Voters in ridings across Canada reported confusion at the ballot box on Monday, with many attributing the issues to the Fair Elections Act, a controversial bill that ushered in many changes to the electoral process, from campaign finance to voter identification. “Canadians shouldn’t have to be experts in electoral law to cast a ballot,” said Josh Paterson, the executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association. The group intervened in an ongoing case against the bill that sought to have its provisions suspended for this election. That argument was turned down in July, but a full court challenge will be heard after the voting. “We’re stuck with it for today, and hoping to get changes for next time around,” said Mr. Paterson, who himself was asked for unnecessary ID when he voted at the advance polls.
An international observer mission has set down in Ottawa to monitor and report on the federal election — including whether controversial changes to Canada’s election law help or hurt the democratic process. The six-person mission, deployed by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), is the first to monitor a Canadian election in nearly a decade. It was prompted by widespread concern inside Canada over recent changes introduced by the Conservative government’s controversial Fair Elections Act. “The legislative framework is a key part of any election process. It’s the rules of the game,” said mission leader Hannah Roberts, a British national who has monitored elections in 30 countries. “As we know, there have been some changes here in Canada, and there are different views about those changes. So our job is in part to come and look at that legal framework and be looking at how it works in practice, to see what issues come up.”
Despite the uproar over the Conservative government’s new election law, the country’s chief electoral officer said Monday he’s confident those who want to vote on Oct. 19 will get a chance to do so. Marc Mayrand said his agency is going to great lengths to inform people, particularly online and in aboriginal communities. New, legislative requirements for identification should not cause problems, as long as voters prepare themselves, he said. “I think we’ll see a good election,” he said. “We have taken various measures to ensure no one is denied the right to vote.” Mayrand downplayed opposition party warnings, which resounded during the divisive debate over Bill C-23, that thousands will be unable to vote because of the new rules. However, he placed the burden of exercising democratic rights on the shoulders of electors. “If anybody is turned away from the polls, or anybody stays home because of concerns, I think there should be no concerns there,” he said. “I think there is a way (to vote). If you’re concerned about your ability to establish your ID and address, please contact us.”
After almost having its chief electoral officer “muzzled,” Elections Canada is launching a new advertising campaign this week, and will target youth, seniors and aboriginals, in a pilot project to help Canadians cast ballots Oct. 19. Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand was expected Monday to lay out what voters need to know to register and vote. The agency will also launch the first phase of its ad campaign. The Conservatives have been criticized for changes to Canada’s election laws that some say will make it more difficult for students, seniors and indigenous people to vote – and also make it tougher for Elections Canada to communicate with Canadians. The original version of the Conservative government’s Bill C-23, the Fair Elections Act, would have significantly limited the chief electoral officer’s ability to talk to Canadians about their right to vote — something opposition parties and other groups called an affront to democracy that would have “muzzled” the elections boss.
Introduced in February 2014, the Conservative-backed Fair Elections Act (Bill C-25), which aims to crack down on voter fraud, is now a fully enacted bill that raises major red flags for its disenfranchising effects. With the federal elections coming up in October of this year, many Canadians are questioning if this is actually the most effective method to ensure secure voting. The motivation behind the act seems fair enough, at face value. However, the implementation methods detailed in the bill have many damaging side effects, including the disenfranchisement of multiple vulnerable voting blocks, potentially giving the Conservative Party an unfair advantage in the upcoming federal election. The objective of this act, according to the Canadian government, is to crack down on voter fraud. One of the central tactics it employs is changing the documents required to demonstrate voter eligibility. In April 2014, Minister of Democratic Reform Pierre Poilievre claimed that “in a 21st century democracy, where people are required to produce ID to drive a car […] it is common sense to expect people to show ID to demonstrate who they are when they vote.”
The marathon election campaign will be a test of more than voters’ patience and attention span. It will be a test of the Fair Elections Act, the controversial and sweeping legislation that has introduced changes to how Canadians prove they are eligible to vote, the way elections are financed and how voting shenanigans are investigated. It puts more money in the pockets of political parties for a longer campaign, while capping how much third parties can spend on election advertising. To its boosters, the changes are a necessary update, motivated in part by the need to guard against voting fraud. … However, critics of the legislation fear some of the changes will leave people in some particular groups — such as students, the homeless and First Nations — unable to vote. Critics argue that many of the changes were deliberately designed to skew the advantage in favour of the Conservatives on Election Day. “There’s no question it will have an impact in the current election,” said Garry Neil, executive director of the Council of Canadians.
When Stephen Harper’s Conservative government passed the Fair Elections Act last year, 160 university professors warned in an open letter it “would damage the institution at the heart of our country’s democracy: voting in federal elections.” The proof of the pudding will be in the eating once we see whether voting rates are affected by the new law. The Oct. 19 federal election is ushering in new rules on voting that experts fear could discourage participation by certain groups, like youth and indigenous peoples. “It will have an impact, but just how big it’s going to be is open to debate,” said Brian Tanguay, a professor of political science at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont. The turnout in the 2011 election was 61.1 per cent, up slightly from 2008’s all-time low of 58.8 per cent.
An Ontario Superior Court justice has rejected a bid for an injunction to suspend voter identification provisions of the Fair Elections Act, despite acknowledging the risk eligible Canadians will be denied the vote in the next federal election. Lawyers for the Canadian Federation of Students and the Council of Canadians had argued that the law, passed by the Conservative government in 2014, was an act of voter suppression, and could prevent as many as 250,000 voters — those least likely to vote for Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government — from voting in the Oct. 19 election. They had argued that the Chief Electoral Officer, Marc Mayrand, had gone on record saying he would be willing to replace the 28 million voter information cards (VICs) already printed with the words “Please note that this card is not a piece of ID,” if the injunction had been allowed.
What voters will decide on Oct. 19 is beyond the Conservatives’ control. But one thing is firmly in their grasp: when to drop the writs that will take them to the polls. Exactly what day Prime Minister Stephen Harper will visit the Governor General to make the formal request to dissolve Parliament and call the election has been the source of weeks of political speculation. And with good reason: it’s ultimately a political calculus of the Conservatives’ own devising. Although a law passed in 2007 set a fixed election date for Parliament, it didn’t set a fixed length on how long the election campaign could be, only how short — no less than 37 days long including the day it begins. Fast forward to 2014 and the introduction and subsequent passage of the contentious Fair Elections Act, which among other things changed the rules around campaign finance. In short, the longer the campaign, the more everyone can spend.
A bid to stop a key provision of the Conservative government’s Fair Elections Act from being implemented in this fall’s election has been denied by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice. Justice David Stinson ruled on Friday that a request by the Council of Canadians and the Canadian Federation of Students for an interim injunction against new rules for voter identification could not be granted. The activist groups that brought forward the challenge had been seeking to allow Canadians to use the voter-information cards they receive in the mail as proof of identity at polling stations – something that Elections Canada had been planning to allow before changes to the Canada Elections Act were passed by Parliament in 2014. They argued in court that the effect of those changes, which require government-issued photo identification with proof of address in order to vote, would effectively disenfranchise tens of thousands of people – especially aboriginals, students, the homeless and elderly people living in care homes – who might not have driver’s licences, the easiest such form of ID.
A lawyer for the Attorney General of Canada is citing an old court challenge Stephen Harper launched as a private citizen as precedent for stopping an injunction seeking to stay some sections of the Fair Elections Act before this fall’s federal election. Government lawyer Christine Mohr cited the 2004 case in which Harper, then president of the National Citizens Coalition, attempted to get an injunction on the restrictions against third-party spending in elections. The attorney general is fighting an attempt by the Canadian Federation of Students and the Council of Canadians to get an injunction against key provisions of the new Fair Elections Act.
Fraud and reduced public confidence in the electoral system could result if voter information cards are used as valid ID at the polls, lawyers for the federal government argued in court Friday. The government is fighting an injunction request to suspend a key identification provision in its Fair Elections Act. The Council of Canadians and the Canadian Federation of Students are asking the court to restore the power of Canada’s chief electoral officer to recognize voter information cards as one form of valid ID — a power taken away in the act — in time for the fall election.
The Ontario Superior Court is hearing arguments today and Friday from a coalition of groups seeking an injunction against a couple of key elements of the Conservative government’s Fair Elections Act. The group, comprised of the Council of Canadians, the Canadian Federation of Students, and three private voters, wants to restore the ability of Canada’s Chief Electoral Officer to allow the use of voter information cards as proof of address, and reinstate vouching provisions that would allow electors to prove their identity. The applicants filing the motion say they are concerned that provisions in the Fair Elections Act will systematically affect the ability of certain groups to vote, including youth, seniors, indigenous people, the homeless and people with disabilities.
Elections Canada is urging all voters who may be missing appropriate identification to get their paperwork done in the few months remaining before the country goes to the polls. “We’re encouraging electors to be aware now, moving into the general election, that if they don’t have two pieces of ID, they really need to act…
According to the Council of Canadians, there were 100,000 Canadians who got the chance to vote in 2011 because someone vouched for them. And there were 400,000 Canadians who used voter-information cards to gain access to the ballot box. The council claims that with amendments put in place by Stephen Harper’s government through the Fair Elections Act, those votes could be in jeopardy. The new act does not allow for individuals to vouch for more than one person and it also prohibits the use of voter-information cards.
While the courts are making it easier for Canadians to exercise their right to vote, the federal government seems committed to making it harder. The Fair Elections Act elicited unprecedented condemnation for restricting access to the ballot box. The government has now introduced the Citizen Voting Act, after a court granted the right to vote to some Canadians living outside the country. The Act puts in place rules on how non-resident Canadians can exercise their constitutional right. These rules are so onerous that they will effectively prevent voting by many non-residents. The implications for the more than one million Canadians of voting age who live out of the country deserve close scrutiny.
Elections Canada has budgeted up to $1 million to help First Nations cope with new voter-identification rules that could make it harder for indigenous people to cast ballots in this year’s federal election. The agency is hiring the Assembly of First Nations to warn its 634 bands and others about the tougher rules, which are doing away with “vouching,” commonly used on reserves where relatively few voters have identity cards that show their home address as required. Previous federal elections have allowed a second person to vouch for the identity of a voter who lacks documents that contain an address. But last year’s controversial Fair Elections Act essentially ended the practice after the Harper government said it was open to abuse.
Canada: Conservatives denying some Canadians the vote, group says in legal challenge | The Globe and Mail
The federal government’s recent overhaul of Canadian election laws is facing a Charter challenge, one alleging the changes will deny some Canadians the right to vote. The groups behind the case argue that the Fair Elections Act, an amended version of which became law in June after the bill received widespread criticism, will suppress the vote of certain Canadians and make it difficult for some to obtain a ballot on election day. A legal challenge was filed Thursday in the Ontario Superior Court by the Council of Canadians, the Canadian Federation of Students and three individual electors. They are challenging the law under section three of the Charter and Rights of Freedoms, which guarantees citizens the right to vote, and section 15, which says every individual is equal before and under the law. “We believe [the bill] will disproportionately impact disadvantaged groups,” lawyer Steven Shrybman, who will argue the case, told a news conference Thursday.
Canada: ‘Fair Elections Act’ will be challenged in court by Council of Canadians, Federation of Students | National Post
The Council of Canadians and the Canadian Federation of Students announced Thursday they will challenge the Harper government’s new election bill, hours before Gov. Gen. David Johnston was to grant royal assent, making it law. The council and federation will go to Superior Court of Ontario to challenge the law on the grounds that it violates section 3 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees the “right to vote in an election of the members of the House of Commons or of a legislative assembly and to be qualified for membership therein.” The two groups intend to challenge voter-ID provisions that critics say will make it harder for students, aboriginals and seniors to vote, and changes that limit the mandate of the chief electoral officer to promote voting.
Canada’s election chief says he is pleased with the “significant improvements” made to the Fair Elections Act — a bill he originally slammed as a serious threat to Canadians’ voting rights. “I think there’s been substantive improvements to the legislation,” Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand told reporters on Thursday — his first public pronouncements since the Conservative government bowed to critics and made amendments to the legislation. The big improvements, Mayrand said, revolve around closing political-fundraising loopholes and allowing voters to continue to prove their identity through the vouching system at the ballot box. These were among his top concerns when he told the Star earlier this year that no election reform would be better than the first draft of the Fair Elections Act.
Late Tuesday, MPs stood in the House of Commons to vote on third reading of Bill C-23, sending it to the Senate, which is expected to speedily pass it, leaving only the formality of royal assent. On Thursday, when the government brought in time allocation to limit debate on the bill, Democratic Reform Minister Pierre Poilievre declared victory. “The Canadian people widely support this bill,” he said. “It is a very popular piece of legislation. We won the debate on it and now we will pass it into law.” On Monday, the NDP said they won the debate, rallying opposition to C-23, forcing the government to accept changes. “What was at the beginning a very bad bill is simply today only a bad bill,” NDP Leader Tom Mulcair said. Either way, the long, strange process by which the Fair Elections Act — or Unfair Elections Act, as the opposition calls it — is coming to an end, and the most significant piece of legislation in this session is about to be law, not quite as either side intended.
The House of Commons is poised to pass contentious legislation Tuesday that will overhaul Canada’s election law — a move the governing Conservatives defend as sensible but which the opposition says is designed to keep the Tories from being caught cheating in the 2015 election. The so-called Fair Elections Act is certain to pass third reading in the Commons because Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Tories hold a majority in the chamber. MPs were expected to spend much of Monday voting on proposed amendments, including 45 from the government itself, after experts and the opposition heavily criticized the original bill. After the House passes it, the bill will go to the Senate, where the Conservatives also hold a majority, and where it is expected to be given a relatively quick review before being approved. But the political consequences for Harper could be long-lasting, as his critics continued on Monday to allege that the Tories are trying to rig the electoral system in their favour.
Conservative Senators plan to support the government’s recent amendments to the Fair Elections Act when it reaches the Senate later this week for what is likely to be a swift passage of the controversial electoral reform legislation. Conservative Senate Whip Elizabeth Marshall told The Hill Times that there were concerns within the Conservative Senate caucus before the bill was amended by the Procedure and House Affairs Committee earlier this month, but she’s hearing a lot less dissent over the legislation now that it’s headed for the Upper Chamber. “The Senators were talking before the hearings, but compared to what I heard before the report, and what I heard after… it’s subsided now with the [Senate] report, but I would expect that when the bill comes if there are any other issues or concerns they’ll be raised, because the Senators do tend to speak quite freely amongst ourselves if we have concerns,” Sen. Marshall said in an interview.
Canada: Federal lawyers tell Supreme Court that existing voter ID laws are effective | The Globe and Mail
A previous round of Conservative voter identification rules enacted in 2007 effectively met Parliament’s need for electoral integrity without being too strict, federal lawyers argue in a brief to the Supreme Court. The attorney general’s submission to the country’s top court comes as the Harper government moves to further tighten voting restrictions under its controversial Fair Elections Act. The legislation – also known as Bill C-23 – marks the second time the Conservatives have moved on what they perceive to be an issue of voter fraud, and it comes while their first round of reforms is still being legally contested.
The divisive Fair Elections Act has resumed its fast-track passage through Parliament, after the federal government submitted 45 changes in a bid to quell opposition to the bill. The amendments were submitted to the committee and obtained by The Globe as MPs returned Monday from a two-week break, and are among roughly 275 presented by MPs of all parties. They all must be considered and voted on by Thursday evening – a short window that all but guarantees only cursory consideration of many changes. The government’s 45 proposed amendments include backing down on both the elimination of vouching and a proposed campaign-finance change that critics said would have opened loophole. They also include elements that raise new questions – strengthening a new limit on the Chief Electoral Officer’s term, by saying no CEO can be reappointed after a 10-year term, and making no mention of a previous promise to back down on expanding partisan appointments of poll workers.
Canada: Tories open to amending elections bill, except for voter ID requirement | The Globe and Mail
The final version of the government’s electoral reform bill will require all voters to show identification before they vote, Democratic Reform Minister Pierre Poilievre pledged, adding the Conservatives are nonetheless open to other changes. Speaking to an Economic Club of Canada audience in Ottawa on Thursday, the minister addressed one of the most hotly debated aspects of the proposed Fair Elections Act, saying average Canadians believe it is “common sense” to require that voters present ID – essentially, that vouching isn’t good for democracy. “We are open to improvements to this bill, and very soon the government will make clear which amendments it will support,” Mr. Poilievre told the luncheon guests. “But let me be clear on this point: The Fair Elections Act, in its final form, will require every single voter produce ID showing who they are before they vote.”
Canada: Fair Elections Act: Vouching is ‘problematic,’ Conservative Senator Linda Frum says | CTV News
A Conservative senator on the committee recommending changes to the controversial Fair Elections Act says she is convinced that vouching is “problematic,” and that alternatives to proof of identification must be found. A Senate committee made up primarily of Conservative members earlier this week recommended nine changes to the Harper government’s Fair Elections Act — an electoral reform bill proposed by Minister of State for Democratic Reform Pierre Poilievre. But the committee did not recommend changes to one of Bill C-23’s most-controversial provisions, which would eliminate the practice of vouching — where one person can vouch for another if they don’t have proper ID — and the use of voter cards as a way for voters to prove their identity. “In our Senate report, we didn’t touch those provisions; we stood by them, we agree,” Senator Linda Frum told CTV’s Question Period. Frum said it is “reasonable” to ask voters to produce identification and proof of residence. “I’ve heard all the statements about how that can be difficult in some instances, but frankly, I think for most Canadians, it’s not problematic.”
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?
The Harper government is getting some serious push-back from Conservative senators on its controversial overhaul of elections laws, with a Senate committee unanimously recommending nine major changes to the legislation. In an interim report to be tabled Tuesday, the Senate’s legal and constitutional affairs committee recommends that the government drop provisions to muzzle the chief electoral officer and the elections commissioner, The Canadian Press has learned. It also recommends removing another provision which electoral experts have said would give an unfair, potentially huge, financial advantage to established parties — particularly the ruling Conservatives — during election campaigns.
In a rare exercise of power, a Senate committee is pushing back against Stephen Harper’s Conservative government by unanimously recommending changes to the Fair Elections Act, an overhaul of electoral law that is fiercely opposed by other parties. The Senate report, which will be made public this week, amounts to a warning shot from the embattled Senate. The move is not binding, but it raises the threat of the Senate changing the bill itself if the House of Commons ignores its recommendations before passing Bill C-23. The Senate committee, two-thirds of whose members are Conservatives appointed by Mr. Harper, heard from a broad range of experts last week, the vast majority of whom called for substantial changes to the deeply divisive bill. Now the senators are set to recommend, unanimously, specific amendments.