Who to believe? A long list of academic experts? Or a government that’s routinely working to undermine personal freedoms and democratic rights?
The correct answer, of course, is the former.
The group of more than 160 professors from universities across the country have joined in the widespread condemnation of the ironically named Fair Elections Act (Bill C-23), which they say “would damage the institution at the heart of our country’s democracy: voting in federal elections.”
On the surface, the bill includes a mandatory public registry for automated election calls, with prison sentences for those convicted of impersonating an elections official, as we saw in the robocall scandal.
The bill would also raise the individual political donation limit to $1,500 from $1,200 and increase party spending limits by five per cent. Union and corporate donations would still be prohibited from making contributions.
On closer review, the bill seems to remove Elections Canada of some its investigative power, proposing yet more bureaucracy while reducing independent oversight.
The Conservatives have had numerous run-ins with Elections Canada, which has taken the party to task over its questionable, improper and illegal conduct. Sticking up for Canadians and the law, much like the valid oversight functions of the Auditor General and Parliamentary Budget Officer, have earned the independent agency a place on Harper’s always-growing enemies list.
Also included in the bill is a plan to remove voter registration cards and vouching as options when Canadians go to the polls. The government says the measures aim to reduce fraud. Problem is, there’s never been a documented case of fraud due to these policies, despite what Conservative Brad Butt and his blatant prevarications had to say about the matter.
As always, the government swept the lies under the rug. Scandals are nothing new for Harper and company – they’ve been messing up from the start. As with the robocalls issue and the in-and-out scandal that dates back to Harper’s first minority, the Conservatives have employed the same tactics: deny, deflect, delay. (The in-and-out scandal, you may recall, ended in a conviction of breaking electoral law.)
Critics, and there are many, say the voter registration issue could disenfranchise those who move in the months leading up to an election and those, like students, whose addresses on identification such as driver’s licences don’t mesh with their addresses on election day. The tactic, they point out, is akin to Republican gerrymandering in the U.S., unscrupulous attempts to skew electoral districts and voter registration processes in favour of their party.
Given the allegations of election tampering and Senate-related cover-ups in the PMO, Bill C-23 should be setting off alarm bells. Our democracy is already challenged by voter apathy, corporate interference, negative advertising and host of dirty tricks, we don’t need to add outright fraud to the list.
Add in the muzzling of Elections Canada, the attack on fair elections, campaign finance changes and the introduction of more partisanship to the process and it’s clear the bill is flawed. And not by accident either.
The Conservatives have signalled they’re prepared to push ahead, rushing the legislation with no good reason. As they has done many time before with prorogation and stacked omnibus bills, they’re prepared to put party ahead of democracy, what’s good for Canadians and even the law itself.