In the U.S., it is all too clear that many of the “voter ID” laws passed in several states had the all-but-overt purpose of suppressing voter turnout. We expect better of our northern neighbors, but apparently the Conservative Party government has a proposal, according to the Globe and Mail’s Steven Chase, for “stripping Elections Canada of its authority to encourage Canadians to vote in federal ballots.” The proposal would restrict the chief electoral officer on the kinds and depth of information that can be provided to the public, limiting the information to “five matter-of-fact topics related to how to vote or become a candidate.” Chase writes, “The Conservative bill will remove parts of Section 18 of the Elections Act that give the chief electoral officer the authority to provide the public with information on ‘the democratic right to vote’ and to ‘make the electoral process better known to the public, particularly to those persons and groups most likely to experience difficulties in exercising their democratic rights.’”
In other words, under its current mandate, Elections Canada has the ability to inform Canadian citizens of their democratic rights, not just to issue dry instructions on where and how to vote. It even has a specific $8.5 million budget for “electoral engagement.” But Pierre Poilievre, the Conservative “minister for democratic reform,” says that politicians rather than government bureaucracies should be “inspiring voters to get out and cast their ballots.” Elections Canada, Poilievre’s staff says, should “focus on its administrative role…[which] means running elections and letting electors know when, where and what ID to bring to vote.”
Who loses out in this narrowing of Elections Canada’s mandate? Craig Scott, the “NDP critic for democratic reform”—that is, sort of the shadow minister for this function within the NDP opposition—thinks that the restructured, narrow-scope Election Canada mandate is meant to deter government from “encourag[ing] voting, particularly among disadvantaged groups” that would be more likely, he suggests, to vote against the Conservatives.
In addition, the new proposal would remove Elections Canada’s function of “investigating and prosecuting electoral wrongdoing.”