Pollsters are now bringing in the news that Canadians do not care if our election laws are changed to advantage the party in power. I do not believe that is the case.
What is the case is that the abuse crystallized in C-23, the so-called “Fair Elections Act,” has not yet been explained. Based on the soporific tones with which Pierre Poilievre repeats his mantra that “the average Canadian thinks it is reasonable that someone should produce proof of identity in order to be allowed to vote,” this particular formulation went through focus-group testing.
In the evidence-free zone that is the current Prime Minister’s Office, from which all legislative stratagems emerge, polling and focus groups have replaced experts and empirical data.
C-23 will change voting rules while simultaneously depriving Elections Canada of the ability to educate voters about these changes. A key change is the removal of the “vouching” provision, allowing someone with proper ID to vouch for another they know to be entitled to vote at that poll. It is used rarely, but does provide a safeguard to ensure Canadians can vote.
Poilievre rejected all advice from chief electoral officer Marc Mayrand, former chief electoral officer Jean-Pierre Kingsley, B.C.’s current electoral officer Keith Archer, former B.C. electoral officer Harry Neufeld and the former auditor general of Canada, Sheila Fraser. All have said there is no evidence of voter fraud. All have said the bill is an attack on democracy. Expert advice that poll workers need to be non-partisan and have more training before election day has been ignored.
Instead, C-23 will allow the ruling party to choose poll supervisors, while ensuring they lack time for proper training.
The bill also opens new loopholes for election spending, allowing money spent on fundraising to be exempt from spending totals. The Conservatives have limited debate and are forcing the bill through as quickly as their majority power will allow.
The minister repeats that you can vote using 39 different forms of ID, suggesting it is the work of a moment for any Canadian to rummage through what we carry around every day to vote.
The repetition of the 39 pieces of ID has become part of the disinformation that could lead to a loss of voter rights in the next election. A passport won’t work by itself because it does not include an address. A driver’s licence only works if it includes a street address and not a post office box, as is the case in many rural areas. If you have moved and your driver’s licence shows your previous address, you won’t have adequate ID. The requirement is for something with a photo ID and your address or just the right combination of two (or more) other identifiers, even without a photo ID.
Here’s a hypothetical. Imagine my daughter, currently a student in Halifax, went to the polling station bringing along six pieces of ID from the list — just to be on the safe side — her birth certificate, her student ID, her driver’s licence, her health card, her passport and her transcript. All are listed as acceptable on the Elections Canada website. Could she vote?
No. None of these forms of ID will include her current address.
She does pay for utilities in her Halifax apartment. The utility bill is listed as an acceptable proof of address, in conjunction with her other ID.
So, she runs back to her apartment, prints out her online utility bill and gets back to the polling station. Can she vote now?
No. The utility statement must be one mailed to the customer, not one printed out from online billing.
The advice from hundreds of experts is that this law will deprive thousands of Canadians of their right to vote. When we are suffering a crisis in voter turnout with fewer than 60 per cent voting in 2011, and only 38.8 per cent of young people doing so, we should encourage voting, not create new obstacles.
The constitutionality of this legislation, if left unchanged and forced through the House, will undoubtedly make its way to the courts. It is likely to fail, as have numerous other pieces of unconstitutional legislation forced through under this prime minister.
While there is still time, we must raise the level of public awareness to stop C-23 in its current form. In a democracy, voting is a sacred right and duty. So is fighting to protect everyone’s right to vote
Originally printed in the Victoria Times Colonist.