Thank You, PMO

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Pierre Poilievre has pulled the brake.

After months of raging towards the cliff, the Minister of State for Democratic Reform has finally averted disaster.

The Conservatives solemnly bowed to public pressure last Friday, as Poilievre announced that they would be gutting several parts of the bill — everything from axing the donation loophole big enough to ride a whale through, to saving vouching without actually saying that they’re saving vouching — and have thus pulled us back from the brink.

At one point during this catastrophe, the religiosity surrounding the Fair Elections Act converted the otherwise reasonable-albeit-stubborn Conservative Government into a legion of Kamikaze pilots, determined to pass this bill or face oblivion.

So what stopped them?

Even up until the days before the impromptu reconstructive surgery on the bill, Poilievre was adamant — the spirit of the bill would remain. Because, Poilievre recounted to more than one voter, Id rather listen to the guy on the barstool than the guy in a seat of power.

He would not stop calling it “perfect.”

That confirmation bias made the Minister of Democratic Reform invincible.  No criticism or critique would permeate his dedication as he laces up his brand new Nikes and gets ready to be transmitted up to his home planet.

That absolution was despite the Fair Elections Act, in my humble of opinion, being the single worst piece of legislation that the Harper Government has ever tabled.

Worse, yes, than C-30, the cybersnooping bill that may have run roughshod over our most basic right to privacy, but at least would have taken some pedophiles off the street; even more objectionable than amending the Navigable Waters Protection Act that has kneecapped environmental oversight, but at least reduced red tape for cottage-goers; and more controversial than yanking out public money from political parties that, while ramping up the annoying emails, at least forced parties to reconnect with their members.

No. C-23 was worse than all that.

Because policy is political, democracy is absolute.  You can’t decide to unilaterally tinker with suffrage without getting backlash.

As Harper himself put it: it’s “the kind of dangerous application of electoral practises that we are more likely to find in third world countries.”

It is perhaps a lack of perspective that led the government to mistake universal criticism for an organized plot.  With tinfoil hat firmly on, the government vowed to go forward.

Even though theyre all against us.

We all know that the media is hard on the Harper Government.  They’re hard on every government, but a government of outsiders is bound to get more scrutiny.  To that end, some thick skin and a devil-may-care attitude is not just understandable, but necessary.

But the line between true believer and psychopath is wide one, and going over it is a dangerous sign.

Bill on the bar stool may have some fantastic insights.  He may lean over to you, a hint of whisky on his breath, and tell you that if those lazy bastards don’t have ID, then they shouldn’t damn well vote.

Ann at the golf course may tell you that Elections Canada is just in it for themselves.  Like all politicians, she mutters, before shanking a ball and cussing it out.

Randy at the super market can talk your ear off about how those natives don’t respect our country, and probably sign up their kids to vote Liberal.  And he may pat you on the back for your good work.

Those folks may have been Poilievre’s primary source of information for the bill, but you cannot ram through elections legislation on the whims of a population.

Nobody is banging down their door to ask what Bob MacKenzie from Gander thinks the overnight interest rate should be set at.  Common folk know how to balance their budget, they don’t know how to balance the budget.

And it could not be more plain at the lack of proper expert consultation — the very smart bookworms at the Privy Council Office aside — seeing as how the bill utterly lacks a number of widely accepted reforms that are needed to make Elections Canada effective.

Everything from giving the Elections Commissioner the power to compel testimony to eliminating partisan staffing at the polls, or providing conduits to improve the National List of Electors.

But no, they weren’t there.  Instead, the government went after vouching.

So, again, if the Conservatives were so hell-bent on this grassroots-inspired legislation, what killed it?

Here’s a thing rarely spoken from the Press Gallery: thank god for the PMO.

The PMO is, primarily, an information chop shop, taking in raw data and torquing it into something unrecognizable, but it does serve a higher function — it is perhaps the department most answerable to the people.  The PMO sets agenda and policy based on political capital and public opinion.  If a minister goes drunk with power, the PMO is the only legitimate use of force against them.

While they may not have tackled those issues that were lacking, they at least undercut those provisions that were terrible.

It’s a shame, really.  Poilievre, despite some serious vitriol, is one of the good politicians.  It’s perhaps his own smarts that wouldn’t let him walk back on c-23.  He should be given a second chance to re-write this bill, and do it right this time.

While the soon-to-be amended Fair Elections Act still should not be celebrated, but it should no longer be feared.

To that end, we should be thanking the kids in short pants for saving us from this bill.

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OTHER ARTICLES BY JUSTIN LING

Economic Bananas
When is an open nomination not open?
Old Stephen Harper vs. New Stephen Harper on the Fair Elections Act
Stephen Harper the dinosaur

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Follow Justin Ling on twitter: @Justin_Ling

 

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