A Fair Elections Act?
Author: Amy Rose Gofton
On February 4th, 2014, Bill C-23, better known as the Fair Elections Act was given its first reading in The House of Commons. Bill C-23 contains roughly 244 pages of revisions, many directly addressing the Canada Elections Act. Revisions to the Canada Elections Act — a piece of legislation outlining rules and processes for Federal elections — are not rare. Bill C-23’s amendments however have stirred the dust, unsettling opposition parties and the media.
As with many political issues, the bill has been largely ignored by students on campus. The little coverage Bill C-23 has received comes in the form of a short Imprint opinion article by Ann Balasubramaniam — a letter addressed to “Minister Braid” criticizing the bill’s impact on the ability of students to easily vote— and MP Peter Braid’s reply in the form of a letter to the editor which appeared in the February 28th issue. I’m not one to agree with Conservatives, but in this case Braid was right to say, in his letter to the Imprint, that Bill C-23 will not inhibit the ability of students to vote.
The media at large and the opposition parties have latched onto the amendments to voter identification as their chief objection to the bill. Initially, I too felt grave concern at the removal of vouching. Vouching is a practice in which one elector confirms the identity of another, when an elector does not have government issued photo-ID, or the two pieces of other identification—one containing a current address, and both containing a full name—which are used to prove identity before voting. According to an NDP online petition titled Stand Up For Canadian Democracy, more than 120,000 Canadians vote through the vouching method.
After a careful reading of the relevant sections of Bill C-23, I can tell you that the removal of vouching is nothing to fuss over. Visit the Elections Canada Website and you will discover long lists of possible identification that can be used to vote. Everything from your library card to your vehicle insurance and credit card statement are valid. There is no reason why a student on this campus, or anywhere else in Canada, should not be able to produce some form of relevant documentation.
While attention has been focused on the voter identification amendment, the bill also features a change to the role of the Chief Electoral Officer, which will also restructure the Elections Canada system. The Chief Electoral Officer will be limited under section 17 of the Amended Act to inform electors how to vote and to ensure that votes are collected and counted properly. Theoretically, this could prevent Elections Canada from offering educational materials to schools, or running outreach programs to encourage our youth to vote. The Bill also changes the way in which the Chief Elections Officer is appointed.
Additionally, funds used by political parties to raise money will be exempt from calculation as election expenses. The Green Party’s Elizabeth May during the second reading of the bill on February 11th referred to this amendment as “a new loophole to spend money,” a way to “open the door to abuse.” She warned that Bill C-23 would “weaken our electoral system.”
I can’t help but wonder why so few ordinary people are talking about the Fair Elections Act. The vouching issue aside, Bill C-23 will significantly restructure the way our electoral system’s bureaucracy functions, and loosen restraints on election spending. The very least we as students can do is sign one of the many online petitions. More importantly, we can talk about the bill, read the bill and we can inform others in our campus and communities.