Thursday, February 06, 2014

Bill C-23: The Theft Of Canada's Democracy Part II

I have not by any means finished my analysis of this bill and what it is setting up.  However, a lot of other smart writers have been going over the bill too, and they have much to say which bears summarizing and considering.

First, over at the Toronto Star, Chantal Hébert has pointed out that the limitations the government is placing on Elections Canada in terms of its ability to inform the electorate of their right to vote and where they can vote fundamentally plays to Harper's desire to promote electoral apathy:
Under this bill Elections Canada would be allowed to tell voters where and when to exercise their franchise but forbidden to launch outreach campaigns to encourage them to actually vote. 
The government argues that such campaigns have no measurable impact on voter turnout. Yet it is a field that many provinces as well as comparable democracies such as Great Britain and Australia still deem worth exploring. The trend overall is to increase efforts to promote voting, not to force organizations that oversee elections to stand down. 
In the same spirit more than a few countries are looking to remove some of the practical constraints that are said to be keeping voters away by adopting alternative voting methods. One increasingly considered option is electronic voting. The bill shortens Elections Canada’s leash on that score.It would require that both houses of Parliament — and not just the committees that usually deal with election-related matters — give the green light to any pilot project that involved electronic voting. 
That means for instance that even if — after the 2015 election — a possible Liberal or a New Democrat government agreed that Elections Canada should road test electronic voting it could not do so without the permission of a Conservative Senate majority. 
Finally the bill tightens up voter identification rules — making it harder for a number of not usually Conservative-friendly constituencies to vote. The latter include younger voters. 
According to Elections Canada the 2011 turnout rate among voters aged 18 to 24 stood at a dismal 38.8 per cent. Across Canada some of the outreach campaigns that the bill would outlaw federally are specifically tailored to them. 
Given that each new cohort of voters is more wired than the previous one, an electronic voting system could have more impact on the voting pattern of the younger cohort that on their elders.Finally, younger people tend to move more often. As a result the deterrence effect of the more stringent ID requirements stands to be higher among the lower age group of voters.
This is a damning indictment of the breadth of this legislation.  If it were just Ms. Hébert saying it, you could be excused for assuming that it was the Toronto Star's natural dislike of the CPC and Mr. Harper speaking.  Fortunately, it isn't.

I'm not saying that all of the act is bad news, but rather that there are key features of the bill which are designed to stack the deck in favour of the CPC.  Yes, electoral reform has been needed for some time, but sticking escape hatch clauses in the bill that exempt parties from decisions of the Chief Electoral Officer, taking pages out of the "Voter ID" laws in the states which are used to deny many people the right to vote and other pieces of the equation which clearly limit the ability for the electoral oversight bodies are sufficiently despicable that they call into question the overall balance of the bill as a whole.

Perhaps above all else, the other clear sign of the Harper Government's motives in tabling this bill is that they have just announced that they are going to limit debate on the massive bill.


toronto mike said...

I'm no fan of this bill, nor of harper and his ilk generally BUT I have to point out that your advocacy of e-voting needs to be carefully rethought. Any kind of e-voting either via the internet or on American style "black boxes" is inherently open to fraud. Don't you think the Cons would game that if they had it?

No method is more secure from fraud than old -fashioned paper ballots marked and counted by hand under the watchful eye of scrutineers from all parties.

MgS said...

Toronto Mike: Where did I advocate for electronic voting? That was a quote from Chantal Hébert's column which simply goes to point out that the government has gone to unusually excessive lengths to choke the ability of Elections Canada to even investigate new technologies.

I am more than a little bit cognizant of the problems with current e-voting solutions ... especially those provided by Diebold, and have many reservations about them. (See the following post from 2006: Stealing Elections)

That said, making even a pilot program something which has to be decided by the House of Commons and Senate seems excessive, given that such investigations are ordinarily managed by the parliamentary oversight committees for any other investigation.