Monday, February 10, 2014

Bill C-23: Part VI: The Theft Of Democracy - Muzzling The Chief Electoral Officer

Wading through C-23 is feeling more and more like trying to pick one's way through a minefield.  Every step, you half expect to find something that is going to go "click" ... followed by a very loud bang.

Today, I bring you what the Conservatives are doing to the ability of Elections Canada to evaluate what is happening in our elections and take steps to make things work better.  (Hint:  It isn't good for Canada)

At present, Section 18 of the Canada Elections Act reads as follows:
18. (1) The Chief Electoral Officer may im- plement public education and information pro- grams to make the electoral process better known to the public, particularly to those per- sons and groups most likely to experience diffi- culties in exercising their democratic rights. 
(2) The Chief Electoral Officer may, using any media or other means that he or she consid- ers appropriate, provide the public, both inside and outside Canada, with information relating to Canada’s electoral process, the democratic right to vote and how to be a candidate. 
(3) The Chief Electoral Officer may estab- lish programs to disseminate information out- side Canada concerning how to vote under Part 11. 
18.1 The Chief Electoral Officer may carry out studies on voting, including studies respect- ing alternative voting means, and may devise and test an electronic voting process for future use in a general election or a by-election. Such a process may not be used for an official vote without the prior approval of the committees of the Senate and of the House of Commons that normally consider electoral matters.
The amendments to S18 in C-23 read as follows:



Communication with electors18. (1) The Chief Electoral Officer may provide the public, both inside and outside Canada, with information on the following topics only:(a) how to become a candidate;(b) how an elector may have their name added to a list of electors and may have corrections made to information respecting the elector on the list;(c) how an elector may vote under section 127 and the times, dates and locations for voting;(d) how an elector may establish their identity and residence in order to vote, including the pieces of identification that they may use to that end; and(e) the measures for assisting electors with a disability to access a polling station or advance polling station or to mark a ballot. 
Communication with electors with disabilities(2) The Chief Electoral Officer shall ensure that any information provided under subsection (1) is accessible to electors with disabilities. 
Unsolicited calls(3) The Chief Electoral Officer shall not provide information under this section by the use of calls, as defined in section 348.01, that are unsolicited.2001, c. 21, s. 2
International cooperation18.01 The Chief Electoral Officer may, at the Governor in Council’s request, provide assist- ance and cooperation in electoral matters to electoral agencies in other countries or to international organizations. 
Alternative voting process18.1 The Chief Electoral Officer may carry out studies on voting, including studies respecting alternative voting processes, and may devise and test an alternative voting process for future use in a general election or a by-election. Such a process may not be used for an official vote without the prior approval of the committees of the Senate and of the House of Commons that normally consider electoral matters or, in the case of an alternative electronic voting process, without the prior approval of the Senate and the House of Commons. 
Power to enter into contracts, etc.18.2 (1) The Chief Electoral Officer may enter into contracts, memoranda of understanding or other arrangements in the name of Her Majesty in right of Canada or in the Chief Electoral Officer’s name. 
Leases(2) The Chief Electoral Officer may authorize a returning officer to enter into a lease in the Chief Electoral Officer’s name, subject to any terms and conditions that the Chief Electoral Officer specifies. 
Contracts, etc., binding on Her Majesty(3) Every contract, memorandum of understanding and arrangement entered into in the Chief Electoral Officer’s name is binding on Her Majesty in right of Canada to the same extent as it is binding on the Chief Electoral Officer. 
Goods and services(4) Despite section 9 of the Department of Public Works and Government Services Act, the Chief Electoral Officer may procure goods and services from outside the federal public administration. 
The first thing that comes to my attention is the change between the old version and new version of S.18.  The old version was very open ended, and allowed the Chief Electoral Officer a great deal of latitude in terms of not just the nature of communications with the electorate, but also specifies subjects and limits available mediums.

This is clearly designed to shackle the ability of the Chief Electoral Officer to engage with the public and actively encourage voter involvement.  Unsurprising, really, the Conservatives in Alberta have long profited at the ballot box from electoral apathy.

Section 18.1 has been rewritten in such a way as to shackle the ability of the Chief Electoral Officer and prevent the exploration of electronic voting means.  Poilievre has yet to explain why this shackle is needed, when the existing legislation already makes it clear that any alternative voting method cannot be used for an official vote without the approval of the committees which normally oversee the activity of the house.  Why is it necessary to tie a specific class of voting tools (electronic) to a vote of the House of Commons and the Senate?  Surely the committees are capable of making an appropriate assessment of the matter, and if they felt it was necessary forward the matter to the houses of Parliament for a vote?

The net effect of the overhaul of S18 is to push the issue of voter engagement solely into the domain of the "Get Out The Vote" (GOTV) machinery of the political parties.  On one hand, this almost seems reasonable.  However, it also makes the process of encouraging people to vote an inherently partisan activity, and not all voters in this country are partisan voters.  Further, the Robocalls fraud perpetrated in the 2011 election suggests that the CPC and its operatives are also not above trying to misdirect voters that they perceive as hostile to their agenda.

In short, S18 has been designed to enable the voter suppression tactics that the CPC has been experimenting with since at least 2002.  Techniques which were pioneered by the likes of Karl Rove in the US Republican part.

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