The Conservative government may finally be waking up to the enormity of its own recklessness. With the Fair Elections Act, Democratic Reform Minister Pierre Poilievre wasn’t just taking aim at Canadian democracy. He wasn’t just going to war against evidence and experts. He was taking a gun, loading the magazine, cocking the hammer and pointing it at his own head and the government’s. Finger on the trigger, he’s now wondering if anyone might suggest ways to lessen the chance of injury. The Conservative majority on the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee, having barely begun its study of the bill, is already recommending that he remove some of the bullets. Some, but not all. Here’s a better idea, for the country and the Conservative Party: Put the gun down. On Tuesday, the Senate committee’s Conservative majority offered an interim report, containing nine suggested amendments. Their proposals make the bill less bad, which is something. Less bad, but still not good. Is it too much to ask for legislation that leaves our democratic system no worse off, or even makes it better?
For example, the Fair Elections Act proposes eliminating vouching and the use of voter information cards as a way for eligible voters to prove identity and address. That’s likely to disenfranchise several hundred thousand Canadians. Conservative senators are not calling on the government to scrap these provisions. They’re simply offering suggestions to mitigate some of the effects, which could still leave many eligible voters unable to vote. The better option? Strike all of this out of the bill and stick with the status quo.
The bill also makes it impossible for a future head of Elections Canada to do what the Director General of Elections of Quebec did last month, when he received complaints about non-resident students trying to register to vote. He investigated – and quickly reassured the public that he could find no irregularities. Canada’s Chief Electoral Officer, Marc Mayrand, told senators last week that the Fair Elections Act would forbid him from communicating such information to Canadians. Such a gag makes no sense. The Conservative senators, to their credit, agree.