Highlights: (much of which have been discussed in more depth on this blog)
Investigating electoral fraud. Bill C-23 fails to provide the Commissioner of Elections power to compel witness testimony in investigating systematic electoral fraud such as the 2011 “robocalls” scandal. Witnesses with knowledge of fraudulent activity can – and regularly do – refuse to provide information to investigators. The bill’s proposed voter contact registry will not greatly enhance the capacity to prosecute fraud, and its increased penalties for fraud do nothing if investigators cannot prove crimes.
Polling supervision. Under Bill C-23, winning parties will appoint election poll supervisors – a further intrusion of partisanship in the electoral process, and one that creates an advantage for the incumbent party. The government has not addressed objections to this measure, and there is no sound rationale for it.
Voter turnout. With the sole exception of school programs, such as Student Vote, the Senate amendments retain the gag on Elections Canada’s efforts to encourage voter turnout. Senator Linda Frum has asserted that Elections Canada is in a “conflict of interest” when it promotes turnout, claiming that heightened participation comes at the expense of electoral integrity. This position is unjustified in both fact and logic. Public outreach that encourages all citizens to vote – not just those who support one party or another – is central to the mandate of electoral commissions worldwide, such as those in Australia, India, and New Zealand.
The Charter guarantee of the right to vote. By eliminating vouching and refusing voter information cards as proof of address, the bill undermines the right to vote protected by Section 3 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, a constitutional entitlement so fundamental that it cannot be limited by the Charter’s “notwithstanding” clause. Where governments require voter identification, international best practices require that governments issue free ID to all eligible voters. This bill does the opposite: it takes away existing forms of cost-free ID. The Senate’s proposed requirement of “letters of attestation” from First Nations, homeless shelters and elder-care facilities would offload government responsibility onto under-resourced communities without resolving the underlying constitutional issues. There is no doubt that the bill’s voter ID restrictions will be challenged in court for violating the constitutionally protected right to vote. By insisting on these measures, the government invites costly legal battles for no clear public end.
Elections Canada. As former auditor-general Sheila Fraser has persuasively argued, Bill C-23 undermines Elections Canada, an internationally renowned non-partisan agency. The damage done by the government’s gratuitous public attacks against Ms. Fraser and the Chief Electoral Officer goes even deeper. By casting doubt on the non-partisanship of independent officers of Parliament, the government unsettles the delicate balance of powers that secures our democratic system of government.
The Senate committee has failed to respond adequately to the many legitimate criticisms of the other features of Bill C-23. These include campaign finance rules, the Treasury Board’s veto power over Elections Canada’s appointment of specialized staff, and the failure to require political parties to provide receipts for electoral expenses (even though they are reimbursed more than $30-million at taxpayer expense).Bill C-23 is the most horrid piece of legislation that I have ever seen a government put forward. Other governments in the past have pushed through legislation which has been seen as an attack on one region of the country or another. Never have I seen a government attack the fundamental basis of democracy in Canada.
Democratic rights of citizens
3. Every citizen of Canada has the right to vote in an election of members of the House of Commons or of a legislative assembly and to be qualified for membership therein.
The right to vote is central to Canada's democracy. The government exists at the collective will of the people, as expressed through voting. Never before has the government attacked the right of Canadians to vote so blatantly, nor in a manner so clearly designed around achieving some kind of partisan advantage.
This is Canada, not Baathist Iraq under Sadam Hussein. We deserve better than this from our government. Instead we get deafening silence from the PMO, and blustering stupidity from the minister responsible for this piece of legislation, Pierre Poilievre.