Australians who value democracy should turn their eyes to Canada to catch a glimpse of what might be heading our way. Two weeks ago, international academics added their names to a call by 160 Canadian experts to stop a piece of legislation being rushed through parliament that aims to radically change electoral processes in Canada. Introduced by the Conservative Party government in Canada, and with a name that would do George Orwell proud, the ‘’Fair Elections Act’’ seeks to insert partisanship and inequality into Canadian electoral procedures in a manner reminiscent of 19th century processes. The proposed act will reduce voting rights, foster partisan bias in election administration and weaken campaign finance laws. Along with Australia, Canada has a reputation for being a world leader in electoral processes, which makes the proposals all the more shocking and internationally significant. Elections Canada – the equivalent of our Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) – is considered a strong and fiercely independent electoral administrator. But, if passed, the proposed act will move the enforcement arm of the agency into the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, a government department. This will diminish the independence of the agency but also, crucially, it means the activities of the commissioner would no longer be reported to parliament.
Elections Canada will also be prevented from publishing its research reports on the electoral process and, in a bizarre world-first, it will even be prohibited from promoting democratic participation and voting through ‘’get out the vote’’ campaigns.
But one of the most worrying aspects of the proposals is the attempt to wind back to the political patronage of yesteryear and, geographically, sideways to American-style partisanship in electoral administration.
At the moment, Election Canada employs poll supervisors who work at polling stations to make sure the processes of voting go smoothly. The act will instead require Elections Canada to appoint poll supervisors from lists of names provided by the candidate or party that came first in the last election. This blatantly favours the incumbent. It also means poll supervisors get their job because of party loyalty and, if they want to be picked again or have other ambitions in that party, will need to do a ‘’good’’ job by their party’s standards. Presumably, top of their criteria will be looking out for party interests rather than running a clean election.
Full Article: Canada’s attack on democracy sets tone for Australia.