Last month saw the introduction of a controversial amendment to the Canada Elections Act. The Conservative bill, titled the Fair Elections Act, has already seen much criticism on Parliament Hill, with the NDP and some Liberal MPs even equating it with “voter suppression.” Green Party Leader Elizabeth May spoke out in the House of Commons, stating that “the crisis in Canadian democracy is not that Canadians are voting more than once but that they are voting less than once. And this bill will…increase cynicism.” The 247-page bill may be too large a commitment, especially during midterms, so I’ve collected a few key ways in which the Fair
It will soon be illegal for Elections Canada to encourage people to vote. While voter turnout sits at a frightening 61 per cent (as of the 2011 federal elections), Poilievre has placed the blame on Elections Canada, telling Postmedia that the organization “fails to drive turnout up because it does not address the practical obstacles that prevent many from voting.” Voter turnout, of course, is lowest among young people, with only 37 per cent of voters aged 18-24 showing up to the ballots in 2008. I don’t think I’m going out on a limb assuming that most young people tend to skew left or centre on the political spectrum. The Conservatives managed to gain a majority government last election, with under 40 per cent of the popular vote. That means that around 24 per cent of eligible voters actually supported the current government.
For the Conservatives, the mobilization of young voters, which seems to be a real goal for Elections Canada, would only challenge the current balance of power. In a reply to Poilievre’s reasoning for limiting Elections Canada’s reach, Jon Pammett, political science professor at Carleton University, told Huffington Post that “you simply don’t know from simple observation of two things. It’s quite possible that the decline would have been even greater if the campaigns weren’t working.”
Many of you may remember Elections Canada coming to your elementary or high school to hold “mock elections,” where you learn about all the parties, how parliament functions, and how to cast a ballot. By the time elections roll around next year, these presentations will be illegal, along with anything Elections Canada does other than telling you when and where to vote. Voting will become a foreign concept to anybody under the age of 30, and the Conservatives will enjoy a healthy majority until their voters expire and turnout settles in at a reasonable ten per cent. It will be a victory for democracy.
Say goodbye to vouching and voter information cards. If you move around a lot, as many young people are forced to do in order to find work, proving your address at the ballot is as easy as vouching. If you bring a friend or neighbour, that person can make a sworn statement that you live in the same riding as them. Mississauga MP Brad Butt, one of the defenders of the Fair Elections Act, has had first hand-experience of how vouching is destroying democracy, sort of.
Butt stated that “one of the things that I have seen is when the voter cards are delivered to community mailboxes in an apartment building, we often find that many of them are actually just discarded. They’re in the garbage can or in the blue box. I have actually witnessed other people coming in, picking up voter cards, going back to, I guess, whatever campaign of the candidate they support, and actually handing out those voter cards to other individuals, who then walk into a voting station with a friend of theirs that vouches for them with no ID.”
A week later, Butt made a slight amendment to his statement through Twitter, clarifying that he has “not personally witnessed that activity and [wants] the record to properly show that,” and the idea of vouching being used for widespread voter fraud was only something he had heard of “anecdotally.” According to The Globe and Mail, 120,000 Canadians used vouching last election, and 900,000 used voter identification cards. This includes 36-73 per cent of all 36-73 youth, aboriginal, and senior voters in 2011. Is the second-hand, anecdotal evidence of one MP enough to make voting more difficult or impossible for over one million Canadians?
While the opposition on Parliament Hill is unlikely to run out of criticism for the bill, I feel the most eloquent explanation comes from a recent rant by Rick Mercer: “If you ask the government, they will tell you voter engagement in Canada is at an historic low, and therefore that’s proof that encouraging people to vote does not work. Not true. People do not vote because they look at the way politics is being performed in Canada and they feel like they’ve been given a feed of bad oysters. After that, they just avoid the buffet altogether. Canadians, we love to brag that we are one of the world’s greatest democracies. If we abandon the principle that voting is important and must be encouraged, we forfeit the title.”