally appalling affronts to our Parliamentary democracy.
If the opposition tactics of narrowly focusing on only the most nauseating changes are questionable, the collective call – lead by the NDP – to bring this bill on the road for public consultation sessions is undoubtedly correct, both morally and politically. In lieu of government support for a true, non-partisan consultation process, the NDP is conducting their own ‘town hall’ tour starting on their West Coast strongholds of southern Vancouver Island.
Surfacing this bill in the public conscience through peer-to-peer pedagogical events and feedback sessions is the only way to generate the awareness and momentum required to spare our future elections from the assault of Bill C-23. The major problem mobilizing Canadians to recognize and confront the Act is a lack of tangible, tactile presence in our geographic and political communities. Simply put, if the Fair Elections Act was a pipeline – and not a vast, veritable spread of integrity-extraction experiments, ravaging our democratic landscape of transparency and accountability – people would already be chaining themselves to the construction equipment. Instead, we are fragmented into different groups of ineffective dissent: the unaware; the overwhelmed; the disenfranchised. Just the way Harper and Poilievre seem to want us, and just the way the ‘Fair Elections Act’ threatens to keep us immobilized.
Other columns by Joseph Boutilier
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