New election act does nothing to enhance democracy

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Frankly Speaking with Frank Likely

If the Harper government had to abide by the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards, the new Fair Elections Act would be called the Voter Suppression Act. Those redneck Republicans south of the border have nothing on our Mr. Harper when it comes to jigging the electoral process.

The proposed legislation virtually guts the role of Elections Canada, reducing it to merely conducting the vote from its vital role of promoting the vote.  At a time when voter turnout is hitting all time lows, the government is taking away Election Canada's role in promoting participation in the process. Elections Canada can now tell you where to vote and when you can vote, but it can no longer encourage you to exercise that civic responsibility.

The new law would also severely restrict the acceptable means of identifying yourself at the polls. New forms of identification will now be required and no longer will one voter be permitted to 'vouch' for another.  This will undoubtedly make it much harder for many to cast a vote as they do not have the requisite identification. Most seriously affected will be the young and the marginalized.

Both these changes appear aimed at suppressing the vote for the opposition parties, while playing to the base of the tory party.

Then, in what appears as a direct response to the filing of charges against two conservative MPs under the elections act, the act removes from the Commissioner of Elections the responsibility for enforcement of the act.  In announcing this change, the Minister for Democratic Reform used the hockey analogy, “the referee should not be wearing a team uniform.”  But the Chief Electoral Officer says the new bill would “take the referee off the ice entirely.”

To think that our government would have the gall to make such statements as “Free speech is the lifeblood of democracy”  and that “voting is to democracy what free speech is to liberty” all while introducing such a recessive bill and then invoking closure to limit the debate on it.

It's almost Orwellian.

Frank Likely is a retired Anglican minister and a past president of the Springhill and Area Chamber of Commerce. His commentaries appear on 107.9 CFTA.

Organizations: Elections Canada, Springhill, Area Chamber of Commerce

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