As more incidents of voter suppression in Quebec come to the surface, the picture starts to become a little more clear. Yesterday, we learned about a Green Party candidate who has been denied registration as a voter.
The issue comes down to the interpretation of "domiciled":
The debate over who can and can’t vote in Quebec stems from different interpretations of the domicile rule, which requires all electors to have been domiciled in Quebec for six months.
Stéphane Beaulac, a professor in the faculty of law at the Université de Montréal, explains the domicile rule is based on intention.
“The difference between residing somewhere and being domicile somewhere is that to be domicile, you need to be a resident, but have the intention of making it the centre of your life, of where you live.”
Beaulac said that a person can have more than one residence, but only one domicile. He said it’s up to Quebec revision officers to make that distinction.
If this sounds smelly to you, it should. Basically what appears to have happened is that the PQ has played around with the rules by means of policy fiat. The notion of "domiciled" is clearly not adequately spelled out in law, so they have quietly given the revision officers instructions to start clamping down using a rigid, and likely as not untestable, definition the term. (In other words, if you weren't born in Quebec, and lived there all of your life, chances are the revision officer can turn you away)
He said revision officers traditionally require one of three main pieces of evidence to prove intent to stay: a health card, a driver’s licence or an income tax return.
“If you elect Quebec as the place where you pay provincial taxes that’s a pretty big clue that you have the intention to stay here,” Beaulac said.In some respects, this doesn't come as a terribly big surprise. There has long been a belief among the hardcore separatists that the Anglophone/Allophone vote was the reason that both referendums failed. Therefore, if they could somehow constrain that vote, they could have their way. I don't know what instructions the Marois government has given to the Quebec elections people, but I'd say it's a pretty good guess that they have chosen to take a very hard line on the otherwise loose definition of "domiciled".
In short, Marois has played a very partisan game with the elections in Quebec - she has twisted the rules around the interpretation of one word in such a way that it can be used quite effectively as a tool of voter suppression. I would point out that much of the ugliest aspects of what the Harper Government has done to Canada have been done not through legislation, but rather through policy.
Which brings me around to C-23, and how Quebec is serving at least in part as a model for what the Harper Government is doing to Canada. As has been pointed out, Section 44 of this legislation grants the incumbent the right to appoint the people who oversee the voting stations. Worse, section 143 gives party operatives (formerly scrutineers) the right to inspect and challenge voters trying to obtain their ballots.
Does this sound just a little bit similar to what is going on in Quebec? Just maybe? In Quebec's case, I can pretty much guarantee that if someone sounds sufficiently francophone, they get a free pass on the "domiciled" test. Those whose french accents aren't sufficiently "native" find it remarkably difficult to "prove" that they are "domiciled" to the revisions officer.
With Bill C-23, I can fully imagine that the CPC will have its list of approved (party supporting) and unapproved (the rest of us) voters, and you will mysteriously see scrutineers with long lists of names that they will be checking against at the polling stations ... and those who are not on the approved list are going to find their ID scrutinized very, very carefully.
Although the tactics are different, the end objective is the same - to make it more difficult for those who do not share the "approved of" ideology to be able to vote, thus increasing the odds of the desired outcome.
While I cannot prove that Marois and the Harper Government are acting in cahoots with each other, the parallels between what is going on in Quebec and the potential abuses that Bill C-23 so obviously opens up cannot be ignored.
Let me be abundantly clear here: Democracy only works when all citizens are guaranteed the right to vote, and that right is not abrogated by attempts to discourage voting or outright block it based on some arbitrary partisan objectives.